A/N: Well, this is it – the final chapter. I'd like to take this opportunity to thank my beta Ara Kane for all of her help and advice and her hard work. It's all been much appreciated. I hope everyone reading has enjoyed this story as much as I've enjoyed writing it. :)
12: A Matter of Blame
Winter Hollow, February 1994.
A deathly stillness permeated Winter Hollow.
The silence seemed to stretch for years.
Two motionless figures stared at each other; the younger man, his brown hair greying slightly, resting back against the soft settee as he watched the older man sitting on the edge of a chair nearby as he struggled to compose himself enough to continue. It was not an easy task.
"Even then, we weren't sure." The words when they came echoed against the weight of what had passed before; Reynard Lupin's grasp of his son's hand had not lessened once throughout the telling of his tale. "Oh, we had more hope than we'd dared to dream of the night before, but we still had no way of knowing what would happen after your first full moon. You had formed a barrier, yes, but how you'd handle another incursion from the wolf, especially since I'd taken the memory of your first one, we had no idea. You'd be starting over. We did our very best to explain it to you – but how do you explain to a three year old the concept of becoming a werewolf? We cherished that month – for all we knew, it was going to be our last together. And when the full moon came…" His voice faltered slightly as he squeezed his son's fingers, almost as though to reassure himself that he really was there, alive, full grown and sane. "That night almost broke both of our hearts. I don't think I've ever felt as bad in all my life as I did that night, watching poor Diana carry you down those cellar steps and leaving you down there in the dark, confused, unwell and naked, to face that change alone. And then sitting in the kitchen, listening to you scream as the moon rose…"
"Dad, don't." Remus stepped in before his father upset himself further, coming to his feet as he reached out to grasp his father's shoulder with his free hand. "You don't have to…"
His father's eyes rose to meet his son's. "But I do have to. Remus, I've bottled this up for over thirty years, barely even discussing it with your mother for fear of upsetting her again. Selfish as it sounds, I need this."
Remus sighed. His mind was still reeling, struggling to absorb the string of revelations that had emerged from his father's tale of the past. Fenrir Greyback was Tyr Argent. His cousin, of all things. And if it hadn't been for his father's unexpectedly speedy pursuit and quick thinking in the hospital, he would either be dead by euthanasia or raving golden-eyed and slaughtering his friends and family for the thrills.
The thought of how close he had come to either fate made him shudder.
Wordlessly, he sunk to the floor by his father's side. He remembered the depth of shock and horror that his parents had never quite managed to conceal when the truth behind that feral night in 1981 had been revealed to them. It must have been as though their worst nightmares from his childhood had sprung back to life.
"That first night, listening to you down there, transformed, tearing at the walls, howling and shrieking –it was agony." Rey resumed his tale, his gaze absent and faraway in the past as he delved once more into his most painful memories. "Our only child was in unimaginable pain and we could not even say whether or not he would still be the son we loved when morning came. But when the moon went down and you fell silent, your mother dared to open the cellar and there you were. In pain, yes, scratched up from head to foot, bewildered, sobbing and terribly upset, but all that could be soothed away with a little time – what mattered to us was that you were still yourself. It was only then that we knew once and for all that we would be all right."
He toyed absently with his cane with his free hand. "I'd be lying if I said it was easy after that – every full moon was almost as dreadful as the first for us all. And it wasn't just the adaptations we had to make to our lifestyle because of it – for myself at least, it required a serious mental overhaul. In one night, I went from hating werewolves with a passion to having one for a son." He smiled crookedly, but there was a hint of uncertainty, as though he feared how his son would react to knowledge of his former standpoint. "It took a little getting used to."
Remus smiled too, reassuringly. "I can imagine."
Rey's smile grew a little more confident. "The likes of Greyback and his ilk I'll always despise," he admitted with feeling. "After all he did to us, I feel no wrong in doing so. But when it comes to what you go through and others like you, those who don't ask for it, don't want it, don't let it take over their lives, I'd fight to the death for your rights. There's werewolves and there's werewolves and the world would be a better place if more people understood the difference."
Remus grinned broadly; this he knew for certain to be true. "I know that. I bailed you out of the Ministry holding cells the Christmas before last for beating up that Anti-Werewolf protestor in Diagon Alley, remember?"
Rey sniffed, but his smile was wry and slightly crooked. "The man was an idiot. He didn't know what he was talking about. And he started it; I refuse to believe that sideswipe with his placard was an accident. Besides, one good slap with a cane is not considered a beating, thank you."
Teasing his father was one trait that Remus had inherited fully from his mother. "That carol-singer described you as – how did he put it? Oh yes, a spitting ball of white-haired fury. Honestly, Dad, you're lucky your idiot didn't press charges."
Rey's sudden grin was slightly wicked. "Thirty years of age and beaten up by a seventy year old with a gammy leg? He was too embarrassed."
The brief laughter lightened the heavy mood for a moment. But only for a moment.
Reynard's expression was suddenly sombre once more as he stared down at his son. His eyes drifted towards the glowing fire.
"I should have told you this sooner." His voice was a whispered hush. "Had you known, you might have been prepared and this whole ridiculous situation would never have happened…"
Remus gave a rueful chuckle. "Dad, I'm a Defence Against the Dark Arts teacher. That's about as prepared as it's supposed to get. I'm the one who walked blindly into a pack of Dementors, you know, and I can get into trouble easily enough by myself without needing you to try and steal all the blame."
Rey was shaking his head. "Still… The Memory Charm was necessary at the time, I hope you understand that now, but I should have told you when you were older. But your mother and I were just so afraid that if we told you and you remembered, it might all come back…" He sighed deeply. "All through your childhood, we tried to shield you, to keep you away from anything that might distress you in any way. We were terrified to take you out of our home, of taking you anyplace where you might face the kind of disdain and prejudice that people direct at werewolves. We coddled you to an absurd extent, I can see that now, but at the time it was all so fresh in our minds; what had happened, what could happen again if your emotions got away from you. I'll admit – for a while I was all for keeping you out of Hogwarts even if they'd have you."
He smiled, a soft smile tempered around the edges with still sharp grief. "But Diana could see you weren't happy with the idea of being a recluse. She saw the look on your face when you watched other children play near the farm, the wistful pleasure whenever we dared to go anywhere different like Diagon Alley or Hogsmeade. And she knew that in spite of our fears, going to Hogwarts would be the best thing for you." His smile spread with sudden recollection. "Oh she fought old Armando Dippet like a tigress when he told her that Hogwarts would not accept a werewolf pupil. Sometimes I could swear he retired just to get her to leave him alone. And then Dumbledore became Headmaster…"
The mention of Dumbledore's name caused Remus to share his father's smile for a moment before Rey met his eyes once more. "I suppose that would have been the time to tell you. We had lost the excuse of your being too young – if eleven was old enough for Hogwarts, it was old enough to understand. But you were so happy at the idea of going to school that we couldn't bring ourselves to spoil it."
He sighed as he dropped his gaze once more. "Your mother and I decided then that we would tell you the next time you asked us. And we waited, with some trepidation for the inevitable questions. But you never asked, and secretly, we both drew a sigh of relief." He raised his eyes once more, an eyebrow cocked quizzically. "I've often wondered Remus – why didn't you ask? You must have been curious."
Remus closed his eyes at the memory. "I did ask. When I was nine, I asked Mum. She burst into tears all over the place. After that I was afraid to ask again in case…"
He removed his hand from its resting place on the rug to wipe it wearily across his brow. "I couldn't stand the thought of upsetting Mum. And if one innocent question could hurt her so much…"
Reynard's grip on his son's hand tightened yet again. "Remus you were the most precious thing in our lives – you remain the most precious thing in mine. You were the only child we had, the only child we were ever going to have, and we both loved you very dearly." His features looked drawn and suddenly tired. "That night with Greyback, the night you were bitten, was the worst thing that either of us had ever been through. It was our worst nightmare, worse than our worst nightmare and it was real. We went from thinking you dead or worse, like him, to finding you bitten and bleeding and then watching you writhe and scream and rage like a feral before our eyes, knowing that our son was underneath there somewhere, unable to get out and probably terrified. Do you blame your mother for crying at the thought of it?"
Remus shook his head. "Of course not. But I didn't know that. I was a child and I'd made my mum cry. She almost never cried. I wasn't about to try it again."
Rey nodded thoughtfully. "Diana told me about it afterwards, but we didn't realise it would have such an impact on you."
"I loved Mum. Do you think I wanted to see her cry just to satisfy my curiosity? I told myself it was all in the past, that it didn't matter. It wasn't as though it could be changed."
Rey stared at the ceiling for a moment. "No, it can't be changed. But unfortunately, it does matter." He sighed again, dropping his eyes. "You were so happy at Hogwarts, happy with your friends. And then when you left school and got involved in the war… How could we add to your burdens like that? We were so afraid for you in those awful days, not just because your life was in danger, but because of the stress, the grief, the fear; what if it overwhelmed you? It began to look as though we would have to tell you, if only to warn you of how important it was to keep yourself controlled. But we put it off and put it off, thinking we'd still have time…" His voice trailed off into cold blankness, his eyes haunted. "But we didn't."
Coldness welled within Remus' chest. "1981."
His father nodded. "1981."
A slow, terrible realisation slipped into Remus' mind. "Two feral incidents. By the rules in those days, I would have been executed without trial. Even by today's standards, I should be locked up and probably facing Azkaban."
Rey was struggling to retain his composure. "Believe me, I know. When Alastor came to tell us that day, still bleeding from where you'd hit him in your frenzy…" He shuddered. "If it had been anyone but Alastor and Albus Dumbledore who saw it… it was only by good will that those Healers and the other Aurors kept quiet when you were a child; one word would have been enough. Alastor had to all but threaten Jasper Castleton not to report you when you first registered and Castleton never stopped resenting him for that. And at the time of your… incident, he was fairly high up in the ranks. If he had got word of it…"
Remus could feel his stomach plunging with horror at the closeness of his call. "Dad, I'm so sorry, I…"
"Stop that right now!" Rey cut off his son's apology sharply. "You have nothing, absolutely nothing to apologise for in this. You couldn't help what happened that day, you had no idea you were more vulnerable than might have been. And given the depth of your grief, even if you'd known…"
He closed his eyes, kneading his forehead with the fingertips of his free hand. "We should have told you then. No more excuses. But now it had happened, now that we knew our fears had been real all along, we were too afraid…"
There was a long silence.
This time when he spoke, Rey's voice did break. "And then when your mother died, I was so afraid again, that if you grieved too much, if you became too angry, I might lose you as well as her…"
The barricades finally gave way. Reynard Lupin broke down and wept the tears he had kept repressed for thirty years.
Remus immediately scrambled up and, flinging himself forward, he wrapped his arms around his sobbing father, drawing him rapidly into a comforting embrace. Rey clung to his son, face buried in his shoulder as he vented a lifetime's worth of pent-up emotion in a sudden rush, his sister's death, that awful night in the woods, the bite, the terrible sounds of all those full moon nights, his son's feral incident, his wife's death; all had been held back in an effort to be strong behind walls that could no longer take the strain.
He cried for some time.
Remus cried too. Cried for his mother, for his father's pain, for his lost friends and broken family. He shared his father's grief and wept.
Finally, when the storm of tears for both had passed, father and son slowly broke apart, pale, damp-cheeked and faintly embarrassed as they wiped their faces dry and shared a rueful smile.
"Well, that was exhilarating." Remus commented with deliberate nonchalance as he sank back down on the settee. Rey fixed his bloodshot eyes on his son as he pinned him with a mock glare.
"Watch it," he retorted, half lifting his cane. "I've never had to discipline you before but it's not too late to start."
Remus managed to grin. "Would it make it easier if I dressed up as an Anti-Werewolf campaigner?"
Rey tried to suppress the smile but failed in spectacular fashion. "Dear Gods, my boy, you are far too much like your mother. I knew I shouldn't have let her spend so much time warping your mind when you were young and impressionable."
Remus laughed again. "I think it was fairly well warped by genetics." He paused, allowing more serious thoughts to fill his mind as he touched his father's arm with concern. "Are you all right now?"
Rey waved a dismissive hand that told Remus eloquently that his father was still shaky but would sooner die than admit it to his son. "I'm fine," he said softly, a hint of a catch in his tone that he struggled to conceal. "I just had a long few hours worrying about you, thinking about all of this and then retelling it all, on top of talking about when your mother…" He caught his breath determinedly. "It still hurts, I suppose. I think it always will. And if I live to be three hundred, I'll never stop missing Diana."
Remus found his eyes drifting back to the photograph of his mother beaming down upon them both. "Neither will I."
For a long moment, there was silence. Remus was loath to break it and risk bringing his father any further distress, but a question nagged at the back of his mind, prodding insistently until finally he forced himself to speak.
"Dad?" His voice was soft, but sharpened a little along the edges. "What became of Greyback?"
His father's face stiffened slightly; knuckles tightened upon his cane. He grimaced.
"No one knows," he replied, his voice all but a whisper. "He's popped up here and there around Europe and there are always rumours. He was a supporter of You-Know-Who during the war and bit the children of his enemies to order..." He shuddered. "I suppose he'd developed a taste for the young. The idea of turning you against us must have given him ideas."
With a cold chill, Remus realised exactly where he'd heard the name before. It had been during his meetings with the Order of the Phoenix. He remembered the way certain eyes would slip towards him uncertainly when a fresh Greyback atrocity was mentioned, the suspicion lurking in covert gazes. He shivered.
And he made me what I am today. He made sure that when people thought of werewolves, they thought of his savagery. So many innocent lives have been tainted by his actions.
He shouldn't be allowed to get away with that.
He mustn't be allowed…
"Where is he now?"
The question lingered in the air for a moment, unanswered. But then Reynard sighed.
"No one knows. He escaped the round up of Death Eaters at the end of the war – and believe me, I was looking for his name harder than anyone. I've heard mention of the Black Forest once or twice and Transylvania too but nothing concrete. I can only hope that Alastor's wish that he find a quiet corner of Europe to die in has come to pass."
Remus nodded quietly, his expression calm despite his roiling thoughts. His father had enough to worry about. And worry he would if he knew what was running through his son's mind.
Because if he shows himself… if he comes back and starts putting more innocent lives at risk, I'll stop him. Somehow, I'll find a way.
Enough is enough.
Awkwardly, leaning heavily on his cane, Rey pulled himself upright once more, gingerly twitching his bad leg as he massaged his knee with his fingers.
"Stiff again," he explained with a half smile. "Bloody thing. My father used to have trouble with his knees but I doubt it was for the same reason."
At the mention of his long dead grandfather, a question sprang into Remus' mind. "Dad?"
Rey glanced down, fingertips still working his sore leg with the absence of practice. "Yes son?"
"Who was telling the truth?"
Rey frowned. "About what?"
"About what happened to your sister. Who was telling the truth – Greyback or your father?"
Remus immediately regretted asking as pain spilled across his father's features.
"Honestly?" he said softly. "I don't know. Perhaps Greyback really was telling the truth as Loki Argent had told it to him – but whether Argent was lying, or Greyback or my father, I really couldn't say. Perhaps none of them knew the whole story. Perhaps they all believed the tales they told. I don't think we'll ever know."
Remus shook his head. "I shouldn't have asked. It doesn't really matter. What's done is done. We can't undo it."
"Quite." Reynard's smile was sincere, if a bit of an effort. "Well, changing the subject rather, would you like something to eat?"
Remus couldn't help himself. "Not if you're cooking."
The cane slapped gently against his shin. "Watch it, son. If you can't live with my culinary abilities, you'll just have to get up and make something yourself."
Pulling himself to his feet, Remus grinned. "I think I can live with that. Come on, Dad. Let's go and face your true evil nemesis."
Rey returned the grin. "You keep that stove away from me. It's nursing a personal grudge."
Remus smiled as he stepped back and allowed his father to move ahead of him. So much had changed since he'd woken from that terrible nightmare that morning; he had new truths to ponder, old grudges to consider, and disturbing connections of blood and bite to a savage, feral Death Eater. Nevertheless, he knew now that he still had the most precious things he thought he might have lost.
Thanks to his father, he still had himself. And he still had the last of his family.
What would happen now? Would he ever be able to make good on his private vow to find a way to bring down Greyback? Would he and Greyback ever even cross paths?
He didn't know. He was no seer. He could never know what the future held until the future stepped into the now.
But at least now he could understand his past. At least now he knew why.
And that, at least for now, would be enough.