Fandom: Harry Potter
Warnings: Some violence, mild abuse of canon (this story skews the timeline of the books slightly), and, um... don't read this if you're pyrophobic?
Spoilers: Through Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows
Summary: Fenrir Greyback's followers have been ostracised from society, disdained by their allies, and deceived by their leader, and even the Order of the Phoenix is only interested in Fenrir's pack as a potential weapon. For one debonair, yet tortured, werewolf, that just isn't good enough.
Word Count: 2,350
Notes: This story is for Liz, in return for her generous donation to the fic drive! Liz's (offline) prompt was: "I'm sad and pathetic so I wanna Lupin story! And I want you to include two phrases, "morally ambiguous" and "debonair yet tortured". Call them prompts. :)" And no, before you ask, the summary is not the only place I included the words "debonair yet tortured". I'm not that much of a cheat. ;)
“It is a little bit dodgy, what we’re doing, isn’t it?”
It confirmed everything Tonks loved about Remus that instead of reassuring her, he actually tilted his head and thought for a moment. Then he shifted the explosives to one hand and used the other to take his wand out from between his teeth.
“It is,” he finally proclaimed in professorial tones, “morally ambiguous.”
Tonks bit down on a smile. “Oh, well then. As long as it’s still ambiguous, that’s all right. Now, pass the explosives, would you, sweetheart?”
Remus knelt down next to her, and between them they made quick work of laying the charges (Weasleys’ Wizarding Wheezes’ Brain-Boggling Boomsticks, only 10 sickles for a pack of three at all fine retailers!). As he buried the last one, Tonks laid a hand over his. “Remus, seriously though, are you sure you’re all right with this? I mean, you’ve lived with these people for months…”
Remus nodded, not quite looking at her. “I am. I won’t say that a plan combining werewolves and fire doesn’t ring a few alarm bells, but if this works, then nobody gets hurt – except Fenrir, with any luck. And even if it all falls apart, well…” He took a deep breath, then finally managed to raise his eyes to hers. “As you said, I’ve been living with the pack for a long time. I’ve watched them too many of them die – and there weren’t many to begin with – because Fenrir won’t let them learn even the most basic magic. We’re strong, but we’re not invulnerable, at least not against any halfway-prepared wizard. If this keeps up, the entire pack will be dead before the year is out. This is worth the risk.”
“Then it’s also worth a little moral ambiguity.” Tonks smiled faintly, and squeezed his hand. Neither of them voiced the obvious: that given Fenrir’s quasi-suicidal tactics, the werewolves were nothing like the threat it was assumed they would become. Within a few days, Remus was likely to be pulled out of his undercover role, told to abandon the pack and just wait for them to wipe themselves out.
What he and Tonks were doing now verged on desperate, and wasn’t officially sanctioned, but the wizarding world owed the werewolves at least a shot at redemption, and Remus wasn’t going to leave until they got that shot.
The two of them stood, and Remus brushed a kiss over her cheek, before pulling away. “I’ll get into position; if it’s all the same to you, I’d rather not watch you morph into that… particular shape.”
Tonks made a face. “Try being the one who has to actually look like dear auntie Bellatrix. I’m going to need a long bath after this.”
Ten minutes later, the forest exploded into flame.
The sharp cracks of the boomsticks echoed in the stillness, making even Remus jump, but the echo was quickly swallowed by another sound: that ominous rustle, like a long, rasping indrawn breath.
Humans, even born-and-bred citydwellers who have never seen a forest, nevertheless all have a scrap of primal programming that raises the hair on the backs of their necks at the sound of a wolf howling. Few know that wolves themselves have the same reaction to the sound of fire.
Even monsters have monsters.
Remus could feel his throat closing, his body trembling with the effort it took just to stay in place when every instinct was shoving and screaming at him to run. That sound, the stink of smoke, the little flashes of orange he could see starting to lap like hungry tongues at the trees – no. Concentrate.
The wolf is afraid, but you are not the wolf.
Panicked howls were going up all around him, as the pack broke and ran, only to come up against the circle of fire over and over, on all sides. The howls turned to terrified, animal whines; here and there, Remus could hear human sobs as well. Filthy, rag-dressed bodies pressed against him as the pack clustered together, shifting and whimpering, trying to put as much distance between themselves and the fire as possible.
The smoke was thickening, but Remus could make out a figure on the far side of the flames, watching the terrified werewolves. He had to force himself to remember that was Tonks in the form of Bellatrix Lestrange; there was something awful about the perfectly accurate way Bellatrix’s bloodthirsty smile played over her disguised mouth. Tonks lingered until a few of the other werewolves spotted her, and then shouted, “A gift from the Dark Lord, mongrels! He will not be needing your services any longer!”
Several of the pack, baying furiously, tried to dash towards her, but the flames drove them back. Tonks laughed Bellatrix’s familiar, high, crazy laugh, which made Remus shudder, and Disapperated just as a burning branch above them cracked and fell, causing one of the werewolves to spring away with a yelp.
Taking a deep breath, Remus turned and bellowed, “Fenrir!” The pack leader had been circling the perimeter of their shrinking clearing, looking for a gap in the flames, until Tonks’s declaration had frozen him in his tracks. Now he was staring at the spot where she had been, looking – and if Remus hadn’t seen it, he never would have believed it possible – looking lost. Remus pressed his advantage. “Fenrir! You made us join with the Death Eaters! This is your fault!”
The man turned to him, eyes wide. Then Fenrir’s expression hardened, and he let out a warning growl, a grace note to the growing roar of the fire.
His growl wasn’t the only one, though. Remus’s words seemed to sharpen the the werewolves’ panic. Now, more than a few of them were backing away from Fenrir, their teeth bared in a way that was somehow more crazed and frightening because they were still in their human shape. Remus pushed into the gap they’d left so that he could confront Fenrir eye-to-eye, and shouted, “You’ve killed us all!”
That did it. Frenzied snarls mingled with yells – “You!” “What have you done?” “Said we’d be safe!” – as the pack started to close around Fenrir once more, grabbing and snapping at their leader. If Fenrir was shaken, though, he didn’t show it. Instead, he batted his followers away as if they were dolls, and lunged, landing on Remus with a force that knocked the smaller man’s breath from his body.
“Challenging me, runt?” Fenrir asked softly, straddling Remus’s chest. Remus struggled for air. Fenrir’s weight was going to crush him, his ribs were going to crack, and the smoke was swarming into his nose and mouth, oh, Merlin, he was drowning, he couldn’t breathe –
And somewhere underneath his frantic thoughts, he could hear the wolf. Tear him apart – claw – rip – feed – smell his blood, so close, throat so close –
The rough whisper in his head, the one he’d spent his life fighting, was suddenly an anchor in the midst of his terror. Without conscious thought, Remus dug in his heels and bucked, momentarily throwing Fenrir off balance – and then Remus was a whirr of flailing hands and teeth, fastening on to Fenrir’s thigh and biting a wide gash that sent an intoxicating spurt of blood into his mouth. Yes – yes – rip, feed, kill!
The surprise of the manoeuvre lasted only seconds, before Fenrir was flat on top of him, grappling, trapping Remus’s arms and shoving him into the dust. Even if Remus could have matched his pack leader’s sheer bulk and strength, Fenrir had been listening to his feral instincts for decades; the wolf in Remus was savage, but untried. He was going to lose. In just a few moments, he was going to be completely unable to move, and Fenrir’s teeth were going to be at his throat –
– but a few moments were all that Remus needed. He jack-knifed his body, jolting Fenrir forward a few crucial inches, and Remus’s scrabbling fingers found his pocket, closing on his wand.
Fenrir froze, staring at the wandtip that hovered inches from his eye. The pack leader’s wild grin vanished, replaced by a cold fury Remus had never seen in him.
“Pack traitor,” Fenrir growled. “Filthy human magic –”
But he flinched, just a fraction, when Remus jabbed the wand nearer. Somewhere inside Remus’s mind, the wolf howled in triumph, relishing his prey’s weakness. Oh, there were spells – Sectumsempra, Sanguaficio – spells that could split Fenrir from gut to throat, spill his hot blood over Remus –
No you don’t, Remus silently commanded the wolf. You stay.
The fire was so close now, too close: their struggles had rolled them to the edge of the clearing, and the heat seared Remus’s bare skin. Fenrir’s baleful eyes looked all the more feral as they reflected the yellow flames.
With an effort, Remus turned his wand so that it was still covering Fenrir, but pointing towards the fire. He raised his voice so that the rest of the pack could hear over the almost deafening rush of the flames.
“I can save them, Fenrir. My magic can save them. Do you want me to do it, leader?”
Fenrir’s face twisted into a hateful snarl.
“Do I save us?” Remus shouted.
Over the roar, he could hear his packmates screaming. Remus stared hard into Fenrir’s eyes, then drew his wand in a complicated spiral and yelled, “Extinguo!”
Instantly, the flames disappeared as if they’d been snuffed out, leaving only white smoke billowing around the bewildered werewolves. Remus felt his mind clear as the nightmarish sound died, but he made sure that his wand was trained on Fenrir while they both climbed shakily to their feet.
Fenrir eyed the wand warily, but Remus could see him shifting, calculating, gauging his moment to spring and try to knock it from Remus’s hand. “Flash your pretty tricks around, pack traitor. It doesn’t make you leader.”
“Are you sure about that?” Remus asked softly.
The pack was on the move. Singed and shaken, they stalked forward to surround the combatants, but Remus couldn’t help but notice that many of the werewolves deliberately stood between the two of them, facing away from Remus. A non-werewolf might mistake that for rejection, but Remus recognised it for what it was. None of them were willing to turn their backs on Fenrir.
The pack leader stared wildly around him, dropping into a defensive half-crouch as his followers pressed close. Remus glanced at their faces, and noticed that there wasn’t a single snarl among them. Instead, the werewolves were frowning, their expressions thoughtful, or angry, but unmistakably human.
Remus lowered his wand, gradually. Then he said, “We’re safe for the moment, but if the Death Eaters realise we survived, they’ll come back.” A quick scan of the pack’s expressions told him they were processing this. “So either we wait for Fenrir’s friends to kill us, or… you can come with me. I’ll even show you some simple magic you can use to defend yourselves.”
There was some uneasy shuffling at that – the distrust of magic Fenrir had ingrained in them ran deep – but they didn’t move away. The fact that Fenrir had been willing to let them burn before he broke his own rule had obviously struck a chord.
“It’s your decision,” Remus told them; then, sensing that that idea was still too foreign to them, he added, “Choose the good of the pack.”
With that, he turned and walked away, not looking back. A leader, an alpha, needed to show that he was confident he would be followed. And follow they did: not all of them, but Remus could hear stealthy footsteps dogging his. He could smell the fear on them, too, and knew they were following him in spite of it.
Behind him, Fenrir howled, but Remus never flinched.
Tonks raked her fingertips lightly through the greying hair at Remus’s temple. His eyes drifted shut.
“Seven,” he murmured. “I could have killed them with that insane gamble, and after all that… precisely seven of them followed me out of there.”
“Seven is almost half the pack,” Tonks reminded him. “And even if the others didn’t leave on the spot, who’s to say you didn’t give them something to think about?”
“Was it worth it?” Remus still hadn’t opened his eyes. He might not have been able to ask the question if he had.
Tonks was quiet for a moment, but her fingers didn’t stop stroking his hair. Then she answered, “Love, you know I’m going to say that it was. You know it was. No one got hurt, and even if none the people you rescued ever join the fight on our side, what’s important is that we’ve got seven werewolves with a decent shot at a real life, away from Fenrir’s little cult. It’s not really the risk that’s bothering you, is it?”
After a while, Remus said in a soft voice, “The deception. Fenrir’s lied to them all their lives, and now I do the same to get them away from him?”
He finally opened his eyes. Tonks was looking at him with her eyebrows raised sceptically.
Remus blew out a breath, and shook his head, his voice suddenly less listless than it had been. “I’m not saying that there was a better alternative. But that doesn’t mean I like it."
She grinned, but there was a softness to it. “That’s my secret agent: debonair, yet tortured.”
“Flatterer. I’ve never been debonair in my life.”
“Keep telling yourself that, darling. But it makes sense that it would get under your skin. They’re your pack, after all.”
Remus frowned, dim sense-memories playing through his mind: the Shrieking Shack, the clatter of hooves and the soft paw-pads on the stairs, the warm scents and bodies of the three familiar animals clustered around him. His pack. All gone, now, one way or another; and for years, there had been nothing to take their place.
But then again, with the rescued werewolves, and the Order, and Harry, and Tonks…
Remus looked at her seriously. “You’re all my pack.”