Disclaimer: title comes from the Radiohead song "Exit Music (For a Film)". Author does not claim ownership of Harry Potter, etc, etc. Written for Noblevyne over at HPFF.
Beta'd by PhoenixStorm.
For Noblevyne, by Bowles
"Monsters are real, and ghosts are real, too. They live inside us, and sometimes, they win."
- Stephen King
- - -
The back storage room of Weasley's Wizarding Wheezes was not the most convenient of meeting places in any way. Boxes were piled up to the ceiling, and the floor was marked with various spills and burn marks. One single candle illuminated it in the hours before dawn; a small area of the room was revealed by it, the light at the edges being swallowed by the darkness clinging to the walls.
It was then that there was a creak at the window – barely audible, but still evident. If one listened closely, they could hear it open and a grunt come from the vicinity. The window closed unceremoniously and the sound of footsteps filled the room.
A man's outline, tall and intimidating, could be seen at the edge of the light, a wand hanging limply in his hand. His eyes were fixed in a glare directed at some point in the darkness.
"You have news, Lupin?"
Somewhere across the room another shadow sat up slightly, coughing. "Yes." His voice was hoarse and weak. It had not been a very good week, or month for that matter. And the moon was approaching. "But first… I've heard things…" The shadow (more formally called Remus) cleared his throat. "Would you happen to know anything?"
"Yes. But identify yourself."
Remus pointed his wand into the air and a thick ball of silver shot from it. The man regarded it for a few moments before replying in turn, a bear appearing from his wand.
"Happy?" the werewolf wheezed wryly.
"Yes." Watching the silver wisps fade away, Kingsley Shacklebolt scowled slightly, but something flashed in his eyes – pride, perhaps? "Harry's gone."
"Ah." Remus smiled slightly. The action seemed so very much like James, or Sirius, even. "I expected as much."
"He's taken Weasley and Granger with him."
"Apparently not." Kingsley smirked slightly. "Good thing, too. I doubt that would've gone over well with Molly."
Remus chuckled dryly to himself, knowing how she would react. "I'd wager she's agitated enough about Ron leaving, Kingsley."
"I wouldn't wager against you."
The candle went out for a moment, but Kingsley flicked his wand at it and the flame was rekindled. A few of the moon's rays trickled down through the windowpanes, but they would do no harm. The full moon wasn't for almost a week yet.
"Do you think he has a chance, Remus?"
"Harry?" Remus stared at the ground in front of him. Voldemort was exponentially more experienced than Harry, and Dumbledore had already fallen. The only wizard he had ever feared was gone. Does that matter? Does anything we do really matter?
He looked up at Kingsley, shaken. "I think it would be unwise for Voldemort to underestimate Harry. He's done it before."
"Yes… he has." Kingsley looked comforted by this, but then again, it was always hard to tell what he was really thinking. "But back to business – I don't fancy being in here any longer than I have to be." He adjusted his cloak absently. "You have news?"
"Some," Remus replied shortly. "But it's not of the utmost importance –"
"Merlin, Remus," Kingsley breathed, cutting him off. The candle's light had fallen more directly on him now, and Kingsley was staring at him concernedly. "You look like you've been torn to pieces! What the hell happened?"
"I see you've beaten me to the punch." Remus offered a dry smile as his fingers traced the scars on his neck gingerly. They burned under his touch: they were still fresh. "A parting gift. From my kind."
"No chance of them helping out, then?"
Kingsley swore loudly and made a movement towards a box, but resisted the urge to kick it. "Blasted Greyback! If it weren't for him –"
"A good many things wouldn't have occurred," Remus finished, bitter. He sighed. "But he's in Azkaban now."
"Not that he's going to be there long. You-Know – Voldemort will have him out of there in no time."
"Probably. But there are other, more pressing, matters."
Kingsley frowned and rekindled the candle's flame, which had almost gone out once more. "Such as getting you to St. Mungo's."
"That was going to be my next stop, yes." Remus paused. "Well, not entirely true. I have some other business to attend to before I can go to the hospital."
"Good. Now –" There was a crash somewhere outside and Kingsley looked up, alert, before finally risking a glance at Remus. "Did anyone follow you?"
The Auror relaxed a little and nodded. "Good. But we should be going, anyway." He started towards the window once more before turning back to Remus. "Oh, and Tonks wants you to stop by."
"I didn't know she was cleared to know that we were having this meeting," Remus replied frankly, wearing a grin.
"Ha, ha." Kingsley smiled. "You know how she is. I'm just the messenger."
"That would be Dora for you." He returned the smile. "I assumed as much. That was actually what I had to attend to."
"If you're not going to the hospital straight off then at least you can get some treatment there," replied the Auror, hiding his disapproval at this course of action – a fool in love could not be reasoned with. He wrapped his cloak around himself more tightly and for the first time Remus noted how weary he looked. "It was good to see you, Remus."
Kingsley nodded and brushed his wand towards the candle. The flames flickered before finally being suffocated, and as the last threads of smoke lifted into the air, darkness prevailed.
Across from the Three Broomsticks in Hogsmeade was a nice little shopping center that was quite popular with the students of Hogwarts, and had been for years. He vaguely remembered peeking into the stores when he had been younger, but his memory was foggy – it had, after all, been some time ago. Behind that shopping center was an alley, and beyond that lay a number of flats.
The flats were neither conspicuous nor outstanding in any way, and perhaps that was the most striking thing about them. They were just there, it seemed. No one really noticed who came and went – there were more important things going on, really – yet even so, he approached the middle flat as noiselessly as he could.
"Hello?" he whispered, knocking three times (a safety precaution). "You there?"
There was a crash and a muffled curse before finally someone answered: "Depends. What's your name, and who's your favourite Muggle band?"
"Remus James Lupin, and I love the Beatles."
"That's the ticket –"
"Hold on!" he whispered, grinning. "What's your name, and what's your favourite kind of bagel?"
"Nymphadora Tonks and cinnamon." A sigh came from inside the flat. "Happy?"
The door creaked open and he hurried in. As soon as it was shut he was hit by a bone-crushing hug (something he had grown used to) and nearly knocked onto the sofa.
"Merlin, Remus, where've you been?" Dora stepped back and ran a hand through her bright pink hair before giving him a long look-over and grimacing. "What the hell happened to you?"
"Oh," he said hoarsely, aware of his wounds once more. They marked his body grotesquely; he felt an odd sense of shame at being seen like this.
Yes, he thought in a voice that sounded like that of Molly Weasley, that's Remus Lupin for you. Never could defend himself properly. Poor thing.
He ignored the voice and replied, "Small disagreement. Nothing to worry about."
She didn't notice his attempt at humour and instead was already groping through the nearest drawer for something. "I leave you to yourself for one day and you get mauled," she muttered. "Really, Remus, couldn't you just get along with everybody for once?"
Remus didn't know what to say, but thankfully Dora had found whatever it was that she had been looking for and saved him from making any reply.
"Tallgren's Finest Healing Cream," she remarked grimly as she read off the label of a bright green tube. "Good for healing major physical injuries. We'll just have to see about that, won't we?"
"Off with your cloak," she ordered. He obliged half-heartedly, and within seconds she was rubbing it into his skin where the cuts had torn apart the cloth of his shirt. She worked quickly, to his relief, and slowed as she put the last handful onto his neck. "Nasty cuts. Must've been one hell of a small disagreement."
He cleared his throat and looked at her wearily. "It was."
"I imagine," she said in a way that reminded him of Lily, or even Hermione, "that you're going to St. Mungo's for more treatment. This isn't heavy-duty stuff."
"Of course." Remus smiled to himself, something he found himself doing quite often in her company. "I was going to check in but I figured I should stop by here if I wanted to avoid any further punishment."
"You always were smart," Dora murmured before pecking his cheek and throwing the tube onto the coffee table. She made her way to the kitchen, where a knife was cutting peppers into uneven blocks. "I'm making breakfast. I hope you like omelets?"
"Anything's fine." Remus looked to the fireplace and let out a deep sigh. "I should probably get over there, Dora. I don't want to delay it too much." He glanced back at her regretfully. "I'll try to be back by the time breakfast is ready."
Her expression was stoic. "Yes, you're right. Be off. But if you're not back by the time I've cooked these –" she grabbed the knife and waved it at him playfully "– then it's off with your head, you hear?"
"I hear you."
Taking one look back, he stepped outside and paused before clearing his mind and vanishing into the twilight.
The waiting room of St. Mungo's of Magical Maladies and Injuries was not, in any shape or form, an unfamiliar sight to Remus: he had taken far too many trips to the old hospital for that to be the case. Healers were making their ways down the rows, as always, although perhaps because of the time the area was slightly less crowded this morning.
"Mornin', Mis'r Lupin," greeted one of the Healers as he attended to a portly man who had sprouted a tail. "Needin' any assistance?"
"No, Dockery," Remus replied with a tired wave, "but thank you for the offer. It's the Llewellyn Ward for me again, unfortunately."
Dockery nodded as he scribbled something on his clipboard. "Ah, too of'en it is."
Remus made his way to the double doors – which were perhaps as ancient as the hospital itself – and through to the cramped corridor that he had walked far too many times to count.
"Hello, Lupin," a man in one of the portraits said drowsily, yawning loudly. "Did you assist your young friend with spattergroit? The one I mentioned last time you visited? Grupert says that the entire family seems to be afflicted. Awful red hair, as well."
He grinned as he passed the portrait by. "No, Rossutts. There is no medicine that can cure his case. It's the worst I've ever seen."
"Pity." Rossutts was quickly asleep, though, and the rest of the walk down the corridor passed in silence.
Soon the familiar door on the right came up, but, to Remus's surprise, he had no need to enter. A portly woman was slumped against the wall outside, rubbing her temples.
"Everything all right, Healer Hedgely?"
"Relatively, Mr Lupin." She glanced up at him and offered a tired smile. "Nothing's ever completely right in this hospital, I'm afraid."
Remus noted the noises coming from within the ward. "What's going on?"
"There was a large-scale werewolf attack about three weeks back." Remus nodded – he knew all about that, of course. "Two men were bitten. They knew each other, but… they don't get along too well, to put it lightly. They're driving me crazy. Sometimes I wish I was back in Spell Damage."
"That bad?" Remus asked sympathetically.
Something crashed inside the room.
"WELL, IF YOU HAD LOCKED THE DAMNED GATE, MAYBE WE WOULDN'T BE IN THIS SITUATION!"
"ME? WHO WAS THE ONE THAT TOOK DOWN THE PROTECTION WARDS?"
"ME? WHO WAS THE ONE THAT TOOK DOWN THE PROTECTION WARDS?"
"Ah," he said simply. "I see."
She wasn't paying much attention to him, though; instead, she was staring at his cut sleeve, eyes narrowed. "What happened?"
"What?" Remus followed her eyes and grimaced. "Oh. That. That's why I came. I got into a bit of a tussle."
"A bit of a tussle? More like one hell of a tussle, if you ask me."
"Just some cuts," he replied in a low voice, fully aware of the group of groggy-eyed children walking down the hall behind him. "Nothing too bad."
"Human or animal?" she probed, moving the sleeve up his arm delicately.
He smirked wryly. "Both."
"Oh. I should've guessed." Hedgely fumbled in her pocket for her wand, still gripping his arm lightly so as not to irritate the cuts. "What happened?"
"We had a disagreement," he said candidly. Kingsley would have his head if he gave too much away. "They don't like my style."
She tapped his arm with her wand, and quickly his cuts began to glow. "A few pretty bad cuts. Where else'd they get you?"
"My back and my calves."
"Hm." Hedgely shook her head. "Smart buggers, aren't they?"
"They attacked your arms so you couldn't fight back," she noted. "They attacked your legs so you couldn't run. And – " she peeled back his cloak and examined his back carefully " – they attacked your spine to immobilise you."
Remus swore to himself. Of course. He should've realised that, at least. "It'll take more than that to bring me down."
"Maybe. But I wouldn't recommend getting in another tussle any time soon, Mr Lupin."
"I don't go looking for fights," he explained in a feeble voice, feeling much like a schoolboy again. "Fights find me."
"Then I would suggest that you hide," she stated frankly. Reaching into her pocket once more, she drew out a large jar of yellow paste. "This is the strongest stuff available. It'll treat your wounds and keep them from infecting, as well as take some of the pain away, although it'll work no miracles. The bites will heal very slowly, and will scar, unfortunately. This stuff is strong – you can't even buy it in stores – but it's not that strong. Follow the instructions carefully. Understand?"
"Good." Hedgely sighed. "I'd apply it myself, but those two are about to kill each other."
Remus offered her an easy laugh. "I understand."
"Thank you." She offered him one last smile before stepping through the doorway. "Goodbye, Mr Lupin. Try not to get yourself killed."
The door swung shut, leaving Remus to stare at it blankly.
I'll try, he thought, but I'm not making any promises.
He checked his watch before frowning and heading off down the corridor.
He was late for breakfast.
"Well, the damned old man won't let me get in there –"
"I don't think you of all people should be calling people old, Mad-Eye," Dora interrupted as she spooned some of the whipped potatoes and placed them sloppily on her plate.
"Hm." Moody contented himself with a quiet, one-eyed glare. "In any case, I've got no shot whatsoever at getting the information and destroying it."
"Pity." Arthur sighed and rubbed his face with his hands. "Remus, could you pass the rolls?"
"Thank you." Arthur bit into a roll and gazed in reflection at him, still chewing. "You know, Remus, that might be the first time you've talked at all tonight."
"Don't talk with your mouth full, dear," Molly said absent-mindedly as she set down her glass. She shot a glance at Remus's plate. "You haven't eaten much, either. Feeling under the weather?"
"No, no, Molly," Remus said, attempting a chuckle. He patted Dora on the shoulder as cheerfully as he could, although he must've used too much force as she visibly winced. "Dora here cooked a very large breakfast this morning. I'm still quite stuffed, to tell the truth."
"Oh." To his amusement, she stabbed at her potatoes in a slightly violent manner. "You look a bit out of sorts."
"Yes," said Moody carefully. Remus noticed his magical eye swivelling up and down his body. Of course Moody knew about it. "I'd have to say he does."
Arthur poked at his steak, a look of genuine interest upon his face. Apparently he hadn't been informed of it – one of the few things he didn't know nowadays when it came to the Order. "What happened, Remus?"
"There was a riot one day in the Muggle part of London." Remus was surprised at how quickly and deftly he had lied. I've been playing this game of cat and mouse for far too long. "I was stuck in the middle."
"Oh, that's unfortunate," said Molly. "Do you need any help with those cuts? We've got plenty of medical supplies now that Ginny's the only one left."
He noted the bitterness etched upon her face; she had obviously taken the three's departure very harshly. "No, no, I already went into St. Mungo's. I've gotten plenty of attention as it is."
"Very well." She looked somewhat put out, unfortunately.
A few moments of silence passed before Arthur set down his fork with a clank. "If everyone's done, there is something upstairs that Moody would like you to see. New information, apparently."
"Yes," stated Moody in a matter-of-fact voice. Remus made to get up, but Moody waved him off. "Don't worry, Lupin, you've seen it."
As the rest of them moved to the staircase, Dora sent him a hopeful look, but he shook her off. No need telling her something she'd learn in ten seconds, anyway. And besides, maybe Moody wasn't going to tell them everything, anyway. Or maybe there was something Remus wasn't cleared to know that the old Auror would tell the others.
Their footsteps had long since faded away when he finally left the table. In the late night, the Burrow was quiet, almost dead. There were signs of life all over – old toys, pictures, chess sets – yet not one of the Weasley children was present. Unless Ginny was hiding in a closet somewhere, which he sincerely doubted.
He poked at the dwindling fire for a few moments – doing things without magic had always been something of intrigue to him – before finally turning and reaching into his belt for his wand. When he turned, he nearly jumped.
"Ah. Thank God. I was wondering when you or Kingsley or Tonks would show up."
Lupin stared. Floating above the fireplace was the face of one Harry Potter.
"Hello, Harry," he mumbled in a raspy voice. Checking around the room, he turned back to the fire. "Not to sound rude, but what're you doing here?"
"Looking for a little help." Harry sounded embarrassed.
"Ah. That I might be able to give."
"Good." Harry's expression became more grave. "How many people know that we've left?"
"The entire Order," Remus thought out loud, staring at the ceiling. He twiddled his thumbs nervously – how pathetic did he look right now? "And that should be it. Although we're about to put out a rumour that you've been captured by an unknown party."
Remus's eyes narrowed. "Why do you ask?"
"We think we're being followed."
Harry gave no answer. "How many people know where we are?"
"None. Or at least I don't."
"Obviously someone does."
"Have you told anyone?"
The head shook in mid-air, sending uncountable locks of jet black hair bouncing. "No."
"If you're almost certain, then I would advise getting as far away from there as possible," Remus replied cautiously.
"That's what Hermione said. Although we think we've lost them."
"Good, but it's still advisable to keep on the move." Remus stopped and glanced back at Harry. "Just wondering, but why were you looking for Do – Tonks and Kingsley and me? Why not the others?"
"Because we have a question –"
Suddenly Harry's head disappeared and Remus started towards the fire. But just as quickly another head appeared where Harry's had been.
"Sorry, Professor. Harry's not really part of this."
"I see." Remus smiled. "What, pray tell, do you have to ask me, Ron?"
The missing Weasley looked away for a second before gathering his courage and settling for staring at Remus's feet. "Well, see, er…" He trailed off, paused, and then spurted out abruptly, "You and Tonks are… you know?"
Remus stared blankly, not knowing what to say. "Yes… I suppose."
"Okay, good." Ron relaxed considerably, even venturing a glance or two at Remus's face. "Because I think I might almost be there but I'm not sure."
"Well, you see, I've fancied Hermione for quite some time," Ron said, staring at the floor once more. His words became faster and faster as he continued, until they were nearly incoherent. "But you know, I think she does, but what if she doesn't, although she seems like she does, but if she doesn't it might make things worse, and what-in-the-name-of-Merlin-am-I-supposed-to-do?"
"Er…" Remus paused as he tried to comprehend all of it. "Do you think Hermione fancies you?"
"I hope and I think, but I don't know."
"Why don't you ask Harry?"
Ron nodded brightly, as if he hadn't thought of this before. "Good idea."
Remus nearly fell over as the boy's head momentarily disappeared from the fire.
"Oy! Harry! D'you think Hermione fancies me?"
Suddenly his head reappeared. "Harry says yeah."
"Well, I think you've got your answer."
"But what am I supposed to do now?" Ron looked to be quite helpless. "I mean, we're in the middle of a war, and we've been friends for six years, and –"
"Ron, to tell you the truth, there is no right way to do it," Remus cut him off. He grinned to himself and remembered the breakfast that he and Dora had shared only this morning. "This kind of thing – there isn't a guidebook or manual on how you're supposed to do it. Sometimes it seeps in gradually, sometimes it hits you like a train. But it's always going to grab you and kind of shake you – you know what I'm talking about?"
Ron moved his head in a nodding motion, although for some reason Remus doubted that he completely understood the jumbled mess that had just come out of his mouth.
"Good. That's the only constant. Besides that, there is no right or wrong or in-between… or at least I don't believe there is. I'm no expert. I'm still trying to make sense of it myself."
"Yeah." Ron looked to the ground before smiling and beaming at him. "Well, thanks, Professor! I still have no clue what to do… but y'know, I've never really had any clue what to do anyway. D'you know what I mean?"
Remus smiled. "I know what you mean."
"Good," he replied cheerfully. "Bye, then. You won't hear from us for a very long time."
The fire extinguished and Ron vanished and the house was quiet once more.
Well, he thought, that was unexpected.
He swiveled quickly before relaxing. "Oh. Hello, Ginny."
"Hello." The girl tucked a lock of flaming red hair behind her ear and crossed her feet anxiously. "Did you talk to them?"
He deadpanned. "Who?"
"I don't know what you're talking about, Ginny."
"Yes, you do. I was hiding." She grinned to herself, as if it were some kind of joke. "In the closet. It makes a very good hiding spot, you know."
"And why would you be hiding in a closet?" he probed, hoping he could distract her from the issue at hand.
"To find out information about the meeting," Ginny answered honestly. At least she was frank. "It didn't work, though. Mad-Eye's put some charms on the door to keep intruders away."
"Can you blame him?"
"No." She scuffed her shoe on the floor, a bit disappointed. "What did they say to you?"
"This, that. You know, the usual banter."
"Oh. That's good. Mum was worried sick about them."
"Good," she breathed. "Don't worry, though. I won't tell anyone."
Knowing how she felt – or at least trying to empathise – Remus smiled kindly at her. "I never asked you not to."
"You assumed correctly."
"I thought so," she stated shortly. She shuffled around uncomfortably – more uncomfortably than he had seen her in some years – before finally speaking up again. "Is Harry like his dad was? Or, I mean, was his dad like him?"
Remus was slightly taken aback. That was somewhat random. "How so?"
"Was he so…" Ginny searched for the right word before finally grabbing it out of the air, "indecisive?"
"No," he replied, "but then again, I don't think Harry's indecisive. He knows precisely what he wants, but that doesn't matter to him. What matters to him is what's important. Right or wrong, he makes his decisions based on that. He's pushed his own wants to the side momentarily. I'm not saying that he's correct in doing so; I'm just merely pointing out his line of thought."
"I didn't think about it that way." She frowned. "Boys are stupid."
"They are," said another voice. Dora was standing in the doorway, grin on her face and hands on her hips. "I don't think I want to know what you all have been talking about."
"Not much," Ginny lied. "Just this, that, everything. You know. The usual."
Ginny smiled brightly and tilted her head, as if saluting him. "Thanks. I'll leave you two alone now."
She quickly exited out into the hallway, and as soon as they were sure they were alone, Dora moved to him and embraced him in one swift motion.
"Well, well, it seems Professor Lupin is quite popular with his former students."
"Maybe I was just a good teacher."
She smiled, yet he noticed that her grip was a bit more… desperate? "Of course you were."
"Of course." He sighed. "What's the problem?"
"For how long?"
"A week." She bit her lip, and he could tell that she was frustrated at how the Order had affected her life. Again. "I'm going to miss the moon."
"I wouldn't have it any other way," he said honestly.
"Oh, come on, now, I'm not a little girl. I don't need to be protected."
"I know, but I'd still like you to be." He offered her a small, sad smile. "I can't say I'm happy about it, but in a way, maybe it's for the better."
"Maybe." She rested her forehead against his chin, and he drew closer to her. "When this war is over, a few things are going to change, thankfully."
Remus laughed darkly, wearily. "When this war is over, everything is going to change."
"Good. I'm tired and cranky and haven't had a good night's sleep in three months." He could tell – she sounded as if she were about to drop to the floor right then. Nevertheless, Dora still grinned up at him. "So what were you talking about?"
It was his turn to grin. "Oh, you know. Just this, that, everything."
The shack was dark and dank, just as it had always been. He could still smell the blood on the walls – his blood – and could still feel the fear that had seeped into the floorboards.
"Fifteen minutes until sundown," boomed the voice of Kingsley Shacklebolt. The Auror glanced at his watch once more, as if to double-check. "If that's all, I'll be leaving, then. The wards are up. I went through and made sure. No other Aurors are going to come through here on a sweep."
Remus nodded, already feeling the ache in his bones. The moon was coming soon. "Good. And the townspeople?"
"Don't worry about that," Kingsley said with a dismissive smirk. "The villagers are sure as hell not coming anywhere near here."
"Ah." He chuckled feebly. "My reputation precedes me."
"Thirty years of ghost stories will do that, Lupin." His counterpart reached for his wand and waved it once, illuminating the shack with a dim green glow. "Goodbye. Stay safe. Don't kill yourself."
The werewolf just smirked at him. "I'm not making any promises."
"I didn't think you would."
Kingsley gave him one last nod before heading down the stairs and into the tunnel. The light coming from his wand slowly faded, and Remus was left once more in the darkness.
Just like the good old days.
Any second now it would take control of him like a virulent disease. He could handle the pain. He had before. He wasn't that old yet; his body had not yet failed him.
But there would be no one there when he returned, of course. She was gone. Away. This damned war was tearing away everything good in his life.
Just like the good old days.
The first tug came at his stomach like a predator going for the jugular, and he lurched backwards. Within seconds he was convulsing against the rotten wood, and all thought abandoned him.
Nymphadora Tonks sighed. It'd been almost three hours, and the suspect still hadn't budged. Kingsley's last try had ended up with the Auror storming out of the interrogation chambers and slamming himself down on his chair.
"Damn it!" he swore loudly. Regaining his composure slightly, he glanced around to make sure they were alone. "He won't give us anything. We know that Greyback is planning something for the werewolves, but we have no clue what."
"I know," she replied. She shook her head. "Sometimes I just wish we could put an Imperius on them and be done with it."
Kingsley raised an eyebrow. "Well, really, I don't think anyone's looking –"
"No!" She tilted towards him and lowered her voice to a hiss. For a brief second, she almost felt as if Remus was in her head, telling her what to say. "If we do that, we might get caught! And worse than that, we'd be lowering ourselves to their level!"
"Oh, stop giving me that prepubescent shite," he muttered angrily in his loud baritones. "We're in the middle of a war here, Tonks. We can't go around being idealistic."
Dora merely glowered at him, and he eventually shrugged it off bitterly.
"I know, I know, we have to. Dumbledore pounded that into my skull for two years." He gritted his teeth. "But we're against the wall as it is without limiting ourselves. It's just… frustrating, that's all."
"Of course it is," Dora responded swiftly. "But that's why we're different than them."
Kingsley laughed sourly. "Oh, I'm sure there are a few other key differences, as well." He crumpled up a piece of parchment into a ball and threw it across his desk. "How did it go in Scotland? Were you able to track any other leads down? This arse isn't going to help us."
"Not really," she said, glad for a change in subject. "That's it. Although something seemed odd… as if everyone was on edge. It seemed like they were just waiting for something bad to happen."
"I think everyone is waiting for something bad to happen these days."
"Yeah." She wrinkled her nose and looked quizzically at her pocket, just remembering something. "I showed you the letter we intercepted, right?"
"No," he responded, shooting up in his seat. "What'd it say?"
"That's the thing. It went on and on like a regular old letter, talking about Quidditch and the weather, but in the middle it had just these random words written down: 'We found them.' And then it continued."
Kingsley frowned, already going over the situation in his mind. "Found who?"
"We don't know."
"Maybe it's just a false alarm."
"Hopefully. But we've got a few of our people down there to keep an eye on it."
He nodded. "Good. That's exactly what the situation called for. You're learning, Tonks."
"Nah, I'm just guessing and getting lucky," she shot back, grinning. She diverted her attention to the floor, and in a few seconds her grin began to fade. "How's Remus?"
"He should be waking up soon."
"It's six o'clock at night."
"I drugged his goblet last night with something to knock him out. He's been exhausted lately, and I don't want him trying to come back from a moon too early. Bill is heading to the shack as we speak."
"I would get mad at you, but I guess you weren't trying to kill him," Dora said, giving him a warning smirk. "Just watch your goblet next time we all have dinner."
"I already do."
She was just about to shoot back a sarcastic reply when Arthur Weasley appeared near them, pale-faced and grave.
"There's a situation in Scotland," he stated.
Kingsley bolted out of his seat. "What?"
"Death Eaters have all come together in the town where we thought Greyback was." Arthur adjusted his collar; he was sweating, trembling even. "Charlie just sent word. He thinks there are werewolves in the area. He's already notified Bill to alert Remus."
"Damn it, we definitely don't want him there," Kingsley growled. "He'll barely be able to stand! Well, can't do anything about that now, can we?" He rubbed his face wearily. "Do we know why they've shown up in that area?"
"We think we do."
The Auror waited expectantly. "Well…?"
Arthur bit his lip – something was very wrong. "We think they've found Harry."
Blurs. Shapes. Shadows.
Familiar things. He knew the sensation, that sensation that was electrifying his entire body, quite well.
He was waking up.
His thoughts were scattered, but they were growing clearer and clearer with each passing second. He was already feeling stronger, more aware; the blurs and shapes and shadows all began to condense and join together, slowly forming a dark and grainy picture.
Now it was all clear. The few rays of light that made it into the shack poorly illuminated the area, and he could make out the door and stairway. Now, if only he could move…
Footsteps suddenly became audible. He wanted to dart for the exit, or hide, but he couldn't. He was helpless, still not quite awake.
"Remus?" A young man with long red hair stepped over the threshold and into the room. Even from his vantage point on the floor, he could make out the scars on his face. "Ah, you're a wreck. I brought you some of my dad's clothes. They might be a bit baggy, but they're better than what you're wearing now."
"Hello, Bill," Remus muttered weakly, his strength slowly returning to him. The floor was cold against his bare body; he just wanted to get up, get moving, get out of this hellhole. "I'm a bit tired today."
"No surprises there. Kingsley put something in your drink to make sure you didn't get up."
"What?" He moved a few centimetres, feeling finally coming back to his muscles.
"Just wanted to make sure you got your rest after the moon. Nothing serious."
"Ah. What time is it?"
"You've got to be kidding me," Remus groaned. Collecting all of his energy, he pushed against the floor and sat up, his blood rushing down his torso. "Anything else I should be aware of?"
"Actually, yes." He noticed that Bill's voice had quieted some. "There's been an attack in Scotland. Death Eaters have concentrated in one area and are destroying a wizarding town."
Remus's head twisted backwards quickly. "Really? Why?"
"We're not sure," he said grimly, "but we think they've found Harry."
"Damn it!" Feeling suddenly energised, he got to his feet with some effort. "Give me the clothes, Bill. We need to get over there."
"I'm not entirely sure if you should be going in your condition –"
"I'm sorry, but this is one of those times where you really have no choice." Remus took the bundle from his hands and promptly began fitting himself into the undergarments. "Do you have my wand?"
"In my pocket."
"Good. How are we going to get there?"
"We have a Floo connection," Bill answered. "We can go to the Three Broomsticks and use their fireplace –"
"No need. There's a fireplace behind that oven."
Bill looked at him sceptically. "I don't see how that's possible."
"Dumbledore kept it there in case Pomfrey might ever need to escape if I transformed earlier then she had expected. The key is 'dissendium'."
"Oh." Bill was not going to argue with Remus in such a state. Turning to his side, he cleared his throat and tapped the oven. "Dissendium."
The oven split in half and swung open like a pair of doors, revealing an old and musty fireplace behind it. Even Remus had never seen it before, only having been told about it by the old headmaster to comfort him before he'd transformed there for the first time.
"Good," he stated, slipping on the boots that Bill had given him. "My wand, please."
The redhead obliged. "You're sure about this?"
"Positive," he said, nodding. "The powder's in the pot on the mantle."
Bill reached into the pot and grabbed the powder before pointing towards the fireplace with his wand. A fire roared to life, and he tossed the powder into the fire, causing it to burn a bright green as he stepped into it.
The fires roared over his head and he vanished. Remus did not hesitate before following suit.
"Ottle's Pub!" he cried. Ash filled his throat, and he could barely breathe. In seconds he stumbled out of the fireplace.
Blasted Floo powder, he thought irritably. Looking up, he took in his surroundings warily. The pub appeared to be quite old, and at this time empty; several glasses were smashed on the ground, and a door in the back had been knocked off of its hinges.
"Looks like they've already been through here," Bill stated. They could hear screams outside, maybe fifty metres away.
Remus shook his head. "Let's get going."
They made their way over the broken shards of glass and overturned chairs and to the empty doorway. Bill risked a peek outside before turning to Remus and nodding. "Looks safe enough to me. You can go first, though."
"I'm not sure my reflexes are what they should be tonight," he said, ignoring that the statement had just been a feeble attempt at humour. "You'll have to summon your courage and go on out."
"Damned youthful reflexes." Very slowly, the eldest Weasley child stepped through the doorway and down a few steps. "No, the Death Eaters must be on the other side. There's no one on this side."
"Good." Remus followed him out into the alley. The sun was beginning to set, and everything appeared to be a soft red in the light of the dusk. "Make your way around the corner. Wand out."
Bill obliged, and within seconds had snaked his neck around the wooden beam. "I think I saw something."
"A hundred metres or so."
"Let me see." Remus crept up behind him and glanced around the corner. There were flashes of light some distance away, and then another group of lights beyond that. "We're going to have to split up. Check out that closer group. I'll try to make my way around behind them. Cover me."
"On the count of three," he whispered. "One… two… three!"
They sped towards the battle, a safe distance apart with Bill leading Remus by a decent margin. As they drew closer, he could see one or two Death Eaters fighting with a few others, but a group of Aurors seemed to have them in check.
"Lupin!" It was Kingsley. "You shouldn't be here!"
"You know I couldn't miss this. What's the situation?"
"Some minor Death Eaters and a few werewolves over here," Kingsley yelled back over the screams as he incapacitated a thin man with long brown hair. "There are more over there, we think, but we just sent a few to scout it out."
"Why, though? The full moon was last night!"
"Don't ask me." Kingsley glanced darkly at the distant group. "But you know what I think."
Of course, he thought. If they found Harry they'd use all of their manpower to try to get him.
"Don't do anything stupid, Remus!" he cautioned, his cloak billowing behind him furiously with a sudden jet of wind.
"I'm sorry, Kingsley. It's my best friend's son. I have to do something."
He ducked through the fray and sprinted into the woods, trying to block out Kingsley's yells. This is reckless, but Harry is our only hope. Dumbledore even said so.
The woods were dark; only a small amount of light made its way through the seemingly endless patterns of intertwining branches above him. The ground was matted with leaves and moss and sticks, and even a few logs, which were incredibly hard to discern now that the daylight was fading.
There was a shriek somewhere in the distance – Hermione, perhaps?
Get there, Remus!
He was nearing the edge of the forest now. He was almost there –
Suddenly he flew onto the ground, skidding across the moss. His body ached; that had not been a smart move. He must've tripped on a log – damned logs…
"A bit on the clumsy side, aren't we, Lupin?"
Remus knew the voice. But no. It couldn't be. Even he didn't have the nerve, the idiotic audacity to appear to him now.
"Hurrying to get somewhere, perhaps?"
He looked up and grimaced. "Hello, Snape. And here I was, hoping you'd died."
"Thank you for the sentiment, Lupin, but I am quite unfortunately still breathing." The thin man looked quite like a marionette made of shadows, the way he lingered in the darkness, yet his eyes glowed like diamonds. "I notice that I am no longer Severus to you. Pity."
"You bastard, don't even think about taunting me –"
"Put away your wand, you dolt, we both know a fight will be an extravagant waste of time and effort." Snape slicked back his hair and sneered at him. "Believe it or not, dealing with you is not something I came here to do, nor something I very much desire to do. It's coincidence that we met here today. Well, not entirely coincidence… I presumed that you might make an appearance. But so soon? Wasn't the moon just last night?"
Remus got to his feet, feeling an unbridled hatred that he had never before experienced. "What do you want?"
"Nothing, really. I was just about to make my exit." Snape frowned and turned his hooked nose up as if disgusted. "Although I would warn you that you should make your exit as well. It would not be wise to continue from this point. A few old acquaintances are just dying to meet up with you. I don't think you're in any rush to see them again, though."
"As I expected," he sighed. "Very well, then. I have nothing further to say to you. Goodbye, Lupin. Don't do anything stupid."
There was a crack and Remus knew it was too late, that Snape had already Disapparated. But he couldn't help noticing how he had echoed Kingsley so precisely…
Don't do anything stupid.
Remus sighed, already surrendered to the fact. Now is not the time for rationalisations or logic.
He made his way to the edge of the forest until finally he was standing in the middle of a neat field overlooking a steep drop-off into a river running through the area. The river was loud and powerful; even from a distance he could hear the water pounding into the stone.
Yet there was another sound… something else…
He became rigid.
"Hello, Lupin," came a low growl from his side. "Nice to see you again."
He knew the voice. It, too, was familiar to him.
"Hello," he said calmly, turning to face the speaker and forcing a grim smile. "What a pleasant surprise, Greyback."
The werewolf tilted his head back and laughed. "Always the funny one, weren't you? Just a regular old riot."
All of a sudden Remus heard something behind him – a grunt?
He turned swiftly. "Harry?"
"That's right," Greyback chuckled. "Potter and friends, all together for you."
It was like a scene from his worst nightmare. Motionless on the ground were Harry, Hermione, and Dora. The latter caught his eyes momentarily as if to say, I'm sorry.
"Yeah, I'd been following them for some time now yet hadn't quite caught up with them." Greyback sniffed into his sleeve. "The old nostrils aren't what they once were. I finally found them, and it just played out perfectly… first the three, then your lady came all on her lonesome to get me and I got her, too…"
"Where's Ron?" Remus asked sharply.
"The blasted redhead? He gave me a punch to the gut when I wasn't looking and got away. Doesn't matter, though. The boy's the one the Dark Lord wants."
"Ron took his wand, too," Hermione said weakly, struggling against her bonds.
"That's interesting," Remus noted darkly. "You hadn't told me that, Greyback. Scared, perhaps?"
"Ha!" rasped the werewolf. "I've never used a wand for much, anyway."
"I can tell. Your Full Body Bind was horrible. You didn't even succeed in silencing your targets." His confidence was growing with every second, now… Greyback was defenceless…
"Shoddy wand-work, I know." Greyback laughed, running his yellowed fingernails through his hair. "But we both know that I'm dangerous even without magic."
Screams of terror filled Remus's head, and he gripped the scar on his arm instinctively. "I might know something about that."
"Of course," he said. "Now, now, Lupin, enough with the chitchat. You're lucky that your little friends are even alive at this point. I was about to do my work on them – ah, your doll looks delicious – but that bastard Snape stopped me. Apparently the Dark Lord wishes to have them alive." He grinned maniacally. "But they don't need their hands, do they? Their legs?"
Remus felt his jaw clench down suddenly. "You're sick."
"I know it," Greyback replied, still grinning. "But that's what makes me so dangerous, isn't it? Isn't it, Lupin?"
Remus did not reply.
"Are you scared, Lupin? Are you scared of the fact that your jinxes and curses might just bounce off of me, or barely even scratch me? That's our advantage, isn't it? Us werewolves? We're outcasts, like the giants, but wizards have one hell of a time bringing us down, don't they?"
He stepped towards him, but Remus's wand shot towards him. "Stay where you are!"
"Going to attack me, Lupin?" Greyback unsheathed a knife and smirked. "Really? Going to try a Full Body Bind on me? Good luck with that! It's too bad that the Weasley is too stupid to break my wand and cut off the curse. That would give you some help, some confidence."
"Shut up!" Harry growled.
"Ah, Potter, so young! So fresh!" The werewolf sighed. "It's a pity, though. I think the Dark Lord might fancy you for himself. I'll just have to settle for one of the girls. You know how I like the ladies, Lupin."
Remus lurched violently towards him. "If you make one more move," he muttered quietly, "I am going to tear you apart, piece by piece."
Greyback appeared shocked for a moment, but he quickly regained his composure. "My, my, that was morbid! Getting some ferocity, are you, Lupin? But who are you kidding? We both know you don't have it in you. You just can't do it. You can barely even say it!"
Remus just glared at him.
"Let's face facts, Lupin," he breathed. "I am going to deal with you first. After I have had an appetiser, I am going to take your little friends back to the Dark Lord. He'll get the boy, and I'll get the girls."
The wand shook in his hand.
"I don't know which one I'll dine on first. Perhaps I'll have a bit of fun with them before the meal. Know what I mean?"
He gave no reply, fury shooting through his veins like fire.
"Yes, after I get bored with them, then I'll dispose of them. Girls can be such a bother sometimes! I just don't know how long they'll last before my patience wears thin."
"Go to hell," Remus growled.
"That's the spirit!" Greyback clapped his hands together. "Too little, too late, though. We both know that you won't do anything. You don't have it in you."
Again, Remus said nothing.
"I'm going to kill you, and there's nothing you can do about it."
He began to feel sick, but he couldn't take his eyes from his counterpart. This was the man who had ruined his life, had ruined everything…
"I gave you the gift, Lupin. I tried to make you strong. You just were too weak already, though. There was nothing I could do."
He made a move towards him, but Remus didn't budge.
"No spirit, Lupin. No spirit! Pure cowardice."
The knife glinted in the darkness; Greyback was getting closer.
"Face facts, Lupin…"
Remus glared at him, still pointing the quivering wand at him. This man had ruined everything…
"You just don't –" Greyback stepped towards him "– have it –" one more step "– in you."
This was it. Do or die. No more regrets.
Time to do something stupid.
"Go to hell, Greyback," he growled again.
The werewolf recoiled slightly, but it was too late.
The arm stopped shaking. The wand straightened. The words rolled harshly off of his tongue.