If Sirius Black had thought joining the Order of the Phoenix would be safe or easy, he had been sorely mistaken. Even if he skirted missions, membership of the society alone carried risks of interrogation, torture and death.
Perhaps it was why he joined, so driven by the cause that he was ready to go to any length of recklessness in the name of justice, yet also to distract himself from everything else for a short while.
At least, that was how Albus Dumbledore had theorised it when Sirius Black volunteered for a mission which could easily leave him for dead.
At first, the old man had not closed the request for volunteers; spurred on by the persistent concerns of James Potter, he had sought an older and less volatile volunteer. Yet those stable Order members with their careers and families were hardly eager to put themselves on the front line.
As Minerva had unwillingly put it, Sirius did have some traits which would be exceedingly useful to the job, traits which might just keep him in one piece for the next few months. His quick wit, his intelligence and – much to his own dismay – the family name.
Pacing his office in wait of the man, Dumbledore could only hope it would be enough. James Potter had made him, in something a little stronger than jesting despair, promise that his best friend would make it back alive. Sadly, some promises could not be made that easily.
And promises which involved sending Sirius Black disguised as a Death Eater into the heart of a werewolf camp were most certainly not going to be safe.
“I have news. Excellent news.”
Fenrir Greyback was the only man standing in the forest clearing. Men, women and children had taken up positions on the floor, a disorganised kind of gathering. Yet the hierarchy was clear – a smaller group of men lurked behind Greyback, scanning the area for signs of disruption.
Greyback remained unconcerned, leering down at the people in excitement, expression only distinguishable from anger by his primitive attempt at a grin. Even this was enough to silence the restless children squirming at his feet.
“As you will remember, some time ago, the Dark Lord communicated with me about the possibility of an alliance.” His tongue rolled over the final word slowly, testing as though he had never spoken it before. It seemed to work, though – he was staring down at the others as though they were his subjects and he a king about to declare war. “An alliance which will allow us our rights. Our freedom and our blood!”
A man in the crowd had called out a cry of support, raising himself just enough that Remus could see him in the crowd. He had the look of someone delighted by those words, eager to serve. Perhaps, the man found himself thinking, perhaps he should be up here instead, with the chosen, loyal few.
“Precisely,” Greyback smirked, reaching a long, claw-like fingernail to his teeth and picking at scraps of flesh. “And now we have received word from him. Tomorrow night, the Dark Lord will send one of his men. A Death Eater. He will guide and instruct us in his word. We will carry out tasks for him in return for what the world has denied us for centuries…”
The man Remus had been watching cheered this time, yet several around him muttered, and understandably so.
Greyback’s voice echoed through the clearing of trees, reverberating around the huddle of people until silence fell upon them. Two men much larger than Remus stood on either side of him now, ready to reach out for the next person to raise their voice.
“I suppose none of you oppose this plan?”
Eyes shining with malice, his gaze flickered to Remus for a fraction of a second, before resting on the crowd again. The sitting man kept his mouth clamped shut – resisting right now would have caused more trouble than his life’s worth.
“Are you suggesting you don’t want the freedom we’ve been denied for centuries? You want to starve?!”
He was met with silence, but only for a second.
“How is a dirty human wizard ever going to tell us how to operate?” A woman shouted, rising in the crowd. Her grey hair was matted and clothes tatty, but there was a fire in her eyes which hadn’t died. “Tell them to get bitten! We don’t listen to their instructions.”
Her derisive jeers were earning more cheers than even Greyback; relief washed over Remus and he managed a kind of secret, smug smile in her direction. But their leader had apparently been planning for this, his smile waxy, words rehearsed.
“Ah. But we shall be doing it on our own terms, for our own gains. This Death Eater is nothing more than a figurehead for a greater cause. Let the humans think we see them as equals. When the time is right, they’ll see the truth…” He laughed harshly, spiked teeth bared. It was hardly surprising to see one of the children at his feet recoil slightly.
“You are not to speak to this Death Eater!” He continued, satisfied with the increased focus from his crowd now. “These dealings shall be left to myself and my men. When time is right, the honoured among you may be selected to help with his mission. For now, I do not know. But remember,” he smiled, drawing a wand from his pocket and learning down to the boy who had just crawled away from him, “remember what I am capable of if you think you can challenge me. That means all of you. Now, go.”
They didn’t need to be told twice.
At his words, the crowd scattered, hurrying back into the shadows and caves of the forest clearing until silence fell once again. As ever, Greyback had acted skilfully – delicate yet forceful, ready to challenge anyone who might threaten him.
Perhaps this was why he turned to Remus so suddenly.
“I assume your heard me, Lupin?”
Greyback had seized him by the arm and dragged him to one side, away from the other men and close enough that Remus could smell the blood of his breakfast on his teeth.
“I practically wrote that speech, of course I heard it,” he reassured him, teeth gritted and eyes refusing to meet his. Greyback’s concerns about opposition hadn’t stemmed from nothing, after all.
“You did not, if you remember, write about your loyalty to me. In fact, I seem to remember you acting to the contrary…”
His mouth was so close he could feel warm breath on his neck, hairs standing on end more with each word. Remus knew to keep his mouth shut, lest anything worse happen.
“Need I remind you, Lupin, of how you told me you disapproved of this idea? Of how you thought it was a plot to exploit our kinds for a cause which didn’t care for us?”
Mouth still tightly shut, he ducked his head.
“And need I remind you…” Greyback stuck out a finger, rough nail tracing one of the fresher scars on Remus’s shoulder, “of what happened the last time you tried a little resistance plot on me? When you thought you knew better than my plans?”
Eyes now closed, he missed Greyback’s expression as the man tilted his chin up with a bloody finger, his smile twisted.
“Good, Remus. Good things will come if you remain that way. The alternative,” he smirked, “will suit your interests much less well.”
Behind him, he could hear the snickers of the other men in Greyback’s chosen group. Older, bigger men who had been so kind as to teach Remus the consequences of back-chatting his superiors. Focused on his breathing, on the way his nails dug into the palms of his hands, he took a moment to steady himself before following them into the cave.
In all honesty, Remus was unsure what the Death Eater was going to expect of a werewolf camp. Yet if his suspicions were correct, this man would be a pureblooded, high-status man who would be in for a horrible shock.
It was with a sense of grim satisfaction that he looked around the cave, blinking through the groom and trying to imagine it through the eyes of someone who was used to mahogany furniture and house elves in every corner.
Besides, Remus was one of the lucky ones. Greyback’s closest men were granted the privilege of sleeping inside the cave, finding patches of the ground on which to rest. Only the leader himself had a bed – a tatty, crudely constructed hammock which nobody else was allowed to touch. But the cave floor was surely better than outside, where most people found themselves having to sleep.
Would Greyback give up his hammock for a man used to silk sheets? He snorted a little at the image of a conflict, adjusting his legs to avoid the bodies of sleeping men within the cave.
And surely, the human who had been raised on a diet of caviar and stuffed pheasants would love and adore the way in which the werewolves at their meals. He only hoped he could see the look on this man’s face as they brought in the next night’s animal carcass.
Humans might have thought they were good for a lot, but for some things, they were simply and utterly useless.
Beside him, someone rolled over and gave a loud snore, a noise which might have been unsettling to someone unused to sleeping in a room with eight others. By now, though, Remus wasn’t convinced he would be able to sleep without it. Besides, the presence of others kept the cave a little warmer.
Careful not to roll onto the huge, hairy man, he rested his head on one arm as a pillow and closed his eyes.
He fell asleep to the image of a Death Eater trying to work out how the werewolves washed and falling into the nearby stream.
Even if Greyback was going to force him into some ridiculous plan against his will, couldn’t he at least make a little fun for himself from it?
The north of England was always chilly in autumn at best, but Sirius Black could have sworn someone had put a freezing charm on this forest. As though aware of what lived in the heart of it, life seemed to shy away – even the trees seemed a little too still.
Only now did Sirius realise he had not been in a forest since he was at Hogwarts, since that time just after exams had finished that he had strolled through the Forbidden Forest with James. It had been strange to feel both as they owned the place and that it was time to say goodbye. Perhaps in first year, the place had been scary and uninviting (all the more reason to enter). But by the end, he knew the winding tree roots and uneven paths only too well, and somewhere a little way along the path by Hagrid’s hut, was a tree with his and James Potter’s initials carved into it.
By comparison, this forest was nothing. Yet it still inspired more fear than the Hogwarts forest had ever done.
Fear, in fact, was the only thing keeping Sirius walking.
“Greyback. Fenrir Greyback… Make his acquaintance and tell him you’re receiving information from Volde- No, the Dark Lord.”
He rehearsed under his breath as he walked, too quiet to be heard by anyone under the long cloak and mask of a Death Eater.
This was a ridiculous plan. Ridiculous. A plan based entirely on the knowledge that Voldemort would be sending a Death Eater to the werewolf camp, whom the Order had stunned and dragged away, only to replace him with Sirius. Sirius would communicate with Voldemort himself by an enchanted parchment (he wasn’t important enough to do so in person) to gain information of who the werewolves were to kill.
Staring down at the hand drawn map and realising everything in this forest was virtually the same as everything else, Sirius sighed and forced himself to use magic to check the route for a fourth time.
“Show them magic… Show them what you’re capable of so they respect you. Show them something which will interest them.”
He had no idea what interested werewolves. Blood, maybe?
And it was easy for Albus Dumbledore to say that, sitting in the comfortable chair in his office and tracking Sirius through an enchanted mirror whilst the younger man attempted to infiltrate a werewolf camp as a Death Eater, learn exactly what their plans were and returned to the Order of the Phoenix in one piece.
It didn’t sound too confident.
The lack of confidence merged with fear, fear which drove Sirius into gripping the wand in his pocket. He, at least, was armed. Perhaps these werewolves had wands, but they’d never been taught by Professor McGongall.
She’d been uneasy about him going on this mission alone.
He missed them. Already.
“Ah… At last, Sir…”
The voice caught Sirius by surprise, so sudden he almost jumped – thankfully, the robes covered that. Desperately clinging to the illusion of confidence and authority, he turned slowly on the spot. Evidently, his last directions had not been too poor; he had found Greyback.
Except it wasn’t just Greyback. As Dumbledore had expected, there were three of them.
Greyback had to be the man in the centre – Sirius’s stomach gave a twist as he looked him over. There was a look of something primitive about him, a poor copy of a human drawn by someone who had only seen animals; sharp, pointed teeth covered in blood… Matted, tangled body hair which looked far closer to fur, covered only by clothing which had to be made of fur… Nails which could cut through skin. And a leering, jeering smile… The smile of a man who bit and tortured children for fun.
Stomach flipping, Sirius forced himself to turn to the figures on either side.
One was clearly only there for his size and strength. Bigger than Greyback, he too bared his teeth and looked on menacingly from his clumsy footing on the ground. He was the kind of person Sirius could have beaten easily in a wand fight, but he would stand no hope against him in the kind of fights he presumed they fought.
The third was the shortest of them, yet still a head taller than Sirius, staring at him impassively. Clearly, he was the tamest of the group, wearing torn and dirty clothes rather than furs. Yet his hair was still matted and teeth still bloody and even he could rip him apart with ease. It was hardly going to help.
“Greyback. Fenrir Greyback. I lead this pack.”
He didn’t speak, though – he growled, stepping closer to Sirius and extending a filthy hand. He did not take it – the mingled smell of dirt and blood alone from these men made him feel slightly faint.
“Black,” he nodded, relieved to hear his voice was much steadier than anticipated. “Rigel Black. I hope I didn’t keep you waiting too long. I’m sure you were busy.”
He smirked a little, surveying the three. When it wasn’t the full moon, there was little use for werewolves.
“Of course not.” Greyback spoke silkily, evidently weighing up Sirius. He was small and pale under the mask, but he did have a wand. And a lot more of an idea how to use it than he did. Clearly not caring to introduce the others to Black, he led them further through the woods, a route he knew all too well.
Sirius struggled with the pace a little, nearly tripping over several tree roots as the three werewolves weaved through the forest like animals. He was better off behind them, though, given these men likely had all kinds of wars around their camp. Dumbledore had tried to explain to him something about the mixing of a werewolf’s blood with human blood, but Sirius had been rather too put off to think about it.
It was after what felt like hours of silence when Greyback stopped dead, turning on the spot and grinning cruelly at Sirius, who was breathless. The larger two sniggered and even Remus couldn’t hide a smile. Whoever this man was, he clearly couldn’t keep up with a decent walking pace.
“This is camp. I’ve told the others not to speak to you. All communication about your wishes is to be done through me. I daresay I have more respect from them than you right now,” he reached a finger up to pick at his teeth.
Sirius nodded in what he had hoped was an imperious manner, focusing his attention on the camp.
When they’d stopped, he had not even realised there was anything here – it took a few moments of looking to notice they had reached the side of a hill into which caves had formed. A few people appeared to be moving in and out of them amongst the shadows. Nervously, they saw the little group of figures and hurried off.
“Lupin, take his things and show him to the cave. We have your bed set up already, Sir. Your meal will follow.”
“Cave?” Sirius looked up sharply. This time, he didn’t have to pretend to be horrified at the idea. “I won’t be sleeping in there.”
Greyback blinked, the look of a man who had said or done something wrong but couldn’t quite work out how to amend it.
It was Remus who spoke – impatient, terse.
“I have a tent.”
“If I have to communicate with the Dark Lord about plans, then of course I need a tent. I need privacy. I can’t imagine you expected you would be entitled to hear all his plans?” His eyes narrowed, stepping up to Greybacks face (or chest, at his height).
The werewolf stopped in his tracks, actually thinking before he spoke this time.
“As you wish. Lupin, show him where to put his tent. And explain food and water to him. We’ll be in the cave to await your presence this evening, Sir.”
Greyback bent into a bow low enough to gain a nod of approval, yet one Remus knew was fuelled by a fair amount of sarcasm. Clearly their leader had expected someone slightly more … Polished. Or maybe rougher. Either way, enough beer might solve it…
Grabbing the bag Sirius had been holding for him, Remus slung it over his shoulder with ease and hurried a little way to the left, passing a few nervous, silent figures.
Sirius could do nothing but follow in his wake, assuming this man had been chosen for the initial meeting not for his strength, but for his abilities to speak. The biggest man, after all, had communicated only in grunts.
“I suggest you camp here.”
Sirius’s bag was unceremoniously thrown against a tree stump in a small clearing.
“It’s upwind of camp. I’m presuming your type can’t cope anywhere else,” he narrowed his eyes slightly, stepping back as Rigel pulled out a large sheet of canvas and tapped it with his wand. It had to be said, it was fairly impressive. And a lot warmer than where he would be sleeping tonight.
“As it happens, I would appreciate being further away,” he said nastily. Perhaps the demeanour was exaggerated, but the statement was true. Given a choice, he would be a cosy six or seven miles away from these men. Lupin seemed less crude, at least, but no more compliant or kind than any of the others.
It just went to show, really, why werewolves didn’t live with other wizards.
“Of course. How surprising. I suppose you’ll want to know about the water?”
“I have a wand,” he raised his eyebrows, “I think I’ll cope.”
“I’ve brought rations.” He nudged the bag with his foot, thinking of the home-cooked meals stowed away in there with a surge of relief.
“And how about three months down the line when your stuffed pheasant has ran out and you’re struggling to cope from having to go four hours without something to eat?”
He was practically growling by the end of it. Sirius had to remind himself he wasn’t really at risk, casually twirling his wand in the chilly air. The indignant werewolf could not really have been a day older than him.
“I’m sure the Dark Lord will provide for me. He gives what I need and,” he took a step closer, “takes away whatever I find to be irksome.”
Remus Lupin was not too stupid to see a threat when he was being slapped in the face with it. And he most definitely wasn’t too stupid not to back down. Jaw set, he gave the Death Eater one last harsh look and stared resolutely over his shoulder instead.
“If that’ll be all. Greyback would be delighted for you to visit the cave tonight. I presume he has more to tell you.”
“Fine.” Sirius shrugged, raising his wand and beginning to place numerous protective wars around his neat little tent. “Tell him that he may see me tonight.”
Remus nodded and turned away, wondering just how crazy Greyback had to be to want his life to be graced with the presence of a judgemental Death Eater who had wrinkled up his nose so much he was starting to look like a rabbit.
Anyway, maybe he wouldn’t last too long.
They ate rabbits from time to time.
Remus’s return to the cave was about as well-received as anticipated. Greyback had sprawled in his crudely made wooden chair and was leering down at the others as they muttered together, presumably planning a hunt.
He had been planning on slipping in unnoticed, but the man let out a great cry as he shifted in through the entrance. Wishing he could throw something at Greyback hard and still live, he raised an eyebrow.
“He’s in his tent.”
“Took you long enough.”
“You did ask. I wasn’t tucking him into bed of my own accord.”
“You know perfectly well why I asked you, Lupin. I suppose it will take a few more tasks to gain your loyalty. Or perhaps just one punishment…”
Remus gritted his teeth but stuck his chin up. Greyback wasn’t winning him over with some nonsense about a wonderful ruler who would give them all rights, it just wasn’t true. Perhaps he would be awarded any blood he wanted and the pleasures of being head of a werewolf army, but it was hardly any good for the rest of them.
“He said he won’t be eating here.”
There it was – the momentary shock and disappointment on Fenrir’s face, fairly well concealed through a mask of harshness and haughtiness. But not quite well enough, for a second. His guest clearly didn’t want to be around that much.
“He’s brought rations or something,” he smirked, pulling up a seat on the rough ground to peer at what the others were doing. Nothing particularly exciting, but important if any of them wanted to eat tonight.
“Rations? They won’t last,” Greyback scoffed. He was likely picturing a wizard huddled over a fire, attempting to cook some potatoes. “Though I suppose you already told him that?”
Remus was battling with his dislike of the Death Eater and annoyance at Greyback for getting him involved against his desire to convince him gently that this was a bad idea and to get things back to how they were supposed to be.
“He said the Dark Lord would provide,” he shrugged.
It was pleasant to watch Greyback trying to decide whether to laugh this man off or trust in the greatness of the Dark Lord. He made a stab at a middle road, snorting and responding in a harsher tone.
“Well, you’d better get working if you want anyone to eat tonight, Lupin. And I suppose you do, knowing how you reacted when I last decided to slow down the food provisions… I’ll hunt for pleasure tonight. You’re on guard duty outside.”
It was a rather petty way at getting back at Remus for being smart with him and they both knew it. Putting him on overnight guard duty, making him sit up all night in the cold. It would give him plenty of time to think over his allegiances, which Greyback seemed to be doing a lot of at the moment.
And it would give him a nice view of the aftermath of the hunt when they returned. He needed desensitising to it, as far as Greyback was concerned. People of the past had turned him … soft. He had dealt with them, but not so much with the aftermath.
In some attempt to threaten him into submission, he had pulled Remus into his inner circle to treat him both as a sort of son (he was one of his, after all) and someone who needed training and discipline.
Half the time, it meant bestowing priveleges upon him, veritable carrots for a man who had not been quite so entranced by the offer of blood alone. The other half of the time, it was finding out exactly how to push Remus Lupin’s buttons. How to make him hurt and how to make him shut up.
Telling him to sit outside shivering all night was really just a slap to the wrist for some bratty behaviour he sincerely hoped was on the way out. As easily forgotten as it could be, werewolves went through puberty too.
At first glance, the neatly packaged pies and stews had seemed unappetising to Sirius. Rehydrated, reheated and eaten in solitude, he had assumed he would be longing for company and a little more beer.
But considering the alternative…
The sounds of the camp were muffled by the direction of the wind blowing away from his tent, but anyone could hear those shrieks and growls. There was no other word for it than rowdy. A class of first years left in a classroom without a teacher for fifteen minutes – except these ones all had sharp teeth, alcohol and a thirst for blood.
The canvas suddenly seemed not nearly thick enough to do its job.
Turning his lights out with a single flick of his wand, Sirius could spot the glow of a fire in the distance from where he sat on his bed (there was a definite comfort to eating in bed). Surely they would be cooking right now? He had heard a large group of them leave the camp earlier that evening, shouting (or maybe that was just how they spoke) until the only voices left to hear were the ones of children and those remaining behind to discipline them. Mainly women. Wasn’t it wonderful how one of the few aspects of normal society which these werewolves had chosen to keep was sexism?
Sirius thought of Lily Evans and stabbed his pie a little harder with his fork. If one single member of this camp was willing to break away from this and start fighting for Dumbledore, then they might as well start appealing to the Death Eaters too – it was about as likely.
He thought about contacting Dumbledore with an update, but they both knew it was too early for that – the headmaster would become suspicious he was losing his nerve and send someone else on the mission. Probably Benjy Fenwick or something.
Morosely scooping peas into his mouth, Sirius decided he would be more capable of this than Benjy Fenwick, even if that did mean having to drag himself to some horrible werewolf gathering tonight.
It was on nights like these that Remus felt relief, about the best thing he could feel. The camp was crowded and noisy, but it was warm from the company and the fire. A little way along from him lay the carcasses of two deer, a mother and child. Or, more accurately, dinner.
Greyback had laughed harskly into the fire, glancing around at the people huddled at his feet.
Disciples, he called them sometimes.
Remus had only ever heard the word used in the church his grandma had taken him to once or twice as a child, but he was fairly sure it meant something different in this context.
“You have pleased me! Our allegiance to the Dark Lord is growing and soon we will reap rewards like no others! Tonight, we shall taste the beginnings of what we might have!”
“Praise the Dark Lord and his generosity!”
Remus whipped around in his spot on the ground – those words had been spoken in a voice he knew from earlier, the voice of a man who had resisted the arrival of Black on their camp. But if Greyback was good for anything, it was persuading people of what he wanted…
“Praise him indeed.”
It took several moments for them all to locate the next voice, but Remus found his eyes meeting a pair of grey ones. His hood was still covering his head and he seemed to be trying to stand as far away from the deer as possible.
“Mr Black, Sir, you came… Have a seat.”
Greyback stooped low in some kind of imitation of a bow, moving from his chair.
“I’m not here to grace you with my presence for long,” Black reassured them with a derisive smile, though he took the seat anyway, squinting at the others in the firelight. “The Dark Lord finds no reason for me to communicate with you yet.”
“Any why must he do it through you anyway?”
The woman with grey hair who had spoken against Greyback this morning was staring at him. An older woman with straggly hair and a strong accent from the west Midlands she had just never shaken off, Meg seemed to have no time in her life for Black. Unable to help himself, Remus smiled into the back of his hand. Perhaps she had shouted at him over a hundred more times than she had shouted at this Black, but she felt like an ally now.
“I don’t suppose you assumed he was going to want to talk directly to you?”
The voice just reeked wealth and status. Trust funds. Caviar. Having five different kinds of fork for one meal.
“I thought the Dark Lord wanted us as equals? Surely he would?”
People were shouting out at random now, acting as though having an opinion was going to get them somewhere in this life.
“You shouldn’t be so quick to question him, Meg. Don’t think he doesn’t know what’s going on?”
The sound reverberated around the clearing like something had hit them. Several people looked surprised to find they’d even spoken. Black stared at them as they all fell to silence again and Remus wondered whether anyone had ever said no to him in his life.
“The Dark Lord requires me because I know his ways. He does not have time to answer all your petty little worries. Sadly, I have slightly more time to do so. The Dark Lord will make equal anyone who is loyal to him and his cause. Anyone who follows his instructions without question. Have I made myself clear?”
Greyback was fuming – it was harder to tell whether he was more angered by the people’s outburst or how Black was treating them. Yet seconds later he seemed to have made a decision.
“If you have listened to these words,” he snarled, “and decided to be stupid enough not to follow the most powerful wizard of all time in his plan to give you exactly what you’re so desperate for, then I suppose you’re also too stupid to realise that it’s going to have some serious consequences. So I’ll spell them out for you now. You won’t enjoy the pleasures of life on this camp for much longer,” he smiled nastily, “and if you think you are above such punishment, then I will find a personal way to punish each and every one of you, if I must. Greyback does not fail,” the man growled, teeth now bloody from the hunt. “Isn’t that right, Lupin?”
Forty or so pairs of eyes turned towards Remus, who ducked his head slightly and had to force out an answer.
“As I understand it,” he said slowly, “anyone who resists will probably come to regret it.”
Impressed, the man nodded. Remus Lupin wasn’t the easiest of people to crack, at least not compared to the others. He couldn’t be brought around with the promise of blood or extra food. But, kicking and screaming though he might be, Remus seemed to have learnt that resisting the wills of a Death Eater and his leader was going to come with a price.
He didn’t know that wasn’t going to stop Remus anyway.
Happy with the silence for now, it wasn’t long before Greyback dismissed most of them to their beds. Still rather hungry and cold, people filtered away until it was only the select few remaining.
Rigel Black, despite promising he wouldn’t stay long, had remained in his seat by the fire.
“The long and short of it is that the Dark Lord will provide me with the names and locations of those he wishes you to deal with. I will pass them on, aid you in your plans and relay those to him,” Sirius told the group of men huddled around him.
The embers of the fire were dying and the sun had fully set, yet Sirius could still see the remains of the deer carcasses nearby. Watching them tear it apart to eat, mainly raw, had not been pleasant. Thankfully, turning up his nose at that wouldn’t break his cover, so he had some freedom to react.
The remaining men were mainly unsurprising. All were male and some of the largest men Sirius had ever seen, save one or two. Lupin, who seemed to have a lot to say through his eyebrows alone, skulked at the back, stabbing pieces of the flesh onto a twig and browning them slightly on the fire before he ate.
“When you are successful, you will be rewarded,” he gave a tight smile. “If you are unsuccessful, you shall be dealt with according to his wishes.”
Of course, it was important to practise what you preached. Except Sirius was planning on doing the exact opposite.
He would be receiving the names from Voldemort and tell them to the werewolves, but not without informing the Order in time for these people to reach a safe house. React angrily enough to the failure of the first few plans and he wouldn’t be discovered. With Dumbledore’s intentions of making some look like very near misses (and staging an attack so Voldemort himself would believe it successful), he might be able to keep up the pretence of being a Death Eater long enough to protect some people and potentially even turn others away from Voldemort.
If someone like Greyback got a little hurt in the process…
Well, he was struggling to care as much as he probably should have done. Greyback wasn’t just a werewolf, he was a monster.
“When will the first name be?”
The man himself had leaned forward and was rubbing his bloody hands together gleefully.
“He will want someone bitten on the full moon, I’m sure of it,” Sirius nodded, “though that’s not for three weeks. The Dark Lord may see what you’re capable of by asking for some simple killings beforehand, in human form. It may only take a couple of days.”
“Excellent. Seems to be hardly a break from the normal habit. Except more targeted, of course. I’ll be hunting tonight, not sure who it’ll be yet,” he laughed.
The laugh made the pureblood’s stomach churn.
“Young ones?” Someone grunted.
“They do make good sport. All that screaming…” He smirked. “You’ll return in the morning, Sir? We’ll tell you about full moons? … Sir?”
Sirius’s heart was thumping in his chest – that and the deer and the constant smell of blood served as a reminder of his childhood, of James and Lily and the horrors these monsters committed for sheer fun. Pretending he simply did not care, he nodded stiffly and rose, hoping to make it to the tent before he had to throw up.
Greyback reached for one of the bones and snapped it with a snarl.
“Still hungry. We’ll leave when the fire dies.”
Guard duty was one of Remus’s favourite things to do in the summer. Watching the sun die on a warm evening, waking up to sunlight and birds signing was about as good as it got. Besides, it made a change from Greyback and the sweaty cave when the nights weren’t too chilly to handle.
But guard duty in this season was a completely different story.
Remus was awoken by the unpleasant feeling of his feet starting to go numb with cold, groaning as he looked back to the cave entrance. It was lucky they were even allowed to sleep on guard duty, he knew, but it wasn’t exactly comfortable.
“There he is!”
Greyback’s voice came from the gloomy distance. It wasn’t fully light yet, but the three men were hurrying back towards the camp gleefully, carrying something shrouded in bloody blankets. Something small. Something human.
“Morning.” He averted his eyes from the fourth member of their party, but a trickle of blood slowly painting the leaves on the ground told the story. “Success?”
Fenrir leaned right down to his face and grinned. “I’m off for breakfast. Find me if Black arrives but make sure I’m undisturbed otherwise. Lay off, you two.” He snapped, seizing the bundle of blankets and brushing the others away with a snarl. “You had the dog. Go and do something useful. Find firewood.”
A long time ago, Remus had wondered if this was going to be it. Whether he would be subject to a life of finding firewood.
As it happened, his life had now also extended to sleeping on a pile of leaves and guarding a cave whilst the man who had made his life this way dug into a breakfast which could easily once have been himself.
Was he lucky?
To be alive, yes.
But did he want to think about it?
“Great man, Greyback,” he pulled himself into a sitting position, arms wrapped around himself for warmth. “Evil. Maniac. But great at it…”
He picked at the leaves on the ground for a moment, shredding them absently until his eyes were drawn to something very out of place. A single child’s slipper, designed to look like a rabbit, was lying in the dirt. He couldn’t really pretend to be surprised when that kind of thing happened sometimes, but it did cause a lump to rise in his throat. Maybe he would find the rest of the clothes later, when Greyback disappeared to get some water or mess around with his wand. Surely they would be useful for one of the kids here. At least more so than they would be on a skeleton.
The thought of children sent Remus’s mind in a happily distracted direction. Since the arrival of Black, the younger ones in the camp had been carefully kept silent by those who valued their necks. Those who had not shown themselves to be such good fighters or hunters tended to wind up looking after them.
They could be brats sometimes, too.
True, they had been taken from their parents and were often cold and probably rather bored. But screaming and yelling as they chased each other around never really made the situation better for anyone.
In fairness, it had been a while since Remus was treated as a child here. Not since… Not since he’d made one last decision he thought he could get away with and had been found out and picked by Greyback to become one of his closest men. With no way of knowing the date, he was unsure how long ago it was, but he felt a lot older now.
Maybe he’d just been forced to grow up.
Regardless, since Black had arrived, the children had been quiet, both eager and wary to see how a new arrival was supposed to be treated. Presumably Greyback was planning on giving them one of his threatening little talks at some point. Of course, youth came with resistance, but Fenrir was very good at winning people around, especially when they were so young.
Frowning as he wondered whether he might be chosen to do such a thing (and realising he probably wouldn’t be trusted to), Remus squinted across the camp to watch two small and blurry shadows emerging, talking far too loudly for this time of day.
Too high pitched to be any of the adults, he wasn’t surprised to see neither of the owners of the voices were older than six as they approached the cave. Neither would be stupid enough to enter, but occasionally if they whined outside for long enough and someone was in a good mood, they might get some attention and praise for their aggression.
“It’s mine!” The first voice shouted shrilly, scampering off behind a tree. The larger figured stopped and watched for a moment, before running over in determination to win the fight.
“You’ll just drop it anyway! You did last time!”
Remus wasn’t sure how the situation would go if Greyback was sitting happily in his cave, digging into breakfast only to be disturbed by sounds very similar to the ones his breakfast might have been making that morning if it was alive.
But he didn’t exactly imagine it would be a positive reaction so much as an aggressive and bloody one. Everyone had been taught to shut up in a rather painful way at some point, but there was no harm in teaching that lesson carefully before it reached that stage.
Picking himself up off the ground, Remus sighed and slipped the knife he was holding (for a mixture of defence and boredom) into his pocket.
“Whatever it is, I suggest you keep it quiet before you wake up the entire camp and they find out you’ve been squabbling over something stupid.”
Two pairs of eyes looked down at Remus fearfully from the tree. He had nothing near the authority of Greyback, but he did carry the prestige of someone who was close to him at all times and could easily inform him of what they were doing if he wanted. He had no such intention, but they didn’t need to know that.
“He took it.”
The littler one seemed intent on having the last word, whining as he wriggled the tree, arm outstretched.
“I’m sure you’ll get another. There are plenty out here.” Remus assured him flatly, with absolutely no idea what they were talking about. Unless it was leaves or twigs, this find probably wasn’t going to be something they ran into again. “If you fall out of that tree, you know what’ll happen?” He frowned up at them, watching a small hand grab at an apple for support.
“Bag things. Hungry things, for everyone. Get down.”
Fearfully, two pairs of feet hit the ground and Remus found himself looking down at two grubby, curious faces.
“Nobody’s awake yet, nobody you want. Go back to sleep or something while you can…”
Remus wasn’t sure at which point he had stopped being a whining child and had started to find them annoying, and nor was he sure at which point he stopped finding them wholly annoying and had actually started to listen, but it must have happened somewhere. Keen not to convey himself as entirely soft, he shrugged.
“Aren’t we all?”
But as he headed back to his seat by the cave, two pairs of feet pattered quietly after him on the fallen leaves.
When Sirius awoke, just for a second, he thought he was hungover. Confused, head aching and feeling a twinge of what had to be regret, he groaned and stared groggily up at the canvas. Then it was just the matter of putting together what had happened last night.
Checking his watch hopefully, he entertained the notion he might have slept through the entire day and missed his opportunity to see Greyback. Sadly, it was barely even morning.
And he wasn’t hungover – there had been alcohol, but he hadn’t accepted it (on the joint bases of the fact the cups looked as though they had never been washed and because according to some, drinking on a secret mission would actually be a bad idea). Greyback had become more animated, talking about his plans for the evening and had asked Sirius to return the next day…
Groaning, he slipped out of bed.
It didn’t take long to shower (seemed pointless, given the smell) and eat breakfast (generally appreciated, considering how much of his dinner last night had failed to stay inside his stomach), and soon Sirius was ready in his Death Eater robes, psyching himself up for another day among the werewolves.
He pulled a face at the reaction, arranging the robes a little. Fairly, the association with death made black a rather suitable colour for the uniform, but he couldn’t helping thinking it a little … drab. Boring. It was difficult to imagine Narcissa or Bellatrix thought much of these costumes. With a slight shudder at the thought of his cousins, he braced himself and stepped out of the tent.
In all honesty, it didn’t look quite so bad in the light of day.
True, Sirius and the werewolves were hardly friends. Sirius would still rather have tried to gain allies from elderly women who offered him cake and complimented his hair, but nobody could have everything. But now they seemed slightly less like horrifying monsters and a little more like very violent homeless people with an unnerving preference for meat.
Feeling slightly more positive about the day ahead and wondering how long it would be before he was physically aching to get drunk with James again, he made his way back towards the cave, following the sound of voices in the distance.
“If it’s literally that, then just share it!”
Someone sounded angry. But not angry angry, just annoyed.
“I found it first!”
“Yeah, but I knew what it was!”
“I’ve heard if you chop them in half, then you get two of the same. Would you rather I did that?”
“Then share the damned caterpillar. All it does is crawl on your hand, stop shouting about it.”
Sirius blinked confusedly, unsure if he had misheard an entire conversation. Yet as he got closer to the voices, it seemed to make more sense.
Lupin was sitting close to the entrance of the cave – no surprise there, it was expected. He wasn’t surrounded by his usual group this time – it seemed to be children. And not just any children.
The dirtiest, scruffiest children Sirius had seen in his whole life.
In fairness, his upbringing had been particularly pristine. Not everyone owned different outfits for indoors and outdoors, or different times of the day. Not every child was forced to have neat hair, clipped nails and squeaky-clean shoes, but these children would have looked scruffy in a Dickens novel. (It was something Lily talked about).
The adults were bad, but it seemed to look different on the children, who didn’t have stubble or wrinkles to roughen their smooth skin a little. In all honest, he couldn’t tell whether either was a boy or a girl – both had matted, dirty hair and mud all over their bodies. Their clothes seemed tatty and too big for them and their nails blackened by dirt. In some weird attempt at continuity, neither seemed to have any shoes either.
“Just… Sit still and be quiet whilst I do this.”
Sirius frowned. He didn’t like those words, however much he didn’t want to blow his cover.
And Remus was pulling a knife from his pocket…
His robes rippled on the ground from the force of his arrival. Somewhere down there, he could hear two small gasps. Remus, however, seemed to be maintaining a very deliberate silence for a number of seconds.
Knife in hand, he reached not for a child, but for an apple, slicing it roughly down the middle and handing one half to each terrified-looking child.
“Go,” he muttered, “go now and keep quiet.”
He was speaking as though he did not want Sirius to hear them, but it was quiet around and the man was used to listening in on conversations carefully. Watching the werewolf straighten up, Sirius was surprised to see a second, half-bitten apple in the other man’s hand.
It was weird, the idea of a werewolf eating an apple.
Better than the alternative, though.
“Can I help you, Sir?”
Inhuman though they were, werewolves hadn’t failed on picking up the human talent for sarcasm.
He arched his eyebrows slightly and Sirius felt as though, if this was a different time and place, he might have met his match for one of those battles fought entirely by glances and scathing looks.
“You know why I’m here.”
“You’re too early.”
Sirius stepped forward a fraction and raised his eyebrows the exact second Lupin had bitten into the apple. Clearly his comfort zone had just suffered the threat of an invasion; warily, he lowered the thing and set his jaw.
“I could take you to see him now, if you want. But he is still eating his breakfast. And if you remember last night…”
Remus casually turned to face the rabbit slipper still lying on the ground. Sirius’s gaze inevitably followed and he found himself feeling rather shaken.
“I thought not.”
“The Dark Lord,” Sirius drew himself upright, “doesn’t usually wait for people to sit and eat breakfast before their work is done.”
He had no idea what the Dark Lord’s thoughts on the matter were, really. Perhaps he refused to do business before tucking into a plate of bacon and eggs every morning, but he still had more of a clue than this Lupin.
“The Dark Lord,” Remus muttered, though so quietly he could get away with pretending he had never said it, “probably knows exactly when to arrive, unless I’m mistaken.”
Sirius was about to open his mouth and tell the man there was something he very much disliked about his tone, only to find he had paused for thought instead.
He didn’t seem too convinced by Voldemort.
In fairness, he didn’t seem too convinced by wizards in general, or Greyback, or the grubby children (though there was something rather too kind for a werewolf about how he cut up the apple for them), or anything really. But all that meant was convincing him that the other side was better than Voldemort and asking him to… Have a go at helping, suggest who might be interested.
“I don’t imagine you’ll ever be important enough to be made aware of how the Dark Lord decides to arrange his time,” Sirius said coldly.
He might have felt worse about acting like this, but there was a man in that cave eating a child… Besides, as James had suggested, to get the anger going all you had to do was put Snape’s face on their head and it would come flowing.
Merlin, he missed him.
“Whereas I’m sure you are…”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
Lupin, taking another two or three huge bites of the apple and throwing the core to the ground. He spoke only when he had swallowed.
“I get it, you’re more important than us. But he has you out here, camping in a field with scum like us? Giving us a list of names? I know we’re not much, but you can’t be much more.”
It had to be said, out of all of them, Lupin certainly wasn’t the most idiotic. He supposed that was why he was so often chosen to communicate with Sirius – in spite of his dubious loyalty, he could actually string several sentences together without help.
“The Dark Lord has promised beings like you the rights you have been demanding for years if you do his service. Are you really so wise to be questioning his methods or his men?” He raised an eyebrow. “I may not be at his right hand, but I still have the privilege of holding a considerable amount of power and authority over you.”
“Yeah,” Remus tucked the knife back into his pocket and smiled grimly. “And you know, that argument might actually really work if I could, for a single second, believe a word of anything you say about us getting equal rights. I’ll get Greyback now.”
At that, he disappeared, heading into the cave with the knowledge Black would be far too reluctant to follow.
Besides, Sirius had other things on his mind right now.
He’d been sent partially to convince the werewolves that Voldemort would be granting them no such rights if he did win, yet there was already an advocate of that view planted firmly in Greyback’s inner circle.
Firmly, most likely, so Lupin couldn’t stray or lose loyalty without being noticed.
Yet with enough time and information, if he got someone like Lupin on his own, then maybe his mission could have a little more purpose.
All he could hope now, as he sat on a tree stump in wait of Fenrir Greyback, was that Lupin spent a lot more time around impressionable children and Greyback a lot, lot less.
Glancing at the spot on the ground, he noticed the children’s slipper had disappeared, despite being there only a moment ago.
Greyback was probably planning on eating it too.
The feel of soil under Remus’s nails was nothing new. But as the little mound of earth took shape beside the new hole, they seemed to feel dirtier than usual.
Perhaps it was the presence of Black – someone so clean and pristine. Somebody who constantly looked at them as though making an effort to remind them that they were dirty and worthless.
He dug a little harder, angered.
Who was this ‘Dark Lord’, intent on coming into their lives and making it ‘better’?
It hadn’t seemed convincing anyway, but it hardly seemed promising when his men refused to touch the werewolves or even look them in the eye.
Maybe the dirty feeling wasn’t to do with that, though. Perhaps it came simply from what he was doing.
From what Greyback had done? Or from what he was doing in response?
Sometimes it was easier to stay quiet and collect firewood than to spend a long time alone thinking. But Greyback didn’t want him for anything and he wasn’t keen on babysitting for the whole day, so this was it.
Frowning, the man reached into his pocket and extracted the white slipper. It was cleaner than anything he had owned for a long time, but he wasn’t going to say so.
Quickly, as though fearful of being caught, Remus dropped it into the hole and glanced down at it for a couple of moments, feeling as though he was probably meant to say something and having no clue whatsoever of what.
Maybe he’d seen too much to be allowed to say something – the blood, Fenrir’s leering smile, the way he had smacked his lips and offered Remus a bit because he just knew how he would react.
Maybe it was better for the kid to go this way than to become one of them.
Not better, easier.
He wasn’t interested in seeing someone on the point of freezing or starving because Greyback and his wand had decided not to be gracious for however many days.
And the worst thing?
The wand wasn’t even his.
The wand Greyback used to give them all water, or to take it away when he was angry. The wand he had taught himself to use to hurt people. He’d never had a real teacher but if he said the right sort of thing in the correct tone, he could inflict pain and fear on every single member of the camp. They were wandless and scared.
Some had tried.
Sometimes the kids played with twigs, until they were silently prised from their hands and thrown into the dirt. Some adults attempted to steal the wand in a raid, but Greyback ensured there was no time for that. One person had even tried to take the very wand itself…
Remus closed his eyes and swallowed hard. That had been costly enough to teach them all a lesson.
Had it worked, it could have changed everything. This wasn’t a play wand or some well-fashioned stick by someone with a good knowledge of wandlore. It was the only way of channelling something they were all capable of.
A real wand, a proper wand from a proper wandmaker.
Remus knew that his name had been Ollivander, that the wand contained a core of unicorn hair. He knew the handle-end of the wand had a tiny wisp of smoke clumsily carved into it. He knew that the wisp wasn’t part of the wandmaker’s design, but a project by father and son.
But he also knew that the son wasn’t ever going to get to experience the magic, not any more than holding his father’s wand and realising its great power, or watching a man fight off a terrifying beast on a freezing, moonlight night.
Remus’s hand shook as he moved the final fistfuls of dirt back over the hold and roughly patted the ground back into shape.
Fenrir Greyback was a thief.
That wand had belonged to his father.