Disclaimer: I do not own Harry Potter
1. Pro patria mori
The pub was nearly deserted. November's snows still lay frozen outside, and the floors were streaked with tracked-in mud and melting piles of snow. It smelled very strongly of old smoke and wet wool, and a little of wet dog. The source of the latter was stretched out in front of the fire, brown fur crackling with the heat, one eye on its owner on the far side of the pub. Remus smiled, reminded of Sirius.
He covered a yawn and leaned his elbows on the table, decoratively marked with wandering cracks and stains, wobbling a little under his weight. He should have picked a table further from the fire. The heat was making him sleepy. Everything made him sleepy these days, and Remus thought sometimes that he'd give his right arm for a few more hours each night, except that he'd need his right arm in this upcoming war.
Nathan was late. Maybe he never even received the message. They'd been putting double protections on owls these days, but owls were always vulnerable. No help for it. He took a sip from his pint glass while he waited. The tweedish looking jacket Sirius had unearthed for him in the attic itched and was hot, and he thought longingly of wizard robes.
A man with thinning hair and a red face appeared at the table, pulling out the chair opposite. He was wearing something stiff and dressed up and looked just as uncomfortable in the Muggle clothing as Remus. He tugged at the collar of his shirt.
"Nathan," Remus said pleasantly. He'd had a lot of practice these past months. "Thanks for meeting me."
"Of course, Lupin, of course," Nathan said. He still looked uncomfortable, his eyes darting around them, anywhere but at Remus; when their eyes did meet, Remus could see lingering traces of shock, probably at Remus's appearance, and an air of nervousness Remus didn't remember from when they were boys.
Remus knew he'd changed since school by the way everyone looked at him, wondering if they should say anything about the extra grey in his hair; apprehensive, too, that at any moment he would collapse on them. Furtive glances he suspected were based in a deeper and more honest fear, that they'd suddenly find themselves with a wolf on their hands, full moon or no.
Nathan himself looked only marginally different from when they were at school together; less hair, more weight. Lines around his eyes that shifted with the firelight.
"You, er, look good," Nathan said awkwardly. Remus smiled. "It's been what, thirteen years? Since Jolie and I were married."
"How is she?"
"She's well. Two kids now, boy and a girl. Here." Nathan took out two pictures from the breast pocket of his jacket, his face lighting with pride masked by diffidence, and handed them across the table. Remus peered at them. The girl stared back with the stony-eyed glare of adolescence before flipping her hair and turning away; the boy stuck out his tongue. Remus handed them back.
"I wasn't sure you were going to come," he said.
"I almost didn't," Nathan said, tucking the pictures back into his pocket.
"Because of what I am?"
"Well," Nathan said, his eyebrows twitching in either surprise or renewed nervousness, "I, er, did hear something about that."
Remus smiled without irony. "I expected the news to travel quickly."
Nathan shrugged. "It's not news so much as rumor. Most people don't believe it, to tell you the truth." He peered at Remus curiously. "Were you one at school, then?" At Remus's nod, his voice pitched up a notch, words falling out short and hurried, "Well, and I have nothing against werewolves, you understand, or at least ones that I know, rather, but I--"
He stuttered to a halt as the barman appeared at his shoulder. Remus leaned back in his chair as the next few minutes were spent in the awkward business of ordering Muggle drinks, thankful that they didn't need to dwell on that point, at least, any longer. He allowed himself a moment to wonder what the true reactions of his former classmates had been. Surprise, maybe. Many would have taken the news gleefully. Some, he was sure, must have suspected.
The barman left. "Do you know why I contacted you?" Remus said.
"I have a fair idea," said Nathan, his expression gone wary.
Remus leaned forward, lowering his voice. "You remember what it was like."
"Of course I do," Nathan said irritably. "Who doesn't remember? But what makes you think any of that's going to happen again? You-Know-Who," he said the name in a low whisper, "is dead. Gone. That's all in the past." He spoke with the voice of a man who has rehearsed the words over and over again to himself.
Remus leveled his gaze at him. "You know that's not true."
Nathan shifted in his seat, staring glumly across the room. "I contract with the Ministry, you know. They think Dumbledore's mad."
"You've known Dumbledore as long as I have. Do you think he's mad?"
"He was never what I would call sane, Remus."
"He's been right every time. And I know, Nathan. I know Voldemort's back."
Maybe he'd pushed too hard, because now Nathan was staring at him, expression challenging, his eyes gone stubborn. "How do you know, Remus? Have you seen him? Seen any evidence of him? Because I haven't heard anything. Nothing that I would give credence to, anyway. A few rumblings from people who should have retired a long time ago."
"You sound like the Ministry," Remus said.
A shrug. "Maybe they're not far wrong."
The barman returned, putting down a full pint of the same thing Remus was drinking. Nathan eyed it skeptically.
"Look, Nathan," Remus said, when they were alone again. He folded his hands together in front of him, studying them, organizing his thoughts carefully. "It's not as if you don't have first-hand knowledge of what Voldemort can do. You were a lot of help to the Order before. We could use that help again."
The lines at Nathan's eyes deepened; his shoulders stooped a little. He looked like a man struggling, or like someone lost.
"Even if you're right, Remus--and I'm not saying you are." His eyes spoke differently, but Remus could tell that he'd made his decision, probably before he even arrived. "It's not the same this time. I have a wife, Lupin. A family. There are some chances I can't take."
"I know," Remus said.
His eyes shifting around them as if grasping for words, Nathan continued, "You asked me if I remembered what it was like. It's not something you forget. Olivia's dead because of You-Know-Who." Remus looked down again at his hands. He'd forgotten that Nathan's sister had been killed, a late casualty. Too many names to remember.
"I can't do it, Remus. Not again."
He hadn't counted on Nathan, but he'd hoped. With just a little more persuasion he might be able to bring him in. Remind him of all the people who were yet to be killed if they didn't do something now, the threat to the whole wizarding world. That perhaps everything they'd known and cherished would be destroyed. That they had obligations, responsibilities.
He didn't think he had the heart for it.
"I understand," Remus said.
"But it's been good to see you," Nathan said with forced cheer, offering it up like an apology. "Like old times, eh?"
"Sure," Remus said.
Nathan stood up from the table, hurriedly pulling on the coat he'd draped over the back of the chair. "And take care of yourself. You're looking a bit, er, peaky."
"Give my best to Jolie," Remus said, but Nathan was already at the pub's door.
"Obliviate," Remus whispered. Nathan paused in mid-stride, stumbling a little before shaking his head like a man just coming awake and continuing on through the door, not looking back.
The barman wandered tentatively over, likely looking for payment for Nathan's untouched pint and the still half-full one in front of Remus. Remus hoped he had enough Muggle currency on him. He never could figure out the bits of paper and strangely-shaped coins, and he'd taken a year of Muggle Studies, even.
He didn't wait for the change.
The house at 12 Grimmauld Place was quiet as he let himself in, not even the curtains over the former occupant's portrait stirring. The gas lamps along the hall were set low, and there were more shadows than light creeping along the walls, peering down at him from the chandeliers with grim, hostile glares. For all he knew, the shadows were indeed alive, waiting for their opportunity to be rid of his unwanted presence, to draw the house back into the murky depths that was the Black family history. Remus put nothing past this house.
He missed the sound and chaos of the Weasleys, the brief weeks over the summer when the house had been alive in a way he doubted it had ever been. But the solitude was welcome, too. No Molly Weasley peering over the collective shoulders of the household in well-meaning fretfulness, no inevitable tension from all the various, disparate personalities crowded together, waiting for someone--him by default most of the time--to mold them together, turn them into something passing as a team with a common purpose.
He shed the tweed jacket, now grown unbearably uncomfortable, as he slipped through the hall, draping it over the knob of the banister before taking the stairs up, steps creaking.
His spirits sank when he saw the diminutive form of Kreacher, arms crossed resentfully, standing on the first floor landing.
"Master's not here," said the house-elf with a sniff. "Away, he is, with his ugly brute friend, dirty little halfbreed."
Remus forced himself to be civil. The house-elf couldn't help it, he reminded himself. It's what he was bred to. Still, he allowed himself one glorious moment to fantasize chucking Kreacher over the railing to the floor below. "You mean he's upstairs with Buckbeak. Who isn't a halfbreed, by the way."
"Not knowing any names, Kreacher isn't." He gave Remus a sly look. "Mistress doesn't hold with familiarity with halfbreeds." The round points of his eyes glowed in the landing's shadows. "Master Regulus used to kill werewolves. Hunted them down, he did. Spread their bones and buried them."
Remus raised an eyebrow. "I'm sure he did."
"Master Regulus would turn in his grave if he knew werewolves lived in his house. Unnatural, it is."
"I'm sure he would," Remus agreed.
His face screwed up in frustration, Kreacher's voice shrilled even higher, his thin body shaking with rage. "Traitors, they all are, mudbloods and halfbreeds, what Mistress wouldn't do, filthy traitors, dirty unnatural creatures---"
Remus left him to it, tuning out the shrieking of the house-elf that followed him up the stairs, until he turned a corner and the petulant voice was swallowed up. He rubbed his forehead. Sometimes he thought Sirius had it right, that they should just chop off the elf's head and be done with it.
Buckbeak's room was on the third floor of the house, in the large bedroom that took up nearly the whole level. As he went up even more stairs, Remus wondered if the former Blacks had arranged it that way to be literally above the rest of their household, or if they'd simply enjoyed having the servants troop up an extra flights of steps.
Now it was filled with the dubious scent of hippogriff. Sirius was grooming the room's new occupant when Remus reached the doorway. Buckbeak's eyes were closed with pleasure, his body held perfectly still as Sirius worked a brush over the horse parts of him, careful not to disturb any of his feathers.
Remus leaned against the doorway and watched. The simple task of grooming smoothed out the lines etched on Sirius's face, and it was as if there were two of them silk-screened together, sharp edges still showing through the cracks of this younger visage. It made his stomach twist. Remus looked down at the straw-covered floor, letting an emotion emerge and pass through him before it drifted down, deep down, submerged again for the moment.
They'd had their chance. Didn't it go something like that? That chances, once relinquished, were no longer there for the taking. Every few years one is transformed entirely new. Someone had said that. Someone who'd had no idea of costs exacted, the loss of something taken before its time.
The knowledge hadn't done him any good.
"Remus," Sirius said, finally noticing him in the doorway. Remus looked up.
"When did you get back?" Sirius's hand paused mid-stroke. Buckbeak's eyes fluttered open at this abrupt halt to his grooming. Catching sight of Remus, he inclined his befeathered head aristocratically, as if he hadn't been practically purring just a few moments ago. Remus returned the greeting solemnly.
"Just now," Remus said. "I met Kreacher on the stairs. He told me you were up here."
Sirius snorted, his eyes darkening, and Remus regretted his mention of the house-elf. It was hard to know these days what was likely to set Sirius off, but the house-elf was always a sure wager. He said, to lighten the mood, "You never told me your brother hunted werewolves."
Sirius snorted again, this time with derision. "A likely story. Regulus wouldn't even go near the hunting dogs my father kept. Shrieked like a girl whenever they were let in the cellar in bad weather. I doubt he'd ever even seen a werewolf." A smile twitched. "Except you, of course."
"I have to say I'm relieved to hear it." Remus let the doorway hold him up, feeling muscles relax, the tensions of the day dissipate. It was a pleasant scene, the two of them, and Remus let his imagination drift, wondering what it would have been like if the past fourteen years had been written the way he'd expected, back when he was younger and less tired.
"You just missed Kingsley," Sirius said. "He left an hour ago."
"What did he want?"
Sirius shrugged. "Dropped off a roll of parchment for you. I took it down to the library." Remus nodded. Probably just a routine report. "How did your meeting go?"
Remus's mouth twisted. "Not well."
Sirius resumed his grooming of Buckbeak, who sighed in not-so-subtle relief. "Nathan Brick's a coward. He was a coward when we were in school. I imagine he hasn't changed much."
"He's a good man," Remus said, sharper than he'd intended. But Sirius didn't notice, or didn't seem to, anyway.
"You remember how he was at Hogwarts. No backbone."
"He's concerned about his family. And rightly so." He wondered just who he was trying to convince.
Sirius ignored him. "We can do better. The Order can do better." Buckbeak squawked at a particularly rough swipe of the brush, and Sirius patted him apologetically.
"Besides," he said, catching Remus's eyes, "we have enough members already. Why do we need more?"
"We could always use more people, Sirius."
It wasn't the first time they'd butted heads over this. He didn't particularly feel like arguing the point now.
"I just think," Sirius began--and Remus noted that he was choosing his words carefully, an approximation of a very un-Sirius-like tact, "that we need to be more careful about who we let into the Order. Anyone could be working for the other side. There's no way for us to know. Take Snape, for instance---"
So much for tact. "You know he's loyal."
"I don't know that. Neither do you. Not so long ago he was taking orders from Voldemort. Do we really need that kind of risk? I just think---"
"It wasn't 'not so long ago,' Sirius. He's been our side for a while now. A long time has passed."
He regretted the words as he spoke them, even before Sirius stiffened and turned away. Silence was thick in the room. Remus forced his body upright. A headache had come on. He really needed to sleep, and he really needed to do some work. Look over whatever Kingsley had dropped off for him. He debated, knowing that neither would be fully satisfying right now.
"I'll be in the library," he said finally. Sirius, who was stroking Buckbeak's head--Remus didn't know if it was to reassure himself or the hippogriff--didn't answer.
The library was on the first floor, down the corridor from the drawing room, tucked in between two bedrooms and surprisingly roomy. He'd been using the smaller of those bedrooms lately because it entered off the library itself. It was tempting to go straight through to it, forget about work for the moment and just rest. But the argument with Sirius had wound him to a restless tension; he didn't think he'd be able to sleep now, anyway.
He sat down at the room's only desk, aged to a rough dark wood. The parchment Kingsley dropped off was rolled up neatly on top. He ignored it for the moment, keying open a drawer with a spell muttered under his breath and shifting through a number of parchment rolls of different sizes and lengths until he found the one he wanted. Recruitment files, with a list that was depressingly short. If anyone other than the Order tried to read it, it would look like gibberish. A spell provided by Bill. Remus imagined it was a useful one in the banking business. He found Nathan's name and crossed it out, making a few notations in the margin in case they ever wanted to try again.
Might as well see what Kingsley had to say. A brief glance on unrolling revealed that it was the routine report he'd thought it would be. More alarming developments in the Ministry, as if that situation could have gotten any worse. Remus closed his eyes and thought regretfully of Harry and the other Hogwarts students, caught in a political battle that had nothing to do with what they were all risking their necks for.
Remus started and blinked his eyes open. He must have dozed off. Sirius stood just inside the doorway of the library. Remus's first instinct was to apologize, smooth over the earlier argument with a few words; they'd been doing a lot of that lately. But Sirius's eyes told him it was okay, they were okay, or at least it was forgotten for now.
"I'm off to bed," Sirius said. He stood a little awkwardly, his robes draped at an angle that revealed his gauntness even more than usual. "I thought tomorrow we could tackle the wine cellar."
Remus nodded. The rest of the house was clean of all major spelltraps and lurking creatures, but they'd left the cellar with a general protection spell over its entrance, too busy with other things. No harm in being thorough, though. "Did you read Kingsley's report?"
Sirius nodded. "It's not getting any better, is it," he said wryly.
The weather wasn't helping either. They spent so much time in the house that the pass of days and nights was much of the same, but more often than not the windows showed a scene dark with either night or snow. And although the house was bespelled for temperature control, he often wondered if it was slightly off, or if the general dampness of the house made thorough heating impossible.
He knew, though, that whatever was wrong with him had nothing to do with either the weather or the Ministry.
"See you in the morning," Sirius said, ducking back through the doorway and disappearing into the shadows. Remus had an urge to call him back, cozy up for a chat, tell Sirius all of his stupid meaningless worries even though Sirius likely already knew them.
It used to be easier, he thought. But maybe memory was just unreliable, and it had never been easy.