He finds it by chance. The cottage is in the Brecon Beacons, nearly derelict. It’s grey stone with small windows. It hunkers down into the hillside as if preparing for a long wait. It’s the fifth time he’s apparated since he was caught in Hogsmeade, and it’s all he can do to breathe, leaning against the cold, damp wall. In that moment, the cottage is a refuge, a place for him to bind his wounds, to muster up the strength to get back to Dumbledore. When he touches the wall, it feels familiar, seems to quicken and come alive beneath his hand. It feels like a welcome.
“That safehouse,” he begins after he has delivered his report into Dumbledore’s pensieve.
“Best you don’t know too much about the safehouses,” Dumbledore says, straightening up from the stone basin with a grimace.
“I know, sir. It’s just…the moment I got there, it felt right, somehow. As if I were returning to somewhere I knew very well.”
Dumbledore nods, slowly. “It’s a perfectly ordinary farmhouse; it isn’t part of our world, dear boy. A deeper magic, perhaps.” He clasps Remus on the shoulder, steers him to the door. “Away with you, get some rest. And thank you.”
Remus smiles up at him, slips out of his office and away, undisturbed by students and ghosts.
Sirius is half asleep on the sofa when he gets back, listening to Celestina Warbeck for some ungodly reason. His right leg is covered in bandage; there are soot streaks on his forehead, up to his hairline. He looks done in.
“Moony, there you are,” he says with a sleepy smile. “You look knackered, where have you been?”
Remus leans against the doorframe, sorting through the half-truths, the credible lies. He decides to be honest, to a point. “There were three attacks, in Hogsmeade. Dumbledore sent me.”
“Greyback?” Sirius asks, half sitting up.
“Stay down, you need to heal,” Remus says quickly, a little dismayed at how rough his voice sounds. They had all died, two of them straight away. The third…that had been a mercy. He walks over to Sirius, slumps onto the floor, his back against the arm of the sofa. Sirius reaches over, gently cards his fingers through Remus’s hair. They stay like that until morning.
He was 19 when he first kissed Sirius. They were drunk on firewhiskey, careless, happy in a way that felt almost desperate. He kissed Sirius, and Sirius kissed him back. He felt like his heart would break for how much it ached. His hands shook as he held the sides of Sirius’s face. When they broke apart, Sirius blinked, then smiled, one of his quiet, real smiles.
“I’m afraid I might be in love with you,” Remus said. Sirius kissed him, quickly.
“You poor chap,” he murmured. “Stuck with me,” and kissed him again, tender and slow. Remus had always thought it would be more violent, more of a dare when they finally kissed. Perhaps Remus didn’t really know anything about Sirius. Perhaps he never had.
“You’re late,” he says. His contact, a girl no more than seventeen, sniffs disdainfully.
“Had to finish my shift,” she says. “Can’t just come and go when I please, not when I’ve got a job to do.” She stamps her feet in the cold, rubs her hands together. Her coat is worn at the elbows, her scarf unravelling. The tip of her nose is bright red.
This is a damnable place. No wonder the muggles say it’s haunted. She draws out a slim package, bound up with gardener’s twine, and hands it to him. He gives her the list of names, transfigured into a single holly berry.
The snow crunches as she walks away, threadbare scarf trailing behind her. He leans against the yew, watches her leave.
When he gets to the village, he realises it’s Christmas Eve tomorrow. He rushes to Hogsmeade, ends up buying chocolate frogs for all his friends before realising he had already bought and wrapped their gifts months ago.
He goes back to the flat. Sirius, James, Lily and Peter are there in the kitchen, all in party hats, drinking terrible sherry. He empties the bag of chocolate frogs out onto the kitchen table, and watches the ensuing, tipsy, chaos.
Sirius kisses him on the cheek, his breath sweet with sherry. “You’re my favourite werewolf,” he whispers into his ear. Remus leans back into his warmth.
“I hear Greyback grows on you, given the chance,” he murmurs.
Sirius shudders slightly, is distracted by Peter’s yelp as a chocolate frog jumps up onto his head then down the back of his neck. Remus steals a sip of his sherry and hides his smile as Sirius shakes with suppressed laughter at the sight of James attempting to help Peter but somehow making it ten times worse.
Lily looks over at them, shaking her head fondly. He’s always been startled by her eyes. Green as could be. He’s been half in love with her for years. They all have.
Albania is wretched. He hovers on the edge of the meeting in the forest, tired beyond belief. His bones have stopped healing properly after his transformations. They ache deeply. Poppy told him this would happen, that he needs to take things slowly, give himself time to recover. He doesn't know when he will next be able to rest.
He confirms three of their suspected defectors, low level ministry employees without particularly high clearance. Yaxley is at the meeting, Dolohov too. Greyback is restless, pacing back and forth in front of the assembly as they try and bring the Albanian pack into the fold. The pack are unsure, refuse to commit. Usually, there is an exchange of hostages in these meetings, expensive gifts given. The leader, a tall, broad man, with a dagger earring that glints in the firelight, seems more to be preparing for a fight than an alliance.
It becomes more and more tense. Greyback moves through the assembled pack, sending a ripple of unease through them. Yaxley and Dolohov have their wands up, and the defectors are watching the action with a breathless sort of silence. Greyback suddenly catches hold of a child's arm, drags her forward before any of the pack can react. The leader has his hand to his belt, coiled to spring. Remus can hear his pulse thudding in his ears. If it came to it, could he watch? Could he let it happen? Are the names enough for his conscience?
Before anyone can move, the girl spins, bites Greyback viciously on the wrist and darts away, running through the trees towards him. He flattens himself against the tree, breath harsh in his ears. In the meeting, someone is calling for calm. The air is tight as a drum. The girl stops short in front of him, stares at him. She shows no fear. Her dark eyes are utterly tranquil. Then, before he can say anything, she starts to run again, swift as a deer. Behind him, there is shouting, the acrid scent of magic in the air. He waits for long enough to see that the pack are winning, then he slips away before anyone sees.
He telegrams London the next day, sends through the names of the defectors in among a list of requested library books. The first, the third and the fifth item on the list.
He sees the leader of the pack sweeping floors in a café two streets away from the post office. The little girl is sitting on the table, her legs swinging back and forth. He adjusts the scarf around his neck and walks in, the bell tinkling merrily behind him. The werewolf recognises him as one of his kind.
"You were in the forest," he says. His voice is mellow, pleasant. He looks tired, a little hesitation in his movements. He's guarding something, an injury. Ribs, perhaps. Remus nods.
"Not with them," he says. He lets a thin slip of paper drop to the floor. It looks like a sweet wrapper. On it, there is an address. "I think...you may need some help," he says.
"You look knackered," Sirius says. James nods in agreement as they tuck into a corner booth at the pub. Peter's running late, girl troubles or something. "Been up to much?"
Remus shrugs. "The usual," he says vaguely, then looks down at the pitted, beer-stained table. The pub is hazy with cigarette smoke, with the faint hint of stale beer. The dartboard has a throwing star embedded in it. Remus has no idea how Sirius even finds places like this. When he looks up, James and Sirius are having one of their silent conversations. He picks at a thread on his jeans.
"I heard there had been attacks in St David's," James says. "Two muggles killed."
"The papers say they've been struck by lightning," Remus says. “No visible wounds.”
No torture. Not the kind you can see, anyway. James frowns at him. “Have you been sleeping?” he asks at last. Remus shrugs. “Last time you got all squirrely like this, you ended up in the infirmary every month.”
“I’m not squirrely,” he says mildly.
“Then what in Merlin’s name are you up to?” James asks, his tone harsher than usual. “Moody’s been asking questions about where you go for so long—he might be nuts, but the rest of them will start to wonder, too, and you keep turning up at all hours, missing for days—”
“—enough,” Sirius growls. Remus shoots him a grateful look, but Sirius is looking down, avoiding eye contact. If he could, he’d tell them everything, wants to, desperately, just to have that easy trust back between them. At that moment, Peter shuffles in, his overcoat dusted with snow.
“Freezing out there,” he says, taking a sip of his beer. “Did you see, the Chudley Cannons are looking for a new seeker. You tempted?”
And the talk turns to quidditch, James rising to the bait, as he always does, Sirius making the occasional comment to derail him, as he always does. Remus sinks back, leans against the panelled wall, letting his eyes slide shut. He’s so tired.
“How’s Lily?” Peter suddenly asks. Remus opens his eyes, looks over at James.
James grins, and runs his hand through his hair. “She’s pregnant,” he says, his face lit up as Sirius launches himself across the table, alternating between berating James for not telling them sooner, and congratulating him on not being entirely useless as a male of the species. When Remus looks across at Peter, he expects to see the same kind of jubilation, but Peter, just for a second, looks grim, scared.
He loathes Augustus Breakwell. He is a vile man, trader of counterfeit goods, racketeer, human and creature trafficker and spy. He’d sell his own mother one day and his sister the next to buy her back. Still, for the right price, the information is good, and he’d never cross you – it’s bad for business. Just before Remus leaves with the list of targeted muggleborns, Breakwell leans forward, takes off his glasses.
“I’ve heard rumours. Looks like you might need to watch your back.”
Remus raises his eyebrows. “I always do,” he says, watching with horrified fascination as Breakwell cleans his glasses with a grimy handkerchief.
“For a knife in an alleyway, surely. But in your own home? With one of your pals holding the handle? You’ve got a spy in your midst. Might even be you, for all I know— sit down, keep your hat on, wolf. This is a friendly warning, given for free, you hear?”
Remus nods, sits back down with a sigh. “Proof?” he asks, voice utterly even.
“Whispers, here and there, a few bits of news that could only come from your lot. Noticed anything going tits up in any of your operations?”
Remus says nothing. He wonders sometimes, they all do. Too many operations go awry; there are too many near misses. To have it confirmed is almost a relief.
Remus tells Dumbledore, he nods, hands clasped on the desk in front of him. “One of your pals,” he says.
“One of three,” Remus says with a wry smile. “I don’t think he meant the Order. Lord knows why he decided to tell me; the man’s a repulsive weasel. But he’s never played us false.”
“You know who it is.”
“I suspect. I don’t know for sure. You…you want to wait,” he realises suddenly. “Start feeding lies to him, perhaps. See how long we can use him before they notice.” It’s a valuable resource, to have a spy you can lie to. Merciless, too. Better a prison cell, surely. Better to stop the information getting through. Dumbledore can be merciless. Has to be.
“What would you do?” Dumbledore asks. Remus thinks of all the times he’s nearly been caught, the friends he’s lost. The chaos at the ministry, the Unspeakables all tearing out each other’s throats. He thinks of Greyback, Malfoy, Dolohov, the Lestranges. Little Regulus. The raids and the murders, the families in hiding. He can’t answer.
When he gets home, he kisses Sirius like he’s drowning, backs him up against the wall, pins him there and ruts against him, too clumsy, too desperate for anything else. Sirius gentles him, strokes his hair as his desperation turns to grief, to something deep, nameless. Perhaps he had known for about Peter for months. Perhaps they all had.
“It’s going to be alright,” Sirius murmurs, holds him close. For a moment, he wants to tell Sirius everything, to run away with him to the safehouse, live as fugitives until all this is over.
He dreams about the cottage again. This time it’s spring, and a skylark flings herself up into the air, singing across the valley. The fields below are a patchwork of bright, bright green. Later, the mountain will blaze purple with heather, then brown with bracken. One day, when this is all over, he’ll go and find it.
They have the whole morning to themselves. Remus finds himself telling Sirius about the mountainside, how bleak it was, how beautiful. “Nothing but sheep, for miles. You could learn how to herd them,” he says. Sirius pokes him in a particularly ticklish spot just below his ribs, sneaks a kiss as he starts to laugh. I want to make a home with you, he thinks, as they sprawl on the unmade bed, both stubble-burned and breathless. One day, when this is all over, they’ll go and find it, and make a home.
Czechoslovakia is utter hell. There is a group of werewolves, an established pack, that he has been trying to reach for a week. He is reduced to sleeping up trees, trudging through the forest each day hoping for a trace of them. He wakes from the full moon at the bottom of a ravine, has to retrace his steps to find the clothes and wand he buried. He is exhausted, whiles away the utter tedium by daydreaming himself back to the mountain, the cottage. The range would be lit. Perhaps they’d have lambs. And when the moon was full, he and Pads would chase each other up and down the mountain, over streams and into caves, up onto the moors. He imagines the open, wild landscape as the scent of pines and rotting wood assails his nose.
He eventually finds them living in a tiny settlement in a clearing. He warns them about the dark lord, about Greyback. Gives them the portkey, and the word they need to use to get to safety. They listen, and nod. Life has not been kind to them for a long time. They may never accept the offer, may decide that the dark lord has more to give them, but the offer has been made.
Then it’s back to London, a series of apparitions he is almost too tired to make, and a debriefing that he stumbles through, slumped in Dumbledore’s armchair.
“Too tired to go back,” he says when it’s over, but he stands up to go anyway. Dumbledore sends him through the floo in his office, follows behind. The flat is empty.
“There was news of a raid in Chester,” Dumbledore says. “Sirius went with Gideon and Fabian to check. Get some sleep, Remus. Try not to worry.”
Remus is used to this vigil. When Dumbledore leaves, he goes to the kitchen, makes himself a cup of tea. He sits at the table, tracing the pattern of the tablecloth, waiting. In the upstairs flat, someone is pacing restlessly. Sirius has always liked this flat. He would like anywhere that wasn’t Grimmauld Place. James and Lily both prefer to be out of London—easier to hide. Peter—he won’t think about Peter. Instead, he listens to the pacing upstairs, and waits.
All three of them get back at around 3 in the morning, unharmed. When he sees Sirius, it feels as if he can breathe for the first time in a week. Heedless of Fabian and Gideon’s wolf whistles, he kisses Sirius, tries to tell him all he can with just the kiss.
“Bloody good thing he was there,” Fabian says when they’ve broken apart. “Five of the bastards, I don’t call that fair odds.”
“Now six, on the other hand,” Gideon says, steering his twin to the door. “C’mon, brother mine. Let’s go and wake up Molly’s brats, she loves it when we do that.”
The next day in the Prophet, there’s an advertisement for a broomstick repair man on the fifteenth page—an emergency signal. He leaves the flat before Sirius gets up, hurries to the first apparition point, hops across London until he’s in Breakwell’s office. When he gets there, Breakwell isn’t alone. One of the ugliest house elves he has ever seen is there too, clutching a golden locket. When he sees Remus, he stands up, pointing a bony, crooked finger at him. “Not the mangy wolf,” he croaks.
“Kreacher,” Breakwell says. “Be nice. We talked about this—”
“You talked,” the elf mutters, glaring balefully at Remus.
“Got an interesting story for you, he has,” Breakwell says, ignoring Kreacher completely. “Wants to talk to your lord and master, sharpish. Wants certain guarantees. Wants a decent bath, too, but that’s neither here nor there.”
“Werewolves was not in our agreement,” Kreacher says, still glaring. “He says he was getting a brave fighter, a big man. Not a mangy—”
“—I’ve been checked for fleas,” Remus says, a little goaded. “Why did you bother sending for me?” he asks Breakwell.
“Because, my boy, I know dark magic. And that little locket he has? Too hot for me to touch. He wanted me to look at it, brought it in yesterday. Sneaked in after his shopping behind his mistress’s back, naughty elf that he is—”
“—I’m a good elf! This is for master Regulus! I’m not a naughty elf,” Kreacher’s fists are clenched, the locket almost breaking the skin on his hand.
Remus sits down, speaks in as gentle a tone as he can. “You’re a very good elf,” he says quietly. “I knew your master, at school. You must miss him. I know someone who would like to meet you, very much.”
“Not a mangy wolf?”
“Far from it,” he says, and summons up his happiest memory as Breakwell looks on, through grimy spectacles.
When it finally happens, when the net finally closes in, it isn’t in a Romanian forest, or a back alley in Prague. He’s at the flat making a cup of tea when the front door explodes inwards. He’d sent three of them: Dolohov, Mulciber, and Crabbe. Crabbe, presumably, was there to provide the brains. He flings the boiling kettle at them, which bears the brunt of the reducto curse Mulciber casts, sending shards of metal and steam in all directions.
They’re toying with him, wearing him down rather than outright wounding him. In return, he’s vicious, sending stinging and slashing hexes, throwing everything he can at them. He tears the flat to pieces, rips the door off its hinges and slams it into Crabbe, knocking him unconscious. He shatters the bathroom mirror, sends thousands of shards of glass at Mulciber, stopping them millimetres from his skin, nearly touching his eyeballs, pinning him in place. He keeps his shield up, goes through every single dirty trick he’s learned until only Dolohov remains.
Dolohov. Merlin, Dolohov. Against him, all he has is a shield. “My master wants you alive,” Dolohov says. Remus stays silent, brings the light fixture crashing down on top of Crabbe’s prone form. “We’ve got some questions for you. You’ve been a busy boy, from what our source tells us.” Spells strike his shield, sharp as knives. Silently cast, so he can’t even anticipate them. One gets through, fills his lungs with water, makes him feel as if he’s drowning on dry land, only disappearing when he’s at the point of blacking out. He drops to his knees, can only endure bout after bout of this spell, unable to retaliate until he finally musters the strength to put his shield back up.
He’s grimly proud of the spell on Mulciber. It’s a modified sticking charm, and can only be removed by the caster. At least he’s brought two of them down. Dolohov is still smiling, still affable. One of the curses Remus deflects sets fire to the wall, burning with a bright green flame. Another spell slashes across his chest, the bright flare of pain making his shield flicker. In that moment, he knows: they cannot take him alive. If he is to die, it will be here, not spilling out the order’s secrets in a torturer’s cell. But by God he’ll make them pay for his death. With his free hand, he reaches behind his back, takes a knife out of the drawer. When Dolohov sees, he laughs.
“Will take more than a knife to stop me, wolf.”
Remus just smiles, places the tip of the knife between his ribs. Dolohov comes closer, not smiling any more. Keeping his shield strong, Remus brings the knife out, then out as Dolohov closes the gap to stop him, close enough to stab.
He’s still holding the knife when Sirius comes home. Dolohov glares at him from a full body bind, blood seeping into his robes. “Moony, God, Moony. What—”
“—they wanted me alive,” he says hoarsely, swaying on his feet.
Ten Aurors come to take them away. Moody stays behind, checking all the rooms. The fire is still burning green on the kitchen wall, the shards of glass hanging suspended in a glittering cloud. “Quite a fight,” he growls, testing the sharpness of one of the shards of mirror glass. “You say they wanted to capture you, not kill. Any reason? How did they know where you live? We’re all in unplottable houses, off the registry. What curse—”
“—enough, he needs to go to St Mungo’s.”
“Who knows where you live? Who told the dark lord?” Moody barks out, his eyes fixed on Remus’s face. Sirius starts to speak, then grows pale. Six people know. James. Lily. Dumbledore. Fabian. Gideon.
“Peter,” Sirius breathes, eyes closing. Remus doesn’t move. He can hear his own heartbeat, drowning out all other sounds. It’s out. No more silence. One fewer secret to keep. “You knew,” Sirius says. His voice is quiet, so quiet. Remus bows his head.
“I suspected.” It’s all he can say. If Sirius shouted, he would be able to weather the storm, to comfort him when It was over. This silence, this stillness makes him want to beg, to explain. But he cannot, not yet. He faintly registers Moody stomping into the living room, talking in a rough whisper. He can’t breathe, not properly.
“Look at me. At least have the courage to look at me.” He meets Sirius’s eyes squarely, tries not to sway too badly. The slash on his chest is a dull ache, now. He can’t seem to breathe. “Do you have nothing to say? No explanation? You could have died because of him—we all could. I trusted him. James trusted him, and you stayed silent?”
“I gave him no choice.” Dumbledore looks as serene as ever, stepping over the broken wood, the glass and plaster. The gold locket around his neck glints in the light. “Remus, my dear boy. My dear, brave boy. Three of Riddle’s men in the cells below the Ministry. Dolohov—”
“—arseholes to Dolohov! What of Peter?” Sirius snarls.
“Arseholes to Pettigrew, Black. Lupin’s on the verge of collapsing.” Moody’s grip on his arm is firm, almost bruising.
“I’m fine,” he murmurs, blacks out before he can hear Moody’s response.
He wakes up in an unfamiliar room. It’s morning; thin grey light seeps in through the window. There’s the kind of muffled silence you hear after snow has fallen. He feels like he has been trampled by a hippogriff; his joints ache worse than they have in a while. Even opening his eyes takes an effort. “Merlin,” he rasps, throat like sandpaper.
“Not quite,” Lily says. She pushes him gently back onto the bed when he tries to sit up, perches on the side of the mattress so he can see her. She twines her fingers through his, stroking the back of his hand with her thumb. She looks weary, dark circles vivid against her pale skin. “We thought we’d lost you. I’ve never seen Madam Pomfrey take Dumbledore to task like that. How long—how long have you been ill?”
Remus squeezes her hand. “I’m fine,” he says. “Fit as a fiddle—no, c’mon, Lily. Don’t cry. I’m fine.” He strokes her hair as she clings to him. He has no idea what on earth to say. He’s fine. He’s alive.
When he looks up, he sees James in the doorway with a glass full of a truly noxious looking liquid. “C’mon, Lils. Time to give this idiot his medicine,” James says. Lily sits up, her eyes bright with tears. His hand trembles as he holds the glass, and he has to be supported by James as he sits up to drink. When it’s finished, he falls back on the pillows, trying not to retch at the taste.
“You’re probably the biggest prat out of the four of us,” James begins conversationally. “A prideful, stubborn, pigheaded idiot, working yourself to death Merlin knows where, coming back to that horrible flat—”
“—I liked that flat—”
“—you hated that flat. You hate London, you hate crowds, you hate the smog, and the gangs roaming Knockturn Alley. The only reason you live in London is you think Sirius would go into a decline anywhere green!”
James holds up a hand. “No, I’m not finished! What if you’d died out there, all alone? What if you’d been captured, arrested in Romania, doomed to live out your days in one of their corrective facilities? What would we have told your father—”
“Enough,” Lily says, barely raising her voice. “Do you think Remus hasn’t already thought of all this? We all have. And stop skulking, Sirius. We’ll be downstairs if you need us,” she adds to Remus, smiling down at him.
Sirius closes the door behind him, stands at the foot of the bed. His eyes are red-rimmed, his hair a birdsnest. He hasn’t shaved, or changed his clothes. “You hate London?”
Of all the starting points. “I…yes. I loathe it,” he says firmly. Sirius blinks. “Sometimes, I daydream about living up a mountain and never seeing another soul,” he continues. “I hate London; I hate keeping secrets; I hate spying; I hate hiding things from you; I hate the greater good, and expedience, and being scared—” he breaks off, hands gripping the sheets so tightly they almost rip. He forces himself to relax, breathes deeply. “I hate how far away you feel now, even when you’re in the same room.”
“God, Moony.” Sirius moves softly, carefully, as if he’s afraid Remus will startle. He manoeuvres them so that Remus is lying on his side, head resting in the crook of his arm, their legs tangled together. “We’re in a safehouse. Middle of nowhere, think this used to belong to a sheep farmer. Your cover’s blown; it’s too dangerous for Lily and James to be living alone.”
“I’ll have a little holiday. Never had one before; Mother always said they were vulgar. Then, Dumbledore has a few interesting sounding jobs to do, once you’re on the mend.”
“Missing. Everyone in the Order knows, now. Funny thing, Moody happened to mention it in passing to Gideon before Dumbledore could tell him not to.”
“Peculiar,” Remus says, feeling lighter than he has in months. “I missed you,” he says. “I missed telling you everything.”
Sirius sighs, pulls him closer. “Reg died a hero, did you know? Little Reg. Dumbledore went to the house and told Mother all about it, bold as brass. Mother’s given the Order the full use of the house. Decided that the dark lord is a vulgar upstart halfblood. A hero, and I never knew.”
“You could…you’d be safe there,” Remus says. He feels Sirius shudder.
“Not with that old storm crow,” he says. “And not without you, either. I’m afraid you’re still stuck with me.”
Laughter floats up from downstairs, as soft music starts to play. He knows how James and Lily dance together, turning in a tight circle as they embrace. Sirius has started to swish his foot back and forth rhythmically on the sheets, a habit he’s had since he was a child. Outside, the wind has started to whistle, blowing flurries of snow across the windowpane. They have a safe, secret place on the mountain, where the gorse and heather grow. They have a sheep and the larks, the buzzards and the adders. Remus smiles, closes his eyes, and comes home.