A TEST OF LOYALTY
The first of the autumn snows fell in tiny, icy flakes on Remus Lupin's cheeks. He shook snow from his hair, pulled up the hood of his cloak and drew closer to the fire, closer to the warm, wet-smelling bodies of his werewolf brothers and sisters.
Even as he basked, Remus worried. Some witch or wizard in the valley would see the light and fly up to investigate it. They'd be discovered. Except for the Disillusionment Charm placed around the encampment to hide it from Muggles, the werewolf pack no longer tried to hide themselves. True, they dwelt tucked away high in the mountains, sleeping in caves at night. True, they had a patron whom all the wizarding world feared. The old fear of getting caught still would not leave Remus in peace.
What if someone sees me like this? What if people find out what I am?
It made no difference that everyone in the world who mattered to Remus already knew what he was. Fear never talked terms with reason. It accepted nothing but reason's unconditional surrender.
Remus looked through the flames at the root of his personal evil. Fenrir Greyback, sitting opposite him, gnawed the last shreds of raw meat from a thigh bone of venison. He stuck the end of the bone in his mouth, sucked greedily at the marrow, then tossed the bone aside. Without bothering to wipe the blood from his lips, he rose. His lieutenant, Vlad Hasse, leaped up beside him.
Greyback looked around at his pack, all of whom had the good sense to fix their attention on him.
"All right, you lot, look sharp," said Greyback in his rasping voice. "We've an honoured guest this evening. No, not Albus Dumbledore, or I'd be calling him supper, not guest!"
Greyback laughed at his own joke. Remus joined in with the rest of the werewolves, in a shout of laughter that followed quickly on the heels of Greyback's merriment. He turned to the male werewolf on his left and the female on his right, to agree mirthfully with them both that "old Fenrir was a card, wasn't he!" And he hoped that neither of them suspected he could possibly believe otherwise.
When he looked back at Greyback, Remus saw someone Apparate behind him. It was a wizard, tall and thin, wearing a black cloak that swirled like shadows around him.
The laughter around Remus came to a sudden stop. Vlad Hasse, following the direction of the werewolves' stares, turned and gave a great start. Greyback alone showed no fear as he swept the figure a deep bow.
The wizard lifted a pale, spindly-fingered hand and pulled back the hood which shrouded his face. Remus heard smothered gasps from the werewolves around him. His own fear he squeezed into a little spot between his heart and his stomach, where it writhed like a sickness.
Something else, even deeper than the sickness, greeted its Master with howls of joy.
At this, his first sight of Lord Voldemort, Remus wondered as never before at Harry's astounding courage. Each time Harry had seen this face--the waxy skin, the snakelike slits of nostrils, the nearly nonexistent lips, the eyes with the colour and sheen of freshly-spilt blood--he had not known whether his next moments would be his last. And yet Harry had remembered this face. He had described Voldemort, accurately and with reasonable calm, to an incredulous and mocking world.
And he is just beginning to leave his childhood, Remus thought
The other werewolves were getting to their feet, so Remus stood too. Voldemort pulled his lips back from his teeth in a chilling smile. "My werewolves," he said, in the high, cold voice of which Harry had spoken. "Thank you for your welcome." His gleaming red eyes swept over the assembly and rested on Remus. Remus's fear flared up again, and it was all he could do to keep from looking away.
Voldemort's eyes moved on, but not before Remus saw in them a glint of satisfaction. "I am pleased to see that Fenrir has recruited so many of you. Know that I prize each and every one of you, as I prize my other faithful servants, my giants and my Death Eaters. You shall make your mark in the world in my name, just as they have done." Voldemort paused. The werewolves stared at him in awestruck silence. "In fact, your work for me begins this very night."
Voldemort gestured to Greyback, who approached him with a mixture of wariness and devotion in his eyes. Voldemort pulled out of his robes a parchment tied with black silk cords.
"For you, Fenrir," he said, proffering the parchment.
Greyback took it, looking at once flattered by his Lord's attentions and uncertain as to what they might mean.
"Open it," said Voldemort.
Greyback tore off the silk cords, unrolled the parchment and puzzled over it. Trying to make out the letters, Remus supposed. Greyback could hardly read his own name.
Greyback mouthed a few of the words silently, then said aloud: "It's names."
"Yes," said Voldemort. Again he looked around the circle of werewolves. "It is a list of names. The names of the recalcitrant, the uncooperative and the oppositional. The names of witches and wizards who seem determined to make themselves into my enemies."
Greyback drew down his brows and glared at the parchment.
"And who have young children," said Voldemort.
Greyback looked up slowly from the parchment, with an expression on his face of rapacious comprehension.
Voldemort smiled. "Full marks, Fenrir. Yes, I wish to persuade the people on that list of the error of their ways, and I think you have guessed how you and your werewolves can help me. As a reward for your cleverness, you may be the first to choose one of the families on that list." An unnaturally long arm snaked out; a spindly forefinger slid down the parchment and stopped. "Let me recommend this particular couple. They have a daughter: a sweet and tender little morsel. I think you'll like her."
Greyback grinned. His eyes glittered with lust. Remus heard his horny nail scratching at the place Voldemort's fingertip had indicated, as if he traced out the name of his prize.
Remus leaned forward, his ears pricked. But Voldemort, taking no pity on Greyback, did not read the name aloud. His arm recoiled to his side and he looked up. Remus, catching a flash of red directed toward him, straightened quickly.
"You know your own pack best, Fenrir," Voldemort went on. "You choose the werewolves who will go after the rest of the children on that list. A good winter's work, I should think? Work which, I'm sure you'll agree, will bring its own rewards."
Greyback grinned, showing the fangs which had figured in Remus's nightmares since he was seven years old. "Indeed it will, my lord."
Voldemort smiled one of his lipless smiles in return. He cast another glance over the werewolves. Remus ducked his head before the gleaming red eyes could meet his, yet he still felt Voldemort's gaze in the rise of the hairs at his nape.
"Enjoy yourselves," Voldemort said.
Remus heard the pop! of Disapparation. By the time he looked up, Voldemort was gone.
Voldemort was gone, and Greyback, hunched over the enemies' list with Hasse, conferred in whispers with his lieutenant. Remus darted furtive glances at the rest of the pack. A few looked as eager as Greyback himself at the prospect of biting a child. The eyes of a few others held despair. But most of the werewolves' faces were expressionless.
Greyback and Hasse ended their conference. Greyback rolled up the parchment and stuck it in his pocket.
"Well, then, ladies and gents," said Greyback. "May as well get started, eh? Croswell." He pointed a clawlike finger at a young Muggle woman who had been bitten less than a year before. She stared back at him and pressed her hand to her mouth.
The pointing finger moved until it stopped on a wizard with thinning grey hair and dark, empty eyes. "Bentham." Bentham's face did not change. He did not even look as though he had heard.
But that did not seem to trouble Greyback, for he went on. "You two will go with Vlad this moon night. He'll put your targets in range. You'll do the rest."
Croswell bowed her head, her hand still pressed to her lips. Bentham did not move a muscle.
"Right, then," said Greyback. "So long as we all remember one thing: the Dark Lord doesn't tolerate muck-ups. So neither do I." He paused to let his words sink in. "But if you do well, I'll send you out again. Because, you know, Croswell, you'll like it once you've tried it."
Croswell did not look up. Greyback laughed.
"Or maybe I'll take all the other little boys and girls for myself. I'm selfish that way sometimes." Greyback waved a hand. "Right, then, fun's over for the night. You're dismissed."
Remus wasn't the first to rise--he didn't want to appear to be too eager to get away--but he rose quickly. He saw Greyback leave, heading into the firs in the direction of his cave.
Remus threaded his way through the milling pack and struck out for the cave he shared with two other werewolves. Though snow still fell gently, little had accumulated on the needle-strewn path.
He did not need to see the moon to know it was waning, to realise that Croswell and Bentham had twenty-four days to think and dream about what Greyback had ordered them to do.
And I've been spared. It was selfish of him, but Remus felt only relief. Whether he would continue to be spared was another question. At least he had time to report to Professor Dumbledore. Maybe Albus could think of something, maybe Albus could get him out of this--
A heavy hand landed on Remus's shoulder. Sharp nails dug through his robes into his skin, and a raspy laugh sounded behind him.
--claws hurt and breath stinks and teeth gleaming in the moonlight will hurt too. Remus is only seven, but he knows some things, he knows that--
Remus twisted out of Fenrir Greyback's grasp. Greyback laughed again, louder this time. "Off sulking, are you, Lupin? Thought you weren't going to be invited to the party?"
Remus balled his right hand into a fist, to keep it from going for his wand. "I don't understand you, sir," he said calmly enough, though his heart hammered wildly against his chest.
"Don't you? Then you're not as clever as I thought." Greyback gave Remus a shove. "Come with me. I'll show you."
An overgrown trail meandered off the path in the direction of Greyback's cave. In the clearing before the cave mouth a small fire burned. The dark shape that rose beside the fire looked like smoke, though more smoke than so modest a fire ought to have produced.
But the darkness wasn't smoke. It was solid: a cloak-wrapped figure with blood-red eyes.
Remus stopped short. Voldemort, it appeared, had not Apparated very far.
Greyback bowed. "Here he is, my lord."
Remus looked from Greyback to Voldemort. "Yes. Here I am."
Voldemort did not meet his eyes at once. He chuckled and gave Greyback a sidelong glance. "He doesn't seem very happy to see me, Fenrir."
Greyback didn't look happy, either. "Ungrateful scum."
"He does not know the sacrifice you have made for him," said Voldemort. "When he hears what it is, I am sure he will be as grateful to you as I am." Suddenly he looked at Remus. "Remus Lupin. Do you wish to know what your leader has done for you?"
Remus scuffed his feet and, darting his glance here and there, did not let Voldemort's stare pin him down. "Erm, yes, I suppose so."
"Very well, then," said Voldemort. "Last spring, Remus Lupin, you were a member of the Order of the Phoenix. You supported Albus Dumbledore. You came to Harry Potter's rescue in the Ministry of Magic. Yet this autumn you have abruptly and inexplicably forsaken your old friends." The reptilian eyes narrowed. "You left them for Fenrir Greyback, the werewolf who punished your father by making you."
"Fenrir Greyback is the most powerful werewolf in Britain," said Remus. "And perhaps he told you my other reasons for--"
Voldemort sliced the air with his hand, silencing Remus. "Yes, I know. You have grown tired of oppression and have learned to delight in the raw power of your wolf. Easy explanations and easier lies." Finally trapping Remus in his gaze, Voldemort stopped speaking.
Remus cleared his mind, cast the veil of Occlumency over his thoughts and faced Voldemort's slit-pupilled, whiteless eyes.
"No," Voldemort said softly, after some of the longest moments Remus had ever lived through. "No, I am not sure, and I do not have the time to sift through your mind now, especially if you did resist. But my assignment will prove you."
Voldemort fell silent. Greyback glared resentfully at Remus.
"Assignment, my lord?" asked Remus.
"Two full moons have come and gone since you came to Fenrir Greyback, and you have yet to make a werewolf," said Voldemort. "Perhaps it is because you are the least of Fenrir's pack, and others have asserted their privilege before you. Perhaps it is for other reasons. But now you will have your chance. I am depriving poor Fenrir of his tender prize and giving her to you."
Remus stood very still. He fought to keep his face blank. He fought to crush his horror and keep his mind clear.
"You will bite the little girl on the night of the next full moon. Fenrir knows who she is. He knows where she is. He will lead you to her and witness the making--or, depending upon how events turn out, the murder."
"Fenrir? Why Fenrir?" Remus asked, playing for time, desperately ransacking his mind for some means of escape.
"Don't play the fool with us, Lupin!" snarled Greyback. "I'm one with my wolf, that's why! My wolf trusts me, lets me run things even in transformation. I'll be in my head on moon night, so the Dark Lord wants me with you, to see to it you bite my prey like he's ordered!" Greyback jutted his face forward, so that his and Remus's noses were only inches apart. Remus felt Greyback's hot breath in his face and saw in Greyback's eyes the rage of a thwarted brute. "He wants me on the spot, to rip your throat out if you try any tricks."
Remus backed off a couple of steps. It was all he could do to keep from cowering and whimpering, like a seven-year-old boy meeting the monster which had lured him out of doors on the night of the full moon.
Remus's obvious terror seemed to soothe Greyback. With a bark of triumphant laughter, he drew back too.
"Those are exactly my reasons for sending Fenrir," Voldemort said. "I'm surprised at you, Remus. I assumed you knew Fenrir could command his wolf. By the way, I may call you Remus, mayn't I?"
"Yes, my lord," said Remus. He let his fear loose, so that it blanketed every other thought in his mind. "But I--it's as you said. I'm the least of the pack. I don't really know that much about Fenrir."
Voldemort gave him a sharp glance, then shrugged. "Perhaps not. Well, then, let me assure you. On the next full moon, you will have Fenrir's undivided attention. I'm sure you'll get to know him better then. "
Fear got Remus through the week that followed, until he could slip away from the pack long enough to get to Hogwarts. In fear, he did not distinguish himself from Amanda Croswell and Gerald Bentham, two other werewolves who had come to Fenrir Greyback because they had nowhere else to go and who had now been ordered to prove they were worth his protection.
The difference was that Croswell had come from a Muggle university and Bentham from a career in cauldron research and development, not straight from the Order of the Phoenix.
Remus had mulled over that difference months ago, long before now, when he approached the gargoyle which guarded Dumbledore's office. For the past few days, he had been too stunned to think of anything beyond the necessities.
The necessities of the moment were the words "cherry bonbon." The words had risen to his lips but he hadn't yet spoken them when the gargoyle leapt aside, the wall parted and Severus Snape strode out.
Remus nodded. "Severus."
The mechanically polite greeting had a strange effect on Snape. He stopped and stared at Remus. His mouth was tight, and his face was even paler than usual. His black eyes glittered with fury.
The anger must not have been directed at Remus, though, for it seemed to take Snape a second or two to recognise him. When he finally did so, his face twisted in an expression of the purest loathing. Without returning Remus's salutation, he spun away and practically ran down the corridor, his robes billowing and flapping behind him.
Remus looked curiously after Snape. By the time he turned back, the wall was closed and the gargoyle had returned to its place, so that he had to speak the password after all to gain entry to the Headmaster's office.
After closing the office door, Remus looked up to see Dumbledore at the east-facing window, his arms folded at his chest, gazing through a veil of rain at the fog-shrouded mountains.
They were the same mountains in which Fenrir Greyback's werewolf pack huddled in their caves.
Dumbledore turned. "Remus," he said.
"Good morning, Headmaster."
Dumbledore unfolded his arms. His withered right hand hung uselessly at his side. With the left, he indicated the armchair across from his desk. "Sit down."
Remus sat. Dumbledore sat too, hiding his blackened hand beneath the desk. Suddenly he smiled.
"Don't worry about Severus," he said. "He's angry at me, not you."
Remus had rarely seen Snape that angry at James or Sirius, much less Dumbledore. "Is he--all right?" he ventured.
"No, but it can't be helped," Dumbledore said. "You're reporting early this month," he added, delicately turning the subject.
He fixed all of his kindly, imperturbable attention on Remus, and Remus, as usual, could not resist. He poured out everything: Voldemort's visit to Greyback's werewolves, his list of the children of his enemies whom he wanted the werewolves to bite and Voldemort's orders that Remus was to bite one of those children under Greyback's watchful eye.
Dumbledore did not speak for a few moments after Remus had finished.
"It's unfortunate that Voldemort and Greyback don't trust you with the identity of your intended victim," he said then. "Nor, while you were present, did they mention the names of Croswell's and Bentham's targets."
He looked even more tired than usual, Remus thought. Pity for Professor Dumbledore filled him suddenly, along with that eager desire to please his Headmaster which he remembered from his earliest days at Hogwarts. "I'll find out the girl's name," he said. "I'll find out who else is on that list. I'll get their names to you, so you can warn the families."
And there was reason to hope Croswell and Bentham might fail in their assignments. Neither of them were willing werewolves, so they were out of control in transformation. Vlad Hasse, who would be running them, had some control, Remus had learned, but nothing equal to Greyback's.
"I could ask Greyback who she is," Remus said. "I could say knowing about her will help me prepare." And next month, no matter what it took, he would have the rest of the names on that list.
"No, you can't," Dumbledore said softly.
"Sorry?" Remus said, blinking in surprise.
"You can't ask Greyback any questions about the girl. It will rouse his suspicions and endanger your cover. You do understand, don't you?" Dumbledore's question sounded like a plea. "Voldemort doubts you, and he will continue to doubt you until you bite this child. He is testing your loyalty to Fenrir and to himself. Until you pass the test, you must not even seem to be trying to discover the names on Greyback's list."
"Then--can we guess who the parents might be? Could we warn the likeliest people?"
Dumbledore was shaking his head before Remus finished his questions. "You've told me they are Voldemort's enemies, and they have a young daughter," he said. "That description must apply to many people, and it's unlikely we know all of them. Yet I can't just issue a general warning. That would certainly destroy your cover, and I cannot replace you among the werewolves. You are the only one who can serve the Order there."
Remus stared at Dumbledore, feeling as though he'd had the breath knocked out of him. When he finally spoke, he tried to keep it simple, for Dumbledore must not have understood him the first time. He could not have understood.
"But, Headmaster. If her parents don't know to protect this girl, how do I escape biting her? Fenrir Greyback will be there, watching every move I make!"
"Remus..." Dumbledore looked away. He opened a drawer in his desk, rummaged around a bit and pulled out a flask. "This month's Wolfsbane Potion." He gave the shadow of a smile. "Hand-delivered by Severus Snape just before you arrived. If you'd come any earlier, he wouldn't have had it finished."
"Headmaster." Remus's voice sounded strange to him, tight yet very calm. "How do I get out of this?"
"I shall not be there with you on the night of the full moon. So I don't know if you will get out of it."
"What are you telling me to do? Are you telling me to obey Voldemort's order?"
Dumbledore looked at him steadily. "I can only tell you to do as you have always done. Take the Wolfsbane Potion and pretend that you have not. Do not betray yourself to Greyback if you can possibly avoid it. If he suspects you are still with the Order, he will torture you for every scrap of information you have, and then he will kill you."
Remus stared into Dumbledore's eyes, looking for any other answer than that. But he could not find it.
"What am I to do?" he whispered shakily. "What am I to do?"
Dumbledore handed him the flask. "Drink the potion, and on the night of the full moon, you will be in your own mind. You will have an advantage then, for your mind is a far clearer, cleaner, saner place than Fenrir Greyback's mind ever could be." He drew out his crippled hand from its hiding-place under the desk. He placed both hands on the desktop and leaned over them, closer to Remus, and the look on his face was urgent and intent. "Trust to that advantage. Trust that clean, clever mind of yours, Remus. As I do."
That was the answer Remus carried with him through the cold rain into Hogsmeade. He held it in his heart as he ate lunch in a dingy corner of the Hog's Head.
After lunch, he walked through the village, intending to take the lane which led to the Shrieking Shack. From there he could Apparate away unseen, back to the mountains and Fenrir Greyback's werewolf pack.
The high street was thronged with people in Watershed-charmed cloaks or under umbrellas, going about the business of a Saturday afternoon. Many were hurrying into the Three Broomsticks to fuel themselves with butterbeer or hot cider, without a thought, as it seemed, for the Dementors said to be hovering in the lonely woods and lanes just outside of Hogsmeade.
Why should they worry, when there are Aurors and Order members to do the worrying for them? Remus wondered bitterly.
And on the heels of that thought came two Aurors and Order members, coming out of the Three Broomsticks: Kingsley Shacklebolt and Nymphadora Tonks.
Remus's eyes went straight for Tonks. Witches and wizards bustled between them in the busy street, but that did not keep him from seeing her dull, unkempt hair, her weary eyes and pale cheeks. That did not keep him from thinking she was very beautiful.
Tonks put her hat on. She smiled at Kingsley and gave him a mock salute. They turned away from each other, and the smile faded instantly from Tonks's face. Kingsley headed toward Hogsmeade Station. Tonks began walking down the street toward Remus.
She did not see him. She glanced from side to side, on the lookout for the sort of thing which did not belong in the high street of Hogsmeade.
Remus stood rooted to the spot, ignoring the chattering pedestrians who brushed past him, watching Tonks.
Greyback wouldn't miss him until nightfall. He had time, didn't he? He could go to Tonks, walk with her for a bit. They could talk.
Tonks came closer, and Remus moved. He slipped into a nearby alley. Standing next to an overflowing rubbish bin, he watched Tonks go by. He stayed in the alley until he was sure she was gone, cursing himself all the while for a coward, a bloody fucking coward.
Greyback grinned, showing his pointed canines. "Tonight's the night," he said to Remus.
Tonight was the full moon. But for now, it was still daylight. The sun glittered on the new snow which covered the road to the Barclays' house. For it was Brian and Gillian Barclay they were to visit, Aurors and members of the Order of the Phoenix. Though Remus had seen them at a few meetings, he had not known until this morning that they had a ten-year-old daughter named Annabel, and that Annabel was the girl whose life he was ordered by Voldemort to destroy.
"They've got it coming to them," Greyback had said. "The Lord gave them a warning not two months ago. Sent Death Eaters to give it, he says. Which is more than he does for most of his enemies. They've got it coming, they do."
If he had known those details, even without the child's name, Dumbledore might have guessed that Annabel Barclay was Remus's target. The Barclays might have been warned. They might have sat up all night, watching their daughter, making sure she didn't venture out for anything. They would have done that much and so much more, just as Remus's parents would have done, if they'd been warned.
Remus and Greyback walked through sparkling white snow. They walked because the road was lonely enough, the Barclays lived close enough, and Greyback wasn't a wizard and couldn't fly a broom.
And I'll be damned if he rides pillion on mine, Remus thought.
Aloud, Remus said, "The Barclays have probably heard that werewolves are roaming the mountains. They'll take precautions. How do we lure Annabel out?"
"The Dark Lord will take care of that," said Greyback. His tone turned bitter. "You'll have your prey."
Remus hoped he would hear something--anything--that would help him avoid biting Annabel. But all Greyback said was, "You'll see."
Except for a few grunted directions from Greyback, they spent the rest of the journey in silence. Remus had a reputation in the pack of being taciturn. He did not try to dispel it now. And Greyback was hardly the sort to try to draw him out.
Remus passed the time in daydreams of his transformations at Hogwarts, when James and Sirius had been alive, when Peter had still been their friend. Odd that the memories of those nights should have been happy ones.
They weren't entirely happy, of course. How could he forget the pain of bones and muscles rearranging themselves, or the way madness had abducted his mind? But there had also been Prongs, galloping through the glades, taking the streams in a single leap. There had been Wormtail, clinging to Prongs's antlers, his whiskers plastered against his rat's face in the wind, his eyes round with terror and wonder. There had been Padfoot the dog tussling with Moony the wolf; there had been two noses pointed at the smiling moon, two voices raised in barking, howling joy.
All gone now. Remus did not need to blink for the dream to slip away from him.
But blink he did, several times. He woke from his reveries to find shadows stretching across the road. The sun hovered close to the horizon. In an hour, he would be transformed.
"We're nearly there," said Greyback. He was looking ahead, into the shade of a stand of fir trees at the edge of the road.
Remus looked too and saw a figure step out of the wood. It was a wizard, holding something cradled in his arms. His head was bent so that the hood of his cloak obscured his face.
The wizard lifted his head. Remus stopped in his tracks.
"Ah, there you are, Wormtail," said Greyback.
Peter Pettigrew moved into a patch of the fading sunlight. Remus saw that what he held in his arms was a cat. Except for its eyes, which rolled in panic, the cat was completely still.
Petrified, Remus thought.
"You've got her," Greyback said.
Peter paid Greyback no mind. He came closer to Remus, looking at him intently. Emotions bubbled in his eyes like potion churning in a cauldron: suspicion, hope, nostalgia, regret.
"If it isn't Remus Lupin," Peter said softly. "I'd heard you'd come over to our side. I didn't believe it."
Peter's hair was sparser than ever and his face more lined. Other than that (and the silver hand, which Remus eyed in revolted fascination), he looked much the same as he had in the Shrieking Shack three years before.
"What changed your mind?" Peter asked when Remus did not answer at once.
Remus shrugged carelessly. "The same thing that changed yours, I suppose. Fear. Professor Dumbledore isn't what he was. The Dark Lord is going to win. I don't want to be on the wrong side when he does."
Peter's look grew sharp. "That isn't all of it."
"Maybe not. But the rest you wouldn't understand. You're not a Dark creature, after all."
"Aren't I?" said Peter.
"Enough of the chat. We haven't all day." Greyback blustered, but, like Remus, he kept a cautious eye on Peter's silver hand. He spared a glance for the sinking sun, and Remus saw that, in addition to his apprehension, Greyback felt the restlessness of a werewolf approaching moon night.
Remus felt it too. "In fact, we've hardly any of the day left."
"You've got the girl's cat," Greyback said to Peter. "What of it?"
"She's Annabel's dear pet, isn't she?" Peter looked down into the terrified animal's eyes. "Her name's Smoky, and I've watched the place long enough to know that Annabel would do anything to keep her from getting hurt."
"How did you get hold of her?" Remus asked.
Peter grinned. "Oh, I found out a long time ago that a cat will chase a rat just about anywhere."
"So little Annabel doesn't want Smoky hurt," said Greyback. His eyes held a greedy gleam. "Is that what we do to get Annabel out of the house, then? Hurt Smoky?"
"Oh, no!" Peter said. "That won't be necessary. Smoky is Petrified. We just take the binding off her vocal cords, lay her down within earshot of the house, and she'll do the rest." Peter shook his head ruefully. "She's got a voice like a banshee."
"So Annabel will think Smoky is hurt or trapped," Remus said. "Full moon or not, she'll sneak out of the house to rescue her."
"Exactly!" said Peter.
"Clever Wormtail. But don't you think the Barclays will have protective enchantments around the house, to keep Annabel in as well as to keep werewolves out?"
"I've got my broom. I'll fly in and reverse the enchantments after dark, when the family are less likely to see me."
Remus raised an eyebrow. "After dark, under the full moon, with me nearby? You do know I've given up the Wolfsbane Potion, don't you?"
Peter lifted his silver hand suddenly. Greyback spat a curse, and both he and Remus backed away.
Peter smiled. "I don't need to worry, do I, Remus? Besides, you won't be out of control. Fenrir's here."
There was no frightening Peter off, no getting him out of the way. Had Voldemort always meant that silver hand as more than a shiny reward for Peter's sacrifice?
"I'll go now," Peter said. He looked westward through the trees at the fiery sunset. "You'll want some privacy. Nice seeing you again, Remus."
The pain of transformation was as it had ever been, as if Remus's bones were being ripped apart, which, in fact, they were. He gave in to it at once, with a shrieking which turned to howling, for pain while it lasted made him sound quite convincingly mad.
Besides, agony wasn't all that helped Remus play his charade. It drove him to something like madness to see Greyback's lupine face transfigured by a thinking brutality far worse than bestiality, to hear that Greyback's howls were howls of ecstasy.
Otherwise, everything was the same for Remus as it had been for decades. And, as usual, in about eight minutes, it was done.
Moony's sound brain, bathed in Wolfsbane Potion, was a happier place than his untreated mind had been, in the days before the invention of the potion. The keen sensations and heightened sense of power which had once goaded Moony to wildness now made transformation a sharply physical delight.
He could not openly indulge his pleasure, however. There was not enough of Darkness in it now, not enough of the beast. So Moony put on his act, trotting beside Fenrir, his pack leader, and greedily sniffing the air for the scent of human.
Nobody was idiotic enough to be out after dark, so they reached the clearing in front of the Barclays' cottage without incident. Smoky lay where Peter had placed her, in the snowy field just beyond the paths the Barclays had cleared to the outhouse and the broom shed.
From where Moony stood, Smoky was a short length of grey in the moonlit snow, her neck stretched vertically from her Petrified body and her head tilted back. Ear-splitting yowls issued from her gaping jaws.
The next thing Moony saw was a figure bent low over a broomstick, hovering just above the trees at the edge of the clearing.
Wormtail, Moony thought. He heard Fenrir's breathing quicken beside him. In the next moment, Wormtail disappeared under Disillusionment.
A few more moments passed. Then Moony saw a shimmering around the frame of an upper window at the corner of the house. Wormtail must have cast a new spell there, to counteract the one the Barclays had put in place.
Several minutes passed, during which Smoky's miaowing continued unabated. The door of the cottage remained closed, the windows remained dark. If there was any controversy going on inside the Barclays' house, any little girl crying to be allowed out to save her kitty, Moony perceived none of it.
Neither did Fenrir, evidently, and he didn't like it. His eyes were fastened on the house, his ears were pricked, and a low growl sounded in his throat.
Finally the window whose frame had shimmered opened a crack. Nothing else happened. No lights came on, no witch or wizard came out to investigate the disturbance in the protective enchantments they had placed around their house.
Fenrir seemed to be holding his breath. Smoky caterwauled with as much energy as ever.
The window went all the way up and a girl stuck her head out. She peered in both directions. Then she crept out of the window and, clinging to a downspout, slid to the ground.
Annabel Barclay took one more glance around before she began walking out into the field to fetch her cat.
Moony felt Fenrir's body tense beside him. Another growl rumbled deep in his throat as, snout raised and teeth bared, he stared at Annabel.
Fenrir hadn't noticed yet that Moony was rooted to the spot with indecision. But Wormtail would, if, Disillusioned, he was still flying overhead.
Voldemort was taking no chances. This moon night, he had more than one set of eyes on the werewolf who claimed to have deserted the Order of the Phoenix for the side of the Dark.
Moony leaped forward, howling at the top of his lungs, pleading in the depths of his heart for Annabel to abandon her cat and run for her life. But Annabel, her eyes widening in horror as she sobbed Smoky's name, did not run. Like doomed prey, she froze. So Moony howled for the Barclays to rush out, to knock the werewolves flat with Stunning spells and drag their daughter back inside.
He howled for Annabel to be saved from the cruel monster as Remus had not been saved. He howled miserably for somebody, anybody to save Remus now.
Moony landed, skidding to a halt a few yards from Annabel. Smoky lay between them. Curling for another spring, Moony pretended to trip over the Petrified cat. In feigned rage he dug his snout under the cat and tossed her in the air, hoping those who watched wouldn't think it odd that Smoky landed near Annabel's feet.
It was all he could do. He had looked for help, still looked for it now. But help did not come.
There was no escape.
That knowledge sent Moony into a true and frenzied rage, a rage at what Fenrir had made of his life, a fury at what Moony must make of Annabel's life, or else betray Harry and the Order, betray everything James and Sirius had stood for, as good as murder Nymphadora, as if he'd cast the Killing Curse at her himself--.
Moony reared, pawed the air, and bared his teeth. He threw his head back and howled. And yet the wisp of a hope passed through his mind, that his grief would look and sound like blood lust.
A huge weight ramming into his back, like a boulder hurled by a giant, cut Moony's howl short. It threw him flat on his face in the snow. He heard growling and snapping behind him.
He had not deceived Fenrir. Moony rolled to his feet, his mouth stretched in a fierce canine grin, prepared to fight Fenrir to the death.
But Fenrir had already turned away from Moony. He stared at Annabel with madness in his eyes. She dashed forward, grabbed the squalling Smoky and ran toward the house.
Then the door of the house slammed open. Moony saw the flare of wandlight and heard yelling voices. Opening his jaws wide for the bite, Fenrir sprang toward Annabel. Moony, leaping, crashed into Fenrir, and they went down together, locked in a deadly embrace.
They rolled in the snow, clawing, growling and biting. At one point, Moony yipped at a bone-cracking pain in his shoulder, which was followed by the warm flow of liquid down his back and foreleg. He saw Fenrir lift his head; he saw his own blood dripping from Fenrir's jaws. Enraged, Moony snapped at Fenrir's throat. But Fenrir's massive head batted Moony's head aside.
Moony settled for Fenrir's foreleg. He clamped his jaws around it. He tasted blood. But before he could break the bone, Fenrir, flailing wildly, shook him off and began raking the skin at the back of Moony's neck with his teeth.
More blood, more pain. And yet to Moony it all felt good, ferociously and triumphantly good. Fenrir was not tearing up a helpless child: not little Annabel nor little Remus. He was fighting another werewolf, his equal, and he, like Moony, uttered whines of pain along with the growls and snaps of aggression.
Over it all, Moony heard the voices of human adults--"Come on, Annabel! Inside!" He heard Annabel sobbing and Smokey miaowing.
Much closer, Moony heard Fenrir snapping within inches of his throat. He writhed in the grip of Fenrir's forelegs, trying to twist away. All at once it felt as though someone or something was dragging at Fenrir from behind, trying to pull him off Moony by the scruff of the neck. Fenrir yelped in agony, while Moony, feeling suddenly sick, coughed and retched. Fenrir clung to Moony, sinking his claws into Moony's hide. Then, with a hard jerk and a last raking of his claws through Moony's flesh, Fenrir was yanked from Moony's body and flung aside. Moonlight gleamed on silver just above Fenrir's head. There came a flash of red light, nearly blinding in its brilliance, followed by a loud bang. Fenrir went limp.
Moony struggled to his feet. Fenrir lay flat in the trampled snow. He had not lost consciousness, however. Twitching weakly, he looked at Moony through slitted eyes.
Turning, Moony saw the Barclay family rush to their front door. Brian Barclay waved his wand and the door burst open. He hustled his wife and daughter into the house. Moony had a glimpse of Annabel hugging the squirming, unPetrified Smoky to her chest before Brian, following her inside, shut the door behind him.
Movement in the sky then caught Moony's eye. Peter hovered aloft on his broom, in a position to take in the entire scene: the Barclays' cottage, shut tight, with lights coming on behind the closed curtains, and Fenrir lying on the ground, bleeding into the snow, with Moony, the supposed least of his pack, standing over him.
With a banking turn, Wormtail flew off.
Moony stood still for another moment, frightened and irresolute. Then he flattened his ears, put his tail between his legs and, whining in submission, went over to his pack leader and nudged him gently to his feet.
Fenrir had been Stunned, and Stunned hard. But he was the strongest werewolf in Great Britain, so the effects of the spell soon began to wear off. With Moony to lick his wounds and urge him patiently along, he managed to make his way home.
And if Moony felt anything during that long journey but cringing remorse, Fenrir did not notice.
A day passed before Voldemort arrived at the werewolf encampment to discover why things had not gone exactly as he had liked. He brought Peter Pettigrew with him and summoned Remus and Greyback to explain themselves.
Balls of wandlight bobbed near the ceiling of Greyback's spacious and airy cave. Voldemort sat on the flattened boulder which usually served as Greyback's throne. Peter stood behind him. Before him stood Remus and Greyback. Bandages covered both werewolves' wounds.
Remus felt all the exhaustion that normally followed a rough transformation. There was no surprise in that. What did surprise him was how weary Greyback looked. Greyback had always boasted that he thoroughly enjoyed transformation, and he had always looked so hale afterward that Remus had believed him.
Perhaps Greyback's injuries bothered him. That thought did not comfort Remus, any more than had the sidelong glances he had received and the whispers he had heard about that "low-ranker Moony who'd had the gall to challenge Fenrir."
"I had to separate Greyback and Lupin, my lord, or Lupin would never have had a chance with Annabel." said Peter. "Unfortunately that gave Brian Barclay time to Stun Fenrir and Gillian Barclay time to snatch Annabel out of reach. I'm sorry."
"No one blames you, Wormtail," Voldemort said mildly. "Brian and Gillian Barclay are no mean wizards." He turned cold red eyes on Greyback. "Fenrir could have been more helpful, if only he'd told us the truth. If only he truly were in command of that greedy wolf of his."
"She was my prey, my lord!" Greyback sounded petulant and pleading at once. "You gave her to me first!
"Silence!" snarled Voldemort. "I gave you nothing, and you ruined everything. Do you know that Brian Barclay called Albus Dumbledore at once to tell him of your attack on his daughter? Do you know that Dumbledore sent immediate warnings to his Order and the Ministry? Do you know that, even with Hasse's and the Death Eaters' help, Croswell and Bentham were unable to lure their victims out?" He leaned toward Greyback. "And why?" he asked, his voice deadly quiet again. "Because their parents were warned not to let their little darlings out of their sight."
Remus had never seen Greyback look so terrified. "I--I didn't--" Greyback faltered.
"We will go over your mistakes in greater detail later, Fenrir," said Voldemort. "It is possible--though not likely--that I shall be of a mind to listen to your excuses then."
"And I, my lord?" Remus asked. "Do I get another chance to prove myself?"
Voldemort turned to Remus and gave him a long, searching look. Remus did not dare to drop his eyes.
"It's not that you're any great shakes as an Occlumens, Lupin," Snape had remarked after learning that Lupin, like him, would be going amongst the enemy as a spy. "But you do have that beast in your nature, an unthinking savagery which might be enough to obscure the sight of most Legilimentes."
Snape had stung him with that, as only Snape could. But now Remus prayed he was right.
"What do you think, Wormtail?" Voldemort said. "Do you think Remus Lupin should have another chance?"
"He could be of great value to you, my lord, if he is telling the truth."
Peter's face was unreadable. But he had proved himself capable of deception in the past.
"The proof is in the pudding, of course," said Voldemort, still eying Remus. "Alas, that no more puddings can be made for a while. For once the Ministry are heeding Albus Dumbledore and have put out dire warnings about werewolves allying with me to threaten my enemies. People will be more cautious for a while. We can only hope that, if we ourselves are careful, our prey will grow incautious with time."
"They always do, my lord," Remus said.
Greyback glanced at Remus sullenly and said nothing. Remus wondered whether, once Voldemort was gone, he had enough submissive self-abasement in him to escape Greyback's wrath.
Probably not. And that was unlikely to trouble anyone around him now, either werewolf or wizard. He would be expected to relearn his place.
"Lupin, you are dismissed," said Voldemort with a careless wave of his hand. "Greyback, you stay behind. Wormtail and I would like a word with you. Wouldn't we, Wormtail?"
The light that flickered in Peter's eyes was like a reflection of Voldemort's own red gaze. "Yes, my lord."
Remus left quickly, eager to escape all three of them, terrified lest Voldemort should change his mind and call him back.
And relieved, as he made his way through the crowd of curious werewolves gathered around Greyback's cave, as he shook his head in answer to their eager questions, that he had lived to walk the tightrope another day.