Kingsley learned through the Auror Office that Igor Karkaroff had been found dead in a shack in the north, way up in the Hebrides, the Dark Mark glittering green above; clearly he had “swum it” from the coast of Ireland up to the northernmost isles of Scotland since Remus and Nymphadora had last encountered him months and months ago. Kingsley dropped this news to Remus, who had also heard of a couple of dementor attacks in his area, and to which he personally played the role of protector to the best of his ability, aided by Hestia Jones.
It was unfortunate that he brought this news the day he arrived to see Harry, for he had come on the day of the boy’s birthday, having been invited to join them for tea—they had all been relieved that Sirius’ will had gone through and Harry, not Bellatrix, was the owner of Number 12 Grimmauld Place, which was why they had been able to keep using it as headquarters, for Harry had gladly granted them permission to continue doing so (probably wanting never to darken those hallways ever again, the grief of Sirius’ death still too near), and from what Remus had heard, the kid was not at all thrilled to have been passed possession of Kreacher as well, and had summarily sent the old house-elf to work in the kitchens at Hogwarts.
Molly clearly was not keen on discussing such dark topics at Harry’s birthday tea, like dementor attacks and dead betrayers to Voldemort, and Remus saw the purse in her lips as he’d been saying all of this while she’d passed him a slice of birthday cake.
Without even thinking though, he had mentioned how quickly Voldemort’s forces has tracked down Regulus after his desertion compared to Karkaroff, so he was actually glad that Molly made an effort to change the subject, for he felt the heat grow around his eyes at his own mention of Sirius, but then Bill said:
“Did you hear about Florean Fortescue, Remus? The man who ran—”*
“—the ice cream parlor in Diagon Alley?”** Harry’s ears pricked up at this. He showed genuine concern for what had happened to the proprietor of that establishment, perhaps because he’d gotten sundaes there over the summer before his third year, along with help on some of his holiday homework.
Bill said that it seemed Fortescue had been spirited away by the Death Eaters, and it looked like it was the same story for old Ollivander, the wandmaker. Remus’ stomach clenched a little, because his father and Ollivander had been casual friends, since their respective shops had been so close to each other in Diagon Alley.
When Arthur mentioned this, he said that the Death Eaters had appeared to have completely cleaned the place out. Ginny was somewhat anxious about what people would do for wands.
Remus assured her as well as the others, “They’ll make do with other makers. But Ollivander was the best, and if the other side have got him it’s not so good for us.”***
No one could argue with that. Again Molly wanted to steer the conversation to something more cheerful, and it seemed that despite her discomfiture with Fleur, she preferred to talk of early plans for Bill and Fleur’s wedding than to talk of such dark current events; Fleur was staying at the Burrow for the year to get better acquainted with the Weasleys before their wedding, which was due to take place, as of now, on the first of August of next year. It was clear from the behavior of Molly and Ginny in particular that they considered Fleur’s presence in the house to be something of a pain. He could see it even then, plain on their faces as Fleur went on with:
“Well, you know, Molly, I was ‘oping zat perhaps we might ‘ave birds of paradise—”
And the silvery-blonde veela girl (only part, but still, she couldn’t hold a candle to Nymphadora, who was so much more earthy and edgy and not even nearly quite so full of herself) prattled on in her fluffy French accent, while she sat with Bill and clung to his arm; Remus felt his stomach turn sour and he laid his plate of cake and fork aside on the coffee table: he did not want to talk of things like wedding plans. Not when it was clear that things were so shaky between him and Nymphadora.
He stood—perhaps rather abruptly—and left the room. As he did though he felt Harry’s eyes watching him. And the boy found him standing out back with his hands in his trouser pockets, toeing the dirt in the garden, watching the little gnomes creep about without much real interest.
Remus turned and managed a smile. “Hello, Harry.”
Harry came to stand beside him, peering at him curiously with his green eyes. It seemed to Remus that the boy—so much grown even more into a young man, coming up to the height of Remus’ shoulder now—possessed something like a yearning for something. No doubt he was looking to him for some kind of solace, for it was clear that Sirius’ death still hung heavy over him: he could see the ghosts of many grey days spent staring up the ceiling in those green, green, almond-shaped eyes, Lily’s eyes, set beneath jet-black hair as unkempt and up-sticking as James’ had been.
“How have you been?” Remus asked him, furrowing his brow, reading the apprehension in his face.
Harry shrugged, trying to seem strong about it—like James, trying even then to maintain pride and dignity. “I know…Sirius…wouldn’t want me to shut myself in from the world, so I just try every day to think how disappointed with me he would be if I didn’t…carry on and…be there…for and with my mates. You know?”
He spoke slowly and deliberately; it seemed it was hard for him to talk about Sirius, and that he preferred to avoid it, but with Remus he wanted to make an exception because he knew that Remus too felt the loss of Sirius quite deeply—Lily too had had that sensitivity about other people.
Remus nodded in a kind of affirmation of Harry’s expressed sentiments. “I understand that. And I agree, I think he would be disappointed in you if you shut yourself away. Do you know…? I’m…very proud of you.”
Harry blinked at him: clearly he had not expected this.
“Yes, I am,” Remus went on. “And I know you feel that you are to blame—”
Harry’s eyes became shadowed and he lowered them to the ground.
“Listen to me Harry,” Remus said to him, almost in earnest, “it’s always hard, when you go over these things in your mind and in hindsight you see how certain actions led to others—cause and effect—but, you must also remember that the strength of your love and courage sets you apart from so many, more than you might think. And Sirius knew what he was risking when he went to come and try to save you, just as you knew what you were risking when it seemed that he was the one in need of saving. Sirius would not have expected anything less from you, nor would I. But circumstances were not in our favor, there was so much misinformation that was beyond your control, and that was not your fault.”
Harry raised his eyes, and Remus could see the glimmer of hope lancing through like light through green stained glass in a cathedral. Yet the shadow of doubt still remained, that reticence. He swallowed.
“Do you really think so?” he asked quietly, as though in a sort of plea.
Remus’ smile widened, encouraging him. “Yes, I do. And no matter what, no one, not even Voldemort, and certainly not Bellatrix Lestrange, can take away those memories you have of Sirius, and that affection he had for you, how much he cared about you. You can always carry that with you, not as a burden, but as a talisman. Do you see what I mean?”
Harry crinkled his brow, his tongue between his teeth as he seemed to think about it a moment, and then he looked up again and nodded. “Yeah, I think I can. I s’pose I can, I mean.”
Remus put a hand on Harry’s shoulder—unfaltering, unlike last time, when Harry had spoken to him of what he heard when the dementors drew too close—and Harry’s mouth twitched into something like an awkward but genuine grin.
Remus and Harry turned around and saw Molly coming over from the house, waving to them. Remus clapped him on said shoulder and dropped his hand to his side.
“You’d better go back in,” he said, grinning back. “It seems you’re sorely missed.”
“Yeah, I guess I had. Thanks, Remus.” Harry inclined his head and headed back up towards the house, meeting Molly midway.
“Everyone’s waiting for you to open your presents,” Molly said to Harry, giving him a quick pat on the cheek.
“Thanks, Mrs. Weasley,” said Harry, and he went inside.
Molly meanwhile detained Remus from following. “Could I have a word, Remus?” she asked.
“Of course,” said Remus, a little confused. “Is something wrong?”
“It’s about Tonks,” she told him, clasping her hands together.
Remus’ heart sank; he really did not want to discuss his problems with Nymphadora, though it was no surprise to him that Molly knew about them by now.
He saw that she could tell that he wanted to close his doors to her, but she took in a deep breath, sort of puffing up her chest, clearly determined to make him hear what she had to say.
“She came to me—the night that Harry did as a matter of fact—she was there when Dumbledore brought him after persuading old Horace Slughorn to resume his old Potions post, since as you know he’s giving the Defense teaching post to Professor Snape this term—and she was quite embarrassed to be seen there, and no wonder, the way she’s been feeling, the poor dear. Do you have any idea that she is in a complete stasis where her metamorphosing abilities are concerned?” She put her hands on her hips and eyed Remus sternly.
Remus sighed. Along with being reminded that Severus had managed to get the job he had always desired now that their old Potions master, Horace Slughorn, was being coerced to come out of retirement, he was quite bothered to be reminded of Nymphadora’s struggles with her metamorphosing—because he knew it was his fault.
“The poor thing comes to me,” Molly plowed on, “all the way from where she’s stationed in Hogsmeade, and she’s trying so hard not to cry, and then she can’t help herself, and she ends up in tears over her cup of tea, pale as if she were ill, and she might as well be, considering. She knows you want to end it, and it’s making her sick to think of it. She’s that much in love with you that she can’t even muster the ability to change her appearance like she used to. To make matters worse, Fleur comes in, and she’s all light and happy and prattling on about plans for her wedding to Bill, and she can’t even see how upset she’s making Tonks and then she wonders why, asks me later, why Tonks is so glum and such a sad-sack—not that she used those words, I’m grossly paraphrasing—but she was downright insulting about it. And another thing: I know,” she added, softening a little as she shook her head, “that you and Tonks both need each other after what happened at the Ministry.”
“Molly, I’m off on a secret mission for Dumbledore involving going underground with the werewolves,” said Remus before she could say more, “and that’s going to be an indefinite leave of absence at this point. So what good would it be for us to get married now?”
“Because this is a war, and no one knows what will happen.”
“Don’t you think I haven’t already discussed that with Tonks? Don’t you think I wasn’t considering that?”
“Well, this is beyond whether or not you get married. This is about you and Tonks being together at all.” Molly reached into her apron pocket and produced a small glittering object that Remus recognized with a sensation akin to being kicked in the gut was none other than the engagement ring—originally his mother’s—which he had placed on Nymphadora’s finger when she’d agreed to marry him that beautiful night whereupon they had first made love.
He could barely contain himself at the sweetness of the memory, now almost painful to him, for it was clear that such beauty might never be a part of his life again.
Molly held the ring out to him. “She told me to give this to you. She told me she would wait—her whole life if need be—until the day she dies, for you to offer it back.”
“I haven’t ended it,” Remus insisted, though he knew that in a way he was lying through his teeth.
“Obviously she has a different understanding.” Molly pressed the ring into his hand, and it felt cold against his palm, even though it had been warm in her apron pocket. “I know you love her, Remus,” she said to him, her brown eyes full of earnest. “And I know it’s hard, with your…condition…but it does you no good to break your own heart.”
These words struck Remus so deeply—for one because he’d had a dream years ago about Marlene McKinnon saying something so similar to him, and for another because it also reminded him of something the character Heathcliffe had said to Catherine Earnshaw in the Muggle novel of Wuthering Heights that had been mysteriously left on his pillow during his lodging at Hogwarts as a teacher—and he staggered somewhat, his hand closing over the ring as he pulled away from her, staring, his throat aching in that delicious way that only grief and deep feeling can bring. He swallowed hard to keep down inside of him.
“Will you think about it?” Molly entreated him. “Just consider. I know things are going to be hard, but don’t let such happiness slip away from you. You deserve to be happy, Remus. I realize there are so many people out there who think someone like you doesn’t: don’t become one of them.”
Remus, throat still too tight to speak, simply nodded. Watching Molly head back to the house, he looked despondently down at the engagement ring sitting quiet in his hand, and then he dropped it into the inside breast pocket of his robes, close to his heart.
A couple of days later, Remus learned that Harry had been made Quidditch Captain for that year. In fact he heard it from a letter he received from Molly shortly before leaving Lupin Cottage for London, where he was going to meet William Blevins in St. James Park, as he had done on previous occasions. Today he was going to discuss with the young werewolf their plans for setting out.
“I think that isolated places in northern Scotland would be best to start,” said Will. “Remember I said, that’s where I had thought to start maybe?”
“Yes, I remember,” said Remus, thinking of his brother. The very idea set an odd kind of squirm in motion down in his stomach. “Shall we set out tomorrow then?”
Will nodded. “Sounds good to me.”
They walked in silence for a few moments, watching the ducks and pelicans on the water in the park.
“Is this for your brother? That you’re seeking the werewolves?”
Remus, who was careful to keep the Order a secret from Will—not because he thought Will an enemy, but he didn’t want Will to be killed for possessing information about the Order—thought a moment, and then said, “Yes. That is why I am assuming this guise that I am interested in casting off the shackles of wizarding society and reinserting myself with our kindred, as it were.”
Will nodded, as if he understood. And maybe he knew that there was more to it than what Remus was telling him, but maybe he knew too that it was better if he didn’t know the full picture: that way if he was asked, he wouldn’t have to lie.
Once again Remus took care of all of the loose ends so that his home, Lupin Cottage, would be kept safe while he was gone: he set the mechanical gardener to tend the garden while he was away as he had done while he’d been staying at Number 12 Grimmauld Place.
He had packed very little—he wanted to seem as if he was indeed casting off his wizardly alliances. The one thing he did bring though, despite every reasonable thought in his head telling him that it would really be a good idea not to, was the engagement ring; glittering alexandrite, passed to him from his mother and given to Nymphadora in an act of love, a gesture of wanting to spend the rest of his life with her, and then having it returned to him, because she knew that he was going to make her wait.
What a long winter that would be, perhaps with no prospect of ever again seeing the warm face of spring.
His love for her, he knew, would be all that would keep him sane, regardless of whether he would ever see or be with her again. So he brought that ring as a talisman of his own to carry. Though he would not admit it, even to himself, that the reason he was doing it too, in addition, was that he was clinging to that hope that he could perhaps be with her again, she whom he loved with all of his heart, as he never could have fathomed that he could love anyone, certainly not because he had ever been hard-hearted, but only because he had never known that such a love so deep could ever touch him so, draw him so into its depths and throes.
For now he had to believe and content himself that knowing she was alive would be enough to sustain him, for it did in fact mean more to him that she was whole and safe than whether or not she was whole and safe in his arms, much as the latter would be preferable.
Remus and Will Apparated to a small seaside town in northern Scotland settled in the shadow of mountains where the winds howled—a perfect cover for unnatural wolf howls, and therefore a good place for werewolves in hiding to roam and possibly gather. They started up the slopes, picking their way over a ridge with the intention of making the summit while trying to come across a scent of wet dog, that particular smell of the feral werewolf.
They didn’t speak much. At nightfall they made camp along the side of the mountain, just shy of cresting it. They had packed some dried meat in their rucksacks, and ate that while sat around their little peat fire, which they’d built under cover of a boulder to protect it from the wind and mist, the sea crashing below.
The following morning they rose early and continued on their way. At the summit, the sun was just rising at their backs, and they looked back and watched as the great blazing orb surfaced above the wavy atmosphere in the distance over the sea.
On their way down Remus’ nose became wary of the scent they were looking for, a whisper of it in the high wind. Will caught it too, and they followed it along the ridge of the mountain. Remus, in his youth, when he would go on camping trips with his parents up to the Scottish highlands, would walk along ridges similar to these and imagine he was walking along the back of a dragon.
They followed the scent along the ridge, which was laid out before them in a sort of zigzagging path, undulating beneath their feet with rock and earth. As they moved inland, so did the scent. They also picked up other clues, very small: a few drops of dried blood on a blade of grass, a broken tooth that showed signs of once occupying a lycanthrope’s mouth, as well as certain disturbances in the earth that suggested clawed paws.
Then there were times when they lost the scent and would have to double back to pick it up again. For a while their days were nothing but wandering in amongst the peaked green landscape, with that carved, melancholic beauty of the highlands. They lost some sense of time, in this isolation, and most of their food came from fishing in little rivers at the bottom of the mountains, carving their paths through the green.
They had been at it for three weeks, following the river north, against the current, when the view before them opened up to a loch reflecting the blue late-August sky in its glassy surface. Remus was so struck by the beauty of the scene that for a moment he forgot that they were in the middle of tracking the wet dog scent, and Will shook his shoulder to snap him out of his reverie.
“Hm? Sorry? What? Oh, right.”
Will rolled his eyes, and Remus managed the semblance of a smile as he followed and fell into step with his companion once more.
And there was not a moment that had gone by that he did not think of Nymphadora. At night when they camped he even secretly took out the engagement ring and would stroke it tenderly with the tip of his finger, wishing he could see her and be with her again, wishing he could make it right. In his dreams he saw her face, and in his waking hours he felt her in his mind, as though she were trying to follow him, which he, quite frankly, wouldn’t be entirely surprised about.
There were times though, when he thought of his brother too. His thoughts were always with him, never on anything in particular, just always there like a presence. But now there was an intensity about it, that sent his heart bounding as he imagined what he might be like now, if their paths chanced to cross on this venture, no less since it was believed that Ramirus had been the one to bite Will.
He would be how old now? Nineteen? Yes, nineteen. So grown.
And Sirius too, was with him, the same way James and Lily were with him; it was as though Sirius had joined them spiritually to hover over Remus’ life, and even as his heart ached for them, he liked to think that there had been a kind of happy reunion, Sirius with James and Lily, and Sirius with Aurelia too. He remembered Sirius talking of those visions he’d had seen shortly before his death, of seeing a golden retriever, a stag, and a doe, as if waiting for him, and there was something haunting yet poignant about it.
There was Harry too, of course. Mostly he felt bad because he knew he wouldn’t be able to send any kind of communication to the boy while he was underground, which was unfortunate because he had hoped to be there for him in that way, like he’d promised Sirius that he would.
He and Will moved along the edge of the loch, and this was where the scent began to grow steadily stronger, and on the branches of sparse trees they spotted single hairs to which the scent clung so as to identify specifically as the hair of a werewolf.
When they reached the other side of the loch, they came to where the water continued to flow in between two mountains from a tributary back into a river. It seemed to them that darkness lurked just beyond, and it was heavy with the wet dog scent to the point of becoming a stench, and hanging on the fringes of it was the damp pungency of decay as well.
Remus and Will looked at each other.
“What do you reckon?” Will whispered.
Remus nodded, and the two of them entered into the shadow of the two mountains.
By nightfall the stench had become overwhelming, and there was a richer undertone of blood on the air too, that sent Remus’ pulse quickening. And he and Will both knew what was coming, felt the hairs on the backs of their necks stand on end, and leapt just in time as the two behind them waiting in ambush grabbed them by their rucksacks; they slipped their arms out of the straps as they lurched forward, and fell upon their hands and knees on the rough and slippery rock. They tried to scrabble away, sensing two others, but it was too late—they grabbed them each by the arm, and the ones who had taken their rucksacks took them by their other arms, and though they struggled and kicked in the dark, they were overcome and dragged off over the terrain of slimy wet rock in the small river.
And so Remus ceased to struggle, and shouted at Will to do the same. When they did, their captors quit dragging them and gave them leave to walk, but they guarded them from bolting nonetheless. Remus’ impression of their captors in the dark were dark men covered in scraggly hair and beards, and smelling of dirt, sweat, and blood. He shuddered, knowing these were his kin, for all intents and purposes.
They walked some ways, but it wasn’t too far along, deep into the pass, where they moved above the flowing water of the stream to the left side, and a sort of ramp seemed to form out of the rock and earth, up which they walked, steadily moving inward as they entered the mouth of a cave at a sharp left-hand turn.
As they entered the dripping darkness, the four werewolves who had captured them sniggered as they lit torches to reveal their leathery faces flecked and caked with dirt and sweat, curtained by their long filthy hair and beards, grinning at them with yellowing teeth stained brown set in blackening gums, their eyes bloodshot yet gleeful.
One of them bent close to Remus’ sleeve and sniffed up his arm. Remus bristled as he did so but did not flinch.
The werewolf who did this looked up at him and his grin broadened. “Ah…one of us, eh? And you?” He turned to Will.
One of the others performed the same sniff check on Will. “This one too,” he said.
The one who had sniffed Remus laughed wickedly. “So you’ve come from the realm of the wizard to join the rest of us in the underworld, have you?”
Remus set his chin. “I have, in fact. We both have, my companion and I: we’re sick of the wizard’s arrogance and disdain for our kind, and we heard Fenrir Greyback was calling for some sort of gathering. We were keen to hear what he had to say.”
The four werewolf guards regarded each other, and then the one who had sniffed Remus said, “You want to hear what he has to say, yeah? Well, I’m afraid he’s indisposed at the moment, but we can take you to his faithful lieutenant.”
The other three werewolves sniggered again with him, and they set about tying Remus’ and Will’s hands behind their backs and marching them deeper into the cave.
When they came to the first fork, there was one smaller tunnel leading off to the left, and one larger one leading off to the right, where they could hear echoes as if off the walls of a greater gallery—feral growls and raucous laughter.
They were led down the smaller tunnel leading off to the left. They had to march single file because of the size of the tunnel, and they traveled along it for quite a few feet before it opened up to a small gallery that appeared to have been set up as a sort of war meeting room, with lamps and maps laid out on the rocks, and a few wooden crates and some coils of rope. One lone figure stood with their back to them, poring over one of these maps by the light of a lamp, and even from the back Remus could tell by the state of his cloak that this one was much more clean-cut, not to mention young. He even kept his hair short and clean, but perhaps that was because he was in such an elevated position that he was privileged to be hygienic if he wished.
“Some fresh meat for you, sir,” said the werewolf who had sniffed Remus, presenting him and Will, and Remus experienced a sudden jolt that he did not completely understand at first until the clean-cut werewolf poring over the map turned around to face them.
Certainly he had grown, and like Remus very much the spitting image of their wizard father, John, but with the softness of their Muggle mother, Joanne. A little rougher around the edges, only nineteen yet with that haunted look that Remus himself had had coming out of the First War of a youth who has seen more than his innocent eyes should have had to.
And those eyes passed first over Will, and something flickered there, as though he might know that it was he, perhaps, who had brought him to his lycanthropic fate, but when they came to rest on Remus, his mouth fell open slightly, at a loss of what to think or feel, seeing Remus after all of this time.
And without thinking, Remus smiled, putting as much apology and regret in it as he possibly could, and very quietly said: “Hello, Ramirus.”