Characters: Remus Lupin, others
Length: 2857 words
Summary: In the aftermath of the Potters' deaths and the Lestrange trial, Remus Lupin is forced to come to terms with loss - and with himself.
Note: Birthdayfic for the wonderful lazy_neutrino. Thanks to hummelchen for advice and not suffering wibbling kindly :).
Even half an hour after leaving Courtroom Ten, Remus's hands, tucked away into the sleeves of his robe, were still shaking.
He shouldn't have gone. He'd known it the instant the tail feathers of the postal owl carrying the request had cleared his window.
Public interest in the trial had been so great that the Daily Prophet had devoted several columns to it, but Alastor Moody had come through for a fellow Order member and owled him the ticket without a word.
Now, Remus wondered what masochistic streak had made him go and rip open wounds that had scarcely had time to scab over. Dusk started to fall as he walked, aimlessly, through the streets of wizarding London. He couldn't yet bear to face his dreary little room with its croaking extension charms.
He couldn't bear to think of Bellatrix Lestrange either, straight-backed, proud and defiantly spewing hate and proclaiming allegiance to Lord Voldemort, without imagining Sirius in her place. The mere image turned Remus's stomach.
Though it was one of the few occasions that he wanted a drink, he passed the Leaky Cauldron, fearing familiar faces and inane, self-gratulatory chatter about the trial.
Watching Bellatrix's last stand had disturbed him, but not as much as Barthemius Crouch's judgement. He'd known Frank and Alice Longbottom, although they had never been close. Even among the Order, the old families and Aurors looked at a werewolf with some apprehension. Especially after Alice had become pregnant and Neville was born. He'd long known that it took special people like Lily and James to overcome centuries of prejudice.
The thought cut into him as if he'd swallowed a crushed handful of glass. How could he forget what had been lost. His best friends, dead or worse; little Harry, spirited away into hiding by Dumbledore. Remus hadn't seen him again after his last visit to Godric's Hollow, the night before he'd left to seduce the werewolves away from Voldemort's cause. He just hoped that someone had thought of packing Padfoot and Moony, Harry's twin soft toys, to send along with him. He'd always be inconsolable when one of them left his sight.
And yet, the disgust he'd felt at Crouch's condemnation of his son had been immediate and intense. Perhaps the boy deserved it; what the Death Eaters had done to Frank and Alice had been terrible, even if it bore the Lestranges' handwriting, and had left yet another infant parentless. But to see anyone turn on their family that way had cut too close, far too close, to what Sirius had done to them.
Even now, if Sirius was brought before him for judgement, Remus wouldn't know what to do. His brother. He might be able to kill him, for James and Lily and poor Peter. But he'd never be able to condemn him to hell.
If he'd been there... would Peter still be alive? Would he somehow have been able to stop Sirius if he hadn't been running through the wilds of Snowdonia with the rebel packs?
His eyes pricked, and he walked faster. He reached the end of Diagon Alley and turned into Sore Row, where the shops ducked down and dwindled in number. Narrow closes branched off towards Knockturn, but Remus didn't feel up to braving that either. He'd get a drink and more at the Grim and the Maiden, but as with the Leaky, he didn't want to encounter familiar faces.
A sign tucked into the archway of a close caught his attention and he went with the impulse. He'd never heard of a pub called the Green Cowl. If James and Sirius had encountered it in their endless quest for ways to get sloshed in Wizarding London, it hadn't impressed them enough to mention it to him.
He ducked through the entrance and down a few uneven stone steps; the pub's interior had been cut into the arch, leaving an impressive vaulted ceiling. Smoke curled upwards, charmed to stay away from the tables. The place was somewhat alive, but by no means busy – it was too early in the evening yet.
Remus wound his way to the bar, past a grizzled warlock with heavy leather wristguards and a long beard tucked into his belt à la Dumbledore. A witch and wizard in matching kaftans were arguing Rune Theory at the next table and passing scribbled evidence between them on a paper doily.
The bartender, looking for all the world like a son of the grey-bearded warlock, gave Remus a sharp but impersonal glance. Presumably this was how he looked at everybody. The bar behind him was well and eclectically stocked – the obligatory Odgen's and its brothers, Swiss Hexenschuß in its unmistakeable bottle, Rakmaros's Flame of Macedonia, even Muggle Laphroaig.
Remus ordered a double of the latter, despite knowing he didn't have any sickles to waste on drink he didn't even enjoy much. It made no difference whether his meagre savings ran out this week or next. In the end, they would.
He paid and carried his whisky towards the end of the vault, past a dark-cowled wizard nursing a Hexenschuß and reading the Evening Prophet. Remus took care to avert his eyes from the headlines.
His back to the rough stone wall, he slid onto the bench of an empty corner table and took a sip form his glass. The burnt taste filled his mouth and throat, soothing in its sharpness. It could not, however, conjure up a future. His money was running low; the few possessions he'd had before leaving to lure the werewolves away from Voldemort for the Order he'd left in Sirius's flat. No doubt the Aurors had already carted them away with everything Sirius had owned. He'd have to rely on Moody to divert any insistent questions about Remus's connections with the traitor.
He couldn't turn to his family either – they'd been so quietly relieved to see the back of him after Hogwarts, and too silently ashamed for it. They'd done right by him as a child, torn between horror and guilt, even though Remus himself had never blamed his father for standing up to Fenrir Greyback. They could have registered him and sent him to one of the Lycanthrope Support Homes the Werewolf Registry was running, where cubs never left and often enough died in unspecific 'incidents'. He'd met a few fugitives in the packs he'd been liaising with, and from the tales they'd told, he was grateful for having been spared the same fate.
His sister wasn’t an option either. Parthia Lupin had never quite forgiven her father for marrying a girl only three years older than herself after her mother's death, and a Muggleborn to boot. Having her unwanted little brother turn into a monster during the full moon had alienated her even more. She'd left home right after Hogwarts, and later snared a scion of the Hufflepuff Smiths. From his parents, Remus knew that she was a mother now, although he'd not been asked to her wedding or the baby's christening.
He lifted his glass, only to find it empty, and gestured to the barman for a refill. Studying the tabletop, he didn't look up when footsteps came towards him. He didn't want anyone to see the expression on his face.
The bottle of Laphroaig banged down beside him, and Remus turned to protest.
"Drowning your sorrows, Lupin?" a voice hissed next to him. "Or the memories of your traitor friend?"
Remus's head snapped up; his hand went to his wand. He'd passed the wizard in the dark-cowled robe without giving him a thought. Now, he stood beside him. Even if Remus hadn't recognised the steel-grey eyes in the hood's shadow, he wouldn’t have been able to mistake the strands of white-blond hair sneaking out at the sides. He gripped his wand tighter.
Lucius Malfoy unscrewed the bottle and filled Remus's glass with malicious courtesy. The bartender's eyes ghosted over them, and away.
"They look very much alike, don't they, my sister-in-law and her cousin?"
Breath stopped in Remus's throat for a second.
"You've been at the trial?"
He hadn't seen Malfoy, but then he hadn't seen much beyond what was happening in front. Somehow, having Malfoy watch was like striking another blow against the Death Eaters' victims.
"I attended to spare my wife the burden of having to watch her misguided sister and in-laws being condemned to Azkaban," Malfoy said. His voice turned silky. "How about you, wolf? Did you hope to hear something about Black? Wondering why you didn't see it coming? Or did you, and said nothing to protect your friend?"
Remus clenched his fists. He wanted to throw the whisky into Malfoy's face, but it was what Sirius would have done. And he had been over it, again and again, analysing every memory of Sirius he could conjure up for a sign in hindsight – a punch to James's arm that was a touch too hard, a smile at Lily that didn't reach the eyes, a look at Harry that whispered of guilt... He hadn't seen it coming. Nor could he see it now, looking back.
"You," Remus said, almost astonished at the growl that came out of his throat, "you should have been right up there in the dock with them." He leaned close, teeth bared. "I know what you are. I don't care how you've fooled the Ministry – you're not fooling me."
Malfoy casually leaned his hip against the table. "As I know you, wolf. And I doubt that you could cause me any more inconvenience than Magical Law Enforcement have tried over the past weeks. I, on the other hand..." The corner of his mouth snaked up in a cruel little smile. "I could destroy you with an owl, a Floo call... An unregistered renegade wolf, known for running with the packs during the war... Fenrir Greyback's own creation."
Remus couldn't feel any fear – there wasn't much left for him to fear for any longer. Only rage.
Malfoy's voice dropped to a suggestive whisper. "I would only be doing my duty to wizarding society..."
Remus's lip curled up in an answering smile that was all bite. He rose, flicking his wand in the same move. The iridescent glitter of an Attention Repellant Charm filled the corner. The eyes of the barkeep, firmly on them, lost focus and wandered away.
"Who says you'll get to leave alive to tell anyone?" Remus asked. His voice was as calm as it had ever been.
The urge to go for Malfoy's throat, to sink claws into his flesh and tear, to project all his rage onto this one evil and destroy it by proxy was almost unbearable. His fingers twitched.
Malfoy splayed his hand over his wand sheath. "Why don't you try to stop me, Lupin?"
He looked confident, but Remus knew he could take him if he set free the wolf inside him. He could almost smell the spray of blood in the air.
He took a few shallow breaths through his mouth, all too aware of the perspiration breaking out on his temples. His nails dug into his palms until the rage receded.
"If I were like you, Malfoy," he rasped, "I might be goaded into an attack. But unlike other 'creatures' you have among your acquaintances, I am a human being 350 days a year."
It was the truth, Remus realised. He could strike out, free all his rage, but ultimately, all it would make him would be Malfoy's equal. The war was over.
"What did you want, Malfoy," he asked, tiredness creeping up on him. "We both know you have nothing to threaten me with. So why bother?"
"Perhaps I wonder why you are still here, Lupin?" Malfoy tapped perfectly manicured nails against the bottle. "Your friends have turned on each other and are dead or imprisoned. Your Order has disbanded, and your Master has chosen a turncoat to shelter at Hogwarts rather than you. You're an animal they've released back into the wild. So why are you still here?"
"Why do you care?" Remus's voice came out gravelly.
Malfoy's eyes met his, a silver film over ice. "You're my enemy, Lupin. You've lost everything. And we've seen first-hand today to what extremes grief can drive people."
Remus's brows drew together. He wasn't exactly appreciating being compared to Bellatrix Lestrange. "And you're Fenrir Greyback's creature," Malfoy continued. "Whose children will you turn on to get your revenge?"
Remus reeled back, his mouth opening in shock. He could feel the blood draining from his face.
"What sort of monster do you think I am?" he gasped.
The mere thought that somebody should think him capable of something like that was sickening.
"One of the worst," Malfoy replied, unperturbed. "Or so Severus Snape tells me."
Even five years and a war after the fact, Remus flinched.
"And you think because there's been so much misery and destruction already I'm going to spread it a bit more? For revenge?"
Remus's mouth thinned into a sharp line. "No, Malfoy. I think you're evil, and you should be in Azkaban alongside Sirius and the Lestranges and the rest. But the war is over. I'm not going to restart it." He lowered his wand and pocketed it. "But I'm sure that one day, you'll stumble over your own arrogance and then the world will see you exactly for what you are."
Resting his fingers against the cool neck of the bottle, he slid it across the table towards Malfoy.
"You may want to take this. I think you need it more than I do."
Remus turned to walk away from the table and the battle, through the iridescent whisper of the repellent charm. He knew there was no need to worry about a curse in the back. Not in public.
He returned the barman's casual nod before ducking out of the door and climbing up the stairs, ready to face his new life.
It took two hours upon arriving home, in which Draco devoured his delicious homecoming tea and ran out to look at the new peacock chicks, before his father called him into his study.
Lucius Malfoy locked a bundle of letters into the sealed drawer in his desk and smiled. "Welcome home, Draco. I hope the trip was pleasant?"
Draco nodded. "Yes, father. And I already said hello to the chicks."
The corner of Lucius Malfoy's mouth twitched, and Draco knew he didn't have to fear a reprimand. The peacocks were father's explicit pleasure; he was also fond of cats, but didn't like to admit it.
"How are your studies progressing?" Father leaned back and folded long, elegant hands on the desktop.
"All right, I think," said Draco. "I got an Outstanding in the last Potions test before the holidays, and Exceeds Expectations in Transfiguration." His cheeks warmed. "My teapot's spout had a crack, and my squirrel ended up with a porcelain nose. Of course McGonagall didn't care and took off points anyway."
Father's eyebrow rose in a way that made Draco squirm, but he didn't comment.
"What about your new Defence against the Dark Arts professor?"
"Lupin?" Draco asked. "He doesn't seem to have much wizarding pride – when he turned up at Hogwarts, his robes were all patched. But he's all right as a teacher, I guess. It's the first time we're actually learning something in Defence." He bit his bottom lip, then added. "He's fair, too."
Professor Lupin had intervened when his Boggart had first turned into the dark figure dripping with unicorn blood from the Forbidden Forest, and then calmly suggested different ways of laughing it off, treating Draco's fit of panic as if it was perfectly normal. Draco was still proud of having the unicorn deliver a back-hoof beatdown to the monster, then chasing it off through the forest, horn lowered. Even the professor had laughed at that.
"Professor Snape really hates him, though," he admitted, compelled by house loyalty. "He's told us to stay away from him."
A thin smile ghosted over Father's lips. "Yes, he would."
"Why?" Draco inquired eagerly.
Father shook his head. "That's Severus's story to tell."
"So he's not dangerous?" Although Draco knew better than to pester his father for information, especially after word of Lucius Malfoy's hidden artefact collection had got out to Arthur Weasley last year, he would have loved a piece of gossip that half of Slytherin House was speculating about.
"Oh, he is," Father murmured, lost in thought. He tapped the knuckle of his index finger against his bottom lip. "No matter how much he wishes he wasn't."
He rose, and the folds of his robes fell in neat folds around his feet. "We should get ready for dinner, Draco. I am told your mother had Motte prepare one or two of your favourite dishes."
His stomach rumbling in discreet appreciation, Draco made for the door and waited for Father to catch up with him.
Lucius reached for the door, then his fingers paused on the serpent-carved handle. Cool grey eyes met Draco's.
"Professor Snape is right, though," he said calmly. "Remus Lupin is a dangerous man, and I want you to stay away from him."