The first thing Remus noticed was that the floor was cold. The texture rough against his stubbled cheek, scraping against his forearms as he slowly pushed himself up. He blinked blearily, eyes adjusting to the dim torchlight. Stone floors, stone walls, iron bars.
His head was throbbing; there was dried blood in his hair. This time it might have been his own. He recalled bright lights, curses flying, sizzling past his ear. Red. Darkness.
How did they find me?
He couldn't remember.
If he concentrated, he could hear breathing, other heartbeats. One, two, three... no, four. He scented the air; three male, one female. Human, goblin. Familiar — very familiar, though he was struggling to think beyond the pounding in his skull. He couldn't recall their faces.
Somewhere out of view, a door swung open: hinges creaking, wood groaning, scraping along the floor. A jangle of keys. This scent... (juniper berry and wood shavings and cheap dusty tea) this scent he knew.
rat rat rat
"Oh good, you're not dead," Peter said in a tone that might have sounded cheerful if not for the underlying tension of attempted murder and heart-wrenching betrayal.
"Sorry to disappoint," Remus replied. His voice was rougher than the stone he'd woken on and twice as cold. On the other side of the wall, two heartbeats quickened; a quiet intake of breath.
They know me.
"Ah, don't be like that, Moony. I've brought you supper."
"Think I'd rather starve, thanks."
Peter gave that snorty little laugh that Remus used to privately think was endearing and now just made him want to yank the bastard's brains out through his nostrils.
"Just as dramatic as ever, I see." He showed the plate to Remus. "It's just a bacon sarnie. Light on the butter and practically raw, just the way you like it."
It was the way he liked it, and Remus hated him for it.
"Why am I here?"
"Skipping right over the small talk, eh? That's not like you at all." Peter opened a small grate, pushing the plate through the bars. "Come on, Moony. You know why."
"Don't call me that."
If he hadn't been watching for it, he'd have missed the tiny flicker of hurt across Peter's face. The twitch of his brows, the near imperceptible thinning of his already too-thin lips. The shadows under his eyes darkening.
He looked terrible. He looked sorry. Remus hated him even more.
"Alright, Remus then. Or would you prefer Lupin?"
"I would prefer you didn't call me anything, honestly."
"Too bad," Peter said briskly. "I'm the jailor, so unless you just don't want to talk at all..."
"That would be lovely, actually."
"Liar." Peter grinned. "You love hearing yourself talk, always did. You were worse than James—"
The bars rattled as Remus slammed into them, fury bubbling in his veins. Peter leapt out of his reach, eyes wide, frightened as he'd been that night in the shack.
"DON'T!" Remus snarled, fangs bared. "Don't you ever speak his name!"
Peter stared at him, his hummingbird pulse slowly steadying as he remembered who was on which side of the bars. He put his hands up, placating.
"Alright, Remus. Fair enough. I'm sorry."
No you're not.
Peter hovered awkwardly for a moment, rocking on his heels like he had something more to say — like there was anything more to say. As if he had a right to be disappointed that Remus would sooner swallow his own tongue than accept anything he offered.
"Right. I'll leave you to it, then. Be back tomorrow."
Remus watched him slip out of the room in silence, the heavy door swinging shut, the lock turning with a dull click just as the plate shattered against the wall.
"Brought you some soup today," Peter said conversationally. "Figured you might need it after talking to Bellatrix."
He slipped the bowl through the grate; Remus didn't move from his spot against the opposite wall. Every one of his nerve endings was on fire, but he'd be damned before he'd show it.
"She really needs to work on her conversational skills," he croaked, and immediately regretted it. Peter's eyes sharpened, searching his face.
Nothing to see here. Not for you.
"She was always mad as a hatter before, but Azkaban really didn't do her any favours in that regard." Peter sighed, leaning back against the wall, arms crossed. "Can't say I'm upset about getting out of that one."
It was in that moment that Remus decided that the Killing Curse was too good for Peter.
He hauled himself to his feet, trudging over to the front of the cell on shaky legs, leaning over carefully to pick up his supper.
"I see you remembered my favourite again." He sniffed at the bowl of soup suspiciously, checking for strange ingredients.
Potato. Leek. Broth... chicken I think. Cream. Bacon again, probably leftover.
"Figured a taste of home might not go amiss," Peter said quietly, frowning. "I haven't poisoned it, you know."
"I'm well aware that the only thing you poison is friendships," Remus agreed. "If you wanted to kill me, I should watch for a knife in my back."
"...That's not fair."
They stared one another down silently, Peter with his best rainy morning face on, Remus towering above him like a thundercloud. He slowly poured the soup out onto the floor, flinging the bowl back through the bars. Peter dodged at the last second; it bounced off the wall next to his ear and clattered harmlessly to the floor.
He'd learned his lesson since the plate, apparently.
"Right," Peter declared in an overly plummy tone as he pushed off the wall, "we'll just try again tomorrow, shan't we?"
The following day, Peter brought down bangers and mash; it was cold and grainy, and the bangers were burned to hell.
Remus ate it anyway.
"You know, as pleased as I am that you've stopped throwing tantrums over the food," Peter mused through a mouthful of toast, "I'm genuinely surprised you haven't asked me why I did it."
Remus paused, looking up from his plate through one, unswollen eye.
"Probably because it doesn't matter."
He spoke slowly, as if to a particularly dim child, as if he weren't lying through his teeth.
Peter scoffed, spots of colour rising to his cheeks.
"Please, like you didn't spend twelve years tearing yourself up over Sirius. Why should my reasons matter less?"
"I'll give you three guesses."
Peter wrinkled his nose, scowling.
"You always liked him best."
"Dunno what to tell you, Pete. He gives great head."
There was a muffled snort from the neighbouring cell. Dean, by the sound of it. A week ago, Remus might have even been embarrassed.
"Remus Lupin, unfiltered," Peter said with a wistful shake of his head. "I fucking missed you, you know."
"This is very good bread. Do give my compliments to whichever unfortunate elf was responsible for it."
"That would be me."
Remus snorted at him, raising his mug of water in toast.
"Here's to moving up in the world."
"Fuck off." Peter eyed him speculatively for a long moment. "It was because I wanted it to end."
Remus peered at him over the rim of his mug.
There was a dark intensity emanating from Peter. Not dangerous in the same way that Bellatrix or even Sirius was; sharp and sinewy, a predator stalking prey. It was as if Remus was moving among the stars and encountered a vast nothing that devoured everything it dragged into its field.
No sound, no light, just cold, dead silence.
"All my friends were dying or turning into people I didn't recognise anymore, and I was terrified," Peter continued quietly. "Every day I was terrified, and I just wanted it to end. I didn't care how."
He pushed off the wall, leaving without waiting for a response.
It didn't matter. There was nothing to say.
On the fifth day, an apple rolled off the plate as Peter approached the cell. It hit the ground, rolling at his feet. He leaned down to recover it, and the rest happened very quickly.
Remus rushed forward, his arm darting out to catch Peter around his neck as he rose back up, yanking him back hard against the bars.
"You always were an idiot."
Peter thrashed and struggled in his grip. His fancy silver hand clawed at Remus' forearm, more powerful than Peter had any right to be.
But Remus was stronger.
"I would be lying if I said I didn't miss you, Pete," he said calmly, tightening his grip. "I missed you every day, like a limb. I still do."
The keys were jangling against Peter's belt loop, against the bars. Remus could reach through and grab them now, if he wanted to.
"You weren't the only one who was afraid, you know? We were just kids. Only the rest of us learned to kill our enemies instead of our brothers."
It wasn't about the keys.
"My brothers died twelve years ago." The fingers scratching and scrabbling against his arm were weakening, slowing. "I buried one with his wife in Godric's Hollow, and they put up a little statue for them that I still can't stand to look at."
Peter's knees buckled, his weight against Remus' steady arm adding pressure.
"I buried the other in a little plot in Coxheath, and I used to wonder why it couldn't have been me. And I grieved."
Remus took a deep, slow breath. A holy calm settled over him.
"I want you to know," he continued in that same soft, conversational tone, "that everything you've done has amounted to nothing. That you are nothing, and no one will remember you."
Things happened very slowly after that.
Peter stopped struggling.
Remus counted heartbeats.
There were six.
And then there were five.
He reached down and pulled the keyring from Peter's belt, popping the beltloop clear off. It wasn't like Peter needed it anymore. He left the body against the bars, opening the door to his cell without looking back.
Dean was watching him open their cell door with wide eyes, more surprised — appraising — than fearful. Luna waved at him cheerfully, same as when he'd last seen her, if a little taller. Remus nodded to them both in greeting.
"I'd say it's good to see you both, but I'm rather sorry you're here. Can everyone move under their own power?"
"Ollivander and Griphook are both a bit worse for wear," Dean said apologetically.
"Alright, well give me a hand now then."
It only took a few moments for them to get Griphook and Ollivander situated on Dean and Remus' backs, respectively. Remus, in the meantime, had been coming up with a plan.
So long as they were quiet and careful, he could sniff out the exit while avoiding the manor's residents. They just needed to be quick about it; he didn't know how long it would be before Peter was missed.
But no sooner did he reach his hand out for the door than it burst open, revealing a particularly unhinged-looking Sirius, closely flanked by Harry and Ron.
There was a short pause in which the two men processed one anothers' sudden appearance.
"What the hell are you doing here?" Remus asked faintly.
"We came to rescue you," Sirius said with a vaguely affronted tone.
Remus turned around, looking at the assortment of prisoners he'd broken out and the cooling body of the jailor at the other end of the room, and then turned back to Sirius.
Harry let out a choked sort of noise that might have been either a sob or a snort, he wasn't quite sure.
"Right," Ron said quickly. "So, mission accomplished, let's go!"
He and Harry ushered Dean-and-Griphook and Luna up the stairs first, Ron taking point and Harry flanking. The moment they were out of the room, Sirius reached out and cupped Remus's jaw, brushing a thumb across his cheek. He felt something damp on his face.
"Have you been crying?"
"Maybe. I didn't feel anything," he said quietly, shaking his head. "It doesn't matter. Let's go."
Remus pushed past him, following the boys up the stairs. Sirius followed close behind.
They didn't look back.