A/N-Many thanks to my fabulous beta reader, Dreamer, for the wonderful editing, suggestions, and encouragement!
Remus, freshly opened butterbeer in hand, stared up at the stars. Out in the middle of nowhere, where he and Dora were making their home, it was oh-so-easy to see every one. He always took especial care to find Sirius, the Dog Star, and now, as he did, he lifted his bottle in a toast to his missing friend.
"Peter's dead," he whispered. "Do you know that? Do James and Lily know?" He closed his eyes hoping, somehow, to hear whispers that would answer his questions. None came.
For the millionth time, he asked himself, "How could we have not seen what he was doing to us?"
There was a noise, an animal squealing as it was captured by some predator, and Remus opened his eyes, realizing his eyes were wet with tears. He quickly blinked them away. He hadn't mourned Sirius with tears, and he certainly was not going to mourn Peter Pettigrew in that manner. Immediately after Sirius's death, he had been too busy with Harry's friends and worrying about Tonks. Then there was the mad rush of clearing out Grimmauld Place and the need to find a place to stay which prevented him from mourning Sirius properly. After the insanity of those couple of weeks, it somehow seemed as if the drinks that he and Dora shared in Sirius's memory had to be enough.
But how did one mourn a boyhood friend who was a traitor? It was odd, perhaps, but in this war that had pitted brother against brother, classmate against classmate, Peter had been the only one of their friends to surrender to the darkness created by Voldemort. Was one friend too many? Or should Remus consider himself lucky that it had been only one friend? Why had Peter broken their circle? Well, now Wormtail was dead by his own silver hand, and Remus was still no closer to knowing the reason for the betrayal. Gods, what that betrayal had cost them!
"Lily and I have to do this, Remus."
"I know." The werewolf kept his eyes on Harry, who was giggling at the balls of handfire that Remus was creating and extinguishing in one hand, then the other. "I think it's a good idea, point of fact. Where is Sirius planning to go?"
There was a strange, tense moment, and then James asked, just a little too lightly, "Why would Padfoot go anywhere?"
Remus looked up at him and raised an eyebrow. "Because to perform the Fidelius Charm, you have to have a Secret Keeper. That much I know. I just assumed Sirius was it."
"Oh, don't be stupid, James," Lily interrupted him. "Of course your best friend is our Secret Keeper. Why wouldn't your other best friend realize that?"
James was silent. Remus again glanced up, and saw a strange, almost shaken expression on his friend's face.
"Remus." Lily slid off the couch onto the floor next to him. "It's not that we don't trust you or anything. You understand that, don't you? It's just that Sirius isn't involved in any particular mission right now, like you are, and he won't be—missed—if he hides."
"Of course not."
It was said it so sharply that even Harry looked up at Remus's face.
"This thing that the Old Man has you doing—" James hesitated. "Will it be done soon?"
The last thing in the world that Remus wanted to talk about was his fucking mission. He was sick of being frightened and angry, torn bloody and bitten—and for what? Lily and James were going into hiding, and he was losing the one place and the one couple that he had anchored himself to. This was home more than his practically abandoned flat was. And he had to go back to the wolves tonight...
"I don't know," he answered. It was as truthful an answer as he could give. He rubbed the back of his neck then shrugged. "It seems like I haven't accomplished much, but Dumbledore seems to think it's doing some good." He pretended to pull the handfire out of Harry's ear, extinguished it for the final time, and smiled gently at the little boy.
"Do! More!" Harry demanded, pointing at Remus's long fingers.
"I have to go, Harry," the man said quietly. He tweaked Harry's button nose and got to his knees, preparing to stand.
"You're not leaving now, are you?" Lily asked, obviously dismayed.
How could he tell her that he needed to leave, that he needed to begin the process of severing ties and cauterizing emotions? "I told you I couldn't stay long," he reminded her. Damn, he hated the fact that he had to use the arm of the couch to pull himself up.
A bell chimed in a warning, and the three young adults instantly tensed and reached for their wands as Lily whispered, "The wards!"
"It's probably Padfoot," James said calmly, though Remus could see the strain in his friend's face: the stress created by weeks of fear, wariness, and desperation. They all wore the same look lately.
As her husband crept sideways towards the front door, wand clenched in white-knuckled fingers, Lily picked up Harry, ready to run for the rear of the house if need be. Without even thinking about it, Remus silently moved to create another barrier between Lily and the front door.
James paused before opening the door. The protective wards had been in place for months, but his heart thumped painfully whenever they went off. He glanced back over his shoulder for a reassuring look at Lily before reaching for the latch. Instead of Lily, however, he saw Remus. The werewolf had imposed himself in the doorway of the living room. Gratitude welled up in James, but even more than that, for the first time in months, he realized that Moony really was someone whom he'd trust at his back. Remus nodded curtly, letting James know he was ready for whatever was about to happen.
James opened the door the tiniest bit and scanned the yard. "It's Padfoot." He sighed in relief as he lowered the wards and then stepped back to allow Sirius into the house.
"I've told you, James, you need to dim the lights before you open that bloody door! You can see your shadow…" Sirius halted abruptly, seeing Remus. "Moony," he said slowly, his eyes narrowing slightly.
Lily peered around the werewolf. "Hullo, Sirius! Did you bring those things I needed?"
"Of course." Sirius handed her a brown paper bag that had been tucked under his arm.
The petite redhead placed Harry back on the floor and eagerly opened the bag. "I'm so glad you're still here, Remus. Come into the kitchen with me. I have something for you." Without waiting to see if he was going to follow her, she pivoted gracefully on one foot and started walking.
Remus smiled crookedly at James, and rolled his eyes. He was about to make a self-deprecating joke when he suddenly met Sirius Black's intense stare. Their eyes locked in a way that made the wolf deep inside Remus raise its hackles.
You are not welcome here. The wolf recognized the challenge in Padfoot's eyes. Anger clawed through Remus. How dare he! He felt his lip beginning to curl in a snarl.
"Paffoot! Up!" Harry ordered, lurching against his godfather's leg. Sirius leaned to tousle the little boy's fine hair, his eyes never leaving Remus's.
Not now, Remus screamed at the wild thing within himself. Not in front of Harry! Not tonight, when this could be the last time I see them! But the time is coming when Sirius and I will have to--Not NOW! Remus cursed inwardly, passionately, ripping his eyes away from Sirius's. Fighting down revulsion and anger, Remus turned on his heel, though not nearly as neatly as Lily. A twinge went through his knee, which just hadn't been right since two full moons ago, causing him to stumble. Sirius's hand flashed out and grabbed his upper arm. Maybe he meant to only steady Remus, but the steel in the man's grip made the werewolf doubt it.
"Watch your step, Remus," Sirius hissed.
There was no disguising the menacing tone in his words.
"Padf—" James began to say at the same time that Harry began to tug at the werewolf's trouser leg. "Moony! Up!"
Remus automatically did what any of them did when Harry made the demand: he started to bend to pick the little boy up. Sirius, however, moved faster. He reached out and took one of Harry's chubby hands in his, pulling him gently away from Remus. No words were said; none were needed.
James saw a look cross Remus's face that he had seen before, and recognized immediately: grief. But there was more to it than that. Could Sirius see, or did he care about the anguish deep in their fellow Marauder's eyes? Surely Sirius wasn't right in his wild accusations. "Gods, Sirius…Remus…"
Remus took a deep breath and shook his head, stopping James from saying another word. "No, it's…" He couldn't bring himself to say it was alright, because it wasn't. Instead, he settled on, "I've got to be going, James." He shook off Sirius's grasp. "I'm going to say goodbye to Lily."
Sirius silently sneered at the other man as only someone who had been the Black family heir could.
Lily was returning to the room, obviously confused, when she spotted Remus coming. "Where did you go? I thought you were right behind me."
"I am now." Remus forced a tiny smile and massaged his tight neck muscles.
The young woman recognized the gesture. It was something the man did when he was upset about something. She peered intently up at his face, then past him to Sirius. "What's wrong?"
"Nothing, Lily. Come show me what you got me." Remus put his arm around her shoulders and took a step.
"It's always 'nothing' with you, isn't it, Remus?" taunted Sirius. "Or 'nothing much' or 'I can't talk about it.'" His harsh bark of laughter made them all jump.
Remus shot a disgusted glance over his shoulder. He had no idea what Sirius meant, and frankly, at this point, wasn't sure he cared. And then Sirius continued.
"Those are the answers we get from you! We ask what you've been doing, you say, 'Nothing much.' We ask you what work you're doing for the Order, and you say, 'I can't talk about it.' We ask why you stay away for days at a time, and you say, 'I don't want to talk about it.'" Sirius took a step towards him, gently pushing Harry behind himself and towards James.
A frightened light appeared in Lily's eyes as she looked from one man to the other. She then turned her gaze on her husband, who seemed as horrified as she was.
"What happened?" she asked breathlessly. "I was only in the kitchen for a minute—"
"Nothing happened, Lily," Remus insisted, again turning to edge around Lily to go to the kitchen.
Sirius's words cracked like a whip. "And again the answer is 'nothing.' What would you say right now, Remus, if I asked you what you were doing after you leave here tonight? What would you say if I asked you if you were going to that meeting of the Dark Creatures in the East End tonight?"
Remus tensed almost imperceptibly, but 'almost' was more than enough for Sirius. "You are, aren't you? But whose side are you on, Remus? Are you there for the Order? Or are you there for yourself?"
"Shit!" groaned James.
"Language, James," Lily said automatically. But her tone turned almost pleading as she asked Sirius, "Why are you doing this?"
The man spread his arms dramatically. "Because he doesn't tell us anything, Lils! We hear nothing from him! For days! No one knows where he's been, who he's seeing, what he's been doing—"
"Dumbledore knows," Remus snapped, finally deciding that was a point that he could defend himself upon.
"Oh, of course he does."
"Sirius! Stop this!" Lily's face was almost as red as her hair.
Remus put a hand on her shoulder, stopping her from saying anything else. Lily could feel the man's tension. Softly, he asked, "Are you also going to accuse me of having the Dark Mark, Sirius?"
"Maybe I should," Sirius snarled. "And maybe I will, whenever you come out from hiding behind Lily's robes and your excuses."
The wolf inside Remus howled, demanding satisfaction, demanding blood, demanding that Sirius be shut up in some painful manner. His fists clenched, fingernails gouging the palms of his hands.
James yelled, "Sirius!" but Lily was already shouting, "You will stop this now, or you will leave my house!"
"You wonder where he's going and what he's doing, too, Lils! Don't deny it!" Sirius yelled back.
Harry began to sob, and James swung him up into his arms to comfort him.
Lily grabbed Remus's hand. "We're going into the kitchen to talk. Sirius, don't step foot anywhere near until you're ready to apologize. James, go put Harry to bed. It's past his bedtime anyhow."
She pulled the unresisting werewolf into the kitchen, practically shoving him down into a chair. He rose immediately, though, and began to pace the short length of the room. She filled the tea kettle and tapped it with her wand to heat, realizing there was no point in trying to get him to sit down again.
"I'm so terribly sorry, Lily."
"You have nothing to be sorry for."
"But he is right, to a point. I know it seems like I'm keeping a lot of secrets, but…"
"Remus, we all have secrets we have to keep. Sirius knows that. Or if he doesn't, he should." Lily's eyes suddenly filled with tears. "I'm sorry this evening has turned out so badly. I knew it wasn't going to be a good one anyhow, but now…with Sirius…"
Remus wrapped his arms around her and hugged her gently. "It's alright. Everything will be better the next time."
And then Lily burst into body-shaking sobs.
James came into the kitchen a moment later, Sirius at his heels.
"What happened, Moony? What did you do?" asked James, sounding shocked and angry.
Remus started to draw away from Lily and opened his mouth to give a sharp retort.
"He didn't do anything," Lily managed to interrupt him, maintaining her grip on him. "I just…oh, Remus…We just didn't get to tell you…" She hugged him tighter, tears soaking his shirt.
Remus's body froze, but his thoughts flew like hippogriffs, quick and deadly around his brain. "You're doing it tonight. The Fidelius." He looked over at Sirius, who had a triumphant gleam in his eyes.
No one said a word.
Remus looked around the kitchen, eyes stinging with tears that he would never shed. How long would it be until he saw this place again? Thoughts circled his brain: him and Lily drinking cups of tea and discussing poetry. Him and the other Marauders gathered around this table, butterbeers in hand, playing cards or discussing those recently lost to them… And in a matter of hours, it was going to be taken from him. Minutes, perhaps. This is not your home, Remus reminded himself. It's your friends' home. You have just been a visitor here. But there was more to it than that, and he knew it.
Remus could feel the warmth of Lily's tears on his skin, and he couldn't help squeezing her just a little tighter. Then the tea kettle started to whistle shrilly, tearing through the intense silence that was oppressing the room. He was suddenly lightheaded: a feeling of being too high up, too far out on the edge of something tall…and Sirius was ready to push him off… He ripped himself away from Lily, unintentionally pushing her backwards. Her hip struck the table and she winced loudly. Could this have gone any worse? "Bloody fuck!" The words exploded from his lips, as he whirled and headed back into the living room, deliberately shouldering Sirius out of the way.
"Moony, wait." It wasn't Lily. He could still hear Lily crying in the kitchen. Let Sirius comfort her. No, it was James who called his name now.
Remus ignored him, snatching his tattered Muggle coat from the peg near the door. He jammed one arm through its sleeve before James reached him to lay a hand on his shoulder.
"Remus, I'm sorry. I wish we could have had more time to tell you, and explain. And," he sighed heavily, "I'm sorry about what Sirius said. We know you're involved in something you can't talk about, but it's infuriating that we can't help. That's all." He squeezed the werewolf's shoulder tightly. "Listen, mate. When this is all over, it will be better. We're all stressed right now, and so bloody frightened that it's a wonder we know who we are, much less who our friends are." He waited for Remus to smile, but it didn't happen. "It'll blow over. Like things between us always do," James insisted. "Trust me."
"I do. But you don't trust me," Remus snapped.
"That's not true." But the slight quaver in the man's voice belied the words.
"Were you even going to tell me that this was happening tonight?" demanded the werewolf. The look on James's face told him what he needed to know. "Damn it, James, I…" Remus stopped. There was no point to this. He forced himself into a calm that he knew he could only maintain for a few minutes. "You're right. It will be better when this is all over." He shrugged off James's hand to finish putting on his coat. "Take care, James."
"Take care of yourself, Remus. Please. And for Merlin's sake, be careful." They shook hands, both of them realizing how pitiful that gesture seemed, considering all they had come through together.
I'm a Dark Creature. How careful can I be? "I will. Tell Lily I'm sorry, won't you?"
He never did find out what Lily was going to give him that night
He sensed, more than heard, Tonks coming out to be with him. He glanced over his shoulder at her, to let her know that he was aware of her presence. She tried to wrap her arms around him, but her baby-swollen belly wouldn't allow her to reach all the way around. He found himself chuckling.
"You wouldn't be laughing at how my arms have obviously got shorter?" she teased.
"Never," he replied as he turned and wrapped one arm around her. He took a second to set his bottle on the ground knowing that, otherwise, it was a matter of time before some of that butterbeer ended up on her.
Her eyes scanned the heavens, and then settled on the Dog Star. "And what have you and my cousin decided about Peter?" she asked.
Remus thought about it for a moment. "I'm not certain. I thought I'd hear him howling for joy."
"What about you, Remus? You've been quiet all evening. What are you thinking about all of this?
The former professor took a deep breath and exhaled slowly. "I don't know. I thought I'd feel satisfaction, if nothing else. But there's—nothing. No righteous condemnation, not even happiness. Just the feeling that it's—over. Relief, I suppose you could say."
"Are you sorry that you weren't…there?"
He spoke lightly to ease the tension he could feel in her shoulders and the hand that she had just rested on his arm. "Am I sorry I wasn't the one to kill him, you mean?" She was silent, waiting for his answer. "No. I'm not sorry," he finally replied. "That night I saw him in the Shrieking Shack, I would have killed him, there's no denying it. I felt that it was justified, and rightly so. But would I have felt the same today?
"I'm not the same man I was then. I've lost Sirius and Albus since…" He sighed. "Oh, Dora, I'm sick of the killing. I'm tired of this war. But I'm angry that an evil exists that can take a young man, hardly more than a boy, and twist him until he can't recognize his friends for who and what they are. He was better than that. Or, at least, he should have been."
"We've both seen good people do the wrong thing," Tonks said. "But he made his own choices."
"So, was he a good person who did the wrong thing? Or was he inherently evil, and we just didn't know it?" Remus wondered aloud. "I still don't know how we could have been with him for all those years and have no clue what he was doing."
"He made evil choices, no matter how you want to look at it."
"Yes, he did." The concession was not without a certain amount of pain.
The wind rose, making robes billow and hair tousle. Tonks, unprepared for the chill, pressed closer to Remus.
"Why don't you go back in?" he suggested gently. "I'll be in after a moment or two."
She looked for some sign of what he was thinking or feeling, but couldn't make up her mind what she was seeing. "Are you sure?"
He smiled and kissed her forehead. "Would I forgive myself if you caught cold at this point? Your mother certainly wouldn't."
"That is true," Tonks agreed, and so she allowed herself to be persuaded to go back into the house.
The last Marauder waited until he heard the door close softly, and then sat down on the cold, hard ground next to his butterbeer, curling the fingers of both hands around it. There were so many thoughts and images going through his head, and not a completely coherent one among the lot. The wind again ruffled his hair, but this time, he caught the faintest strain of…something… He closed his eyes and gave himself up to his memory…
After hours of looking back on conversations and situations, he and Sirius were able to see the machinations and manipulations of Peter Pettigrew. They were able to understand how he was able to take Remus's absences and excuses and use them to push Sirius into wanting to defend the werewolf, but helpless to do so. Peter was able to take Remus's tight control of his emotions and make it seem like cold-hearted callousness. And when Remus questioned—no, demanded—why Sirius would question him or his motives, Peter was there to point out that Remus was a, well, you-know-what, and Sirius was still a Black, and there was that whole thing with Snape….
Rumors that a spy had infiltrated the Order had, in varying degrees, panicked them. And again, with hindsight, Sirius and Remus were able to remember how Peter seemed less panicked than they would have thought. He had asked Remus if Sirius was the spy. Remus had flat out refused to discuss it. Peter had constantly asked Sirius if it was Remus. Sirius had listened to the little rat's poison a little longer, and, when Remus refused to rise to Sirius's eventual accusations with the angry protestations that Sirius expected, Peter must have rejoiced.
"Why me?" Remus asked late one night at Grimmauld Place, slurring his words just the tiniest bit. Not long returned from a day of following a lower-level Death Eater through the streets of London, he was sitting sideways on a rather uncomfortable, threadbare couch in the parlor. He had carelessly drawn his feet, still in damp, holey socks, onto the couch and propped his elbow on the back of the couch to support his weary head. "Why did he choose to drive me away? Even looking at it from a million miles away, I thought he and I got along rather well."
Sirius, seated in an overstuffed, but patched velvet armchair next to the couch, had stared into the fire, swilling the wine in his goblet gently. "I don't know exactly. I think maybe because it was…" He fell silent, thinking and choosing the right words.
"…because you and James were closer than I was to either of you?" Remus asked somewhat crossly.
"No," Sirius said firmly. He sipped at the wine, and then seemed to change the subject. "You were closer to Lily than I was." He seemed to concede an unspoken point with a slight nod before adding, "You were closer to Lily than James was, in some ways."
Remus sat up very straight, placing both feet flat on the floor. Carefully he set his glass of wine on the small table that separated them, and even more carefully he said, not looking at Sirius, "That doesn't have anything to do with this."
"You loved her," Sirius said quietly.
"We all did," Remus pointed out.
"Yes, we did, but you—you understood her. You could discuss books and things with her that James and I had no interest in. She loved James, yes, heart and soul, but there was always something between the two of you." Again Sirius fell silent, and Remus waited patiently for him to get to it—whatever 'it' was. "Do you remember the Christmas after Harry was born?"
A muscle in Remus' jaw tightened. "Yes."
"I'm not bringing it up to upset you…"
Remus rubbed the back of his neck, a familiar gesture to Sirius that meant Remus was bothered. "Of course, because it's never upsetting to remember that one of your best friends punches you in the face for getting his wife what she wants for Christmas."
"But that's just it, Moony! You told James that Lily was going to like whatever it was that he did get her…"
"Lingerie…and a set of cookware…and a photo album of Harry…"
"Yes, yes, I'm impressed with your memory of the details." Sirius smiled to take whatever sting he could out of the comment, but realized that Remus still wasn't looking at him. "But you knew that all the things that he was getting her had to do with her being a wife and a mother. You knew she'd appreciate that book of poetry that she'd been wanting because it was about her being—well, Lily." He leaned forward until he was able to catch Remus' gaze. "Lily would never hear anything against you. Never. Not even at the end. I've told you about how she gave me hell for how I treated you the night we did the Fidelius."
Remus started to look away, but Sirius reached out and grabbed his forearm. Gray eyes met blue, and this time, their gazes locked. "So this is my point: the little rat couldn't pry you from Lily, and he couldn't pry me from James. But he knew one of us had to go. So, he made comments about me to you and comments about you to me, waiting for the right opportunity to make his choice. I think he finally realized it had to be you because of two basic things about you and me."
"What?" Remus asked hoarsely.
"I was so bloody reckless that I was almost brainless. I didn't think things through. And no comments from you: I can see it's killing you to not say a word." The escaped convict smiled crookedly. "You, on the other hand, thought of everything. It was a matter of time before you would have seen through him. In fact," Sirius added thoughtfully, "I think you were starting to."
"No." Remus shook his head. "I never doubted him."
"Yes, you did," Sirius insisted. "And honestly, I never thought of it until now."
Remus sat back, drew one leg back up onto the couch, and waited for his friend to continue.
"There was one night, not too long before the end; I think it was one of the last times that all five of us were together. You came in last, looking like hell. Lily started to give you a tongue-lashing, but you stopped her and said something about, 'doing what you had to do.' Do you remember that?"
Remus nodded, thinking that there had been several occasions like that, but added nothing.
"And Peter said something about how people who had been under the Cruciatus curse looked just like you at that moment, and you snapped at him…" Sirius stopped and made a motion for Remus to finish the sentence.
"I asked him how he would know," the other man finally said after a moment's thought, wondering how either he or Sirius had remembered that conversation.
"Exactly. And you were right. He never came with us on any of those missions when we found Cruciatus victims. He saw Avada Kedavra victims, yes, but not the others. James and I needled him about it a bit, and he finally said that he just meant that he imagined that Cruciatus victims looked that bad. I didn't think any more about it." Sirius sat back, picked up his wineglass and pointed to Remus. "You, however, kept eying him up, and I wondered what was going through your mind. I, being an unthinking, stupid idiot, imagined you were plotting how you could get Peter to fall in with your Death Eater Cruciatus-loving friends."
It was Remus's turn to reach for his wine, and he took a rather long drink. "I don't even remember what I was thinking about him that night. All I really remember from that night is being sick, because I was, and feeling knackered, because I was, and being angry because you kept glaring at me."
"Still, I think the seed was planted," Sirius said emphatically. "Because, oh Merlin, how did the conversation go? There was something said—damn it, you said it—you were drinking a lot that night, we noticed, and we were talking about the recent missions that Dumbledore had sent us on. And you said something about what he had you doing at that time, and you couldn't talk about it, but it was like balancing on the edge of a knife. Do you remember? And Peter said something meant to be funny, something about if that was the case, then you'd better not slip, or you'd cut yourself in a really bad place, and you looked at him like you'd never seen him before, and you said, in that calm, infuriating way of yours—and I remember it so clearly—'At least I'm not holding the wrong edge of the blade.'"
Remus muttered a curse. "I don't even remember that."
"I remember we all stared at you. Lily was upset, and James said you'd obviously been drinking too much, because your analogies were becoming even more pointed than usual." Sirius chuckled. "He was quite proud of that pun, I remember."
Blue eyes blazed suddenly. "How could you remember all that, but couldn't remember that my mother's birthday was on that day that you accused me of being with the Death Eaters in that attack at Brighton?"
"Bloody hell, Moony, because it was what I was looking for at the time! The little rat had me tied into knots about you and your loyalty, and I was…I was just stupid." Sirius drained his wineglass and reached for the bottle which sat on the small table between them.
"It's empty," Remus told him, rather unnecessarily.
"I see that." Sirius threw his head back and bellowed, "Kreacher!"
"It's easier if I just go get another bottle, you know."
"I know, but I want to order him to do something just because I can."
Remus silently reflected that Sirius had been like that all his life. Smiling slightly with amused affection, he rose and headed for the kitchen, wincing slightly at the stiffness and cracking in joints that had been held for too long in one place.
"Moony, don't. Let that disgusting little toe-rag get it."
Remus shook his head. "I'm choosing the bottle this time."
As the Black family cellars were filled with quality wines, it didn't take long to find something that seemed perfect. Blood-red wine for a bloody conversation about a bloody mess in their bloody lives… God, he really was drunk.
Sirius didn't question the selection, for which his friend was grateful. He didn't know how the former prisoner would respond to the thoughts that made Remus choose the wine he had. He also didn't question why Remus didn't sit back down right away. He had obviously seen the werewolf's stiff movements when he had got up to go to the cellar.
They were quiet while Remus pried the cork from the bottle. Sirius filled his glass nearly to the brim while the former professor finished the rest of what remained in his glass.
"You know, his performance was absolutely perfect," Sirius suddenly commented.
Remus winced inwardly at the resentment in his friend's voice.
"We had heard all the rumors, and never once did James or I consider him. Not seriously. And no pun on my name intended this time."
"No." The werewolf debated his next words carefully. This conversation was on the edge of becoming more overemotional, or perhaps even angry, unless he turned it. Question was: how could he turn it? "And you two were the smart ones," he said with a smile.
"Bloody hell, Moony, you were positively Machiavellian." There was a sparkle in Sirius's gray eyes that Remus hadn't seen for a while. "You could have been the spy, and done a beautiful job of it, too," Sirius opined, raising his glass in his friend's direction.
Remus poured some of the red wine into his glass and studied the color. "No, I couldn't have." He sighed. Since maudlin was the way he was feeling; he might as well continue the thought. "You had done so much for me. After all we'd been through, Padfoot, how could I ever even think about betraying you?"
"We were always good—well, fair—to that rat and he turned on us. Frankly, when you think about it, we did more for him than we did you. We gave him the bloody confidence to fucking stab us in the back."
"Perhaps." Remus turned and went to the fireplace in order to prod the dying flames back to life. "You three gave me more than that, though," he said softly, strangely uncertain that he wanted Sirius to hear.
"If this is all about how we gave you our friendship and all, I already know that." Sirius waved a hand in a dismissive gesture.
"You underestimated how much your friendship meant to me," Remus insisted in a slightly firmer tone, leaning the poker back against the wall.
"You underestimated how much your friendship meant to us," Sirius shot back.
Remus turned quickly, cursing as wine sloshed over the rim of the glass onto the once exquisite Oriental carpet. Though they had discussed Peter and his actions, they had merely touched on the blame and betrayal they had suffered at each other's hands. It was always painful and they both felt worse after they had dared approach the subject.
Sirius continued his thought, however, and though his voice was gentle, his tone was sharp. "You didn't tell us where you were going, Moony, or what you were doing. Why didn't you just tell us when I started to question you?"
"I've told you this before. Dumbledore told me…"
Sirius made a rude hand gesture. "Bugger Dumbledore. We told each other our secrets all the time. Why didn't you tell us you were with the wolves?"
Remus sighed again, conjured a rag, and knelt to try to get the stain out of the rug. "I suppose I thought that you would figure it out for yourselves. After all, you two really were the smart ones," he repeated. He glanced up and shot a quick grin at his friend. "And honestly, I did rely on our friendship—I thought that you would understand that I had to stay silent, and that you'd know that I could never be the Dark Creature they wanted me to be." He sat back on his heels and intently studied the purple-red spot.
Sirius ran a hand through his hair and huffed mightily. "We made such a mess out of everything, Moony."
"We had help with the misunderstandings," Remus reminded him. "We got caught up in Peter's maze."
"Rat." Sirius added a few nasty adjectives, only partially under his breath. "When I get my hands on him….Turning on us after all we'd done for him…."
"Well, the knife is sharp." Sirius started at what seemed like a non sequitur. But then he saw the determined look in Remus' eyes. "He will realize he's holding the wrong end of it sooner or later."
"I just hope I'm there to see it," Sirius said harshly.
Remus gave up on the stain and reached for his wand. "I'm not sure I do." He jabbed his wand in the direction of the stain and watched in satisfaction as it disappeared.
"Oh, Moony, wouldn't Flitwick be proud of you, non-verbal magic and all. Can you do it wandless, too?"
Remus rolled his eyes.
With a look that Remus could only call evil, Sirius slowly, deliberately, extended his goblet. "I'm going to do it, and you have to do it without the wand. Can you?"
The hand moved, the glass tipped, and more wine splashed on the floor. And, against his better judgment, after several minutes of arguing, Remus proved that, yes, he could clean a spot out of carpet without a wand, thank you very much.
"I think it frightens me how much you've grown magically, while I stagnated in Azkaban," Sirius commented, regarding his friend over the rim of his glass.
"Sometimes it wasn't for the best of reasons," Remus admitted, settling himself in his original spot. "I'm not proud of all that I've done since—since we were all betrayed."
They were silent, not knowing exactly what to say to each other, but comfortable in each other's company all the same.
"Do you think we'll ever find out exactly why?" Sirius asked, just barely above a whisper. "Beyond what he said in the Shrieking Shack?"
Remus considered the question carefully. "No." His voice was full of regret. "It could have been jealousy. It could have been blackmail, or bribery. It could have been almost anything. I do think, though…"
"Yes?" Sirius prompted after a moment's pause.
"I think whatever his initial reasoning was, I think he got caught up in it all, maybe like Regulus did, and he couldn't—can't—get out of it."
"He hasn't tried." Disgust tinged the words in that simple statement.
"Perhaps not, because he knows he'll end up like Regulus."
"If I have anything to do with it, he will end up like Regulus," vowed Sirius. "Only I won't regret the rat's death." He hiccupped and smiled mirthlessly. "I only hope Harry isn't there to stop me next time."
Remus stifled a yawn. "I hardly think he'd stand in our way, after what Peter did to Cedric Diggory." He drained the rest of his glass—how much had he had to drink anyway?—and added, "Chances are, we won't have to worry about it."
"Meaning that, laying odds, it's not going to be us who deals out retribution. I would think that Peter's owing a debt to Harry is a rather large complication in Voldemort's plans. Other devoted servants have met terrible fates over less personal issues."
Gray eyes that had no business looking so sober and—non-drunk—pierced him. "You really think Voldemort's going to kill him?"
"If Peter hesitates for even one second, yes, I do."
"Good. Even if I don't get to do the honors."
Since he didn't know what else to say, Remus pulled his legs up onto the couch and reached for the blanket that was lumped on the back of it.
Sirius lowered his glass, dismay obvious on his face. "You're not going to sleep now, Moony, are you?"
"It's late, I'm drunk to the point of near sentimentality, and there's no going back to being a cheerful drunk from this stage. So, yes, I figure the best thing I can do is go to sleep." That time he didn't bother to hide the yawn.
"Why not go up to your room?"
"Never let it be said that I let you drink alone."
"But you're not drinking with me."
"You're not alone, though, are you?"
"Oh, that's a lovely way of talking. Wouldn't the Weasleys love to hear their beloved professor using language like that?"
Remus grabbed a throw pillow and punched it in a rare display of undisguised frustration. "I'm hardly their professor anymore, am I? Thus, it doesn't much matter what language I use or how I use it, as long as Molly doesn't hear me. Though I could, perhaps, learn how to curse at you in Greek…" They both chuckled.
Even though he was laughing, Sirius was sorry that he had made the comment. He knew how much Remus had enjoyed his professorship at Hogwarts, and that the wound still festered, though his friend hadn't admitted to a thing. But Sirius knew that hard-won positions and even harder-won respect had come rarely to the werewolf, and now it was nothing more than a pleasant dream.
Remus appreciated the silence that had fallen, but wondered if the battle for quiet might have been won just a bit too easily. He shrugged inwardly; he wasn't going to question it. He settled back into the corner, arranged another cushion with care, and hoped he wouldn't be too sore in the morning. He had just closed his eyes, when:
"Moony, you said, 'our way.' Did you mean that?"
The werewolf blinked. "What in the bloody hell are you talking about?"
"I said I hoped Harry wouldn't try to stop me from killing Wormtail next time. You said he wouldn't stand in 'our way.' Did you mean it? That you'd still help me kill him? If we were to find him, that is."
Remus rolled his eyes. "Yes, of course, I meant it."
Again there was silence, but Remus couldn't stop his thoughts. Too much wine, too many memories, not enough sleep… His friend's words twisted inside his mind, disturbing him, keeping him from the sleep he wanted, but even more so, keeping him from the peace that he thought had been created between them. He sat up with a curse.
"Thank every god you know that Molly isn't here," Sirius commented, his startled glance quickly turning into a grin.
Remus ignored the jibe. "Why don't you trust me?"
"Why would you doubt that I'd help you? I told you I would. I was beside you in the Shack ready to do it once. Why wouldn't I do it now?"
Sirius fidgeted with his glass. "It's been over a year. Things have changed. I wasn't sure if you still felt as strongly about wanting to kill him."
"He killed James and Lily! He put you in hell for twelve years." Remus shuddered. "He sent me into places I don't want to remember. Why wouldn't I want him dead?"
"Oh, bloody hell, Remus. I don't know. It was—nothing. Just me wanting to know you were still as serious about it as I am."
The werewolf sighed deeply before asking, "Why do you always doubt me?"
Sirius' mouth opened and then snapped closed without speaking a word. Remus waited. Suddenly the other man began to laugh, a tad bit hysterically. "Hells, Moony, how could you have seen my father's library and heard my mother's portrait yell at you and not realize there's something just deeply wrong with me?"
"That's it? Your excuse for doubting me, for not trusting me, is your family? That the Black-ness is so deeply ingrained in you that you can't get past what's within me?"
"Well, yes, that's part of it, I think…"
"That's complete and utter rubbish."
"You have a better explanation?"
"No, I don't. I just figured you did by now. You were so convinced I was the traitor. You were convinced I was the spy. You thought I wanted to be with the Dark Creatures. Damn it, Sirius! How could you sit there drinking with me, joking with me, night after night, year after year, yet still distrust me that much?"
"For fuck's sake, Remus, you were so damned good at keeping secrets! Look how long it took us to figure out you were a werewolf! How many detentions did you get out of because you could lie more convincingly than any of us? And you were always so fucking calm about things!"
"And this was enough to convince you I wasn't capable of being loyal to you? Or James and Lily?"
"Bloody hell, Remus! You know why I started doubting you. It was all those times you went missing, without explanation, and that rat whispering things about you…"
"But you still doubt me! Even now."
"No, I don't. No!" Sirius repeated the word more emphatically.
Remus pushed back the blanket and stood. They both winced at the sharp crack of his knee—the same one that had been giving Remus trouble the night the Fidelius Charm had been performed. "We've both killed in self-defense, Sirius, and killed others because more lives would have been lost if we hadn't." His voice took on an edge that practically drew blood. "This is so much more than that. We've lost so much: time, love, family… He took it from us, Padfoot, and didn't even leave our friendship intact. For the sake of justice for Lily and James, how could I not want him dead?"
Sirius stared thoughtfully at his old friend. "You've changed, Remus."
The werewolf narrowed his eyes. "We both have. What makes you say that now?"
"You fight back."
Remus put his hands in his pockets and raised his eyes to the ceiling. "I seem to remember several arguments between us; a fistfight in Gryffindor Tower in our fourth year; and another in our seventh year in the Forest. And do you want me to remind you of the Royal Snubbing, as you called it, after the Snape fiasco?"
"I refuse to call the Royal Snubbing an argument or a fight. That was punishment, and I probably deserved worse from you. No, I mean you've never lost your temper with me like you have now."
Remus cocked his head to the side, and smiled at his friend. "Yes, I have. You just chose to ignore whatever I was upset about."
"No, damn it, I'm not saying this right." Sirius shook his head. "What I mean is that you never used to fight back in your own defense. Yes, you might have lost your temper when we mistreated the ickle firsties, and a few times when we got after Snivellus, but, for the most part, you didn't defend yourself." Sirius chuckled ruefully. "That's what I was waiting for when I kept at you about wanting to know what you were doing or where you were going. I wanted you to defend yourself. You never did."
"I couldn't. I couldn't tell you what I was doing. That left me with little to explain or defend."
"But if you had—"
"Would you have believed me then? Honestly, Sirius. You didn't trust me. You didn't trust that what I was doing was for the good of the Order. And you don't trust me now." He yanked his hands out of his pockets and crossed his arms, as if challenging Sirius to deny it.
"You are out of your fucking mind if you think that!"
"I said I'd fucking stand beside you, and you fucking questioned me about it!" yelled Remus.
Sirius blinked. "Merlin's balls. You really are angry with me. Two swear words in one sentence."
"I am tired of feeling that I have to keep justifying my loyalty to you." Remus wondered if he sounded as tired and sad as he felt.
He apparently did, because Sirius looked shaken. "Oh, Gods, Remus. No. You don't have to do that! I wasn't questioning your loyalty! I just wanted to hear that you want that rat dead as much as I do."
"How could you even ask that?" Remus demanded.
"I don't know! Maybe because—oh, hell. You were always our conscience, telling us what was right or wrong. I might not have always listened to you. I might not have even cared, but I at least knew if I was right or wrong. Until the Fidelius." Gray eyes glistened wetly. "Never in my life was I more wrong than I was about Peter. I've had all these years in Azkaban to remind me of how very wrong I was." He took a large swallow of wine. "I want him dead, Remus. And I just want you to want it as badly as I do. Then I'll know I'm right. And then, maybe, I can learn to trust my own conscience, my own heart, and my own self again."
Remus leaned one elbow on the mantel and rubbed the back of his neck. "So you question my loyalty now because of your insecurity?"
"If I say yes, will you calm down and be reasonable?"
"I'm perfectly calm…"
Sirius forced a small chuckle, and wiped at his eyes with his sleeve. "You're perfectly nutters. You yelled at me."
Finally, Remus admitted something that he had kept inside for years, and might never had said if he hadn't been half—well, mostly—drunk. "You really hurt me, Sirius."
The grandfather clock in the corner ticked off a full minute before Sirius rose and went to stand in front of his friend. "I know. The minute that Peter disappeared, leaving me in the dust and rubble, I knew how badly I had fucked up. I wanted to somehow get a message to you from Azkaban, but I knew I didn't deserve your friendship back after what I'd done to you. If only I'd…" He stopped and shook his head. "Those are the two worst words I can think of: 'if only.' I swear to you, Moony, somehow I'll make it up to you."
Tears welled up in Remus' eyes. "I don't want you to make it up to me. That's not what's important."
Sirius cocked an eyebrow. "I just have to trust you implicitly, is that it?"
"That would be nice."
"So if you tell me to strip naked and sing Celestina Warbeck's latest on the front steps of The Leaky Cauldron, I'm supposed to just trust that it's the right thing to do?"
Remus' lips twitched, and he barely refrained from smiling. "Oh, absolutely. Though I might leave you with your dignity—I'll let you stand in front of Ollivanders instead."
Sirius suddenly threw his arms around his friend in a firm embrace. "I'll never forgive myself for not seeing through the lies and not trusting you."
"I've already forgiven you for it, Padfoot," Remus said softly.
"You're a better man than I am," Sirius commented, slapping the other man on the back before pulling away.
Remus allowed himself to smile. "Then you're in dire straits, because according to the Ministry, I'm not even a man, if you recall."
Sirius chuckled. "Oh, that's right. I thought I heard something about a furry little problem…."
"That's nothing. You're just an Animagus with fleas—unregistered at that..."
So what had happened between then and now, that Peter's death hadn't brought the celebratory emotions that he had once expected? He hadn't lied to Dora; things had changed. But when had the desire for revenge lessened? When Sirius had died? There was no doubt that Sirius was a catalyst for a lot of pranks, misdeeds, and arguments. Someone with that much passion couldn't help it.
He tipped the bottle in the direction of the Dog Star. "To you, Sirius. For your passion, your fire, and your friendship. May your rest be peaceful."
The butterbeer that he swallowed was still cool, kept chilled by the breeze whirling around him that carried with it the promise of spring. It reminded him of how full of life Sirius was. And suddenly, he knew why he was there, sitting on the ground in the cold late winter night, bottle in hand. "For you, Padfoot." He tipped a bit of the liquid out onto the ground, where it pooled for just a moment before seeping in to the earth.
Again he raised the bottle. "To you, James. For your leadership, your generosity, and for letting us be your family. May your rest be peaceful." He closed his eyes and concentrated on the frothy lightness and it made him smile. How many times had they done this, drinking together, toasting friendships, life, and the amazingly stupid, yet profound things that only young people in the midst of war know? "For you, Prongs." Again, he poured a bit of butterbeer into the ground, where it was lazily absorbed.
Was it his imagination, or were there voices in the breeze?
"To you, Lily." He was not going to cry… "For your love, your gentleness, and your ability to see the best in us all. May your rest be peaceful." He added inwardly, "Though I'm sure that's impossible with James and Sirius, if they're with you…" He relished the smooth, homey flavor that soothed the aching in his throat. He couldn't bear to think that they weren't with her. And if the three of them weren't together, would he ever be reconciled to his own death? Oh, he knew it was coming… He just hoped it would be of natural causes, though, and not from this bloody war. He had dodged so many silver bullets, figuratively and on two occasions literally, that he wasn't certain how much longer his luck would hold. How long until Fate howled for him? "You're getting mawkish, Lupin," he muttered to himself. "And you've only had what? Four or five butterbeers?" Plus the six glasses of wine came a whisper sounding suspiciously like Sirius. He ignored it, though he felt the corner of his lips twitch with a barely suppressed smile. "For you, Prongs' doe." She had humored them by letting them call her that when they were deep in their cups. Or whenever she was. She'd have appreciated the spilling of butterbeer in her memory, though she might have preferred wine.
He took another drink. He was nearing the end of the bottle.
When had he lost the desire for revenge? When he had realized that they all referred to Peter as Wormtail; as if he were no longer deserving of a man's name? Even Snape reported that Voldemort himself seemed to have all but forgotten Peter's name. It had been gradual, but in the end, it was definite. There was no more Peter Pettigrew. Peter had died in that "gas main explosion" seventeen years before. Only a rat named Wormtail had survived. Wormtail was not the boy they had grown up with. Wormtail had believed in the power of the Dark Lord, not in the power of friendship. Peter had played with Harry, stacking blocks with magic; he would never have sliced Harry open with a knife. Wormtail had worn the silver arm, not Peter. Wormtail was not Peter. Wormtail was the Dark Lord's construct. Peter—Peter was a Marauder.
Oh, Remus could continue with analogies and contrasts, but it would serve no purpose. There was no longer anyone who cared, frankly, and Dora would accept however much Remus offered. Besides, he was getting chilled—had been for a while, actually—and he had to finish this.
Looking up at the stars, as if waiting for permission, he held up the bottle. Should he do this? It seemed to fly in the face of all he owed Sirius and James and Lily. Still, there was a time when there had been four Marauders, and there was a time when Peter would have done anything for them, Remus was sure of it. He inhaled deeply and took the leap. "To you, Peter. For your past, when you laughed with us, shared your friendship with us, and loved us. We loved you once. For that, I hope your rest is…" What's the word I want? Ah, yes…"…penitent."
The butterbeer always tasted sweeter at the bottom of the bottle, and this was no exception. Forgiveness—no, never forgiveness—acceptance was also sweet, Remus mused. "For you, Peter."
There was just enough left…
He rose to his feet, a bit unsteadily. "To us," he whispered. "The Marauders. And Lily, I include you in that. May we always find that love is enough to pull us through these dark times and reunite us in the Light." He couldn't stop the smile that formed any more than he could stop the tears that were now slowly falling.
He knocked back the last of the butterbeer and closed his eyes, licking his lips of the last buttery traces. And then, with his eyes still closed, he listened.
Yes, he heard their voices, and he didn't think it was his memory playing a Marauder-like prank…
"To us! The proud! The daring! The…"
"The insane. The mad."
"Lils, that's not fair. Prongs, tell your wife I'm trying to make a toast here."
"Lily, let the insane, mad fool finish."
A bark of laughter. "That's a fine way to talk about your friends."
"I'm only talking about you. Moony isn't insane or a fool."
"Ah, but he's a tad bit mad, isn't he? Aren't you, Moony?"
Remus opened his eyes, and wiped at them with the back of his hand, whispering, "Yes, Padfoot, I suppose I am."