Remus felt like they were back at school again. He sat there with Sirius and James and Peter, waiting for Dumbledore to speak, just as they used to at the beginning of every year.
On second thoughts, maybe it wasn’t so much like school. There were no bright banners, no First Years shuffling nervously, no teachers glaring at them and waiting for Potter or Black (it was always one or the other) to cause a disturbance.
Instead, they were in a ramshackle barn on the outskirts of a provincial Welsh town whose name Remus still couldn’t pronounce, and there was barely enough space in the room to accommodate the eclectic audience Dumbledore had collected around him.
There were some faces he recognised – people he knew from school who he still seemed to categorise by their house, which was ridiculous. But most of them were strangers to Remus, and he was sure the others didn’t know them either.
And of course, there were other differences too – Lily now sat quite happily with James, and her finger shone with a promise of lifelong commitment, something that had shocked Sirius and Peter completely, but Remus not a bit. Dumbledore stood, and Sirius clutched his hand underneath the table. Yes, and that. That was a change, too.
They sat and listened for what would have been minutes or hours, it was difficult to say, and heard Dumbledore explain how a new Dark wizard has risen, and had already gathered an army of followers – Death Eaters, a name that sat strangely on Remus’ ears – and they must gather together with no delays if they are to prevent this evil sweeping away everything they hold dear.
As the night continued, the audience diminished as they were told what would be required of them. Remus watched one couple leave, the woman clinging to her husband’s arm, and he couldn’t blame them. Remus didn’t know yet if he was a fighter, but as he tightened his grip on Sirius he realised that none of them really had a choice – seven years of the dormitory dynamic had conditioned them into such a strong sense of one for all and all for one that instinct alone would probably drive them to sign up for this.
The meeting drew to its end, and the mood was deeply uncomfortable. Remus looked around and was disheartened, on Dumbledore’s behalf more than his own, to see so many instances of that peculiarly British facial expression that only appeared when one was trying to find the most polite way of declining something.
James and Lily stood up in unison and walked over to Dumbledore, which would have made Remus smile, only his muscles didn’t seem to be up to the task. Feeling the need to just do something, Remus slowly uncurled from his extremely uncomfortable chair and tucked note-filled parchment into a pocket. He wanted to gather information, to have all of the facts at his disposal, to make projections about possible outcomes of all of this, and to weigh up every eventuality.
He’d be alone in this, he knew. Sirius’ mind was made up the first time James told them about this. Sirius’ mind was probably made up the day he ran away from home. This possibility of war had given Sirius purpose and passion and a drive that Remus found almost frightening. Although, he reflected grimly, it was more frightening for the other side.
Sirius got up now, eyes darkened and unreadable even to Remus. ‘Going outside,’ he said quietly.
‘Ok, I’ll be there in a minute.’
Sirius strode out the door, coat whirling around him and every line of his body alive with determination. Remus felt colder after he left.
He looked back on a sudden instinct, and froze. Peter sat by himself, the usual colour in his cheeks faded. Dutifully, Remus sat down next to him, but Peter didn’t move, and he found he had nothing to say. Almost of its own accord, his hand swung up from his side and wavered around in mid-air until he patted Peter on the shoulder, aiming for gentle but reassuring.
‘Hey,’ he murmured uselessly, wishing he could Accio James over here. James understood Peter the best, and would have known what to say. Instead, it was just him, and Remus was going to have to do the best he could.
‘Are you alright?’ he said, not really sure he wanted the answer.
Peter continued staring at the wall. Then his mouth began moving, and a moment later sound came out.
‘I can’t, Remus.’ His voice was so monotone, so un-Peter, and Remus realised he was horrendously out of his depth.
‘You don’t have to. Dumbledore’s not going to force you.’
‘He won’t.’ Peter turned to face Remus. ‘but Sirius and James will.’
‘That’s not true,’ Remus started.
‘It is, and you know it. They’ll go on about Gryffindor spirit and fighting evil and all sorts of noble bollocks. But I can’t, I know I can’t.’ Peter paused for a moment, flushed and twitching, and then carried on, getting increasingly high pitched. ‘I’m not like you or Sirius or James, I can’t do this. I’ve always been terrible at Defence, what the hell am I going to do in a fucking war? Remus, I’m a coward. I’m a Gryffindor and I’m a coward, how pathetic is that? I’m so scared – I… I don’t want to die, Remus.’
Peter’s breathing was erratic now, and Remus noticed with an awkward twist in his stomach that his eyes were glistening. There was nothing to say, really, but he had to break the silence regardless.
‘Peter. You are not going to die – we won’t let you. We’re all in it together, it’s going to be alright.’
‘No. No, it’s not.’ Peter stood up very suddenly and ran out. Remus saw James follow after him and felt a guilty wash of relief.
Lily and Dumbledore were still in intent conversation that showed no signs of stopping in the near future. Feeling vacant, Remus wandered out into a freezing blast of night air. He could hear James and Peter to his left, a dash of shrillness and James’ best Head Boy voice.
A pinprick of orange caught the corner of his eye. He could just make out Sirius’ outline, perched on a stile, leg curled around the post and shoulders hunched as he attempted to light a cigarette. Quite the brooding hero, Remus mused, before walking over, wrapping his coat more tightly in a feeble attempt to retain some heat.
‘Budge over,’ he muttered brusquely.
‘Hi,’ Sirius said as he shuffled. ‘You alright?’
‘Yeah, think so. Still taking it in, I suppose.’
They stayed silent for a while, Sirius’ smoke curling between them until it was blown away in dissipating spirals.
‘You don’t have to, you know,’ Sirius said abruptly.
‘Neither do you.’
‘Yeah I do. I know these bastards, have done all my life. I’m not going to miss an opportunity to take them down. But you –‘ Sirius broke off.
‘You really think I’d let you and James and Peter go out risking your necks every day while I stayed home and – what? Cooked? Of course I’m signing up, Sirius. Then I’ll be much better equipped to keep you out of trouble.’
Sirius laughed. ‘Right, Prefect to the last. Just – don’t die on me, Moony, ok?’
‘I’ve no intention of doing any such thing.’ Remus turned, knees bumping into Sirius and arms spilling over to his. ‘I solemnly swear I’ll live until I’ve gone grey and decrepit.’
‘Good. Me too.’
‘Well, now that’s settled, how about we go save the world?’
Sirius appeared to think for a moment. Then he shrugged. ‘Eh, could do I suppose. Not got anything better to do, really.’
Remus stood up. ‘Come on then.’ He yanked Sirius onto his feet and they moved off.
The others stood in a pool of candlelight in the entrance. Lily and James were either side of Peter, who was looking more himself again. Dumbledore raised his head at their approach and smiled.
‘Ah, wonderful. I’m sure we’ve all had quite enough of this bracing Welsh air. Mr Black, Mr Lupin, if you’d care to join us we are about to retreat to the comparative comfort of my office to discuss some matters of great importance.’
They Apparated away en masse. A leap of faith, and maybe a foolish one. Still, they were all in it together, and even if Remus had misjudged the jump and fell, at least he’d have Sirius’ hand to hold on the way down.