Remus watches the newcomer’s gaze rove from face to face, his expression stoic, betraying no hint of fear despite being surrounded by a pack of rumbling, whispering werewolves. When his eyes reach Remus, they widen just a tad before narrowing again; they flash briefly before returning to Greyback.
“What an unruly-looking bunch you have here, Fenrir,” he says, his airy voice floating throughout the clearing. “I hope you won’t give me too much trouble.”
Fenrir Greyback, the great, ugly, vicious brute he is, curls his lip and smirks down at him with gross intention. “We can give you trouble if you’d like, boy.”
His mouth quirks, but still, he does not draw his wand. His arms stay rebelliously, or perhaps mockingly, by his sides. “You could try, but I guarantee, you will regret it.”
Remus doesn’t doubt him. Greyback is probably fooled by the soft voice, the placid expression, the idle bounce of his black curls and the vacant, pretty face, but Remus knows what this boy is really like. He’d done prefect rounds with him before; God, that was so long ago. He’d listened as he tore people apart with just words and glances, he committed to memory, line by line, the cold gleam in his eyes whenever Remus’s gaze lingered just a second too long on his forearm.
Regulus Black had the grace and the composure of a swan, but all the brutal precision of a viper. How fitting.
Greyback growls. “Did the Lord want nuthin’ else? He just send you here to introduce yourself before you make your dandy way back?”
“Hmm…yes,” Regulus replies, savouring his words. “I will be blunt; one toe out of line and the Dark Lord will not hesitate to remove you. I’m your keeper now.” His gaze sweeps over the pack. “All of you.”
The pack growls lowly in response.
“Ah yes, one more thing,” Regulus adds. “It’s a pleasure to see you here, Lupin.”
Remus jolts at being addressed. Noticeably, many of the other werewolves perk up, interested to hear more.
“You know Lupin here?” someone asks. The pack is still suspicious of Remus, unwilling to believe that a Hogwarts graduate, a werewolf who let himself be integrated into society, would have honest intentions joining a pack in the woods by an old, decrepit village. Little do they know or understand Remus’s long and storied experiences with “decrepit.”
“We worked together on some things before, yes. Quite uncooperative and wild. He’s not giving you any trouble, is he?” The wolves’ sarcastic chuckles ring through the clearing. In comparison to the rest of the wolves, Remus is anything but trouble. “No, no,” Regulus continues, his tone slow and serious. “I mean it. He’s always had some…darker inclinations…if I recall correctly.”
Remus’s blood runs cold.
“Did he now?” Greyback hums with interest, beady eyes calculating, assessing, as they train on Remus. “I see I’ve chosen the right human to bite.”
“Yes…" Regulus's words almost seem to slow for a moment, his eyes flash. "He never did quite fit in with those human friends of his.”
There it is. There it is, Remus thinks. The corner of Regulus’s mouth ticks up; he knows he’s just dealt a killing blow.
Remus takes a deep breath. Then another one.
“Irritating bastard,” he manages to snarl. “I’m getting the fuck out of here.”
He turns his back to the clearing and walked rigidly, his footsteps getting faster. He needs to get away from Regulus, from his cruel words and vacant eyes, from the memories of those prefect rounds, when they fell wordlessly into alcoves together, when Remus never had a good reason except for that he could almost, almost sense warmth in Regulus during those moments. But the cold would always come back at the last second, he’d fail to snatch the feeling, box it; he’d resign himself to trying again next time, until there was no more next time.
Remus still wonders why Regulus ever fell into those spaces with him, whether it was cruelty against Sirius or some other twisted form of freedom.
Eventually, Remus finds himself at the space he usually escapes to whenever his job really got too much, which was more often that he’d like. Dumbledore assigned him here a month ago to get inside information on the werewolves, which the Order highly suspected was going to align with Voldemort. They were right—this was pretty much confirmed from the very second Remus joined. He wanted to extract himself, return home, but Dumbledore had told him that Remus still had some use to blend with the werewolves, that he was very sorry, my boy, but you understand, right?
Remus did, does understand. But he can sense himself changing, becoming more and more animal, less and less human, with every passing day.
Then again, was he ever human in the first place?
“I lied,” Remus hears an hour later. He turns to see Regulus Black’s slight figure standing in front of him.
Remus narrows his eyes. “How come I can’t smell you? Or hear you?”
Regulus’s lip twitches. “No-tracking spell. It’s a defence against you beasts.” Remus ignores the comment.
“Why are you here?”
“Really, Lupin? You’re currently at the edge of the anti-Apparition barrier. I have to pass you eventually.” Regulus leans back against the tree behind him, across from where Remus is seated cross-legged against his own oak. Posh bastard that he is, he manages to make this action look elegant and sophisticated.
“Anyway, I was lying when I said it was a pleasure to see you. It’s more of a shock; I didn’t take you to be a traitor.”
Remus stiffens at the accusation. “It’s as you said, I was never much like James or Peter or Sirius,” he says, with just a little pause before Sirius’s name. He relishes pettily in the minute twitch of Regulus’s left eyebrow. But Regulus always recovers quickly, and so by the next second, he’s laughing at Remus.
“Why are you even trying to divert the truth? You’re so sickeningly devoted to them that you’d never turn traitor against them. That’s why seeing you here is such an interesting development.” He leans forward just a tad, something cold and accusing glinting in his eyes. “I guess it all depends on who’s asking.”
Remus grits his teeth and wills himself to look away from Regulus’s calm, unreadable face. “Dumbledore is a great man,” he says, even though this conviction is becoming weaker by the day.
“Yes, so great and magnanimous that he’s making you stay here and even curse for him. What was that language back there, Lupin? To think you’d do this just to blend in with the beasts. I don’t think I’ve ever heard you profane in my life.”
“You haven’t known me very long, then.”
“God forbid the alternative,” Regulus says lightly.
Remus lets the silence hang, him still sitting and Regulus still standing, staring stoically down his nose at Remus’s dejected slump. But he doesn’t think he can last another second without asking.
“Why did you help me back there?”
“Calling me wild and uncooperative. You know I was as square as squares can be. Why’d you lie to Greyback for me?”
Regulus scoffs. “I didn’t do it for you.”
“Then for who?”
“My own entertainment, of course. Getting you kicked out of the den so fast would be such a bore. There’s not much to do these days.”
“Oh, not off and torturing Muggles then, are you,” Remus comments sarcastically.
“Please, not when I’m more suited to do this than a bunch of wretched fearmongering. Who else would be better to handle a bunch of dogs when you’re the brother of one?”
Remus growls lowly in offense before the implication of the statement hits him. The shock must be evident in his eyes because Regulus says flatly, “Don’t worry. The Dark Lord knows not of your friends’ illicit adventures.”
“How do you even know about—”
The awkward memories of the hushed, charged secrets in the dark hang heavy over their heads. It’s their first time acknowledging out loud the past they shared together, that year of using and discarding, the mutual hatred, the scant but memorable encounters. Of course he would be able to tell, or even just guess at the truth of Remus’s affliction. Regulus looks pained at the admission.
“Don’t tell anyone about this,” Remus says, but he’s not sure if he means his job as a spy or their past together.
Regulus scoffs anyway. “I am a Black first and a minion second. The Dark Lord doesn’t need to know everything that goes on under his nose.”
Remus grins. “He doesn’t have one.”
Regulus turns back just once before he steps outside the apparition barrier, his cloak swishing with the movement.
“You should get out of here soon, Lupin. You smell like raw meat and there’s blood on your shirt. Before you know it, you’ll be playing with your food.”
Remus is chilled by the implication of ‘playing.’ But instead he jokes, “Are you concerned for me, Black?”
“Do get over yourself,” he says wryly. In a pop, he’s gone, and Remus is alone.
Regulus wasn’t entirely wrong about the raw meat. Part of Remus’s efforts of blending in with the pack have included adopting more animalistic behaviours, such as eating his meat rare. The blood probably came from animals. He felt deeply wrong, like he was becoming closer and closer to the beast he was meant to be, and he hated it. It made him feel like he was splitting apart and losing the only sense of self he had. Acting like a brute, cursing, fighting, none of it felt right, and slowly he’s started to wonder how much of it is just pretending and how much is actually him and the wolf inside.
And transformations during the full moon were more painful than ever. The last time Regulus visited, Remus had only experienced one moon, but a couple more had passed since then and he could feel himself becoming less and less human with every transformation. He’d wake up in the mornings, battered and drained, surrounded by other bleeding men.
Why was Dumbledore still not letting him return?
At the very least, what Regulus had said to Greyback about Remus’s apparently wildness was pretty efficient at holding back the suspicion.
Since Regulus Black’s first visit as Voldemort’s new contact, they hadn’t spoken again. They run into each other occasionally, during his weekly check-ins and sometimes in town, but otherwise they pretend the other doesn’t exist, even as the eminent draw of familiarity hangs between them.
But Remus has bigger problems. Today, he stands before a dead human with the rest of the pack. He doesn’t know who killed the person, but the body is so mangled he can’t even tell its gender. He should feel sick, but at this point all he feels is a dark satisfaction that he didn’t have to be there to watch it.
He knows he’s becoming less human, but he can’t stop it. He can’t leave. He’s trapped.
Remus drifts aimlessly back towards town, looking for a drink.
“Whiskey, please,” he says to the bartender. The bar is so run down that she says nothing of Remus’s raggled, nature-infested appearance. There are a few twigs stuck to his coat and possibly a leaf in his air. He knows he looks somewhat bestial, but these days that’s what he feels like.
He’s halfway through his drink when he notices the person at the other end of the bar staring at him.
“Your situational awareness has become quite atrocious,” says the man in his posh, unbearable accent.
“Why are you here, Regulus.”
Regulus stands up, his face unchanging from the derisive expression of thinly veiled disgust. It’s only when he gets closer that Remus notices how shaken he looks. It wouldn’t be obvious to anyone else, but Regulus Black’s clothing is never wrinkled; not a lock of hair should ever be out of place; his grey eyes are always dark but also vacant, filmy with nothingness. Now, they’re filled with something wild. Something angry. Fearful. As if he has some sort of purpose for the first time in his life.
“Did something happen?” Remus asks, brow furrowed with inadvertent concern.
Regulus ignores him. “Let’s go somewhere. It’s been a while, hasn’t it? Neither of us can risk it being anyone else.”
He sounds like he’s trying to convince himself more than Remus. Remus doesn’t need a good reason to feel a bit more human. He doesn’t know what Regulus is dealing with, but he also doesn’t care.
Regulus Black has always been a dainty type of pretty, but Remus had never known him to look delicate until he had him broken apart on a cheap motel bed, marks and bruises littering the pale slivers of skin between his thighs. It’s such a sharp contrast from the cutting tongue and cold gaze when he’s fully dressed.
Remus feels in himself departure from his usual, quiet demeanour whenever they cavorted in the past. He feels angrier, more aggressive. The moment is so out of character for both of them, but there’s something comforting about the lack of love, the cold efficiency that transpires between the two of them. Betrayal, prejudice, disgust, and Sirius’s name linger in the liminal spaces, but it’s never said out loud.
Something is still very wrong with Regulus, but Remus still doesn’t know what or why. He’d said to Remus, “Half-breed,” in something like acknowledgment before he swept his cloak out the door with an audible apparition pop. Since then, they’ve had a few encounters, and also a few encounters. Not a single time have they discussed what they’re doing, or why.
Right now, they’re at Remus’s tree. It’s fortunate that Regulus always has his anti-werewolf tracking spell on because then his scent doesn’t cling to Remus, which makes it easy to hide from Greyback and the pack.
Regulus is brushing the folds out of his robes and tucking the black silk of his insanely expensive shirt back under the black leather belt. His belt buckle is silver and small, but it’s engraved with some strange shape that Remus finds oddly familiar.
With a jolt, he realizes that he used to see it stamped on the seals of the letters Sirius got during breakfast, a long, long time ago. It’s the Black family insignia.
He looks up to see Regulus staring at him, eyes empty as always. Remus flushes at getting caught staring.
“I was looking at your belt, not your – I was looking at your belt buckle – I haven’t seen that in a long time, that’s all.”
Regulus huffs and crosses his arms, tossing a black curl out of his face. “Of course you haven’t seen it in a while. Probably not since Sirius abandoned us, right?”
“Hey,” Remus warns, anger creeping back into him on behalf of his friend. “You can say whatever you like to defend your blood, but the Black family is rife with dark history and sinister magicks. Sirius was right to leave that place if that was an ideology he could not tolerate.”
A cruel smile twists its way onto Regulus’s thin mouth as he stalks his way towards Remus, who stays stubbornly still where he is. Regulus gets into his space, dangerously close, his warm breath hitting Remus’s nose.
Strange how warm he is when his eyes are so cold and vacant, Remus wonders distantly.
“I am not content,” murmurs Regulus quietly, softly, against Remus’s lips, “to ignore the blood that runs through my veins. You say it’s dark and evil? I’m aware. The witches and wizards with Black blood have fostered violence and torment and bigotry for centuries. Do I care? Not particularly. Do I care that I’m being forced to follow an insane dark lord? Immensely. But I will not abandon my blood, Lupin. Not the way Sirius did, turning his back and all too willing to ignore his responsibilities as the eldest son. I’m going to survive them. And someday I will wrench this noble family from its pathetic state, make us a power that does not bow to bloodthirsty madmen." Regulus is breathing hard by the end. "I will turn dissent into power.”
The storm in his eyes swirls with something malignant; there’s a life and purpose to them that is so rare. Remus wants to capture, to box, to stow this away.
“That’s quite ambitious of you, Regulus,” and Remus hates how airy his voice sounds as he says it, but he’s breathtaken by the promise of violence.
“I am a Slytherin after all, yes?” Regulus responds darkly, before biting Remus’s lower lip hard in a swift motion hard enough to draw blood. He shoots Remus a chilling smirk at Remus’s wince, shrugs his cloak back into place, and disappears into the dark grove.
I am not content to ignore the blood that runs through my veins, he’d said. The declaration rings through Remus’s mind even weeks later.
Neither am I, Remus thinks heavily. The dark creature writhes and snarls within him, baying for blood, for just a single taste of the cold, furious violence that hides behind Regulus Black’s hollow grey eyes.
I will never be content, says the monster, not until you and I are both dead.
Remus doesn’t like how not being able to smell or hear Regulus when he approaches adds an extra layer of distance between them. It’s not that he particularly wants to be close, but he feels exposed to Regulus in a way that Regulus is not exposed to him, which increases the subliminal sense of superiority that Regulus Black seems to exert over all other living beings.
Remus knows what the noble, exalted, Black family heir looks like when he’s acting like a cheap whore. There shouldn’t be a boundary like this left.
These feelings are the strongest right before the full moon, when the possessive anger of the wolf is almost overwhelming.
It’s also when Remus’s job as a spy becomes the most dangerous.
“Hey, Lupin. You sure your pansy-arse isn’t still too scared to be one of us? Abandoning those old friends of yours so easy, huh?” demands one of the other werewolves. This werewolf in particular is one of Greyback’s biggest sycophants. He’s easily Biggest Brute Number Two.
Remus bites the inside of his cheek in frustration.
“Of course not,” he snorts. I’m terrified, and I hate you, he thinks. “Those pansies are fucking over. They don’t know what real war means. They’re naïve as hell and have no idea what’s worth fighting for, ingrates that they are.”
The werewolf slaps Remus’s back so hard that he just almost pitches forward.
“Attaboy,” he says gruffly, before walking back to the other werewolves.
But Remus is left shaken by the exchange. He’d said the meanest thing he could think of in the moment, but his inner voice, the voice that would always comfort his conscience, the voice that always spoke the truth, is suspiciously silent. He’s scared of his own words. Did he mean it? That his friends are naïve and ungrateful?
They are, aren’t they. They’re at home, among friends and family, going on exciting missions and coming home to love. Remus is stuck here, degrading himself every second of every day, getting involved with a Death Eater, wanting to know a Death Eater’s scent, losing his humanity, losing his mind. He can feel the darkness grow larger and larger, the darkness that’s been there his whole life as a werewolf. It’s spinning out of control. What do they know of suffering? Of war? Of how callous Dumbledore can be?
His fists clench so hard that he hears the animal bone he’s holding crack a little. If he remembers correctly, it came from a stag.
Remus pitches over into a nearby tree and retches.
“Ate too fast,” he manages to say through the haze. He hears the roar of the werewolves behind him, but he’s already deep into the forest. He’s going to write Albus Percival Wulfric Brian Dumbledore a strongly worded letter.
Unfortunately, your presence there is tantamount to our strategies, and I would warmly appreciate it if you could remain where you are just a bit longer. I believe in you, my boy, no matter how difficult, no matter how dark the days may get. Though the Order cannot know where you are, I am certain, in my heart, that they would view you as a hero. You are fighting an immensely important battle.
Your courage has the potential to change the course of our war against evil. You are a true Gryffindor, my boy.
Love for your family, love for your friends, will heal you and guide you, Remus.
Albus Percival Wulfric Brian Dumbledore
Something is seriously wrong with Regulus. In all the time Remus has known him, he’s been calm, collected, and cold as ice. His eyes rarely have light in them, never expressive but for in rare moments, wholly vacant and light-years away in distance. If human eyes are meant to be windows to the soul, Regulus’s eyes are mirrors—they reflect your darkness back at you, and you never see beyond them to the soul beneath.
But recently, they’ve been feverishly bright, burning with a low, searing fury and sense of purpose. They’ve been this way ever since they first started fucking again, that day he found Regulus, distressed and dishevelled, at the bar. It’s like something new entered the arena that day, something that drove Regulus to seek Remus out. Something deeply wrong but deeply exciting.
Remus is too hesitant to ask, too reluctant to extend some bridge of vulnerability to someone as amoral and afflicted by complexes as Regulus Black.
Today, though, his eyes are neither vacant nor angry.
“I know how to kill him,” Regulus murmurs, half asleep and exhausted. Remus freezes. Regulus probably doesn’t know what he’s saying, but Remus can’t help but poke at the opportunity.
“Kill who? Sirius?”
“No,” he responds. One eye opens lazily to stare up at him. “Why are you still here?” he asks softly.
You’re a lot of work to please, he could say, but the mocking doesn’t feel right for the moment. I’m tired, Remus wants to say, because he is tired. Tired of being a spy. Tired of being Dumbledore’s pawn. Tired of being alone.
What he says instead is: “I want to know what you smell like.”
Instead of revolting against the idea or calling Remus a slur, Regulus snorts quietly and turns his head back into the pillow, facing away. The black waves tumble against the nape of his neck, a sharp contrast to the white paleness of his skin.
Remus wasn’t expecting anything different, but he can’t help but feel faintly rejected. Why did I say that? Stupid, stupid, he berates himself in his head.
But then something tingles his nose. It wafts at him, slowly, then all at once, emerging from the cloudy smell of musk and inappropriate activity.
With a jolt, he realizes—Regulus lifted the spell.
He leans in, unwittingly, breathing it in slowly, almost scared to take in too much at once. It doesn’t smell like anything specific, nothing cliché like sandalwood or pine. Instead, it smells like the musty sweet scent that comes from the velvet lining his cloak. It smells like the warm, fresh scent of sun-warmed leather. The tang of strawberries that he’d probably eaten earlier that day.
Regulus Black, anticlimactically, yet shockingly, smells human.
Remus shakes with the knowledge, shivering quietly beside his body, his head of black curls still turned away. But Regulus doesn’t push Remus away when he leans his forehead on the back of his neck.
Remus smells salt but assumes it’s from sweat. He breathes in the medley, still trembling from the overwhelming emotion that fills him in this moment.
His eyes close, and eventually, he falls asleep.
(Little does Remus know, a tear has made its way down Regulus’s stoic face. It dampens the pillow beneath his cheek, and the coldness is uncomfortable. But he doesn’t move. He doesn’t dare to disturb Remus’s sleep. Soon, Regulus knows, this will never happen again.)
Remus took three consecutive baths in the river before heading back to the werewolves, ridding himself of Regulus’s scent. He’s slightly giddy, like some teenager, but he is, after all, only 18 years old. He’ll allow himself this brief and simple joy.
This is far from abnormal; even though Regulus has to check in once every week, they don’t always meet even when he comes. Days is nothing compared to weeks. But Remus can’t help but feel a little disappointed. Is he the only one who feels like something special had occurred?
The day that Regulus usually visits comes around, and Remus is waiting along with the rest of the pack. He hears the faint disruption in the wind, the evidence that someone is approaching the clearing. He readies himself to see Regulus.
But the person who steps into the clearing is not Regulus.
“Hello, beasts,” comes the rough voice of a very different person.
“Mulciber,” Greyback grunts. “You’re the replacement, huh.”
Remus is shellshocked. What he gathers from the rest of the conversation is that a change had been necessary, that Regulus is no longer the keeper for the werewolf pack.
Is this because of Remus? Did Regulus no longer want to speak to him? Or did Regulus get in trouble?
The thoughts make him sick, and they occupy him for days. Remus hasn’t been able to find him, not by the tree at the edge of the apparition ward, not anywhere in the town.
He doesn’t know what to call this feeling that pangs within him so acutely, but if he had to give it a name, he thinks it would be devastation.
You’ve done amazing work, my boy, but we need you home now. Something has happened, and James and Peter are not enough to help. I am quite certain you can guess who it is that needs your help at this moment. You may extract yourself whenever possible.
Remember, love leads the surge.
Albus Percival Wulfric Brian Dumbledore
It’s his first time seeing London in nearly half a year. Half a year that he has spent in the company of werewolves. Among all these people, bustling around, the tall buildings and the sound of urban life, Remus feels vaguely displaced.
He’s excited but also filled with dread at the thought of seeing Sirius. It’s been so long since he’s seen his friends, but he doesn’t know what’s wrong with Sirius, and why the Order thought it necessary to call Remus back just to contain Sirius.
(And, also, a reminder.)
He approaches Sirius’s flat where he’s supposed to meet him, James, and Peter, and his steps are getting quicker with both excitement and anxiety. But as he draws closer, he picks up on sounds of yelling.
“He can’t be dead, James! That little fucker has to be alive!” Remus hears.
“Sirius, Sirius, please just calm—”
When Remus finally gets to the door, he’s more confused than ever, and he opens it slowly. But his first glance of this flat, where he had spent so much time in the past, reveals a home in disarray. There’s broken glass, broken mugs on the ground, some chairs are toppled, and there are napkins fluttering to the ground.
In the middle of the mess, Sirius Black sits in destruction. Peter is at the edge of the room with fear in his eyes, nibbling quietly on his fingernails, while James stands a few feet away from Sirius, wary and desperate.
The rage on Sirius’s handsome face is beautiful and devastating. His tears glitter like accessories to the pain and violence in his heart.
Sirius looks up and makes eye contact with Remus for the first time in six months.
Remus watches his mouth open in slow-motion. Something inside him dreads his next words, something inside him already knows. He wants to stop him, he needs to stop him—
But Sirius is more ready than Remus, and so he opens his mouth, and says this:
“Remus. My little brother…he’s dead.”
Remus Lupin is 38 years old when he’s lying on the floor of Hogwarts Castle, his eyes slowly closing, his body in pain.
I will never be content, said the monster two decades ago, not until you and I are both dead.
But did the monster mean itself, the wolf, plus Remus? Or did it mean Remus and Regulus?
Remus doesn’t feel content right now. Not as he’s dying right next to his wife, knowing his son is somewhere out there about to be orphaned. But will he be content? What will he see beyond? Who will he meet? (Will he see him again?)
He closes his eyes.
I’ll find out soon enough.