Table of Contents and Summary So Far
Greyback waited for all eyes to turn to him, then stepped further into the clearing. "Lupin," he said, stopping a few feet in front of Remus and leaning forward aggressively. "Did you enjoy your visit to Diagon Alley yesterday?"
Several of the gathered werewolves took a few steps back, but looked on with guarded interest.
Remus later supposed he could have taken any of several approaches, but it didn't occur to him at that moment to say anything other than, "Did you?" He dropped his head to mirror Greyback's antagonistic stance.
Greyback froze, his eyes narrowing, his lip curling over his sharp teeth. Then he slapped Remus on the arm and laughed. "Glad to see Dumbledore hasn't got you totally tame." He turned around and waved his arm expansively. "I think you've all met Lupin? Been making the rounds as I understand it. He's one of your oldest brothers. Let's welcome him back proper, shall we?"
A few adolescents dropped out of the trees and crouched in front of Remus, peering at him suspiciously. Sweet waved from her rock, and one of the women batted her hand down.
Greyback looked them all, amused. "What? Hasn't he been a good brother? Has he been saying anything funny to you?"
Dead silence--Remus had been very careful to avoid political discussions with any of the werewolves he'd encountered so far--finally broken by Alderman's cracked voice: "He doesn't get his own food."
"Well, he'll have to learn then, won't he? Take him back to the pups for tonight. I got 'em a few rabbits and such to practice on." He pointed to a wooden crate at the treeline. It was rocking back and forth. Sounds of terrified squeaking and scratching came from it. Greyback announced this with the attitude of a grandfather bearing a particularly fine gift.
Alderman wasn't convinced. "But you said--"
"You'll take him blindfolded," Greyback said, closing on Alderman. "Am I going to have trouble with you, boy?"
Alderman immediately dropped to his knees and bared his neck, shaking his head violently.
Greyback tipped him back by tapping his shoulder with one extended foot. "You'll do as you're told, Alderman."
Alderman switched to nodding, and backed away into the circle.
"Good lad, Alderman," Greyback said to Remus. "His mother's in the Capture Unit. Used to be, anyway; reckon they've moved her now. She took one of my girls. So I took one of her boys."
Remus tried not to let his voice betray him. "How long have you had him here?"
"Ten years, give or take. Brought him when he was six. Same as you were." Greyback smiled with misty nostalgia. "Pity you didn't stay. It's a better life here."
"I'll remember that the next time I wake up with a rock sticking into my spine."
"You're soft. But we'll cure that fast enough." Greyback looked at Remus again, and shook his head. "Walk with me. Now."
Remus didn't have any desire to go anywhere with Fenrir Greyback, but he knew better than to refuse. The first refusal had met with a beating, and that had been nowhere near a full moon. He nodded and followed Fenrir into the woods.
They stopped at the top of a rise, were a stream cascaded down in a pretty, narrow waterfall. A large boulder sat on the ground nearby, and Greyback sat down on it. "You might be the scholar-sort, Lupin," he said, "but you're not the only one who can do some research."
"What do you mean?"
"That little twist I saw you with in London--she's an Auror."
"I know," Remus said. "She was questioning people about the Fortescue disappearance."
"And she just happened to talk to you?"
"You know... we're always suspects."
"A lady of my acquaintance says you've known her since she was born."
Remus didn't answer.
"She always have a--what'd you call it?--werewolf fixation?"
"I-- I don't know."
"Her parents leave her alone with you? Did she ask for stories?"
"Not that I blame you. She's pretty child, really."
"She's nearly twenty-four."
"You act so high and mighty, but you're no different than me. You and your bloody Little Red Riding Hood." Greyback sneered, then laughed. "I love that story."
"The woodcutter comes in an chops the wolf into pieces at the end."
"That's because he was stupid. Should've got the woodcutter first. That was my mistake with your parents. Damned clever, both of 'em. I should've known they'd find a way to fetch you. Should've lamed them first. Or maybe brought your mum in as well. She was a right fine looker, that one, and--"
"Don't push me, Greyback."
Greyback stood and shoved Remus back a foot. "I'll push what I choose to push. And if you think they'll follow you, think again--they think you're nothing but a hungry mouth that doesn't even know how to feed itself."
"I'm not after followers."
"This Auror... your Little Red. You lied to me about her. The person what talked to me said the pair of you were regular mates last year."
"Well, that was last year, wasn't it?" Remus said bitterly. "Now she's questioning me about crimes you committed."
"Ah, but see, that's not what's got me thinking," Greyback said, not even acknowledging the accusation. "D'you think I care that you had yourself a regular bounce, as long as she's not mine? No, what keeps sticking in my brain is, why did you lie about her?"
Remus felt that his mind was moving both too quickly and too slowly, grasping frantically for purchase as it was drawn down into a cold swamp. "It was none of your damned business," he said.
"That you're entertaining yourself with an Auror is none of my business, when I take you in and feed you?"
"I'm not." Remus reached for a lie, examined and discarded it, reached for another. Greyback was deep inside if he was getting information on Dora. Deep enough to have spoken to Dora's aunt. "She..." He looked away. "She left me, all right? She thought I was going to get some of her family's money--thought Sirius would be perverse enough to leave the Black home with a half-blood werewolf--and when I didn't, she turned tail and ran."
Greyback nodded wisely, much as he had when Remus had told him the first lie. If Remus had any advantage here, it was that Greyback was not one of the world's great analytical thinkers. "Right," he said. "Of course. I should've guessed that right off. You probably waited for her to grow up, too, didn't you? Figured you could make yourself look normal. Just a fellow with his little woman. Showed you, though, didn't she?"
"That's why you should've just brought her in when she was young." He waited for a response which Remus didn't give, then shrugged. "Live and learn," he said. "You'll know better next time. We should get back to the pack. I take the little ones hunting on moon-days. They bring back lunch. Makes 'em feel like they're doing something. Reckon you'd best come along. Can't eat off Alderman's catches forever, can you?"
"I don't suppose I can."
Remus followed Greyback to the clearing, and there was a great deal of commotion as the younger children--who Greyback addressed collectively as "Pups!"--organized themselves into their own arcane system of priority. Sweet tried to move forward in line and was pushed back by a dark-haired girl, who was herself shoved aside by a boy who wore a rabbit's skull on a string around his neck.
"Lupin's going to come with us today," Greyback announced.
The children looked at him suspiciously, and moved closer together.
"I've never hunted before," Remus told them. "I'm sure you'll all be able to teach me a lot."
They relaxed a bit, though Greyback glared at him over their heads.
Sweet bit her lip. "I... I could show you where the foxes hunt."
The boy with the skull necklace pushed her aside. "The rest of us don't go for what foxes leave behind."
Greyback patted her head, never lowering his glare away from Remus. "There now, Sweets. I think you're a fine hunter, and you always bring back more than Blondin."
The boy, chastised, fell back into the group.
They spent the afternoon together, following the secret paths of the forest, crouching to sniff the ground. Greyback held them back from a fawn, as he saw hoofprints suggesting that adults were nearby, and he didn't judge them ready to take on and adult deer, "Leastwise, not until your teeth are in tonight, and then you'll be off safe in the caves."
Some of the children hunted with knives that they'd fashioned from bone; most simply used rocks. Rabbits were clearly the favorite prey among the pups, and they found at least four of them. Sweet casually grabbed one by its ears when it tried to rush by her, and crushed its skull. Blondin, who had knife, cornered another in a depression under a rock.
Late in the afternoon, two of the girls (neither of whom had shared her name with Remus) found a nest of hedgehogs. They took four of them and would have gone back for the fifth, but Greyback stopped them. He reached out his hand and said, "Knife, Blondin."
Blondin handed over the knife without any hesitation.
Greyback handed it to Remus. "Make yourself useful," he said.
Remus crouched down, as the children had done, blocking the way out of the hollow where the animals had made their den. The last hedgehog was running in circles, terrified. All of his lessons in Care of Magical Creatures told him to calm it down, feed it, get it comfortable.
He reached down and grabbed it, ignoring the cutting spines. His blood dripped down his wrist.
He cut its throat.
The children cheered, and Blondin took his knife back. The dead hedgehog hung limply from Remus's bloody hand.
"They don't mind," Sweet said, taking it from him. "They expect to be eaten, you know."
"Very good," Greyback said. "Glad to see you're not afraid of a little blood."
They all tromped back to the clearing, the children repeatedly congratulating Remus on his first successful hunt (which made him feel obscurely proud of the dead hedgehog, although it disgusted him), and the children presented the day's kills to the adults, who began to dress them. Remus watched the whole process, dazed.
The blow came out of nowhere.
He was simply standing near a woman who introduced herself as Mag, watching her butcher his catch, when pain exploded in the side of his head, and he fell to the ground. He caught a glimpse of Greyback hunching over him, a childhood nightmare that had never entirely gone away, and then there was sharp, tearing pain where his shoulder joined his neck.
The pack was watching.
"Challenge me in front of them again," Greyback said, "it'll be your face." He leaned closer, and Remus could smell his own blood dripping from the other man's mouth. His voice dropped to a whisper. "And if I catch you telling tales to your Little Red, it'll be your throat. And hers."