Spells flashed around the kitchen as they fought, shattering tiles and scorching the cupboards. The past few years of near-constant warfare had sharpened Remus's reflexes, and with the moon barely new he was as alert and capable as he could ever be, but he was barely holding his own, and he knew Voldemort wasn't going all-out yet.
"I said I don't know!" He flung himself aside, and the back door was blasted away. "I came to warn them and they ran, that's all!"
This seemed to give Voldemort pause, and he regarded Remus for a few long moments before laughing again. "Warn them? And what made you think they needed it?"
The mocking, knowing tone made Remus's knuckles turn white on his wand. "What have you done with Peter?"
Voldemort paused, regarding him with something that might almost have been bemusement, and then broke out into laughter again, cold, mocking laughter that only made Remus angrier.
"I said, what have you -"
"I know what you said, little werewolf." The casual comment was like a slap to the face; how did Voldemort even know? "But I do not intend to tell you what happened to your dear, dear friend... no, I will show you."
Remus swallowed hard. It felt almost like his heart was going to pound right out of his chest as he tried to brace for whatever he was about to see, his mind throwing up possibilities - Peter broken, dead, mangled almost beyond recognition...
His jaw dropped. The nickname only a handful of people had ever used falling so casually from the lips of their most terrible enemy was almost like a physical blow.
But nothing could have prepared him for the sight of Peter stepping into the kitchen, pale-faced but apparently quite well, and holding his wand at the ready. Not quite able to comprehend how this was even possible, Remus stared at him in a kind of haze of relief and bewilderment.
"Wormtail was granted the honour of accompanying me tonight," Voldemort said, apparently rather enjoying the look of frozen shock Peter's appearance had caused. "For the services he has rendered, it was only fitting that he witness the ultimate triumph of Lord Voldemort."
"...Services?" Remus choked as the words filtered through to his brain. "He - but - Pete...?"
"He has been... invaluable to me, this past year." Peter's mouth twitched, almost as though actually pleased at the praise.
"Year?" Remus felt almost sick at the thought. "H-how -?"
"Did you really think I was going to sit around being the spare forever?" Peter burst out suddenly. "I'm sick of being everyone's backup plan, and I wasn't going to die for a lost cause!" He yanked up his sleeve to reveal a sickly red brand on his arm that made Remus recoil in loathing. The Dark Mark stood out starkly against the pale skin. "I was offered a chance to survive, to serve a greater power, and I took it!"
Suddenly Remus felt his blood boil with fury. Peter was openly admitting to betraying them all - to caring about his own skin more than the lives of all the brave witches and wizards who'd gone down fighting. How many of them had he handed over himself?
"You son of a -"
It was like the full moon had hit without warning, but worse, ten, twenty, a hundred times worse, and he couldn't think of anything beyond the pain, beyond screaming and writhing and agony so intense he couldn't see...
And then it ended, and he found himself gasping for breath on the Potters' kitchen floor, shaking weakly as the aftershocks lanced through him. Voldemort was speaking again.
"...our moment of glory, of triumph, stolen away by this half-breed. Come now, don't look so shocked. We both know he deserves to suffer for standing in my path."
Another Cruciatus hit, and Remus thrashed helplessly in its grip. Please, make it stop, make it go away, I can't take it, please... just kill me...
Just as he thought he might die anyway from the pain, it ended, and he lay sobbing quietly into the floor, too exhausted to move.
As his senses slowly filtered back, he heard his torturer talking once more.
"...will not punish you for the interference of others, Wormtail, though I confess myself disappointed."
"Of course, my Lord - thank you - thank you for sparing me -"
"However," Voldemort continued, with spiteful amusement, "I have another task for you to complete instead."
"Anything - I swear -"
"The werewolf." Remus raised his head very slightly, tensing as the pain began to drain away slowly. "You will kill him, as slowly as you like, and bring me proof."
"...My Lord?" For the first time, Peter sounded frightened.
"That is an order, Wormtail. He has thwarted me, and I will not suffer him to live. You will ensure this happens, or suffer my... displeasure."
"Y-yes, my Lord."
Remus closed his eyes and heard footsteps leave the kitchen. When he found the strength to look up again, he and Peter were alone. The smaller man was pale, his wand unsteady, and he flinched as he met Remus's eyes.
For his part, Remus felt a seething hatred. James and Lily had trusted their lives - their baby's life - to Peter, and he'd turned and sold them out at once. They needed to know the truth, to be warned...
The pain was more easily bearable now, well within the limits he was used to every month. He'd have to pretend it was worse, though; Peter was evidently unaware of how much he could handle right now, given his wand was within easy reach. Clearly neither Peter nor Voldemort thought him capable of reaching it.
Moving with obvious effort, almost like a wounded animal, he pushed himself up on shaking arms just enough to raise his head, holding Peter's gaze.
"Are you going to kill me, Pete?" he rasped through a throat now raw with screaming. "Do you really hate me that much?"
"No - I - I n-never hated you," Peter breathed, white with fright at the enormity of what he'd been ordered to do. Evidently he’d never had to do any of the dirty work personally before. "I just... I couldn't... I c-can't go against him, Remus, he's too powerful... he'll win in the end."
"You agreed to sell everyone out to save yourself." Remus couldn't hide his contempt for that kind of cowardice.
"I was scared, Remus!" Peter pleaded. "He - he would have killed me!"
"So it's all right if everyone who ever gave a damn about you dies instead?"
Peter let out a hollow sob. "I h-have to, I can't..." His expression twisted with fear and guilt as he raised his wand.
"Peter..." Remus stared up at him, horror and loathing and betrayal etched into his face. He wouldn't be able to reach his wand and cast any spell before Peter managed to cast his. In all the time he'd been fighting this war, after everything he'd witnessed, he'd never truly believed he could die at the hands of someone he'd trusted and loved so much.
But Peter's hand shook, and he hesitated, and after a few moments he flinched and turned away slightly, unable to meet that terrible look.
And Remus struck like lightning.
His hand closed over his wand, and the Stunner he flung was strong enough to physically smash Peter into the wall. In an instant he was on his feet; his fingers closed around the unconscious man's wrist and he twisted into nothingness, leaving the house far behind.
The next thing he was aware of was bitingly cold night air and faint moonlight. He flung up a Shield Charm, just in case Voldemort had had someone lurking, and took the moment of respite to get his bearings.
As he'd intended, he was on the path right outside the main gates of Hogwarts. And a moment later, a loud, cheery voice rang out from right behind the wrought iron.
"There yeh are! Bin wonderin' when yeh'd get here, the others were here ten minutes ago!"
Hagrid pulled open the gates and gestured him in, only noticing the motionless form of Peter after a moment. "Blimey, that's never Pettigrew? What's happened? Sirius said yeh -"
"Stunned," Remus said shortly, lifting Peter with a muttered "Mobilicorpus," and entering the grounds as quickly as he could. As the gates closed with a clang, and Hagrid relocked them, he felt a profound sense of relief.
He was in the safest place he could be for now, and his friends were well out of Voldemort's reach.
"Where did the others go?" he asked as Hagrid caught up to him.
"Straight off ter Dumbledore's office, he sent orders down righ' as they got here. James asked me ter keep an eye out, said yeh'd only be a minute... what happened? Here, I'll carry him."
Hagrid picked up Peter as easily as a baby and strolled along, making Remus break into a jog to keep up.
"I'll explain everything when we're with Dumbledore," he panted; the exertion wasn't doing him any favours after the time he'd just had.
The walk up to the castle was quiet after that, but once they were inside the castle they were met at the top of the main staircase by McGonagall, who was clearly edgy.
"Oh, Hagrid, good, you brought him - and is that Pettigrew, too? Everyone will be most relieved -"
"Not after what I have to say," Remus said flatly. He was already seething again at the concern everyone was demonstrating for Peter; he didn't deserve it, not in the slightest.
Startled by this uncharacteristically curt response, McGonagall apparently decided it was best not to start asking questions and led them straight up the the Headmaster's office. When the calm, familiar voice called, "Enter!" it was with a deep sense of mingled relief and foreboding that Remus obeyed.
His friends were all sitting in comfortable chairs in front of the desk, behind which Dumbledore was sitting in his dressing gown. Sirius was twirling his wand restlessly, James had his hand closed lightly around Lily's, and Harry was asleep in his mother's lap. All of the adults' faces lit up as the door opened, and James actually leapt out of his seat to pull Remus into a hug.
"Merlin, you're okay - I was getting worried sick! You said you'd only be a minute!"
"Yes... well, there were some snags." Remus hugged back briefly before extracting himself and nodding to a very solid chair leaning against the wall. "Put him down here, would you, Hagrid?"
No sooner was Peter set down than ropes burst from the end of Remus's wand, binding him firmly in place. This drew cries of shock and protest from most of the room, apart from Dumbledore, who raised an eyebrow but had not as yet said a word.
"Let me explain first!" Remus shouted over them all before they could do more; McGonagall in particular looked like she was about to Stun him herself. "This is just a precaution. If you still don't think it's justified once I'm done, I won't stop you untying him. But until then he's staying like he is. I swear, I'm trying to protect you here."
James's jaw was set; he was visibly fuming at this, but despite her own discomfort Lily reached over to take his hand and murmured, "You know he wouldn't do it without a reason." At this he reluctantly sat down again, though his eyes were still blazing.
"Perhaps," Dumbledore said, breaking the angry silence, "we should proceed to an explanation, then. And Hagrid, if you could return to the gates, just in case?”
“O’ course, Professor Dumbledore, sir,” Hagrid replied, and left the room with an uneasy glance back at the group.
“Now, Remus… what happened after you were left behind?"
Remus took a shaky breath, ran his hands through his hair and began to talk. He described the way Voldemort had blown the door down, the brief duel, the shock of seeing Peter alive and well, and the conversation that followed. It was the mention of Peter's allegiance, however, that garnered the first interruption. Sirius swore, McGonagall gasped, and Dumbledore stood up so sharply he nearly knocked his chair over.
James, on the other hand, merely shook his head slowly. "No," he said uncertainly. "Moony, it's Peter. He wouldn't..."
"Don't, James," Remus replied quietly. "I know you'd rather think it was anything but that, but he wasn't Imperiused or being controlled."
"You can't know that."
Remus gave him a miserable look. "...I'm afraid I can."
"Prove it." The look of - could it be panic? - on James's face was almost heartbreaking. If Remus was right James's world would crumble under his feet; he was too loyal to his best friends to even conceive of the idea that one of them would ever be less than equally devoted to him.
Sadly, Remus crossed to Peter, who was still senseless, and took hold of his arm. "In all this time, James," he said, holding his friend's gaze, "when have we ever seen this on someone who was just a helpless victim?" And he pulled back Peter's sleeve.
Gasps of horror filled the room. Lily actually recoiled, hugging Harry closer and turning away, as though the mere presence of the Dark Mark might hurt him. James had turned so white that he looked as though he was close to fainting.
Dumbledore stepped closer, regarding Peter and the brand for several long moments, and then looked up at Remus. "Perhaps you should finish telling us what happened," he said gravely, "and then we will see what Mr. Pettigrew has to say for himself."
With a jerky nod, Remus resumed the story; he skated over the torture as quickly as he could, not wanting to upset anyone with unnecessarily graphic details, but repeated the conversation afterwards almost verbatim.
By the time he described his final desperate attack on Peter and subsequent escape, more than one person in the room was close to tears.
"He really said all that?" Sirius asked, looking slightly sick. Remus couldn't blame him; if not for their extremely lucky timing, his little plan could have resulted in all three of the Potters lying dead in their own home right now.
"Almost word for word."
"He said he never hated you." James was staring at his hands. "But he must've... I must've done something to make him feel that way, if he..."
"Don't blame yourself!" Lily and Remus had spoken almost in unison, and gave each other a startled look before Lily continued, "You can't be held responsible for what he chose to do."
"I think it's about time we heard what Mr. Pettigrew has to say," Dumbledore said, raising his wand and pointing it at Peter.
With a flash of light, the young man began to stir. Remus watched in silence; he didn’t quite trust himself to say anything more for the moment.
Peter shook himself awake groggily, but this soon turned into frantic struggling as he realised he was tied up, and then into fearful stillness when he comprehended his surroundings at last.
“Mr. Pettigrew,” Dumbledore began, and Peter flinched. “You may be aware that Mr. Lupin has made some very serious accusations against you.”
Peter gulped, and glanced at James, Sirius, Lily and finally Remus, before daring a brief look at Dumbledore again, his expression one of desperate fear. “Y-you don’t… believe him, do you?”
“I must admit the case he has produced so far is compelling,” Dumbledore replied, though without a hint of any accusation in his bearing. “However, you have the opportunity now to offer your own side of the story. Please be honest.”
Peter looked around the room again, beginning to tremble, and stared at James. “You trusted me, didn’t you? You knew I was willing to try to protect you, James, please -”
“Protect me or hand me over?” James’s voice was quiet, but there was a fierce sadness to it. “Voldemort knew where we were tonight, Pete. He could’ve killed us all.”
“Did you see him?” Peter breathed. “Did you personally actually see him?”
James frowned. “No, but -”
“Then you don’t know he was there! You’ve only got Remus’s word!”
Despite himself, Remus was impressed; Peter might be grasping at straws, but he was thinking quicker than any of them had suspected he could.
“He doesn’t panic like that unless there’s something to actually panic about,” Lily pointed out quietly.
“And you’d take a werewolf’s word on that, would you?”
The entire room froze.
Stunned, horrified, and humiliated, Remus felt his cheeks burn and his eyes begin to sting, and he hung his head, unable to look at anyone. It wasn’t like he needed further proof of how low Peter was willing to stoop by this point, but to hear the vicious accusation being thrown out without hesitation hurt in a way even the Cruciatus hadn’t. He wanted to crawl into a hole and just hide forever.
The silence was broken by the scrape of a chair being pushed back as James got to his feet. He drew his wand, knuckles white, and pointed it straight at Peter’s face. His voice, though quiet and steady, was filled with rage so strong it was terrifying. “You spiteful, self-serving, backstabbing little bastard,” he said slowly. “Of all the things you could’ve said, you thought that would save your pathetic arse?”
Remus hadn’t looked up, but hearing those words spoken unhesitatingly in his defence was like a balm to his soul. Lily came to stand beside him, still holding her sleeping son, and squeezed his hand briefly. And Sirius, the one who’d most doubted him, pushed himself to his feet looking both disgusted and shamefaced, and flung his arm round Remus’s shoulders, hugging him close as he glared with naked anger at Peter.
“I think it’s safe to say that they do indeed take Mr. Lupin’s word,” McGonagall said coldly. “Not that I blame them.”
Peter was shaking so hard in terror now that the chair he was tied to shifted a little. “James - please - you wouldn’t - you know me -”
“I thought I did.” Despite his almost tranquil tone, there was no mistaking how furious, or how devastated, James was. Tears were streaming down his face as he stared at Peter. “I thought you were my friend. I thought I could trust you with anything. I thought I could trust you with Harry’s life.”
“You sold me out, didn’t you?” James’s voice nearly broke under the strain of staying rational enough to talk. “You let us use you as the Secret-Keeper and then ran straight to Voldemort, just like you just tried to sell Remus out. Didn’t you?”
Peter couldn’t look him in the eye. He merely shrank into himself, unable to speak, and nodded.
James took several deep, shuddering breaths and wiped his eyes hastily before looking to Dumbledore. “Do what you want with him,” he said hoarsely. “The Ministry, Azkaban, I don’t care. He’s all yours.”
“I’m sure I will be able to manage things appropriately,” Dumbledore said with quiet sympathy. James nodded and, completely ignoring the man he’d just disowned, turned to pull Remus into a hug.
“Nothing’s changed,” he said fiercely. “Nothing. You came to save us and you fought to make sure we got away. You nearly got killed trying to protect us. You’re still my friend. Thank you.”
Remus managed a brief smile as he hugged back. “I should be the one thanking you,” he replied. “For not thinking that my… my problem -”
“Has anything to do with who you are as a person?” Sirius interrupted. “Come off it, Moony. Even I’ve always known that, no matter how much of an idiot I’ve been.” The unspoken apology for his suspicions hung between them, and with a grateful smile Remus clasped his hand, accepting it.
“That said,” James said, turning to Dumbledore again with a rather guilty look, “there’s something else you should probably know before you take him anywhere.” He jerked his head at Peter, who flinched.
“There is?” Dumbledore regarded them all with that penetrating look that never failed to make someone feel like they were being scrutinised from the inside out.
James glanced questioningly at Lily, Sirius, and finally Remus, biting his lip. All three nodded slightly, and Sirius added with a sigh, “Guess it couldn’t stay a secret forever, Prongs.”
“Guess not.” James smiled ruefully and faced the two teachers again. “It’s kind of a long story though, Professor…”
It was approaching dawn when they left the office at last, all of them exhausted and saddened by the night’s events. After James’s “long story” had finally come to an end, Dumbledore had immediately called for several Aurors, who had removed Peter to the Ministry. Despite the begging and pleading, James had remained stony-faced; he was too angry to even acknowledge his former friend’s existence.
This hadn’t lasted long; Dumbledore had then given them a long, serious talk on the severe repercussions of illegal Animagus transformations. McGonagall had quite firmly agreed, though there was a hint of pride at one point; Remus knew full well she’d always had a soft spot for Sirius and James, and their achievement was something she could appreciate even if she didn’t approve of how they’d gone about it.
Luckily, on hearing a full explanation, both professors had agreed to ensure that no further consequences would follow, although this came at the cost of promising to register with the Ministry. Both James and Sirius were regretful, but regarded it as a fair trade for ensuring that Peter couldn’t take his captors unawares.
Last of all, it had been decided that until further notice they were going to be staying in Hogwarts. Voldemort was bound to have realised something was wrong by now, and Dumbledore didn’t want any of them to be caught out in the open. There had been no arguing or even reluctance at this; Remus’s story had shaken them all sufficiently that none of them wanted to get anywhere near Voldemort again.
Remus collapsed onto the bed in his little guest-room with profound relief. He felt as though he could sleep for a week after the night he’d had. But all of it, he reminded himself, had been worth it to see Harry curled up peacefully in his mother’s arms, asleep without a care in the world.
That ended up being the last thing he thought before his exhaustion, at last, overwhelmed him.