Time had become a very strange thing. Had it really only been six months since they had graduated from Hogwarts? They had been children, hadn’t they? Now suddenly they didn’t feel so much like children anymore, even though they were barely nineteen years old. They had gone from innocent students with heads full of the future to soldiers in a war that they didn’t even really understand, practically overnight.
They were being sent out on missions more nights than not. Some relatively simple; stake out a location and monitor for anything suspicious or break a curse or two on some old artifact in some abandoned place that may have a link to the Death Eaters. Those missions were becoming less frequent, however, as more often than not they would be intercepted by a handful of masked Death Eaters and forced to duel for their lives whether they were prepared for a fight or not.
Constant Vigilance, as Moody would say.
And still every day the front page of the Prophet bore the photo of a frightfully ominous symbol; A skull with its jaw wide open and a snake slithering out the mouth, hovering above the scene of yet another attack, another disappearance, more murders. It felt as though nothing that Dumbledore and The Order Of The Phoenix could do even slowed Voldemort and his followers down.
However, they had to count what blessings they had. So far, they had all made it out of several close calls in one piece.
“Don’t get cocky,” Mad-eye warned them one day after a simple stakeout mission had turned nasty and Sirius, James and the Prewett twins had returned to headquarters with hardly a scratch between them, boasting about their combined skills. “If you get too cocky, you let your guard down. You got lucky.”
Sirius and James’ egos were not so easily deflated. They were, after all, exceptionally - and naturally - talented duelers. Remus found himself in awe of them when he managed to catch his two friends in the corner of his eye while he himself was fighting off a masked figure in an abandoned warehouse where some cursed object was said to be held that Dumbledore thought Voldemort may be searching for.
Sirius and James dueled like it was an intricate dance. A waltz that they had been rehearsing for months on end and this was their chance to perform. Curse after curse was thrown at them and each time they blocked it and retaliated all while watching each other’s backs and - the sheer nerve that only they could muster - grinning from ear to ear like this was the greatest fun they could have.
Remus swallowed past a lump in his throat. They looked like children masquerading as adults. Their bodies tall and lean and matured, but those stupid, shit eating grin giving them away.
They were children. All of them were still just children.
Hard as it was to be on the battlefield, watching their friends risking their lives in dangerous combat with masked wizards who were likely older, more experienced, and most definitely less hesitant to strike with a deadly curse, it was harder when they were all given separate assignments.
At any given time one or more of them could be gone for days or weeks without any sign of when - or if - they would return.
They were just children , though, and they refused to let the weight of this war destroy them completely.
Any nights not spent fighting Death Eaters, breaking curses on mysterious objects or staking out strange locations, were usually spent together. Whether they spent a night all crammed into the tiny Southwark flat watching silly muggle tv shows, drinking firewhiskey and eating too much curry, or they ventured out to a muggle or wizard pub and drank themselves into enough of a stupor to forget that any of them could be sent away on a possibly deadly mission at any moment.
Nights like those, where all of them were safe and sound and available to run around and act like the rowdy children they really were, were becoming scarce. There was almost always one or two of them missing at a time, leaving the rest of them to try and not think the worst of it.
Worse even than someone missing from a night of pure, innocent fun, was the night that James came home from a meeting with Dumbledore, hand ruffling his hair as he shifted anxiously from one foot to another looking particularly distraught.
“They’re sending Frank and I off on some barmy mission in Grimsby. It’s meant to take a few days at least.” He muttered, agitated and avoiding looking at his friends who were sat on the couch in front of him.
Sirius raised an eyebrow. “Alright? I mean, it’s not ideal, sending you out with Frank instead of me, but he’s a decent partner to have out there with you, yeah? Could be worse. Could be stuck with Wormy.”
Peter scoffed and rolled his eyes, but continued to stuff crisps into his mouth rather than argue.
James shook his head. “It’s not Frank I’m worried about. He’s great, obviously. It’s…” He risked a glance at Remus and bit his lip. “We’re meant to leave the day after tomorrow.”
Remus’ heart dropped into his stomach, but he tried not to let himself show it. “So, you’ll be missing the Full, then?”
James nodded, his hand shooting back to his hair and giving Remus an apologetic look. “Moony, mate, I’m so sorry. I tried to ask Dumbledore to push it off for another night, I even asked if I could switch shifts with Gid and Fab, but it was a no-go. I swear, I tried to-”
Remus shook his head. “James, it’s fine. Really. It can’t be helped, yeah? I mean, logically it was only a matter of time before this was going to happen. One of you was bound to miss a Moon eventually, and it’s not like I’ve never gone alone before and Pads and Worm will still be there.”
Sirius and Peter both nodded along at his sides, but Sirius’ hand on his knee squeezed reassuringly, no doubt able to read his growing discomfort at missing a member of his pack during a Full Moon. It had been one thing back in school if one of them had detention and couldn’t be there to run with the wolf and get him safely back to the shack in the morning, but out in the world, in whichever forest they decided would be best to explore that month, it wasn’t the same. Moony knew the Forbidden Forest at Hogwarts, he had marked his domain and felt comfortable with every smell and every other creature that inhabited it. He didn’t know these new, strange places and he didn’t know what - or who - could also be running under the moon, hidden in the shadows of the trees. To be in an unknown territory without a member of his pack would be stressful on Moony, especially with Remus knowing - somewhere far back in Moony’s head - that James wasn’t necessarily safe and sound back at the castle, banging erasers in Mcgonagall's office, but off in the middle of nowhere risking his life.
On top of that, Remus’ dreams were still being haunted Fenrir Greyback - in both human and wolf form - with his sharp, blood stained teeth bared in a sickening grin, calling his name and beckoning him to come with him, come home, to a real pack , where he belongs .
Sirius had of course told him to tell Dumbledore about the dreams if he was truly worried that Greyback was lurking about, waiting to lure Remus to him, but for some reason he just couldn’t bring himself to do it. He had meant to tell Dumbledore after the first dream. He had waited until after an Order meeting one night with the full intention of disclosing every detail, including the visit that Greyback had paid him the previous summer. When he finally did approach him - clearing his throat and excusing himself for interrupting a conversation that Dumbledore was having with Hagrid about troublesome Doxies attacking his squash crops and tormenting his poor pup, Fang - the words just didn’t want to come out. Instead, he rattled off some little known fact he had read about Doxies being terribly averse to the smell and taste of ivory handsoap and suggested that Hagrid may want to try scattering chunks of it around his garden. Then he quickly hurried out the front door and hopped on the back of Sirius’ bike, burying his burning red face in the back of his boyfriend’s jacket in utter shame.
The idea of Greyback being out there somewhere - most likely closer than he thought - terrified him. He felt as though the man - the monster - who had bitten him years ago and turned him into what he was, somehow had some power over him; as if Moony would somehow instinctually follow if ever Greyback got close enough during a Full Moon to lead him away. After all, Greyback was a wolf, and wolves belonged together, didn’t they?
But Moony loved his pack, however unconventional it may be, and having them there to steer Moony along in their pre-planned and charted out adventure made Remus feel almost as safe as they had been back at Hogwarts. Missing one - especially Prongs who was more reliable when it came to sticking to a plan than Padfoot and more capable of taking control of a fully grown wolf than Wormtail - made Remus feel incredibly anxious.
“It’s going to be fine, Moons.” Sirius told him later that night, his voice soft and reassuring as he trailed his knuckles gently along the curve of Remus’ shoulder while they lay in their bed, silver moonlight pouring in through the space in the curtain. “I’ll be there to keep you in check and Wormy’s a great lookout in case there’s danger nearby.”
Remus shifted nervously, nuzzling further into Sirius’ neck and seeking the comfort of his mate’s scent. “I know,” He muttered, his voice muffled with his face being pressed as it was against the warm skin of Sirius’ throat, so close he could taste Sirius on his lips when he spoke. “I know, logically, it’ll be fine. I just…” He shuddered and shook his head, pulling away and sitting up so suddenly he almost knocked Sirius’ chin with his head. “No, that- that’s not true. I don’t know that it’ll be fine, and neither do you. None of this is fine! With or without the Full Moon, James is still going Merlin knows where where Merlin knows what could happen to him. That alone isn’t fine , and if it’s not him out there it’s you, or Peter or Lily or Marls and Dorcas and-”
“I know.” Sirius said, voice soft and firm at the same time as he sat up as well and framed Remus’ face with both hands, eyes meeting Remus’ intently. “I know it isn’t fine, Rem. You’re right, and I hate it. We all hate it. I hate it when one of us gets sent out there without the rest of us. I hate not knowing and not being there and thinking about what could happen and if one of us might- fuck , any of us could-”
“Stop.” Remus whispered, leaning in to press his forehead against Sirius’ as they both took shaky breaths that were clearly holding back the flood threatening to escape. He couldn’t let Sirius say it outloud. They all knew it, they all thought about it every single day. They all saw the names in the prophet of the people who were missing and the people who were found dead. None of those people were the ones out there on the frontline fighting the actual fight. They were; this hastily assembled group of whoever Dumbledore could convince to join, most of whom were just barely adults.
They had been lucky so far. For now, they were all okay. The fear lay in the odds of just how much longer that could last.
Sirius licked his lips, nodding slightly. “It’s going to be fine, Remus. We’re going to be okay.”
Remus nodded along. “Yeah.” He willed to believe, despite the uncertainty. “We’re okay.”
The Winter Moons are his favorite. The brisk cold wind blows delightfully through his thick fur and the forest is quiet when it’s covered by a blanket of heavy white, making Moony’s already heightened senses even more clear. The slightest snap of a tree branch far off in the distance and Moony will hear it against the otherwise silent night, even with Mate tromping about excitedly in circles around him in an attempt to get him to roll around in the snow.
Moony humors him for a while, allowing the dog to pin him and lick his snout triumphantly before he easily overpowers Padfoot, flipping their positions with a playful growl and an affectionate nip to his throat. He’s not quite as keen on puppy-ish games tonight, though. He feels on edge than usual, probably since Stag is missing from the pack and his human counterpart seems incredibly distracted somewhere in the back of Moony’s mind over where Stag is and why. Moony brushes off his own unease, brushing it off as simply missing his best look-out. Rat can scurry up into the branches above them and keep watch, but it isn’t quite as much a comfort as Stag.
Moony catches the scent of a hare not far off from where he and Mate have been playing. Mate must have caught on as well; his black shaggy head popping up out of a snow bank, ears up and alert before he barks happily at Moony with his tongue lolling out, challenging the wolf to a race to catch the poor creature. Moony huffs affirmatively and watches as the dog shakes the snow from his fur and takes a running head start in the direction of the hare. Moony waits only a moment after Mate, looking up to catch a glimpse of Rat in the trees just to be sure and then he’s off - zipping much more gracefully through the trees than his overgrown pup of a partner and surpassing him easily once he spots the prey in question.
He sprints after the scurrying creature, his mind as always focused on not only the prey, but of his Mate’s position behind him, flanking just to the right of him. It’s a tricky one, this hare, since his coat is as white as the snow that covers the forest and it’s movements are quick as it zigs and zags nearly weightless atop the frozen ground. Moony is almost frustrated with just how much more difficult a chase this has become as the hare narrowly escapes his advances several times. Now he’s determined. No silly little rabbit should get the best of him, and as the hare takes off in the opposite direction, Moony picks up speed, heedless of the fact that he knows Padfoot surely won’t be able to keep up and he’s getting dangerously far from where Wormtail can see him.
Distantly he can hear Mate’s bark calling him back, but he’s far too determined and honestly, it’s not the dog’s place to tell Moony when to hunt and when to retreat and there is no Stag this time to stop him and heard him back in the right direction, so he continues. He runs, faster and faster, nothing but the crunch of the snow beneath his paws, the wind at his face and the hare zipping along through trees until suddenly Moony’s paw catches on a raised tree branch and he stumbles,losing his footing completely and rolling into a snowbank.
Growling with frustration, Moony picks himself off and shakes out his fur, expecting Mate to come trotting up behind him with a mocking sort of glint in his eye at seeing the wolf bested by a hare of all things. Mate doesn’t appear, though. He fell behind a while back and Moony has only just realized that he isn’t quite sure just how much further he has managed to run from his pack.
He huffs, begrudgingly admitting defeat as he can no longer sense the hare, and looks around to assess his surroundings. He sniffs at the air, trying to pick up the scent of Dog or Rat but he can’t. There’s a different scent in the air that is stronger than his pack. It’s different than anything he’s smelt before, but somehow it’s overwhelmingly familiar and there’s something about it that makes Moony yearn to be closer to it.
With a quick glance at the sky to judge the position of the moon and how much longer he has until sunrise, he carefully tracks the scent. He’s hardly paying any attention to where he’s going or how much further away from his pack he is headed, instinct carrying him along as the new scent becomes stronger and stronger. Fire. Blood. Meat . Something else. He still can’t place it even as it begins to overwhelm his senses, swimming all around him and pulling him in closer, closer, closer...
And then he is standing at the edge of a small clearing in the woods and what appears to be a human campsite, with several huts spaced out around it as shelters. At another glance Moony can see that the huts are made of branches and animal skins. The campsite doesn’t smell human at all. In fact, it’s distinctly not human. It’s the familiar and unmistakable scent of wolf.
It’s a den.
A den means a pack.
And this pack is certainly not his own.
Suddenly overcome with the foreboding sense that he shouldn’t be here, and knowing that the setting Moon would bring the other pack back to their den soon, Moony turns away and runs as fast as he can, desperately seeking the scent of his own pack through the heavy musk of what must be at least a dozen other wolves.
He’s not safe here.
And his pack is in danger if this one finds them in their territory.
As soon as the moon set, Sirius transformed back. His heart was racing and his head was spinning and he felt like he was going to vomit but he kept running through the forest, heedless of the fact that it was bitter cold and he was only wearing jeans and a pullover.
They lost him. They lost Remus. He was lost somewhere in the forest and the sun was up and that could only mean that Remus was lying somewhere in the snow, alone and exposed to the frigid air and snow.
“REMUS!” He called out desperately. He knew it was absolutely hopeless, there was little to no chance that Remus was conscious let alone able to hear him and respond, but he had to try. He felt sick. What if-
“Padfoot!” Peter’s breathless voice broke his concentration and he stopped running to allow his friend to catch up, his body trembling from the cold and sheer terror. “Sirius, we should go back to the tent, maybe he went there after he lost that rabbit last night.”
Sirius shook his head. “No...No, there’s no way. Moony wouldn’t think like that. He...he’d keep going with none of us to turn him back. We have to keep looking-”
“Sirius, this isn’t Hogwarts, we don’t know this forest like we knew the one there.” Peter insisted firmly. “We can’t keep running in circles, we need to go back to the tent and at least figure out a plan. For all we know we could be running in the wrong direction.”
Sirius’ hands both shot up to comb through the tangled mess of his hair, fisting at the root tugging painfully as he tried to accept that what Peter was saying was true. His eyes stung with frustrated tears. “We...we have to find him, Pete. I have to find him.” His voice broke as he looked back at Peter pleadingly.
Peter looked back sympathetically and nodded. “We’ll find him, Pads. We will, I swear. Just not like this.”
Sirius stood completely still for a moment, his mind going back and forth between the urge to keep going until he found Remus or died trying, and the fact that he knew Peter was right. Taking a shaky breath, he nodded his head. “Yeah...right. You’re right, Worm. I’m sorry, I just-”
“I’m worried too, Pads.” Peter agreed, wrapping his arms around himself and shivering as a particularly strong gust of wind blew through the trees. “I’m bloody terrified. When I saw him run off like that I…”
“I should have gone after him.” Sirius hissed venomously, hating himself for having let Remus down. He was supposed to protect him and he didn’t.
“You couldn’t. Moony’s much faster-”
“I should have tried!”
Only he had tried. Padfoot had run as fast as he could, trying to keep up with Moony until he couldn’t anymore and then suddenly the wolf was gone, disappearing into the deep dark forest. He had tried to track him for a while, desperately sniffing him out and stopping to howl for him only to be met with deafening silence.
Licking his cold, chapped lips, he heaved a sigh and nodded again at Peter. “Let’s get back to camp.”
Neither of them said a word as they trudged through the snow and slush, shivering against the icy morning air. Merlin, if Sirius was this cold he could only imagine that Remus must be -
No. No, he wasn’t going to think about that. He focused instead on the sound of the snow crunching under his boots and the idea that at least they could gather some supplies back at camp in case Remus needed immediate attention if - when - they did find him.
He was so lost in his thoughts that he hardly even registered how long they had been walking until they were suddenly standing in front of the small camp they had set up the previous night. The tent was charmed to stay warm and had wards set up around it in case anyone came across it. Inside they had blankets and an extra set of clothes for Remus and of course Sirius bag full of healing potions and water and a few bars of chocolate. They had done everything right. They had done everything as they always had. Yet they had failed for the first time ever.
Once inside, Peter rummaged through one of the bags and came up with two pumpkin pasties, offering one up to Sirius who shrugged him off, searching instead for his jacket and the cigarettes inside the pocket.
“Come on, mate.” Peter sighed. “You’re of no use to Remus if you drop from exhaustion and hunger, yeah?”
Sirius sighed and nodded, letting Peter hand him the pastry and nibbling at it. He didn’t feel very hungry. He felt sick. His heart felt like it may just stop beating altogether if they didn’t find Remus. One hand drifted up to his neck, his fingers tracing over the slightly raised skin at the base of his throat wear Remus had marked him. He wondered if he would feel it immediately if something awful had happened to Remus, the way the bond allowed them to feel each other’s strongest emotions. Would he feel it if Remus suddenly felt nothing at all?
The unmistakable crack of someone apparating tore him from his worst nightmare and he and Peter exchanged a look of panic before they both clamored out of the tent, stumbling over one another as they did. They both fumbled for their wands, ready to fight off an intruder, but no one was there.
Sirius gripped his wand tightly, meeting Peter’s gaze for a moment in a silent agreement to search the perimeter of the camp, taking opposite sides. It didn’t make sense. That had to have been someone apparating, but no one was-
“SIRIUS! SIRIUS COME QUICK!” Peter shouted from just around the other side of the tent and Sirius quickly ran towards him.
His heart leaped into his throat when he saw Peter kneeling in the snow beside a very pale and violently shaking lump on the ground that was Remus.
Sirius nearly slipped as he bolted forward and he fell to his knees next to Peter. Remus was so pale his skin looked almost transparent. His lips were blue and his breath was coming out in quick, shaky puffs. “Fuck!” Sirius swore sharply, ripping his sweatshirt up over his head and wrapping it around Remus’ body as Peter cast several warming charms over him as Sirius lifted him as carefully as possible into his arms and carried him inside.
He laid Remus down on the makeshift bed they had formed before the sun had set the previous night and covered him in several blankets, rubbing his hands up and down Remus’ arms to try to warm him faster. “Moony? Remus, can you hear me?”
Remus peeked one eye open. “Mhm.”
The slightest bit of relief washed over him and he mumbled a quick ‘Thank you’ to Peter who handed him his bag full of healing potions. “What the bloody hell were you thinking, apparating like this? Merlin’s tits, Moony! You’re lucky you didn’t splinch yourself right in half you idiot!”
“S’rry.” Remus breathed out, hissing in pain as Sirius helped him to lift his head and tilted a small bottle of steaming red potion into his mouth that instantly brought some color back into his cheeks and lips. Sirius wasn’t sure why he was furious at the idea of Remus apparating back to camp instead of him freezing to death in the middle of the woods, but he supposed he just needed something to be angry about or else he may just become a sobbing mess. He couldn’t very well be angry with Remus that Moony had fled the night before, Remus had no control over that.
Once he managed to get Remus to take every potion and had properly checked him for any horrible injuries, Sirius began to feel better and more relaxed and, of course, utterly exhausted. The three of them rested for a while - Peter curled up in the corner snoring softly while Sirius slipped under the blanket beside Remus, spooning behind him to share his own body heat and pressing his lips to Remus’ shoulder over and over until he also fell into a sort of half sleep. - and finally when Sirius was sure Remus could handle a sidealong, they packed up the camp and apparated back to the flat.
When Remus woke up next, it was late in the evening and he was almost startled to find himself in his and Sirius’ own bed with Sirius wrapped protectively around him. Everything was a blur from the night before and earlier that morning.
He remembered waking up in the middle of the forest, freezing and alone. He remembered using every ounce of strength he had left in his body to apparate back to where they had set up camp, and he remembered the panic in Sirius’ voice as he healed him as best as he could.
Most of all he remembered that moment right after transforming back. That strange place in between his own consciousness and the wolf’s, and for the first time ever he felt as though Moony wanted him to know something. It was something he already knew, but now he could at least confirm it.
He carefully slipped out of Sirius’ embrace, holding his breath and willing his lover not to wake up. He tip-toed out of the bedroom to the kitchen where he was sure he wouldn’t be heard and he pulled out his wand.
“ Expecto Patronum ” He watched the silver stream from his wand as it took the form of a large wolf who looked at him expectantly. He swallowed past the lump in his throat. “Tell Albus Dumbledore that...I know where Fenrir Greyback’s pack is...and I think he’s trying to lure me to him.”
The wolf nodded its head once and Remus sent him off before sinking down into one of the chairs at the table. He sat for several minutes, not sure of what to do. He wouldn’t be able to fall back asleep, he knew that. He was about to stand to make himself some tea when a silver phoenix floated gracefully in through the window, perching itself on the back of the chair opposite from Remus. When the patronus opened its mouth, Dumbledore’s voice came out;
“Yes. I believe he is. And I want you to let him.”