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Chapter 108 : Beta
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Chapter One Hundred-Eight
Ted lay on his bed for a while, with his hands folded beneath his head as he stared up at the dark ceiling. A grey melancholy had stolen over him akin to the misty mountains of the highlands in which his father’s story was now set. Though it had sent a thrill inside of him to see that his father and his uncle had been reunited again, for now, it seemed to him that once again this story was not turning out to be the fairy tale he might have imagined it to be.
His father was leaning towards the idea of breaking off with his mother, and his father and mother both were grieving that break, as well as the loss of Sirius, in their own way. Certainly circumstances were drawing them apart, but his father’s lycanthropy was getting in the way too. Other people’s parents dealt with issues concerning how they spent their money, or disputed guest lists for dinner parties or directions on a trip—but his parents? They’d had lycanthropy. Lycanthropy was standing in their way.
Or at least, Remus was allowing it too.
And certainly he wasn’t completely remiss in that sort of thinking, considering what had happened on that full moon night. Ted did not at all blame his father, any more than his mother had, but he knew too how it tormented his father, the idea that his hand, in the form of a werewolfish claw, had harmed her the way that it had, despite its being beyond his control. Ted knew that he would feel the same if something similar had ever occurred between him and Victoire, if he ever accidentally hurt her in some way.
He rolled over onto his side, realizing then that just like his father in the journals, he too was discovering the depth of love, and just how deeply it could touch him in return. Now he knew for certain that as of now, there could be no other for him but Victoire Weasley.
He smiled a little to himself, taking comfort in that thought and knowledge.
Then with a sigh he rolled over onto his stomach, reached down to the floor and picked up the 1996 journal, turned to the place where he had left off, and continued to read.
It seemed as though an age of years passed between Remus and Ramirus, long-lost, and indeed, it seemed, raised into the ranks of Fenrir Greyback’s fold, his right-hand man even: the four werewolves who had brought him and Will here had referred to him as Greyback’s “lieutenant”.
And as they gazed at each other, no one in that small cave gallery mattered to Remus except Ramirus, his little brother, though not quite so little anymore. He watched very closely as a mixture of emotions flashed in Ramirus’ eyes, brown just like his: surprise, joy, anger, fear, and pain, swirling all in one.
Ramirus swallowed as though his throat had gone dry.
The werewolf who had sniffed Remus at the entrance to verify his lycanthropy cleared his throat. “Sir?”
Ramirus blinked, and the spell that had descended between him and Remus was broken. “Yeah?”
It was strange to Remus’ ears to hear his brother no longer speaking with the high voice of a young boy, but with the deeper timbre of a young man. His voice too was a bit rough, just like the rest of him, but his original northern accent was still there. And it was no less strange to hear him speak in a tone of authority.
“We found these two making their way towards the cave entrance,” the leader of the four werewolves went on. “They’re our kind. This one—” He nudged Remus in the back of the leg with his toe “—said they were interested in Fenrir’s mission.”
Ramirus glanced at Remus again: those same emotions were still swirling just beneath in his eyes, but confusion entered as well as curiosity—then he looked back at the leader of the four werewolves, who was glancing between Ramirus and Remus as the others were, wondering perhaps how it was that Remus knew their lieutenant by name. Will too was round-eyed, especially since he knew more about what was going on, not to mention there was that possibility that Ramirus was the one who had bit him.
“Lads, you’ve had the pleasure of meeting my older brother, Remus Lupin.” Ramirus nodded to Remus.
The four werewolf lackeys now regarded Remus with an interest of their own, perhaps even some measure of respect because he was the blood kin to their superior.
“That said,” Ramirus went on, “I’d say he’s my guest. As for you—” He turned to Will “—what might your name be?”
Remus found he was relieved to hear the courtesy in his brother’s tone: he did not appear to be one who had a proclivity towards hostility, which he supposed boded well, though for what, he wasn’t precisely sure, though he had some idea.
Will seemed a little taken aback, most likely because Ramirus did not appear to recognize him after all. “William Blevins,” he answered after a moment in a small voice. “Will.”
It occurred to Remus that Ramirus and Will were about the same age, though Will was obviously just a few years older.
Ramirus inclined his head. “Right. Well, Will, since you’re my brother’s mate, I’d say you’re my guest here too. The more the merrier, yeah? And Greyback’ll be pleased: he was the one who bit my brother, after all, as he did me.” He looked at Remus again, and this time his expression was unreadable.
The four werewolf lackeys meanwhile increased their looks of respect for Remus: was it an honor to have been made a werewolf by Greyback? If that was the case, he had indeed amassed more power and renown among lycanthropes than Caiaphas Stindolph had ever achieved.
Ramirus nodded towards the way out of the gallery, the tunnel through which they had entered. “Thanks for bringing them to me, Tyr. Now, if you four would return to your posts?”
The leader of the four werewolves, called Tyr, grinned toothily and gave a kind of bow, as did the other three. Remus watched as they left, leaving behind his and Will’s rucksacks, and then turned at the sound of his brother’s voice.
“So,” he said, rolling up the map he had been examining, “since you two are my guests, as I said, I suppose I ought to show you around, yeah?” He tossed the map aside to join a pile of other rolled up maps. “Follow me.” He walked off into another tunnel that led off in a different direction.
Remus and Will glanced at each other before following.
Ramirus led them down the tunnel, as they approached the other end of it, again they heard the sounds of feral growls and raucous laughter echoing off of the cavern walls.
As the tunnel opened, they came upon a great gathering of lycanthropes—at least a hundred in number—separated into little groups around burning fires, dressed in tattered, threadbare robes, patched and frayed, tearing at scraps of meat off bone, some of them laughing while others were shoving, scuffles here and there. One fight in particular was growing uglier, and many were taking notice and cheering, urging them on, as the two werewolves in question rolled on the ground, biting and scratching and punching, growling, more wolf than human even in their human forms.
Remus felt his insides working as he tried not to flinch, tried not to be ashamed.
This was why werewolves normally did not run together, but perhaps that was all conjecture.
“ENOUGH!” Ramirus bellowed, his voice echoing off of the cavernous gallery.
With one word, the violence simmered down; even the two whose fight had garnered the attention of the rest of the room, ceased and scrabbled away from each other, clambering to their feet and wiping away blood.
Ramirus stepped into the cavern like a commander, his arms folded across his chest. “Now, we’ll have none of that,” he said pointedly to those two werewolves in particular. “If you’ve come here with an interest in Fenrir Greyback’s politics, I would pay heed to what he does to those who cause dissention in his den: regardless of whether or not you plan to stay. In the meantime, despite what we are, we will maintain some form of civility: anyone who disagrees with that will have me to answer to.”
And Remus was surprised to see how menacing his little brother could make his grin, how intimidated the company of some hundred werewolves were all by the idea of having to answer to someone like Ramirus.
Was it true then, that Greyback had taken much of the humanity out of Ramirus, taken him under his wing, as it had been rumored? The humanity that Remus had tried to preserve in him, much as he tried to preserve it in his own life?
The two fighting werewolves meanwhile, muttered apologies, cowering just a little under Ramirus’ glare.
Ramirus raised an eyebrow, and then he whistled.
A small group broke off from the whole—five werewolves approached in a line, with the same kind of synchronocity as soldiers. Remus felt the sensation of ice water hitting his stomach:
They were the very same five werewolves that had been sent to abduct Ramirus when he was eleven—Yvla Stone and Connell Blackburn, with their ice-blue eyes, Ulrica Cross, with her amber eyes and tangled, waist-length hair, Phelan Axelrod with his one ice-blue eye and one amber eye, and Adelphus Feare, the albino.
They marched straight up to Ramirus, where they stood before him in a line with their hands behind their backs, at attention.
“Tell me,” Ramirus said to them, “is there a reason that order is not being kept here?”
It was Yvla who answered.
“We apologize, sir—”
“From what I could see, you were behaving no better, placing wagers to see who would come out on top.”
“It was just a bit o’ fun,” groused Connell.
“Well, it won’t be so fun if I subject you to silver poisoning, wouldn’t you agree?” Ramirus raised both of his eyebrows now.
“We’ll keep order, sir,” growled Adelphus.
“Depend on it,” grumbled Phelan.
“We shall use the most excessive force, as necessary,” added Ulrica with a wicked grin.
“Good,” said Ramirus. “I’m counting on you to keep this place in line before Greyback returns. And he would be most displeased if he found your services to me were not up to scratch.” He turned to Remus and Will. “These are my two guests,” he said, introducing them to the entirety of the werewolves assembled. “This is William Blevins, and of course, my brother, Remus Lupin.”
“Him?” snarled Phelan.
“What’s he doing here?” Adelphus spat, glaring at Remus with his red eyes. Remus met his gaze with interest, his insides burning at the sight of the werewolves who had stolen his brother from him, now serving as his subordinates—it was enough to boggle the mind.
“He is my guest,” Ramirus informed them in harsh tones, “and my brother, and he and William have both come with an interest in what Greyback has to say.”
“Pig’s wallow!” growled Ulrica. “He’s no good to us! He’s lived among wizards for far too long. What use is he to us? He’s had the animal bred out of him!”
Many of the other werewolves gathered in the cavern murmured in low grumbles, eyeing Remus suspiciously or with disdain.
“I’ve grown weary of a wizarding life,” Remus told them, facing them without fear. “It has become too much. I thought I could change things, but clearly I have gone about it the wrong way. I want to know what Greyback has in mind instead.” His and Ramirus’ eyes met for a fleeting moment, and then broke away as Ramirus turned to address the gallery at large again.
“As such, he will remain with us until he chooses to leave. The same goes for his companion.”
“But you have lived off of the mercy of Albus Dumbledore!” Yvla pointed an accusatory finger at Remus. “You accepted a teaching post from him three years ago! At Hogwarts! And you had the privilege of a proper magical education, thanks to him! Would you have us believe that a man such as yourself is capable of betraying a wizard like Albus Dumbledore?”
All eyes were on Remus, including Ramirus’, who seemed for a moment to falter at Yvla’s words.
Remus however kept quite calm. He smiled through his teeth at Yvla. “Dumbledore is very trusting, and quick to believe the best of everyone. He does not understand what it is really like, and I’ve grown jaded with hanging onto his empty promises for a better life. So casting aside my loyalty to him was quite…easy, actually.”
Yvla had nothing to say to this, and then Connell said, “Makes sense to me,” with a shrug. Several others murmured in grudging agreement.
Remus thought he saw something like relief pass over Ramirus’ face, but it was so transitory and discreet that he could have very well simply imagined it.
“That’s settled then,” said Ramirus, and indicated to Yvla, Ulrica, Connell, Adelphus, and Phelan that they were dismissed.
Remus watched as they returned to their own fire; Ulrica spared a murderous glare over her shoulder at him, to which Remus simply raised his eyebrows, almost amused.
Ramirus snapped his fingers. Two other werewolves, both of them quite young, probably no more than sixteen or seventeen, a boy and a girl, stepped forth from the throng. “Get some meat and drink for Will here. As for my brother, he will be joining me in private.” And then for the first time, he spoke directly to Remus: “Come with me.”
He was already turning away and heading back through the tunnel before Remus could say anything. The two young lycanthropes meanwhile took Will over to their fire. Will looked back helplessly at Remus.
“Just go with them,” Remus told him quietly. “It’ll be alright.” He kept his gaze soft, reassuring.
Will nodded as the boy werewolf shoved a mug of beer into his hand.
Remus turned and followed Ramirus out of the gallery.
Ramirus led him off of the main tunnel and into one that branched off deeper into the cave system. The light too became bluer, darker, losing the golden warmth of the fires they left behind.
Then the tunnel opened up to a glittering gallery where crystals were growing. Remus sucked in his breath, awestruck by the beauty. The light which the crystals reflected came from torches hung in metal brackets that had been placed here, adding to the atmosphere of a settled location, a fortress.
On a flat of rock there was a haunch of cooked meat laid out, ready to eat, along with jugs of water and jugs of beer. In one corner of the room was a roll of moth-eaten blankets and a pillow. Nearby dripped a constant flow of water that collected in a small pool. It was here that Ramirus stripped off his cloak and paused to wash his face, as though he were trying to rid himself of the grime of the other werewolves in that main cavern. After he toweled his face dry, he crossed back to the tunnel opening and pulled a cloth across it, like a makeshift door.
“This way we shan’t be disturbed,” he explained, giving Remus an oddly crooked and uncertain grin. He tossed the towel onto the pile of blankets and flopped down on the ground next to the great slab of stone. He picked up the great knife that lay beside the meat and sliced off a sliver, which he then ate with forced delicacy. He swallowed, noticing Remus staring at him. “Hungry?” he asked, gesturing towards the meat with the knife blade. “Help yourself.”
Remus stared at him. “Where did all this meat and beer come from?” he asked, perhaps as a surrogate for more meaningful questions that he was afraid to ask.
Ramirus sliced off another strip of meat. “This was from a red deer we caught earlier today. The highlands are surprisingly hospitable where game is concerned. As for the beer, we make that ourselves. I guess we’ve made a little utopia here, more or less.” He popped the strip of venison into his mouth.
“Yes…and you have such order here, in a manner of speaking. Like a military operation.”
Ramirus sniggered. “Hardly. But there is a pecking order, to a degree. And the superiors are expected to have a manner of…civilized control. Although Greyback himself, shrouded in mystery, exempts himself from that sometimes. But then, he’s the alpha, so I s’pose he can do that. Meanwhile the beta—that’s me—has to follow the rules to a T, and make sure the same goes for everyone else.”
Remus stood there for a moment longer, and then, warily, he stripped off his own cloak and sat down across from his brother. Ramirus passed him the knife, and Remus used it to slice off a hunk of meat from the bone, and proceeded to eat as delicately as possible. It felt a little strange, eating deer, because it made him think of James and Lily, and therefore made it a little harder to swallow.
Ramirus poured them each a mug of beer. “So,” he began. “Tell me, Remus: why are you really here?”
Remus finally managed to swallow his bite of meat and looked up at Ramirus.
Ramirus was sort of glaring at him, but he could tell that it was only a mask for deeper feelings.
“Do you really want to know?” Remus asked.
“And what will you do if I tell you the truth?”
“That depends on what the truth is, I think.”
Remus licked his lips and took another nibble of deer. He swallowed and then said, “Do you recall me telling you stories about the First War against Voldemort?” He took it as a good sign that Ramirus did not flinch at the mention of the name, like he’d taught him.
“Vaguely,” Ramirus said crossly.
“Well, your big brother is fighting for the same cause once again,” Remus went on.
“The Order of the Phoenix?”
“Yes. And we’ve learned of Voldemort’s recent reconsideration of what an alliance with werewolves—especially one such as Fenrir Greyback—would do to improve his fortunes in this war. As such, I have been sent to learn what I can, and to try and persuade as many werewolves as possible not to enlist with Greyback.”
“In a fashion, yes. More of an undercover persuasion, you might say. The undercover part is that I come here expressing an interest in what Greyback has to say. The persuasion comes in when I quote unquote ‘decide’ that I don’t agree with his politics and try and convince others what a lunatic he is.”
“You don’t even know what his mission is.”
“I have a good idea. Anything to do with forging ties with Voldemort and his ilk is not something to be encouraged. Unless of course you’re on Voldemort’s side.” Remus raised his eyebrows. “Are you on Voldemort’s side, Ramirus?”
“I’m on nobody’s side,” Ramirus answered coolly. “Except mine. I’m on my side.”
Remus finished off his hunk of meat, swallowed, and sat back, folding his arms across his chest. He considered his little brother for a moment, who glared back at him over his mug of beer. And then he said, very quietly: “You’re very angry with me, aren’t you?”
Ramirus gave a bitter laugh. “‘Angry’ is putting it mildly, big brother.”
“So when you say that you’re on your side, you mean to say that you possess no loyalty to anyone except yourself?”
“I did what I had to in order to survive.”
“Well…I can’t blame you for that. But you should understand that I would have done anything and everything to bring you back—”
“But you couldn’t because Greyback threatened to kill me if he found out you were trying to find me.” Ramirus set aside his beer, leaned forward and folded his hands, giving a wry smile. “Yeah, he told me.”
Remus stilled. “Did he mean it? Or was it a bluff?”
“He meant it at first, but I suppose he would be less likely to act on it now. At this point, I would have to be the one to give him reason to do it.” Ramirus continued to smile wryly.
Remus bowed his head. “I’m sorry. Truly, I am. If I’d known—”
“You would’ve come after me?” Ramirus gave another bitter laugh.
“I would have.” Remus was almost imploring with him. “But how was I to know? I was only afraid of risking your life—”
“Do you have any idea what being back with him was like?” Ramirus got to his feet. “Do you have any idea what kind of hell it was? That’s why I had to do what I could to survive, and that included doing what I could to make him proud!”
Remus let out slow, hissing breath through his teeth and sat back. Finally, he said: “Like biting people, after I taught you not to?” It was his turn to glare. “Like making comrades out of the very werewolves who kidnapped you?”
“What did you want me to do, Remus? You abandoned me!”
“I did what I had to, to keep you alive—”
“Just as I did what I had to, to keep me alive and Greyback’s brutal hands off of me!” Ramirus knocked away the empty mug and it crashed to the floor. “I told you before, when I was child, how he treated me! How he’d beat me! How terrible it was!”
For some reason this spurred Remus’ own temper, perhaps because it had been such a Sirius thing to do. “It killed me!” He rose to his feet in turn. “It killed me to lose you again, especially to someone as sick as Greyback, and I looked everywhere, and would have gone on searching perhaps until I died of exposure if I didn’t find you first, but then I received a message telling me you would be killed by Greyback if I tried to look for you! What was I supposed to do? Risk your life by plowing on? It killed me again that I couldn’t look for you! IT KILLED ME!”
Ramirus stared as Remus stood there, having shouted himself almost hoarse, his chest heaving a little.
Remus took a deep shuddering breath and let it out, his eyes wet. He wiped at them and sat back down. “I’m sorry. I don’t know how many times I can say it. Perhaps I was a fool to think that there wasn’t some way I could have sought you out without Greyback knowing. After all, I was a clever sneak in my youth. But at first I was afraid you would be killed…and then perhaps I was afraid of what I would find if I looked for you and succeeded. I heard rumors that you had grown close to Greyback…and I blamed myself for being too much of a coward and allowing that to happen.”
Ramirus went on staring at him, and swallowed, as though his throat had gone dry again.
“You were all I had left,” Remus whispered. “I love you….” His voice broke.
Ramirus seemed on the edge of speaking, but could not bring himself to do so. And then he opened his mouth, but before he could say anything, there came a tapping of nails on stone, and Connell’s voice calling through the cloth over the entrance to the small gallery:
“Sir? Sorry to disturb, but Greyback’s returned wiv the French envoys.”
Ramirus exhaled and closed his eyes. “Thank you, Connell. I’ll be along in a moment.”
Ramirus opened his eyes; his tone was biting. “Right. You’d better come with me then. Greyback’ll want to have a look at you.”
And before Remus could stop him, he pulled him to his feet and forced him to march with him out into the tunnel to the main gallery.
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