Chapter 2 - All Over Again
The war had only got fiercer after the failed attempt on Godric's Hollow. Reluctantly, the Potters had been persuaded to remain in Hogwarts, hidden under a new casting of the Fidelius Charm; Dumbledore had taken on the responsibility of the Secret-Keeper. There had been some argument over this - Sirius had all but begged to be allowed to do what he'd originally agreed to - but in the end James had put his foot down. "We've already lost Peter," he'd said with a note of finality. "I'm not sacrificing you as well, Padfoot, I'm just not."
Much as they disliked it, the others had to agree. Sirius might be an able - and driven - duellist, but he just couldn't hope to match the Headmaster of Hogwarts when it came to protecting himself. None of them wanted to see him risk himself that way, not after what they'd already lost. They'd never even found Peter's body.
Outside the castle, both sides were all but rampaging against each other. The Death Eaters, driven by Voldemort's fury at being denied, were stepping up their campaign of murder and terror, their victims becoming more and more indiscriminate as they sought to force their true targets out of hiding. The Order of the Phoenix, struck to the heart by the catastrophic events of Hallowe'en, had rallied magnificently; the despair that had hung over them burned away like morning mist in the face of their rage.
As the Ministry panicked and struggled and tried to contain the damage, public perception of the beleaguered fighters changed. The Order was no longer some fringe, vaguely-rumoured-of vigilante group; it was quickly becoming the sole beacon of hope for the wizarding world, willing to dare what the Ministry wouldn't or couldn't. And though many of its members' identities were still unknown, there were two names that stood out from the ranks.
Sirius Black and Remus Lupin, their differences reconciled in the face of what they'd endured, were closer than ever, all but inseparable. With James and Lily out of the action, and about to become parents again, the pair of young men worked together to become an absolutely seamless team. In battle, nothing could touch them; they almost seemed to read each other's minds. If it came to exploring, somehow - nobody could ever figure it out - they were able to get to places nobody else would even have attempted. When it came to strategy, they were able to develop plans together that neither of them would have come up with alone.
And the thought of what they'd lost, and what they could have lost, drove them on.
Nearly six months later, the Order was growing, and the tide seemed as though it might, at last, be turning. The Death Eaters were becoming more wary of open combat; they were starting to take too many losses, and it became increasingly clear that only fear of their master - or brazen, blind loyalty - kept them from deserting.
Remus and Sirius, of course, only grew more determined to try to actually break them for good. They rarely attempted to kill; no matter what happened, they wouldn't let themselves become murderers, and they were exceptionally skilled at leaving their enemies alive but incapacitated.
But despite all their hard work, their resourcefulness and sheer determination, it was chance that led them to the most shocking discovery of all.
Slipping down an alleyway in the middle of London, backs pressed to the wall, the pair were thoroughly alert. With news of a possible Death Eater gathering in the area, they'd been seized with the hope of overhearing it, or even taking a prisoner or two. Dressed in long hooded cloaks they'd taken from other captives, they were quite sure of getting close enough to listen without attracting much notice.
Scuffling noises from around a nearby corner made them both freeze. They exchanged a glance, and then Sirius edged forward noiselessly to peer around it. Remus caught the faint movement of a triumphant gesture, and shifted along to join him, leaning in to talk quietly.
"It what we're after?"
Sirius nodded, and peeked round again before leaning against the wall and getting comfortable. Voices drifted back to them, low, harsh and nervous. By the sound of it there were three or four of them already gathered.
"What're we waiting for? The longer we stand around, the more chance there is for that bloody Phoenix lot to show up."
"Waiting for the others, aren't we?"
"We should just get on with it and let them catch up."
"Do you want to explain that to the Dark Lord?"
"Why don't you shut up?"
"Watch your attitude, Lewiston."
"I don't have to listen to your smart mouth."
"We don't have to listen to yours either, so shut it or I'll -
A few quiet popping noises nearby heralded the approach of their companions, and the irritable bickering stopped.
"About time. And who's this?"
"The Dark Lord's pet rat - apparently he's getting too fat and lazy hiding and licking our master's boots."
There was some unpleasant laughter, and the sound of someone being shoved forward, stumbling slightly. Remus's lip curled; apparently even when they were in this much danger the Death Eaters just couldn't resist bullying each other.
"How's it feel to be doing something useful for once?"
The reply itself was indistinct, but it wasn't the words that caught Remus's attention and drained the colour from his face.
He glanced at Sirius, who wore a horrified expression, and leaned over to whisper to him. "You heard that, right?"
Sirius nodded once, jerkily, and closed his fingers round his wand. "You don't think it actually -"
"You tell me who else it could be."
They stared at each other for a moment, and then Sirius's shoulders slumped. "Imperius, you reckon?" he murmured. "Or - broken?"
"I don't know. But we need to get him out."
"Want me to be the distraction?"
Even in the middle of a situation like this, Remus couldn't help a brief smile. "Don't tell me you have fireworks in your pocket again."
The grin he got in return was like a glimpse back into their schooldays. "All right, I won't tell you."
Remus shook his head with a look of mock despair. "Fine. Give me one minute to take a look and be certain who I'm aiming for, then scare everyone else off."
Sirius bared his teeth in a rather savage smile. "I'll drop a few of them if I can." He melted into the darkness, leaving his friend alone. Remus peered round the corner and took in the scene carefully. A group of maybe eight people, all hooded and masked, were gathered in the poorly lit space that served as a junction for several alleys. One of their number, slightly shorter than the rest, seemed to be the focus of their attention.
Though the light was bad, Remus could still make out enough to recognise the way the man stood, how he hunched his shoulders and tried to make himself appear smaller, and felt a horrible twist of both hope and anguish.
Then the hushed jeering was drowned out by the screech of half a dozen rockets that shot through the area, trailing sparks and smoke in every colour of the rainbow and ricocheting off the walls in every direction. Pandemonium broke out. The Death Eaters were shouting, panicked, trying to curse an enemy they couldn't even see. Their carelessly-thrown spells only added to the blinding light display, and the minor explosions made the noise deafening. And in the middle of them, just as Remus stepped out to begin throwing spells back, the smallest figure turned, and he looked into the eyes of a man he'd believed dead.
Shock was written across Peter's face; he clearly hadn't expected this. But even as they recognised each other, his expression shifted to one of open hatred. Before Remus could even try to absorb what his eyes were telling him, Peter's wand whipped out, faster than a striking snake, and flung him back a good twenty feet into the wall of the alley behind him, where he fell to the ground..
Winded, stunned, and battered, Remus tried to push himself to his feet again. Over all the noise came Peter's voice. "Down there - it's Lupin - I got him!"
Three Death Eaters appeared at the entrance to the alley, though they seemed hesitant to actually attack in case he was faking. Clearly his reputation was preceding him, even though he was staggering to his feet and gasping for breath. But just as one of them took the chance to raise his wand, there was a crack and a blur and an indistinct shout, and all three were blown back into a wall themselves, where they dropped, unconscious.
That seemed to be enough for the rest, and in a swirl of black cloaks they Disapparated, leaving Sirius, Remus, and the unconscious Death Eaters behind. Remus coughed and gave Sirius a weak smile. "Nicely timed."
"Nicely timed my arse, I saw exactly what was happening. I got him, by the way, right after he sent them after you."
"...Good." Remus began to limp back towards the junction, trying to ignore the throbbing pain in his... well, his everywhere. "I don't think he's Imperiused, by the way."
"You don't?" Sirius caught up easily and offered an arm to lean on, which was politely declined.
"No. Saw his face right before he attacked. He was definitely acting of his own accord."
Sirius swore bitterly, and moved to tie up the men he'd dropped. Remus left him to it and walked over to Peter, who was sprawled in the middle of the alley junction, hood askew and limbs flung at odd angles. He was still breathing, but had clearly been Stunned hard.
A lump kept finding its way into Remus's throat. Peter's alive. He's alive. We found him.
But he's joined them.
He set his jaw and pushed that nasty voice aside as best he could, but the image of that familiar, gentle face contorted with hatred and calculation kept creeping back in as he tied Peter up.
"You ready, Moony?"
"...Yeah, I'm good." Remus sighed. "You taking those three to the Aurors, then?"
"That was the plan. What about him?" Sirius jerked his head at Peter.
"I'm taking him somewhere Dumbledore can have a talk with him, find out if he's... you know. Himself."
"Sounds good. See you in a bit then."
Remus nodded briefly and grasped Peter's arm, returning to Hogwarts in a cloud of worry. He didn't bother to alert Lily or James; they'd have too many questions that couldn't be answered yet, and in any case he didn't trust Peter with their location. Instead he simply took him up to Dumbledore's office, bound him so tightly to a chair that he couldn't move an inch, and settled down to wait. One way or another, he was going to hear the truth.
"He joined them?" Lily's voice nearly broke. "He agreed to join them and spy on us?"
"I'm sorry." Remus's voice was dull. He could barely believe what he was saying, and yet he'd heard it straight from Peter's lips. "That's what he said. He was doing something nobody'd helped him to do, for once. He was doing something that'd make him useful, needed, not just the spare tagalong."
"That's not what we thought of him!" James said fiercely, his knuckles nearly white. "You know we didn't - how could he say that? How could he think that?"
"I don't know." Remus shrugged helplessly. "But he seemed to know the game was up. He's spilled everything he knows, and he's been officially arrested."
"Son of a bitch," Sirius said quietly, staring at his hands. It was the first thing he'd said in a while; the news had hit him hard.
"It's not like any of us could have guessed," Remus replied. "Much as we wish we could."
"We knew someone was a spy," Sirius said helplessly.
"And we all had pretty developed theories as to who. Seriously, Padfoot, you're -"
"Didn't anyone else notice we stopped having so many leaks of information after we thought he'd died? That should've tipped us off."
"None of us were in a state to think that rationally," Lily said, leaning against James and resting one hand on her rather large belly. "But it's done with. He - he's somewhere he can't hurt us again. And we're winning. With any luck Harry's going to be perfectly safe soon." She cast a fond look at her son, nearly two years old now, who was under the table contentedly scribbling on a piece of spare parchment.
James gave her a little squeeze, but couldn't bring himself to smile. As fiercely loyal as he was, the news that someone he'd literally trusted with his life had sold him and his family out had shaken him badly.
"We'll make sure of it," Sirius said finally. "I swear, Lily - Prongs - I won't let this war hurt you or your kids."
"Just don't let it hurt you either." James glanced between them. "Either of you."
Remus's mouth twitched. "I solemnly swear not to get my fool arse killed."
Almost reluctantly, James cracked a smile. Even Sirius managed a fleeting grin and nodded in agreement.
It was going to be hard for them all; Peter's betrayal wasn't something any of them could take lightly, and it was going to take a long time for them to even begin to comprehend how he could have done what he had. But they had each other, and nothing - nothing - would ever separate them again.
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