"Did you hear that?" Sylvia Lupin sat up in bed, heart in her throat, staring towards the bedroom door and listening hard over the sound of heavy raindrops battering the window.
Her husband Marcellus squinted sleepily up at her. "Eh?"
"I heard something. Downstairs."
No coward, Sylvia put her feet out of bed. Grasping one of the clubs from the golf bag in the corner, she hurried to the door, glancing back over her shoulder with one hand on the brass knob.
Hastily, Marcellus scrambled out of bed and shrugged into his dressing gown, joining his wife at the door. There was a silent count of one, two, three before the door was thrown open, and they leapt out onto the landing.
Two teenage boys, wet hair plastered to their faces, stood in the entryway, talking in hushed voices.
"Remus?" Sylvia gasped. She hurried down the stairs and threw her arms around her son.
"Mum!" he cried, belatedly embracing her in return. "Did we wake you? Sorry for getting in so late; we had to catch the last train. What's the golf club for?"
She released him with an embarrassed grin and leaned the nine iron against the wall.
"Your mother's defending the house from intruders," quipped Marcellus, as he, too, embraced the boy. "Welcome home, Son. We weren't expecting you before next week."
Remus looked slightly flushed. "Yeah. Sorry. Long story. Mum, Dad, this is my friend Sirius Black."
The boy lurking awkwardly behind Remus stepped forwards, offering a damp handshake.
"Sorry to drop in on you so unexpectedly, Mr and Mrs Lupin, but Remus said you might be willing to put me up for the night. It's rather nasty out, and I seem to have forgotten my brolly."
He was not quite as tall as Remus, and his too-long hair was black as midnight, as were the lashes framing a pair of astonishingly lovely wide grey eyes. He was, in fact, quite striking. His bearing and accent spoke of the extreme upper echelons of Society, but his smile was friendly, and his manner charming.
Sylvia was not charmed. She mistrusted friendly strangers, especially where her son was concerned, but she was also a gracious hostess.
"Yes, of course," she said, automatically pinning a politely friendly expression on her face. "Do you have something dry to wear? You lads must be soaked to the skin. We haven't any guest room, I'm afraid, but I'll fetch some blankets for the sofa. Would you care for tea?"
"There's no need for all that, Mum," said Remus, reappearing at her shoulder and handing the handsome boy a towel to dry his hair. "It's late. Sirius and I have had a long day, and you and Dad were already in bed. He can bunk up with me for tonight."
Sylvia's brow furrowed as she cast a glance back and forth between her son and his friend. "You're sure?"
An odd half-smile pulled at the corner of Remus's mouth, and he gave her arm a reassuring squeeze. "It's fine, Mum."
Sylvia relaxed a little at the fond expression in her son's soft brown eyes, so like her own. He's Remus's friend, she chided herself. He trusts him.
"All right," she said, smiling reluctantly. "To bed with you both, then. We'll talk tomorrow."
It might only have been her imagination, but Sylvia thought the half-smile on Remus's lips wavered for a moment. "Definitely."
The following morning, Marcellus was out at dawn on a house call to a nearby farm, overseeing the delivery of a foal to a heavily pedigreed mare, so it was left to Sylvia to fix breakfast for her son and Sirius.
"So what made you boys blow into town with the storm last night?" she asked, setting plates of eggs, sausage, toast, and fried tomatoes before them.
Sirius hesitated, fork halfway to his mouth, eyes flicking to Remus, who was staring at his own plate.
"It's a long story, Mum. Can it wait until Dad gets home? I don't fancy telling it twice."
"Of course," she said, giving him a curious look.
She watched him covertly as she ate her own breakfast, but he did not seem upset. In fact, as they discussed Remus's last weeks at school and his recent exams, he seemed unusually cheerful, smiling frequently, and even laughing at one of Sirius's jokes. But whenever the boys' eyes met, Sylvia sensed a current of tension, and then Remus would develop a nervous, pensive look, falling silent once more.
Sirius continued to be polite, well-spoken, and charming, jumping in to fill the lulls in their conversation. By the time Sylvia left the table and Sirius leapt to his feet to offer help with the washing up, she was smiling in spite of herself. Waving away his offers, she chided herself for her reservations. Remus had been alone for so long. Should she not be glad that he had at last found a friend who was thoughtful and intelligent and could make him laugh?
They were companionably enjoying tea in the sitting room when Marcellus Lupin returned, beaming. "A fine, healthy sorrel colt," he announced proudly. "And they didn't pay me in chickens this time."
"There are worse things than chickens," replied Sylvia darkly. "Remember the time with the pig? Tell me they paid you in cash."
"They did," her husband informed her.
Sirius mouthed pig? at Remus, who rolled his eyes, grinning. As Marcellus ducked into the kitchen to fill another mug, Sylvia and Remus took turns recounting the saga of the pig. By the time they had finished, Sirius was laughing so hard he could barely breathe, and Marcellus had returned to the sitting room to join his wife on the sofa.
"I don't accept pigs as payment anymore," Marcellus told their guest. "Not live ones, at least."
"No, I can see why not," gasped Sirius, wiping his eyes. "Are the neighbours still speaking to you? The ones who owned the cat?"
"Happily, yes," said Sylvia. "We resolved the matter over a fine ham supper."
Sirius was still chortling when Remus set down his mug and sat forwards in his chair, clearing his throat. "Mum, Dad, can I talk to you about something? It's sort of important."
"Of course, Son," said Marcellus, sitting up a little straighter. "What's the trouble? You know you can tell me and your mother anything."
Sylvia made an assenting noise, eyes sliding sideways to Sirius. He stared down at the mug in his hands, as if trying very hard to pretend he was not part of the conversation. He clearly already knew what this was all about.
"I know, Dad," said Remus, smiling fondly. "You've always been great about everything. I never meant to keep secrets from you, but -" He broke off, looking nervous.
"But?" Sylvia sat forwards, too, tea forgotten, heart suddenly beating double time. Something was not right. "Remus, did something happen at school? Or with your exams? Is this - about a girl?"
Remus flushed. "No, Mum. Nothing like that. Or not exactly."
At a loss, he reached for her, and she clasped his hand between hers, offering an encouraging smile that she knew fell short of the mark. "Tell me, Sweetheart."
Fingers squeezed hers as Remus drew a shaky breath. "Mum. Dad. I - I'm gay. I like boys, not girls."
Whatever Sylvia had been expecting, that was not it. She stared at her son in shock, unable to formulate a coherent response.
The spell was broken by the nervous clearing of a throat. A quiet, well-bred voice said, "Mr and Mrs Lupin -"
Realisation jolted through Sylvia. Her gaze snapped from her son to his friend. Waves of sick horror washed over her as everything became suddenly, horribly clear. This boy - this stranger - this overbred interloper - had had his hands on her son - had been in his bed only the night before, in her home, mere feet from where she slept, doing god only knew what manner of filthy, obscene things to him.
She was not aware of standing up, nor of letting go of Remus's hand.
"How dare you?" she hissed. Her voice shook with a cold rage. "How dare you touch my son? After everything he's been through, what gives you the right? Your name? Your money? You think you can use people in that vile fashion? You're nothing. You're not fit to look at him. Get out of my house."
Colour flooded Sirius's cheeks as she spoke. He rose to his feet, fists clenched, eyes blazing.
"I love your son, Mrs Lupin." His voice was low and dangerous, anger roughening the edges of his cultured accent. "I love him, d'you hear me? I would never hurt him nor take advantage of him in any way. I wouldn't even touch him if he didn't ask me to do it." He turned to Remus. "You'll have an easier time doing this without me here. Come find me when you're done."
Shoulders squared, he stalked to the front door, shutting it firmly behind him.
With the focus of her rage gone, Sylvia gradually became aware of her surroundings once more. Marcellus sat with his face in his hands. Remus's eyes were closed, a hand pressed to his mouth. His expression spoke of one gathering strength in the face of imminent battle.
"Well?" Sylvia demanded. "Is it true? Did you allow that boy to violate you?"
Slowly, Remus lowered the hand covering his mouth. His eyes were filled with pain and sadness. "Don't call it that, Mum. Sirius loves me, and I love him."
"Has he so corrupted you?" Sylvia was torn between sorrow for her son and disgust at what had been done to him. "You think it's love just because he calls it that? People have taken advantage of you before, Remus. How can you close your eyes to it? To let him make a fool and a - a whore of you -"
Remus's face went dead white. Even his lips lost their colour. "You think I've forgotten?" his voice was a bare whisper that gained strength as he spoke. "When someone makes you their whore, Mother, you don't ever forget it. Yes, I've been taken advantage of. People have used me, or tried to. But not Sirius. Never him. You think I don't know the difference?"
They glared at one another, implacable brown eyes at stalemate, until a quiet, strained voice asked, "Did this happen because of Guernsey, Son? Are you like this because of what he did to you?"
Remus's shoulders slumped. "No. You can't make someone queer. I would have been this way no matter what. I know this isn't what you wanted for me, but it's who I am. I've known for a long time; I just never wanted to do anything about it until I met Sirius. He's a good man, Dad, I swear it. If you and Mum will only give him a chance -"
"A chance to do what?" demanded Sylvia. "To use his privilege to indulge in his filthy perversions? Not in this house. What happens once he's had his fun? You think he won't grow bored and toss you aside? His kind usually do."
"He won't," insisted Remus. "D'you want to know why we came here last night? His parents have thrown him out. Disinherited him. Some tourists visiting Shellingham saw us kissing. A few of them got pictures. Don't worry," he added at the horrified sounds from both his parents. "They didn't get a good look at me, and no one knows my name, but it's odds on that Sirius's face will be all over the tabloids in a couple of days. His parents heard about it from the housekeeper. There was a huge row. They said he'd disgraced them in public and soiled the family's good name. His father told him not to come back until he's willing to 'do his duty'." A fond smile lit his mouth. "Sirius said he already had everything he wanted. But now he has nowhere to go until his best mate comes back from France."
His mother frowned, but Marcellus spoke first, voice gentle, sympathetic. "I can understand how that might seem like a very romantic gesture, Son. But he's young. He doesn't understand yet what foreswearing his inheritance will mean, or how people will treat the two of you. It's not an easy path, especially for someone who's not used to fending for himself. What happens if he changes his mind?"
Sylvia stared at her husband in disbelief. "What's gotten into you, Marc? Your son tells you that some posh nance has been bedding him, and you can talk about 'romantic gestures'?"
"Syl -" Marcellus began, brow furrowing, but Remus cut him off, pleading eyes fixed on his mother's face.
"He's been good for me, Mum. I haven't had a nightmare since March. Do I have to tell you how good it is to be able to fall asleep without worrying that I'll end up right back in that place, living it all over again? I don't need those sleeping pills you're always after me to take. I need Sirius. I'm better with him. Please, give him a chance."
Sylvia's jaw remained clenched as she gave her son a long, assessing look. She knew only too well how many nights he had awoken in a blind panic of terror and memory - how many nights she had beat back her own heartbreak to hold him while he shook and cried. If he was telling the truth, and it really had been three months since his last nightmare, that would be something close to a miracle.
"All right," she said at last. "He can stay until he finds another place. No more than a week, you understand? But he sleeps on the sofa, and I don't want to see him touching you."
Lack of sleep made Sylvia even more cross than she already was. At night, every sound kept her wakeful, imagining Sirius creeping up the stairs to Remus's room. She briefly considered sleeping in front of her son's door, but dismissed the idea as impractical and probably excessive. Both boys had given their word to abide by her rules, and while she still considered Sirius a dangerous unknown, she trusted Remus implicitly, in spite of his recent confession.
When she did sleep, she dreamed.
Sylvia could not imagine the horror of the nightmares endured by her son. Her own were bad enough. The memory of Remus's disappearance, and the clenching fear that had marked four months of diminishing hope that they would ever see him alive again, hung like a black fog in her unconscious mind, making her toss and turn. But her most vivid dreams were of the day Remus had been restored to her - the day she could never forget, no matter how hard she tried - the day Sylvia wished that her son had died after all.
She had wept with joy when they received word that Remus had been found alive, and they had hastily arranged for their daughter Natalie to stay with Marcellus's parents, before rushing back to Guernsey. The detective who had spoken to them over the phone was reticent about the details, saying only that Remus had been located, and giving them the name of the hospital where he was being treated.
Their happiness and relief had lasted until they arrived at the hospital. There, a doctor had taken them aside and told them what had happened to Remus. Though she could not remember his name, Sylvia could still recall with painful clarity the distant, clinical tone of his voice as he described her small son's suffering. Words like "malnourishment", "trauma", "tissue damage", and "secondary stage syphilitic infection" made a pincushion of her heart. It was more than any child should have to bear, and more than any mother should have to hear, and yet she had bourne it, dry-eyed, until she saw him.
He was sitting bolt upright, looking impossibly tiny in the midst of his hospital bed. His eyes seemed huge in his thin face, with his usual halo of white-blond hair cropped away. Bandages covered his arms and chest, and tubes protruded from a skinny wrist, feeding fluids into his veins.
They had told her she should be careful of touching him, but when he saw her, his eyes had gone impossibly wide, and he burst into tears. Instantly, she was at his bedside, pulling him into her arms, cradling his shockingly light body against her bosom as they lost themselves to a storm of weeping.
She could recall perfectly the fragile birdlike feel of his bones, the weakness of his arms as he clung to her, and the sickening evidence of imprisonment, torture, and rape that riddled his small body. But most of all, she remembered the broken hiccoughing sobs as he wailed, "I'm sorry, Mummy! I'm sorry I ran away. Can we go home? I'll be good, I promise. Don't let them give me back to the man."
For weeks, Sylvia had barely left his side, standing vigil over him as his body healed itself and the antibiotics drove the lurking infections from his system. "It's over," she told him when he would wake, screaming and flailing in his hospital bed. "Mummy's here. You're safe, Baby. It's over."
But she knew it was a lie, because it could never be over. Not for Remus. Not as long as the nightmares returned time and again to swallow him whole, visiting the same horror upon his psyche that his abductor had visited upon his body, keeping the memory of his violation fresh.
Between anxiety at the prospect of separation from his family, behavioural issues, a tenacious bedwetting problem, and money spent on numerous private specialists and medications - the Lupins had done what they could to keep their son's difficulties off the official record - Remus had been almost thirteen before his parents were able to send him away to school. But still the nightmares had persisted, and no solution had ever been found to give him the smallest relief. Until now.
Over the days following the heated discussion in the sitting room, Sylvia watched her son and his "friend" closely, offering neither comment nor apology when they caught her at it. A current of tension ran through the house, though the boys pretended not to notice. Sirius continued to be polite and respectful when he addressed her or her husband, though he was less of a playful joker than when he had arrived. Both boys adhered without complaint to the law Sylvia had laid down - so far as she could observe - and spent much of their time discussing plans for the coming months.
"Have you written to James yet?"
Her son's voice came from the kitchen, and Sylvia paused on the stairs to listen, just out of sight.
"Yes, but I don't know where to send it. They're touring."
"I'm sorry," Remus said softly. "I know you were looking forward to going off adventuring with him."
Sirius made a dismissive noise. "Yeah, well, I would've missed you. Letters aren't the same, are they?"
"No, I suppose not." There was a smile in her son's voice. "What do you think you'll do instead?"
"Apply to university, I suppose. It's what I was going to do next year, anyway, and if I'm quick about it, I might still get in somewhere good. There's some money coming to me from my Uncle Alphard, now that I'm eighteen."
"Where were you thinking of applying?" asked Remus.
"Oh, you know. Somewhere nice." Sirius's tone was excessively casual. "Surrey. Maybe Bristol."
Remus laughed - a pure, sparkling sound, so very rare - and Sylvia edged down onto the next step to peer around the door frame into the kitchen. She need not have worried about being seen; the two boys had eyes only for each other. Sirius leaned back against the counter, hands behind him. Remus stood very close to him, their noses inches apart, but they were not touching. Not quite.
"I love you. You know that?" said Remus so quietly that his mother had to hold her breath to catch it.
Sirius's eyes went soft, and a broad grin spread across his face. "You know, your mum said I'm not to touch you, but she never said anything about you touching me."
"You make an interesting point," Remus smiled.
Sylvia knew she should make a sound - should interrupt them somehow - but something in her son's face stopped her, and she kept her silence as Remus bent his head to close the space between himself and Sirius. There was a slow, careful caress of lips against lips that seemed to go on for a long time.
"I love you," Sirius sighed when they parted.
Remus smiled at him fondly. "Tell me something I don't know."
Sirius looked thoughtful for a moment. "If we both get in somewhere - Bristol or Surrey or wherever - we could get a flat together. Just you and me."
"Oh." Remus looked startled. "That's -"
"Don't you want to?" asked Sirius.
"Of course I do," Remus assured him. "It's just - Mum and Dad won't like it much, and they'll be paying part of my way. I'll have to talk to them about it."
Sirius nodded reluctantly. "I like your parents. They've been loads better about everything than mine were. Think they'll ever like me?"
"Of course they will," said Remus, pressing his lips briefly to Sirius's once more. "How could anyone not love you?"
Very quietly, Sylvia stepped backwards up the stairs and out of sight.
"What are you thinking about?" Marcellus asked, turning on his side.
"What do you think I'm thinking about?" replied his wife irritably, eyes still fixed on the ceiling over their bed.
Marcellus sighed. "I've been thinking about it, too. I'm just wondering what you're thinking."
"That boy has asked Remus to move in with him."
Her husband looked unsurprised. "Eavesdropping, is it? What did Remus say?"
"He said he would talk to us about it."
She sighed. "I'm just trying to figure out what I'll say when he does."
A toe prodded Sylvia's foot. "Remus is a good boy, Syl. He's clever and he's honest and he's stronger than anyone should ever have to be. He didn't have to tell us about any of this. We might not like it, but we can't make his choices for him. He's not a child anymore."
"I know," she said wearily. "I haven't wanted to admit it, but today -"
"He looks so much like you did at that age." She looked up at her husband, conflicted. "The way he looks at that boy - I remember when you used to look at me like that."
Marcellus's eyes softened. "Used to? You think I don't love you as much as I ever did, Syl?"
She groped for his hand, a sad smile playing on her lips. "We used to be so happy, Marc. All of us. Before. Do you remember? If that boy - if Sirius makes Remus happy, how can I not want that for him?"
"Shall we give them a chance, then?" her husband asked, bringing her fingers to his lips. "It won't be easy for any of us. People will talk. The world isn't very favourable towards that sort of thing."
"I know," she sighed. "But that's all the more reason why Remus needs a home he can feel safe in, and parents who are proud of him. I am, Marc. So proud of him."
"Me, too, Love." Marcellus kissed his wife fondly. "We'll tell them in the morning."