Note: Hi, everybody. Sorry about the delay in posting. Lately it's become evident that Stoplight Delight has to let something go if she wants to keep her sanity. But fear not! She shall not give up on writing! Rather, Stoplight will be taking a little sabbatical from review replies, at least until life is a little more manageable. I will still answer any questions in reviews as I am able, and I will still be accepting and responding to Private Messages, but if I do not reply to your review, please, PLEASE know that I still appreciate it very much, and that it is your devotion and feedback that drives me to keep writing. And please do keep reviewing, because I need all the encouragement I can get these days.
Thank you all for your consideration and understanding during what has proved to be a challenging year. Happy Christmas, everyone, with love from Stoplight.
Chapter One Hundred One: A Rational Terror
Someone was beating on a drum; a large and very hollow-sounding drum. The noise reverberated through the air, pounding against Remus's skull and thumping resolutely against his breastbone. Each thump brought with it a deep, searing anguish that bit into his bones and made the softer organs in his chest quiver in helpless torment. To make matters worse, the inconsiderate drummer refused to maintain a steady pace. He would strike fast and furious, then low and tremulous, and at every tempo in between, so that Remus could never predict when he might strike next, nor steel himself against the next onslaught of pain.
Dimly through the drumming he heard another sound, low and anxious, hitching and halting and weaving in and out of itself in a pattern even more inscrutable than the coarse percussion that all but drowned it out entirely. After a while he realized that it was in fact two sounds, not one: two voices, in fact, both of them alternating between talking to one another and not. The first voice kept cutting off in mid-breath to mumble what had to be incantations – there was a particular way in which wizards did that which was intangibly unlike any other speech. The second voice punctuated its hushed, anxious discourse with the first voice by murmuring gently and soothingly and unintelligibly to someone else.
Through the mists of disorientation Remus recognized the feeling of safety that the second voice brought to him and realized that it must be his mother. Logically, then, the other voice belonged to his father. That meant that it was dawn on the morning after the full moon: it was the only time that called for hasty and desperate spell-casting. Then the pain was to be expected and the irregular rhythm that he had taken for a badly-played drum was in fact the frenzied beating of his heart.
He tried to swim through the mire of misery towards consciousness, like a diver trying to surface from a great depth without any air to draw upon. He felt that he was making excellent progress until suddenly, like a trapeze artist swinging into a brick wall, he struck an impenetrable mass of agony that left him breathless and reeling back towards the safety of unconsciousness. The voices faded to distant murmurs that at last died off into silence.
When next Remus came back to himself he was on his back in his narrow bed, clumsily covered with an old sheet splotched with years of bloodstains. It still smelled faintly of sea air, so he could not have been lying beneath it for more than a few hours, but it was already sticky with perspiration and it clung uncomfortably to his legs. Not daring to move, he stared blearily at a fresh blossom of red on the worn cotton where it tucked over his right shoulder. He wondered how badly he had done himself in this time, and then he realized that he was alone in the small room and for a moment he was frightened. He had passed dozens of full moons at home in nine years, and he could not remember awaking after a single one without his mother by his side. Then he realized that the afternoon sun was still high outside his window, and that she was surely at the Muggle Post Office.
That was good, he told himself firmly. He would not have been able to bear it if he had caused his mother to miss a day of work – not after all that he had cost his parents this summer already. All assurances aside he was not convinced that they had been put to negligible expense by having his friends to stay. He hoped that he would not need any costly potions or medicines this month. He did not seem to be too badly wounded: breathing hurt only if he tried to do it too quickly or deeply, and as long as he did not move his limbs only ached in a sluggishly indifferent manner that was quite inescapable after the rigours of the transformation.
He was dreadfully, but not intolerably, thirsty, and there was a peculiar lightness behind his eyes, as if the top of his skull might slip free and float up towards the ceiling. There was a bitter taste at the back of his throat and his stomach roiled uneasily. All these were signs that he had lost a good deal of blood, but as his vision was clear he could not have lost too much. He closed his eyes, keeping his breathing shallow and slow so as not to aggravate the stabbing pain below his ribcage that threatened to surge up at the least provocation.
A floorboard creaked in the corridor outside, and Remus struggled to lift his eyelids again. By the time he managed it his father was standing over him, a basin in one hand and a mug of water in the other. He set the former down on the little table by the bed and tried unsuccessfully to smile.
'How are you feeling?' he asked unnecessarily. Remus could not have managed to answer even if there had been a comforting answer to give. He lay quietly as his father slipped an arm behind his shoulders and helped him shift a little so that he could drink. The water was cold and clean and comforting, and after the first two sips Remus dared a good-sized swallow.
It was a mistake. Fire ripped through his middle, exploding across his abdomen. As he tensed against it something shifted in his throat and the fluid went in the wrong direction. All of a sudden he was choking, ribs heaving in an effort to expel the water from his lungs. He tried to fight the urge to cough, for every paroxysm tightened the tentacles of anguish that coiled around his body, but the instinct for survival demanded it. His father was holding him upright, trying in vain to brace him against the tormented convulsions. Remus managed two ragged, inadequate wheezes, but the searing in his ribs told him that he was only drawing the water deeper down. He coughed again, as thoroughly as he could with the pain begging frantically for stillness. His vision was clouded with black blotches and he was certain that he would lose consciousness. Indeed, he was very nearly praying for it, when one more desperate, rattling explosion of air suddenly allowed him to swallow and his body went limp, drained of what strength it had and wracked with agony.
'Oh, God, Remus,' Father exhaled, shuddering a little against his son's body. 'Are you… oh, God.'
Remus did not have time to wonder why the second exhortation sounded so much more panicked than the first, for he was momentarily blinded by the impact of his back on the mattress as his father laid him unceremoniously back down and ripped aside the perspiration-soaked sheet. He could not feel anything different about the pain in his abdomen as his father's wand whispered above him amid frantic incantations, but he could tell from the increasing alarm in the wizard's voice that the spells were not working as they ought. He thought longingly of Madam Pomfrey, who would have known precisely what to do – no matter what was happening. She had said that he might send for her if his holiday transformations went badly, he remembered, but he did not recall whether he had asked her how he might reach her, or where, if the need arose.
'Damn it, damn it,' Father muttered. He must have lowered his head despairingly, for something that felt very like hair brushed lightly on Remus's ribs, just above the inferno of indistinguishable pain that was obviously the cause of the problem. 'I'm sorry,' he said. 'I'm sorry; we have to.'
Remus realized with a shiver of cold horror what the man meant, but before he could even try to overcome the tightness in his throat to speak shaking hands were swathing his body in the sheet and wrapping tightly around him. Father took three deep, unsteady breaths and whispered something that might have been a prayer before with a sickening lurch they both Disapparated.
Blessedly, Remus remembered little of his unceremonious arrival in the intake area of St Mungo's Hospital. At some point in the flurry of activity and stern orders and startled exclamations he realized that there were several people around him, and that he was naked, and that he ought to be embarrassed except that it did not quite seem worth the trouble. Someone forced a potent, tinny-tasting concoction down his throat. It was hot and very thick, and he coughed and sputtered so that his ribs stung, but after that he felt very little of anything. He wanted to ask what was wrong with him, and whether anyone knew how to get hold of Madam Pomfrey, and when someone said 'Sarcirentus Transversalis Fascia' he thought that he had managed to speak until he realized that it was not a logical answer to either question.
Then suddenly the chaos and the bright lights and the dancing wands were gone, and he was alone in the dark and he was thirsty. He was afraid to move and in any case he did not want water, after what had happened the last time he tried to drink. He tried to think about something else, anything else, but his mind was fogged with bewilderment and he could not remember who he was, or where he was, or why he could not have water. For a long while he seemed to drift to and fro between the hot, thirsty darkness and a cold place where he seemed to feel nothing at all except a detached pulsating rhythm where his solar plexus ought to have been. He wondered where the drummer had gone.
When someone wearing a dragonhide glove took hold of his jaw, Remus tried to clear the fog from his eyes. His enormous efforts to blink sufficed merely to make his eyelids flutter pitifully. Three fingers braced against the side of his neck, while forefinger and thumb forced open his mouth. Though his rational mind knew that his assailant was only trying to administer a potion, his reflexes rebelled and his head jerked backward, trying to free itself. The dragonhide grip tightened, and the index finger forced itself between his teeth, pressing down on his tongue. He gagged involuntarily, his aching chest spasming. Before he could even try to control himself, the hot, metallic potion was flooding into his mouth. He struggled to swallow, but could not quite manage to remember how to do it. He floundered, struggling to keep his windpipe closed: now he remembered what had happened the last time fluid had gone in the wrong direction. The fluid gurgled in the back of his throat and spilled out over his chin, running down over his neck and the glove that gripped him.
With a convulsion of disgust the hand withdrew. There was a coldly murmured oath and a disdainful female voice said; 'There's no use in trying: it won't cooperate. Insert a gavage kit and administer the potions that way.'
Another woman, younger and timid, protested, 'B-But Madam Selwyn, what if he… it… wh-what if it bites?'
'That's what the gloves are for, you silly thing,' the other woman snapped. 'Now either you can see to it, or you can explain to the creature's mother why it hasn't any blood left.'
'But…' the protestation was only a whisper, overpowered almost entirely by the click of raised heels on the floor. In the silence that followed Remus could hear shallow, anxious breathing nearby, but he could not seem to open his eyes. He desperately wished to, and to speak so that he might promise to try again. He was certain that he could swallow if only they didn't shove their fingers in his mouth. Madam Pomfrey always managed to encourage him to do so, no matter how far gone he was after a transformation. But of course, Madam Pomfrey cared enough to try.
A hand settled on his clavicle, heavy in its dragonhide glove and quivering. He heard the young Healer murmuring an incantation, and suddenly there was a horrid crawling sensation in his right nostril. It felt almost like the passing of dry, crusted mucus in the last days of an especially nasty head cold, except that it was moving in, not out. Whatever it was, it kept slithering further inside without coming to an end. He felt it slipping down the back of his throat and threading on and on and on until at last it stopped. There was a heavy exhalation of relief and the hand withdrew.
Moments later Remus could feel warmth spreading through his stomach, as if he had taken a long draught of Blood-Replenishing Potion, but he knew that none had passed his lips. There was obviously something else in the concoction, though, because he began to feel a drugged drowsiness creeping over him and the pain in his limbs seemed to fade away. Bewildered but grateful, he slept.
'Dear God, what have they done to him?'
The exclamation jolted Remus out of the quiet complacency of unconsciousness, though his effort to open his eyes was thwarted by something sharp and grainy crusting his eyelids together. His throat was burning faintly, but his mouth was not dry: he did not feel thirsty. He was aware enough to realize that this was peculiar, and to recognize the dismayed voice as his mother's.
'The Healer called it a gavage tube,' Father said quietly. 'She said that he can't swallow the potions on his own.'
'Did she even try?' Mother demanded. 'Did you try? Sometimes it takes a little coaxing right after a transformation: you know that.'
'They said there wasn't time to fuss about,' the wizard protested. 'He had lost such a great deal of blood already, and he needed—'
'And why did he lose so much blood in the first place? When I left home this morning you told me you had everything in hand. You said I didn't have to worry. You told me… I never would have left to go to work if I'd thought you were going to bring him here! How could you do that without sending word?'
'There wasn't time,' said Father hollowly. 'I told you: he was managing all right until he started to cough, and then the wound ripped open again and there was blood everywhere. I did what I thought was best, Dorothy.'
'That simply isn't good enough!' cried Mother. 'Have you any idea how difficult it is to go off to work knowing that your child is lying in bed torn half to shreds, and then to come home and realize he's gone? Have you any idea what I thought when I realized the house was empty?'
Remus cringed, wishing that he might stop his ears. It had been ages since he had heard his parents quarrelling like this, but then as now he was at the heart of it. He wondered if his mother realized quite what she was saying. For years it had been his father who had been forced to go off to work on the morning after a transformation – at least on those days when he had not been obliged to send notice to the Ministry that he was not able to come in at all. Again he tried to open his eyes, and when that effort failed he shifted his left hand. It was laden with bandages and twitched only a little, but the motion was not lost on his parents. With a rush of robes his father was at his side, and he felt his Mother's fingers soft and cool against his cheek.
'Remus?' she whispered. He tried again to raise his eyelids, and she noticed the effort. Her thumb brushed against one eye and then the other, flicking away the material cementing them closed. Unsteadily he blinked until her face came into focus above him. She was still dressed for work, with her hair carefully coiffed and her lipstick neat, but under her rouge she was very pale and her eyes were red. Locking her gaze with his she seemed to wilt with relief. 'Can you hear me, dear heart?' she asked.
He tried to nod, but his neck was too stiff and sore. He could not quite manage to speak. His tongue flicked against dry and cracking lips, and she nodded. 'You're thirsty,' she said quietly. She looked sharply over his shoulder. 'How am I supposed to give him something to drink, then?' she demanded.
'The Trainee has been giving water every half-hour,' Father murmured. He looked perfectly wretched, standing near the foot of the bed as if he did not have a right to be nearer. 'Through the… through the tube.'
Mother shuddered. 'Dear God,' she whispered.
Remus swallowed, and felt a strange wriggling sensation deep in his throat. He pressed his lips together and then, with tremendous effort, spoke. 'What happened?' he said, his voice hoarse and raw as it usually was after the full moon. The writhing seemed to worsen with speech, and he closed his mouth again.
'You're in the hospital, love,' Mother said, leaning in and petting his hair soothingly. 'You wounded yourself rather badly, and when it opened up again your father couldn't mend it, so he brought you here.'
'Damn it, Dorothy, I tried!' Father exclaimed sharply. Then he buried his head in one hand and shrank back from the bed.
'It's all right,' Remus said, trying to ignore the discomfort in his throat. Swallowing worried it more than speaking anyhow, he told himself. 'I'm all right. Only…' He hesitated, wondering whether he ought to ask about the mysterious tube that was clearly such a point of contention between his parents. Deciding he oughtn't, he blinked ponderously. 'I'm all right.'
His mother made a wordless noise and kissed his brow. Father seemed unable to look at him. Remus shifted his right arm. When it moved without pain he ventured to lift his hand to scratch his nose, which was itching curiously. His fingers met something unexpected and he paused. His mother's hand was curled around his almost before he realized that the slender, flexible hose running into his nostril was attached to a little glass funnel suspended from a hook above the bed.
'Don't touch it, Remus; we'll have them take it out at once,' she said. 'It can't possibly be comfortable. It's barbaric.'
'The Trainee said they do it in Muggle hospitals all the time,' Father protested miserably. 'Only of course they can't guide them in with magic, so it's worse there, really…'
'Just go and fetch the Healer, then,' Mother said coolly. 'Tell her that our son is awake and he is lucid and he doesn't need that apparatus anymore.'
'It isn't so dreadful,' Remus croaked. He swallowed, and this time he understood that he was feeling the tube shifting in the back of his throat as he did so. His father cast him one more doleful look and then vanished from the ward. 'What did I do, Mother?' he asked. 'Was it my leg again?'
She shook her head. 'It was your left side,' she said; 'right at the crest of your hip. You were lucky, really, Remus: you didn't injure anything… vital. But it was a deep wound: you bit into something called your transversalis fascia, and the Healer told your father that's easily fatal.'
'He did the right thing, then,' Remus said softly. 'In bringing me here, I mean. You mustn't scold him.'
'He might have brought you here at once if that was what was needed, and he might have told me so that I could have come along!' The words came out very quickly, tinted heavily with hysteria. 'I've been so patient with him, with his insecurities and his ineptitudes and his indecision, but this…' She choked back a sound suspiciously like a sob and pressed her fingers tightly to her lips. She shook her head, struggling to compose her features. 'He was trying to prove that he could take care of you, Remus, and he picked the wrong time to try to do it alone.'
Remus wanted to say something, either to comfort her or to defend his father, but he could not think of anything to say. He was weary and he was sore, and sleep seemed very tempting indeed. But before he could make up his mind to ask if he might try it, the ward door swung open and Father came back, leading a curly-haired young witch in bright lime-green robes.
'You see? He's awake,' said Father. 'Can't you take out the tube?'
'He doesn't need it,' Mother said. 'He's never needed one before. Why on earth didn't you try to get him to swallow on his own?'
'Healer Selwyn did try, Mrs Lupin,' the Trainee said timidly. She seemed torn between evading Mother's sharp gaze and steeling terrified glances at Remus. 'He spat it right out; we were afraid he might choke. As I understand it—' Here she looked sidelong at Father, an almost disapproving expression flitting across her nervous face. '—that was what gave rise to the need for hospital admission in the first place.'
'I was greedy,' Remus said. 'I tried to drink too fast; that's all. I was thirsty. I'm always thirsty… afterwards.' For the sake of his father's peace of mind he wanted to add that he was not ordinarily speaking lucidly so soon after a rough moon, but he held his tongue. As soon as he had spoken the young woman had startled terribly, and she was now very pale indeed. Her eyes kept darting between him and the door as if she wanted very much to flee but was afraid he might pounce if she tried. Remus's stomach lurched uneasily and he swallowed against the tube.
'This isn't your fault, Remus,' his mother said raggedly. She pinched the bridge of her nose and looked at the Healer. 'Can you please remove it now?' she asked.
'I don't… I don't think it would be wise,' the girl stammered. She couldn't have been more than three or four years older than Dorcas Meadowes, and she had none of the Gryffindor Prefect's self-assurance. Her whole body was rigid with tension: obviously she would have rather been anywhere but here at the moment. 'He'll need the Blood-Replenishing Potion every hour tonight, and the ones to fight fever and infection and pain every four hours. If we leave the tube in overnight I shan't have to wake him every time he needs a dose. He… it… he… that is, I mean, Thorpe's Practical Lycanthropy recommends uninterrupted rest on the night after a full moon, if at all possible. I did look it up.'
'It's all right,' ventured Remus. 'Uninterrupted rest does sound lovely.'
This time the young Healer actually did skitter back a pace and a half, her hand closing jerkily on a fistful of robe.
His mother was watching the young witch strangely. 'You looked it up,' she said. 'Do you mean to tell me that you've never treated a werewolf before?'
Father's jaw went slack and the Healer made a tiny, terrified sound deep in her throat, casting another anxious glance at Remus. She shook her head. 'I haven't… that is… I mean to say that I was only just assigned to this ward. I'm still in training, you see, and I'm not a fully qualified Healer yet. Madam Selwyn has extensive experience…'
'Yes, we've had experience with Healer Selwyn's experience,' said Mother. She was wearing a look of stony determination that Remus had only seen on her once before – when an American huckster had tried to convince her that a plot device popular in Muggle films might make a successful cure. 'Is there anyone else who can see to our son?'
'I don't… I mean to say… I… I…'
Mother's jaw was tight, but her voice was perfectly calm and reasonable. 'When we were here last, in January of last year, there was a Trainee Healer on this ward who seemed to have a little common sense and some compassion,' she said. 'I would like to have him take a look at my son.'
The girl seemed to shrivel in abject misery. 'I'm newly matriculated,' she said piteously. 'I don't know who would have been on this ward last year, but if you knew who it was you wanted perhaps the welcomewitch could fetch him for you…'
'His name was Foxworthy,' Father said. 'Or Fortescue… Fotheringay?'
'Ferrinby,' Remus whispered. Now the tightness in his throat had very little to do with the gavage tube. 'He can't come.'
'Why not?' Mother demanded, addressing the question to the Trainee. 'If he is in another department, surely it isn't that difficult for him to stop in here. If he's in private practice we'll pay.'
'Dorothy,' Father said in an eerie, empty voice. The implication was clear: pay with what?
Remus shook his head, hardly feeling the ache in his neck. 'He can't, Mother,' he breathed. 'He's dead.'
He wished he had not spoken. Mother turned to stare at him. Father cast his eyes down into his lap. The young Healer swayed on her feet and had to catch hold of the bedrail to steady herself. The silence was terrible. The questions in his mother's eyes rose and warred with one another; her perplexity was tangible. Then she blinked very slowly and managed a smooth, serene nod.
'Then there must be someone else,' she said calmly. 'Someone who has seen this sort of thing before, someone who is going to treat him like a patient instead of an inconvenience. Someone other than Healer Selwyn.'
'I haven't the authority to fetch anyone else,' the Trainee said miserably. 'Only the senior House Healer, and I'm not sure whether he's had any experience…'
'Go and fetch him, then, and I will ask,' Mother said. Her expression softened a little. 'I understand that you have to learn,' she added; 'but if you are going to learn on my son then there is going to be someone overseeing every decision you make. Isn't that how it is meant to work?'
'Yes,' the girl whispered. 'Only Healer Selwyn doesn't like to be bothered with…' Her eyes flickered tellingly in Remus's direction. He would not have needed the memory of his previous stay on Healer Selwyn's ward to finish the sentence. She did not like to be bothered with part-humans.
'I didn't ask you to bother Healer Selwyn,' Mother said. 'I'm afraid I do not much like her approach to treatment, and I would rather have another Healer. So go on and bring…'
'Healer Robins,' she chirped.
'Healer Robins,' Mother echoed firmly.
The Trainee could not have fled the room more swiftly if it had been on fire. While Mother busied herself in straightening the bedclothes and smoothing Remus's matted hair, Father paced agitatedly down the length of the ward. The other beds were empty, and the stern-looking wizard in the portrait on the far wall glowered disapprovingly down. Remus closed his eyes, thinking how happy he had been five days ago and wondering what his friends were doing now. James and Peter were surely enjoying their summer, but Sirius… He wanted to believe that Sirius was in better straits than he was, but that seemed like a great deal to hope for.
Healer Robins was a youngish wizard with an elaborately curled ginger moustache and beady brown eyes that seemed to look at everything at once. He inspected the dressings on Remus's abdomen, and checked several ugly but not critical bites on his arms and legs. He assessed his pupillary response and felt the tip of each finger and ran the vanes of a quill up the sole of each foot. With his wand he measured Remus's temperature and sealed a couple of the worst scratches very neatly indeed. All the while he carried on a long, methodical monologue full of medical jargon that was clearly meant for the benefit of the Trainee Healer: she listened raptly, nodding at intervals and gnawing on her lip as if to better fix the words in her memory. Finally he tugged the sheet back up over Remus's stomach and pocketed his wand, clicking his tongue thoughtfully.
'About what one would expect after that sort of injury, Mr Lupin,' he said, as if Mother were invisible. 'Bite like that, loss of blood, I don't need to tell you: you'll have been through all this before. Lucky he didn't gnaw on any organs, really: a transformed werewolf isn't too particular about what it's mauling. I understand that Healer Selwyn has him on a regimen for the blood loss, and we'll keep him on regular doses for pain at least tonight. He's going to need more work on the primary wound, but too much magic at one time isn't good for a body: the strain, you know. I expect he'll need another two or three days' care, but that's at Healer Selwyn's discretion, of course.'
'What about the tube?' Mother said.
'Quite necessary, I'm afraid, when a patient can't or won't take their potions,' Robins said. 'You wouldn't want us using a hypodermic, would you? Sticking patients full of needles like a pincushion: it's barbaric! I don't know how Muggles get away with that sort of thing.'
'He can take his potions now,' Mother said. 'Why can't you remove it?'
'Oh, well, we can if you'd prefer,' the Healer said. 'He'll need to be awake for cognitive assessment every hour anyhow: routine in cases of severe blood loss. If he's well enough to swallow he doesn't need the tube.'
'Then please remove it,' said Mother firmly.
'Go ahead, Latimer: remove it, then,' said Robins.
The young Trainee looked nervously at Remus, and then at the House Healer. 'Just… I'll need to fetch some gloves…' she said quietly.
'Don't be silly: you won't need gloves for this! Just a quick flick and it's over.' Robins stepped back to allow her closer access to the bed.
With a hand that shook as if with advanced palsy, the girl reached for the tube. Remus meant to hold perfectly still, but his head shifted a little towards her and she drew back her arm with a gasp. Steeling her courage, she reached out again. The senior House Healer was watching her with his arms crossed, frowning disapprovingly.
'Just what are you doing?' he asked.
'I'm going to r-remove it,' Latimer said stoutly, as if trying to convince herself. She quailed under his sceptical stare and clarified; 'I'm going to pull it out.'
He clicked his tongue against his teeth again, this time reproachfully. 'That's horrifying,' he said dispassionately. 'Just Vanish it, Latimer. Honestly. Haven't you any sense at all?'
'Oh. Vanish it. Of course. Of course.' She fumbled with her wand and took a deep breath before casting the spell. There was a cool burst of energy in Remus's nostril and sinus, and the tube was gone – leaving only the funnel on its hook above the bed.
Mother exhaled audibly and reached to touch Remus's cheek. 'That's much better, thank you,' she sighed.
'Right, then,' said Robins, consulting his pocketwatch. 'Might as well give him his midnight doses now,' he said. 'Five minutes either way won't make much difference. Then you really ought to get yourself a hot cup of tea: you look like a ghost.'
'But I… it.. he…' the Trainee stammered. The wizard did not seem interested in the least. He strode out of the ward.
Healer Latimer brought Remus's potions, and Mother helped him sit up enough that he might drink them. His throat was raw, from howling and from the gavage tube, and his jaw threatened to cramp, but he managed to drink everything he was given. Although Mother had to ask for water the young witch brought it unquestioningly, halting several paces from the bed so that she was well-positioned for a hasty retreat. As soon as Remus finished with the glass she hurried away, leaving the Lupins alone on the deserted ward.
'Try and sleep, love,' Mother murmured unnecessarily. Remus's eyelids were already leaden, and he let his cheek slip onto the pillow. He could not curl up, of course, but he found that he did not need to. He was drifting on the cusp of dreams when he thought he heard his father speak.
'You ought to go home and try to sleep, Dorothy. I'll stay.'
He hoped it was a dream when his mother replied coldly; 'I am not going anywhere, Ross.'
After a restless night punctuated with doses of Blood-Replenishing potion and repetitive questions about his age, his location, the name of the current Minister for Magic, and the six-times tables, Remus slipped into a heavy slumber just before dawn. When he awoke the morning sun was filtering through the small window and his father was sitting beside the bed. He was grey with exhaustion and he seemed to be grappling with dark thoughts, for he was staring unseeing at the drab hospital blanket and the fingers of his right hand kept shifting uneasily.
'Did she go home?' Remus croaked. He was thirsty, and there was an unpleasant taste in his mouth. His body felt very heavy beneath the bedclothes, and he supposed that he ought to be grateful that he was not in much pain.
'Hmm-what?' Father grunted. His head jerked up and he rubbed his unshaven chin with the butt of his hand. 'Remus. Did she go home. No. No, she went to find a phone box so she could tell them she won't be in to work today.'
Remus felt suddenly ill. 'I didn't want that,' he murmured.
The wizard sighed. 'Perhaps it's best this way,' he said. 'Someone ought to be here to speak up for you, and it seems I'm not equal to the task.'
'You mustn't say that,' Remus begged. 'You did what was best; Mother knows that. She was only frightened yesterday.'
Despair and failure haunted his father's eyes for a moment, fading to a profound weariness. 'I might have brought you in sooner,' he said. 'I thought if I could spare you all of this…' He gestured vaguely at the ward.
'Of course you did,' Remus said with all the conviction he had the strength to muster. 'You always try, and you're usually successful.'
'Not this time. Not when it was most needed,' muttered Father dourly. His fingers picked absently at a worn place on the opposite sleeve. 'You would think that after all these years I'd be able to accept my limitations.'
Remus was not certain how to respond to this, and he was frightened of saying the wrong thing. Instead he ran his tongue along his coarse lips and said, 'Do you think perhaps I might have some water?'
He had hoped to give his father something productive to do; something tangibly helpful. Instead the wizard blanched.
'Yes, yes, of course,' he stammered, clambering to his feet. 'Let me just… I'll go and fetch the Healer.'
Before Remus could protest that he was quite able to drink without the supervision of a Healer, his father was gone. He returned less than two minutes later with young Miss Latimer in tow. She managed to get Remus propped up in bed without too much trouble, but when she went to pour him a glass of water from the chilled pitcher by the bed her hands shook so dreadfully that she spilled down the front of her robes. She fumbled with her wand and dried them, then tried again. This time she managed to fill the cup, and she tried to hold it out for Remus to drink. It wobbled precariously and he instinctively lifted his right hand to help steady it.
The touch of his fingers against hers made the young woman flinch. Her eyes were flashing nervously about, looking everywhere but at her patient. Remus lifted his left arm painfully and cupped his bandaged hand clumsily beneath the bottom of the cup. 'I have it,' he said quietly. 'You needn't hold on.'
She pulled back her hand so quickly that she almost wrenched the glass away, and scrubbed it reflexively against her robes. Remus tipped the rim against his lips and sipped carefully, watching her and trying very hard to ignore the hurt in his chest. Over the years he had met with many reactions from those who did not take well to dealing with a werewolf. Revulsion was humiliating, and disdain was miserable, and mere indifference seemed like a blessing, but this was the worst by far. It horrified and saddened him to know that he was frightening her so badly: that his very existence was causing an innocent young woman so much distress. He wished desperately that there was something he could do to put her at ease.
'I won't hurt you,' he said softly, looking up at her with his steadiest eyes. 'I promise.'
Her mouth leapt and twitched and her cheeks bloomed with scarlet. 'I know that,' she stuttered. 'I know, I know that.' But she did not look at all convinced.
The ward door swung open and Mother came in. Her weary face softened a little when she saw that Remus was sitting up. She did not even glance at her husband, but he turned to her immediately.
'What did you tell them?' he asked hoarsely.
Mother shot him an unreadable look. 'The truth,' she said primly. 'That my son is injured and in hospital, and that I am going to stay with him today.'
Father exhaled heavily and scrubbed at his brow. 'Dorothy, you can't just tell people that…' he mumbled.
'Why not?' Mother demanded. 'As you keep pointing out, Muggles don't understand this sort of thing. They're actually human enough to trust that it might be true, and to show a little compassion at a time like this.' Realizing how sharply her voice had risen she smoothed her skirt and her expression as one and said gently; 'It's all right, Ross. They'll not give me the sack for missing one day.'
Remus wondered miserably whether she could afford to miss a day's pay, and his father must have been thinking the same thing. His mouth opened partway and then snapped closed, and he sat heavily down again.
'A-As you're up I'll check your dressings,' Healer Latimer said. She was still not meeting Remus's eyes, but at least she was speaking to him. She twitched her wand and an assortment of bandages appeared at the foot of the bed. She reached for the dragonhide gloves on her belt and glanced at his parents. 'You might want to step outside,' she said. 'The wounds aren't closed yet and it might be distressing.'
'We're staying, thank you,' Mother said curtly. She slipped past her husband and took up a defensive post at Remus's side. She placed one hand on the crown of his head and laid the other on his shoulder, determined to bear with him through the unpleasantness.
Healer Selwyn came in once that afternoon, filled with detachment and disdain. She did some precise and very swift spellwork on Remus's abdomen, and then put right all but the most superficial of the other bites. Remus sat quietly, studying his new scars, while the Healer and his parents debated whether to keep him in hospital for another night. In the end his mother prevailed, and the awkward process of discharge began. In the moment of panic Father had not thought to bring Remus anything to wear home, so he had to Disapparate to fetch a set of school robes. Mother helped Remus to wash his face and his hands while they waited. When at last he was dressed they made the slow pilgrimage down to the Floo fireplaces and the safe Apparation point. Neither mode of travel was particularly gentle, but Remus managed the Floo, stumbling out into the little sitting room in Falmouth and hastening to the couch before he could faint. His mother emerged straight after him, and presently there was a noise in the garden as Father Apparated home. He was grey from the effort and as he helped Remus up the stairs to his room his knees trembled.
Tucked into his own bed at last, Remus would have slept, had he not been so anxious to hear what his parents would say to one another once they thought he could not hear them. As he had expected, his father eased the bedroom door closed and spoke almost at once.
'Dorothy, I'm sorry,' he said. 'I was only trying…'
'Don't apologize to me: apologize to your son,' Mother said. She sighed and there was a rustle of cotton as her skirt brushed against something. 'I know that you did what you thought best, Ross, and it isn't your fault that he was so badly hurt, but you should have called me. In fact, you shouldn't have insisted that it was all right for me to go to work on Monday.'
'I thought that it was,' Father protested.
'Well, it wasn't!' Mother cleared her throat and made a small penitent sound. 'Even if all this hadn't happened… I spent the whole day fretting. It's an awful thing to expect life to go on as usual, knowing your child is lying at home with his insides on the outside, and…'
She inhaled sharply, a startled sound that made Remus's heart jump in his sore chest. There was a rush of feet and Mother's voice came muffled. 'I'm sorry,' she said. 'I didn't think. All those years, all those times you went off on the morning after; I didn't realize how hard it must have been for you.'
Father said nothing, but Remus could hear the hitch in his breath that meant he was trying to retain some semblance of control. There was a creak of a floorboard as his parents moved away from his door, and when next one of them spoke it was a distant, indistinct murmur that barely penetrated the veil of his fatigue.