I wouldn’t wish the eighties on anyone, it was a time when all that was rotten bubbled to the surface.
- Derek Jarman, At Your Own Risk
Living with AIDS is like living through a war which is happening only for those people who happen to be in the trenches. Every time a shell explodes, you look around and you discover that you’ve lost more of your friends, but nobody else notices.
- Vito Russo, Why We Fight
‘Now it’s in the Prophet too.’
The impatient sound of a newspaper being shaken stiff made Remus pause on the stairs. His father’s voice had an uncharacteristic edge to it. Chair-legs scraped against the kitchen floor as his mother said:
‘Let me see.’
Footsteps rounded the table. Standing stock-still, like an eavesdropping child, Remus imagined her leaning in and reading the article that had startled him. The silence stretched on. Remus was just about to take another step when the sound of his mother’s voice stopped him.
‘We have to talk to him, John. I’ve been telling you, for months now - new articles almost every day...’
Remus stood frozen, one foot hovering over the next step. As quietly as he could, he put it back down again and listened. His father sighed.
‘I’m afraid you’re right.’
‘You don’t have to sound so reluctant.’
‘I know you’re right, but… I suppose I feel that it’s not really our business.’
‘How is this not our business?’
‘You have to admit it’s... awkward.’
‘Never mind that it’s awkward. It’s important,’ Mrs Lupin said. Her husband grumbled something. ‘Oh, tosh. This is just that you seem to think that a live and let live-attitude means pretending it doesn’t exist.’
‘Verity, it’s different among wizards,’ Mr Lupin said, sounding much less annoyed than his wife.
‘Obviously it isn’t anymore,’ Mrs Lupin answered, now almost tearful with strange, unexplained anger. ‘Do you think something like this won’t affect him, just because he’s a wizard? What do we know about that...?’
Not wanting to overhear a conversation so obviously about himself, Remus went down the stairs. The steps creaked in the places they always did, and by the time he entered the kitchen, his mother was in her seat again, her broadsheet spread over half the kitchen table.
‘Good morning,’ Mr Lupin said, looking up from the Prophet.
‘Morning,’ Remus said.
‘What’s all that, dear?’ Mrs Lupin asked, looking at the pile of clothes he was holding.
‘Just some laundry. I was looking through my wardrobe, and these smell of moth-balls.’
‘Well, if you’re planning to wear them...’ Mrs Lupin got to her feet and made to take the clothes from him.
‘It’s alright, mum, I can do it...’
‘Nonsense,’ she said and filled her arms with them. ‘Although you can take that jacket - it’ll need airing, not washing. The rest can go in the machine.’ She let Remus take the tweed jacket, which was precariously stacked in the middle, and then hurried into the laundry-room. The bang of preparing the machine, which still seemed half-mysterious to Remus even years after learning how to use it, followed.
He turned back to the breakfast table as his father poured him tea and went back to reading his paper.
‘Anything in the Prophet?’ Remus asked, trying to sound casual.
‘Not much,’ Mr Lupin said. ‘Quidditch on the front page.’
‘Ah. Slow news day, then.’ Remus carried his tea-cup over to the window, looking out into the small garden and the country lane beyond. The trees outside were shedding their leaves, which had turned shades of brown and yellow during the month he had stayed there.
‘Well, I’m going out for a smoke,’ Mr Lupin said. ‘The blackcurrant jam’s all finished, I’m afraid.’
‘That’s alright,’ Remus said.
‘I told him you’d want it,’ Mrs Lupin called.
‘It’s okay, mum,’ Remus called back. ‘I don’t mind.’ He started making toast, vaguely aware of his father shuffling around the house in search of his pipe, and his mother muttering to herself as she sorted the laundry. He spread raspberry jam on the toast, glad for the change. The blackcurrant jam was a childhood favourite, a touching attempt to spoil him which he now, at twenty-five, found jarring.
He ate his toast standing by the counter, too tense to sit down. Through the window, he saw his father come out of the front door. He lowered his hand, pipe clamped between his teeth. The flicker of fire shone through his fingers, then receded into a dull glow. Remus thought of going out to join him for a moment. However much his mother disapproved of it, the smell of pipe tobacco remained an early treasured memory. It was comforting, much like recalling being small enough to sit in his father’s lap.
Thinking about it closer, Remus realised he did not particularly want to step outside and talk to his father. Instead, he turned back to the kitchen table. He had been planning to read the Daily Prophet, but it was gone. Glancing back through the window, he realised that the newspaper was under his father’s arm. Remus frowned to himself, recalling the conversation he had overheard. Part of him felt it best to pretend he had not eavesdropped on his parents, but another part was curious enough that he thought of walking over to the laundry door and asking his mother. No, better not. His cautious side reeled him in. It would probably be better not to know.
He finished his toast, topped up his tea-cup and called:
‘Mum, I’m going upstairs.’
‘Of course, darling.’ Then the door opened and she peered out at him. ‘Have you eaten anything?’
‘I had toast.’
‘You should have some porridge too.’
‘I’m happy with just toast, thanks.’ He smiled at her, and before she had time to react, he turned and left the kitchen. As he went upstairs, he wondered whether his mother had already guessed what was happening. After all, she was bound to notice that all the clothes he had brought down were Muggle ones. He closed the door behind him quickly, even if he knew no-one else was upstairs. He was not quite ready to show even the empty hallway what he was doing.
The room, which had been so tidy on his return a month ago, with the dusted shelves and the smoothed-out blankets, was now cluttered. The bed, the desk, even the floor were covered with piles of belongings. He had refolded the clothes on the bed before breakfast. Now, he put a few sets of robes into the trunk, which stood open by the window. He was not planning to wear them, but it felt odd not bringing any wizard’s clothes. He would wait with packing the Muggle clothes. Instead, he turned to a pile of books. The magic ones - an excellent book about magical creatures his parents had given him for his birthday, and a treatise on hauntings that he had been meaning to read - went in first, then Muggle novels and anthologies.
He paused in his packing and looked around. This room unsettled him. There was so much history here that he could not get away from. This was the window Fenrir Greyback had climbed in through, here he had Changed, and there, in that corner, Remus had been bitten. It was in this room where he had endured all his childhood illnesses, where he had lay awake during late summer nights, longing for the start of the school year, where he had dreamed, though awake, about being touched. And it was here that he had spent the year after the war, that year which seemed like a grey wall, separating him from his previous life. Getting out of it had been like relearning to walk. Through all those events, the room remained eerily the same.
It was no wonder he had to leave. There were ghosts in this house, none of them from people but all from memories. The past three years had been a constant cycle of going away and then returning to his parents too soon. A few times he had simply run out of money. Once he had fallen ill. Several times, he had not managed to find anywhere to transform during the full moon, so he had had to fall back on his parents’ cellar. More times than he cared to mention, however, it had been because he had lost his job. When he had arrived a month ago, after burning his hand on a silver knife at his previous job and being chased from the shop by his employer, his parents had greeted him with open arms. They always did.
Looking at the half-packed trunk, Remus felt guilty. Still, he knew that he could not idly stay here. Their love, so demonstrative and all-consuming, had become a prison.
It was not until the late afternoon Remus picked up the courage to broach the subject. He had sat through lunch, waiting for a pause in the conversation, but whenever they all fell silent, he felt unable to speak. The words dried on his tongue and remained unsaid. A few times, he thought he caught his mother looking at him with concern in her eyes. Trying to find something similar in his father’s behaviour, Remus thought there was something nervous about the way he spoke at length about the various alloys he was using for the model of Jupiter’s moons he was making.
After lunch, Remus had gone upstairs with the clothes, laundered and folded so lovingly. He had insisted on mending them himself, a task that kept him busy until the light in his room became too bad. He would have to finish the patch on his tweed jacket later. There was no reason to put this off any longer.
When he came downstairs, his mother appeared in the doorway to the kitchen.
‘Hello, Remus dear. I was just about to make some tea.’
‘Sounds lovely,’ Remus said. ‘Can we have it together, all of us?’
‘Of course, of course. Go tell your father.’
Remus went through the living room to his father’s workshop. Inside, Mr Lupin was standing on a ladder at one of the shelves covering the walls. Remus rapped his knuckles against the open door.
‘Yes?’ Mr Lupin said, not looking at him.
‘Mum says there’ll be tea soon.’
‘Good, good,’ Mr Lupin murmured. ‘Now where is it..?’ He stood up on tip-toe and stretched dangerously after one of the models. ‘No, that’s not it...’ He returned it to its place and pulled himself back onto the ladder. ‘You know, I’ve been thinking of making a lunascope with ivory again,’ he said. ‘It’s been a few years. It’s a very interesting material to work with - if you can get enough to make a orb...’
‘Isn’t it expensive?’ Remus said, suppressing a sigh. Although his father strictly worked with making any kind of astronomical model, lunascopes had been his speciality and obsession ever since Remus had been little. When he had been younger, he had found it odd, even slightly offensive, that his father spent so much time making devices which displayed the moon phases. As he had grown up, he had realised that this was Mr Lupin’s way of coping. He sold many, often to shops in Diagon Alley or Hogsmeade, but there was still an entire wall full of them in the workshop. Domes of glass with an orb suspended under it, milky white stones shaped and set in a cage of metal, even ones shaped like complex Muggle barometers, stood along the shelves, all moving in unison. Now, they were all indicating only the thinnest waning sickle. The new moon was a day away.
‘Well, yes, but I got an order of lunascopes. Thought I might experiment a bit. I have some ideas. Oh, there we are.’ He picked another lunascope off the shelf and climbed down the ladder. ‘I used moonstone in this one,’ he explained, ‘and I wanted to see how I’d gone about it. Might be useful, for the Jupiter model...’ He carried the lunascope over to the workbench, took off his glasses and put on a pair of goggles. ‘Let’s see...’
Remus watched his father working for a while. The separate pieces of the Jupiter model had been laid out on the workbench. He stepped closer and picked up one of the four rounded pieces of semi-precious stone.
His father looked up briefly.
‘Yes, yes, that’s right.’
Remus put it down again.
‘What would happen if you put in the other moons?’
Now, Mr Lupin took the goggles off and put his glasses back on.
‘The other moons?’
‘Well, Jupiter has lots of satellites,’ Remus said. ‘It’s not just the four of them. I think there’s at least sixteen.’
‘What are you talking about?’ Mr Lupin said, as if this was ludicrous. ‘I certainly haven’t seen them.’
‘Well, they’re not visible through a telescope. Muggle astronomers have found them.’
Mr Lupin snorted.
‘Muggle astronomers? I can’t see that counting.’
‘I think it’d be interesting. From a magical point of view.’
‘I can’t start making models of Jupiter with sixteen moons,’ Mr Lupin said. He put his goggles in again and picked up the stone representing Io. ‘People would think I’d gone loopy.’
‘At least Zeus got around enough to name another twelve moons,’ he said, not very loudly. ‘Come on, dad, there’s tea.’
‘Just a minute, just a minute...’
Remus went into the living-room on his own. His mother was just putting down the tea-tray on the table by the couch.
‘He’s just finishing up,’ he said by way of explanation.
‘So he’ll try to finish the entire model before tea,’ Mrs Lupin said, rolling her eyes, but not without a smile. ‘John!’ she called in the direction of the workshop. ‘Tea!’
Remus and his mother looked at each other and smiled; Mr Lupin’s ability at being absorbed in his work had been a source of annoyance and affection for them both.
Within a few minutes, Mr Lupin emerged. Remus watched as he settled into his armchair and accepted a cup of tea and a biscuit. He wondered how long he should wait. He did not want to throw it at them, but if he waited too long, his father would start talking about astrological modelling or his mother might begin discussing the the garden or the church roof. He sipped his tea, eyes still on his father. Mr Lupin took a gulp of tea and sighed with pleasure. Remus put his cup down.
‘There was something I wanted to talk to you about,’ he said.
A change came over his parents. His mother’s back straightened, and she looked at him with real fear. His father looked up, his tea forgotten, spilling onto the saucer.
‘It’s time for me to move.’
It was as if it took a few moments for them to understand what he had said. Mr Lupin was the first to move, but simply by exhaling. Mrs Lupin bit her lip; she looked close to tears.
‘I thought I might see what the Muggle world is like.’
His father put his teacup down, and picked his wife’s out of her hands.
‘Why?’ he said, sternly.
‘Well, I can’t stay here forever,’ Remus said with a laugh, but realised that it was a mistake. Mrs Lupin’s face had gone rigid. ‘I just think it’d be easier to find something. With the Ministry and everything...’
Mrs Lupin stood up suddenly.
‘I need to start dinner,’ she said, her voice as strict as her face. She put the cups on the tray and swept out into the kitchen with it. Mr Lupin stayed in his armchair for a moment, staring at his son. Then he stood up too.
‘I’d better get on with that Jupiter model...’
Remus was left alone in the living-room. Briefly, he thought of following either one to speak to them, but he decided against it. Instead, he went upstairs to his room.
The mess from that morning had receded, but there was still much to pack - what Muggle money he had (enough to keep him for a few days), a photograph from James and Lily’s wedding, his Muggle grandfather’s wrist-watch. His mother had given him that sometime in his teens - he could not remember quite when. It was not an expensive watch, and the leather-strap was very worn, but it still worked. Reminded by this, Remus went over to his bedside table and took out his pocket-watch. The inside of the gilded brass lid bore two inscriptions: “Julius 1907 Remus 1977”.
On the day he had been born, Remus’ father had put aside his own father’s watch to give his son. It had been a hefty, expensive silver watch with an ornate key and a diamond on each hand. By his sixth birthday, it had been obvious that Remus would never be able to carry it, much less hold it. As a substitute, he had been given his great-uncle Julius’ watch - certainly less valuable, but a nice piece of craftsmanship, with no silver in it. Remus had only seen his grandfather’s watch in photographs. What had happened to it he was not sure, but he suspected that his father had sold it to pay for Remus’ treatments. The thought of all the painful and ultimately futile attempts to treat his lycanthropy made Remus wish that his dad had cannibalised the watch to make lunascopes instead. There would have been some ironic humour to that, and would have done them more good in the long run. He weighed the brass watch in his hand, and then put it in the trunk too.
Perhaps he should go down and talk to them, after all. Pulling himself together, Remus left his room. Already on the landing, he could hear his parents’ voices from the kitchen. They must be talking about him again. He went back into his room.
Here there were memories of his childhood all around. Toys and school-books might have been moved to the peripheral shelves, but they were still there, dominating the room. He had done all his growing up away, at school and then among the Order. The end of the war had hit him so hard that he might as well have been a child again, at least in his parents’ eyes. The short years since then seemed not to count. Here, his achievements and his experiences melted away. His parents’ house was not so much a geographical place as a lost country of his childhood.
His father had made the desk himself for his eleventh birthday. It had seemed a splendid gift, and he had sat for hours on the spare kitchen chair they had let him have, rereading the Hogwarts letter at his new work-place. He had been excited about the idea of having homework, because that meant he was going to school. The year before his sixth year, he had grown tired of the pale blue walls and invited his friends to repaint it. They had spent three days on the project. They had all ended up half-covered in white paint, much to the chagrin of Mrs Lupin, who felt that she should have been able to stop at least her own son from fighting with the brushes. She had still brought them tea, squash and sandwiches at regular intervals, which they usually took down and had in the garden, lounging too long in the sun. Peter had still had white paint in one ear when he turned up at King’s Cross six weeks later. Remus recalled with a stab of regret how the white paint had looked when splattered over dark hair.
Idly, he looked through his bookshelves, wondering what else to bring. On the top shelf sat Mister Thomas, a cuddly rabbit which his father had dyed green to hide the bloodstains left on it after Greyback’s attack. (Being five years old, Remus had rejected it for several months because of this. A rabbit simply should not be green.) A few shelves down stood his first-year books. They had been old already when he got them, and he had cracked the spines on several of them, so there had been no reason to try to sell them on. Besides, he had loved them too much for his parents to dare to take them from him. At eye-level, above his school-books, were a variety of books on Dark creatures and defensive magic, even a few scholarly tomes on werewolves which his friends had bought him. He had only dared to have them on the shelf because there were other books which gave them camouflage.
Somehow his collection of Muggle fiction and poetry had not felt like enough of a disguise for the books he kept behind his larger school-books. Now, he heaved out his copy of One Thousand Magical Herbs and Fungi and pulled out a few books: a well-thumbed copy of Christopher Isherwood’s A Single Man, which he had found in a charity shop at the age of fifteen and read several times, Maurice, of which he had a first edition, and a finely bound copy of Leaves of Grass. As he buried them under other Muggle books in his trunk, he was aware that he treated them as though they were pornographic. Not even in his own room did he dare to have them visible on the shelf, even if his parents would not learn anything about him that they did not already know from them.
Remus had just finished packing the books his mother called up the stairs:
‘Remus! Dinner! Wash your hands!’
By the time he came downstairs, his parents were already at their places. His father was beating out a nervous tattoo against the table-edge, until his mother reached out and put her hand over his, to make him stop.
‘Hi,’ Remus said, his voice betraying his nerves. ‘What’s for dinner?’
‘Shepherd’s pie.’ Mrs Lupin stood up and reached out her hand. ‘Give me your plate, dear.’
She served the food with annoyed efficiency. There was implied disappointment in her movements, performing such a motherly task. Remus thanked her and smiled, but she avoided his eye. As they started eating, the silence seemed to hang between the three of them. He looked from mother to father, waiting for one of them to react. She was biting her lip hard while cutting her food, but still it trembled; he stared at his plate with a stony expression, lost in his own thoughts.
It was almost a relief when Mrs Lupin put her cutlery down and covered her face with hands.
‘Verity...’ Mr Lupin said and reached out to stroke her back. His wife seemed not to notice. Instead, she took her hands from her face and said:
‘Why, Remus? Why?’
‘Isn’t it obvious?’ Remus asked.
‘You owe us an explanation,’ Mr Lupin said calmly. Remus sensed he was casting himself as the voice of reason in this argument. Despite his kind tone, there was that undercurrent of blame. There always was, with his parents.
Remus sighed and put down his fork and knife.
‘I’ve spent the past three years trying to find a job in the magical world. People are bound to start noticing. What if they start swapping notes? What if word gets out about what I am? So I thought I could lie low for a while. It’d give them some time to forget me.’
‘But why among Muggles?’ Mr Lupin said, frowning. ‘Surely there is no need...’
‘It’d be nice to work somewhere where I don’t have to be afraid of getting lynched,’ Remus said, unable to stop himself. His parents looked confused. ‘Mum, dad, the wizarding world isn’t safe for werewolves. You know that.’
‘What makes you think the Muggle world will be any better?’ Mrs Lupin asked sharply. ‘Just because they wouldn’t know what your condition is doesn’t change anything, you know. You’d still have to Change.’
‘Yes, I know,’ Remus said. His patience was wearing thin. ‘But do you have any idea of the strain it puts me under to worry that people might find out why I’m ill once a month? I want to be able not to worry about it.’
‘And how are you going to explain it to them?’ Mr Lupin said.
‘Dad, I haven’t figured everything out yet. But I will.’
‘It’s not right,’ he said firmly. ‘Remus, your place is in the wizarding world. You have earned it.’
Just because you fought for me, and Dumbledore decided to give me a chance, Remus thought. The reminder of that debt to his father made him feel bitter.
‘Do you think people care? They don’t care that I’m a fully qualified wizard. They don’t give a damn that I have six NEWTs. All they see is a monster.’
‘You’re not a monster,’ his mother said firmly.
‘I know,’ he said dejectedly. ‘But tell that to the Ministry.’
‘You shouldn’t let them get to you...’
‘But they already have, dad. They always have.’
His father sighed, but it was his mother who spoke.
‘You don’t know what the Muggle world is like right now,’ she said. ‘There are children only a mile away who have holes in their shoes. Mothers who can’t feed their families. Fathers who can’t get a job. Do you think I make those food parcels for fun?’
‘I know that, mum,’ Remus said, interrupting her. ‘But it’s a question of there being few jobs, as opposed to no jobs. I can’t get a wizarding job. It’s too difficult, and frankly, I don’t dare. Besides, I was thinking of going down south. London, perhaps.’
‘There were riots in London only a fortnight ago,’ Mrs Lupin said sharply.
‘Fine, I won’t go to London. I’ll go somewhere else. Perhaps to the countryside. I’ve never much liked cities anyway. But I am going.’
His parents stalled. Finally his mother took a deep breath and said slowly:
‘They might refuse you employment for... other reasons than the lycanthropy.’
Remus took up his cutlery again and started cutting a piece of shepherd’s pie.
‘I wouldn’t tell them that,’ he said, not looking at his mother. An old thought briefly returned - did it show? Was it possible to tell by the way he looked, walked, spoke? He thought it didn’t, but he did not know how others perceived him.
‘Look, Remus, it’s not right,’ his father said suddenly. ‘Wizards shouldn’t have Muggle jobs.’
‘Great-uncle Julius worked in the council archives,’ Remus reminded him. Mr Lupin sighed.
‘Well, uncle Julius stopped being able to do magic,’ he said. ‘All that mixing with Muggles…’
‘“Mixing with Muggles”?’ Remus repeated incredulously. ‘Dad, he volunteered for the Army...’
‘And it was a stupid thing to do,’ he said sharply. ‘It wasn’t his concern, was it? It was a Muggle war.’
Remus laughed, unable to believe what he was hearing.
‘It was almost fifteen years before you were born, dad...’
‘Well, look where it got him!’
‘Great-uncle Julius stopped being able to do magic because he was shell-shocked, not because he hung around Muggles,’ Remus said, getting to his feet. He carried his plate over to the sink - he had lost his appetite. ‘What a good thing that I’ve already got that over with, so you don’t have to worry about that happening to me!’
Both his parents looked up in shock.
‘How can you joke about such a thing?’ his father said sharply.
‘If anyone can joke about it, it’s me, isn’t it? It was me it happened to.’
‘You can’t count us out of this, young man,’ Mrs Lupin said, not tearful anymore but angry. ‘This is not just about you...’
‘Can’t you at least trust me enough to let me live my own life?’ Remus snapped. He took a deep breath and managed to compose himself somewhat. ‘I thought you’d understand, mum. I’ve always been curious what the Muggle world’s like.’
‘No, your father’s right,’ Mrs Lupin said, also getting to her feet and collecting the remaining plates. ‘It’s not right, crossing worlds like that.’
‘You crossed worlds.’
‘I married your father,’ she snapped. ‘That is something completely different.’
‘Fine,’ he said.
‘Just because your mother is a Muggle doesn’t make you one,’ Mr Lupin said, a little calmer now. ‘We don’t want you pretending to be something you’re not.’
It took a moment for him to find an answer.
‘When do I not pretend to be something I’m not?’ he asked, incredulously.
‘I wasn’t talking about that - I was talking about the magic...’
‘What -“it’s not the same”?’ he snapped. ‘Why can’t I decide what I hide? I’m used to keep secrets - what difference is one more going to make?’
They stared at him, mystified. It was as if they really did not understand.
‘Mum, dad, I’m of age,’ Remus said. ‘I’ve been of age for eight years. You can’t tell me what to do, or where to stay.’
Mrs Lupin sighed and hugged herself. The silence was only a truce, not a surrender. She went back to the table and sat down again. Mr Lupin took her hand. Remus caught them looking at each other, and sensed a quiet conversation going between them. He remembered their cryptic discussion at breakfast. He wondered again what it had been about.
Then his father shook himself, as if distancing himself from whatever they had spoken about.
‘Why?’ he asked. ‘Is it a question of money?’
‘Partly,’ Remus admitted. ‘You don’t tell me much of what is going on, but I know that money is tight...’
‘It isn’t,’ Mrs Lupin said quickly. ‘Don’t think for one moment that you’re a burden...’
‘I wouldn’t mind actually being told what’s going on,’ he said. ‘After all, I’m not a child.’
Mr Lupin ignored this.
‘I need to do something with my life,’ he said. It was strange having to spell this out. ‘I’ve spent a month sitting around here doing nothing. It’s been like that for half the time the past three years. I can’t be idle.’
‘Then help me with the models,’ Mr Lupin said, his face brightening. ‘You could learn the trade. And you were always good at arithmancy and astronomy. And if there’s two of us, we would be more productive, so I’d be able to pay you...’
‘I can’t,’ Remus said. It made him feel weary that his father forgot this. ‘For one thing, I can’t handle silver. For another, my fingers aren’t in good enough shape.’ He wiggled them in illustration. This close to the new-moon, they were fairly dextrous, but in only a week, the joints would start swelling painfully again. ‘To be honest, dad, even if I could I wouldn’t want to. It doesn’t appeal to me. It’s your job, not mine.’ Deciding it was better to the honest, he said: ‘I can’t stay here. I need to get away from it all.’
His parents looked crestfallen.
‘But... Remus...’ his mother said, her voice shaking.
‘It’s time to fly the nest.’ He shrugged, hoping would convey that this was somehow out of his hands.
Mrs Lupin pulled herself up, as if clinging to some small piece of dignity.
‘When were you thinking of leaving?’ she asked.
She inhaled, almost like a hiss of grief, but hid it well.
‘I’m packing,’ Remus said. ‘Actually, I should probably get back to that.’
His parents looked at each other again. Remus thought there was something pleading in his mother’s eye, as if trying to prompt his father to do something, but if that was the case, he either did not notice or ignored it.
‘Very well,’ he said. His voice was hollow.
‘Alright,’ Remus said. ‘I’ll be upstairs.’
Before they answered, he turned and left the kitchen.
His bedroom seemed eerily empty after the tense feeling in the kitchen. He paused in the doorway, trying to get used to this new silence. His mother’s face seemed drawn in front of his eyes. Remus rubbed his eyes and sighed, torn between annoyance at their lack of understanding and self-reproach for some of the things he had said.
At once, he was grabbed by a sudden mad urge to make away with all farewells - finish packing and leave in the night. Now, when he was upset and - he realised - tired, it seemed both kinder and easier. He imagined being free from that nagging guilt of not taking up his father’s offer and not acknowledging his mother’s pleading gaze. It would be liberating to be able to make his own way, and not feel reminded that really he should stay at home under his parents’ watchful eye. Removed from their presence, it was easy to imagine a life without that, but also without the constant money-worries. He could build up a modest library on topics he enjoyed. On Sundays he could read his books at some local café. Perhaps he would glance up from the pages at someone, and receive a smile in return...
Remus shook himself. It would not be like that. He was choosing the less comfortable of two lives, but it was the only one he could choose. Looking back on his daydream, he realised that he had just wished that his parents did not exist. The thought ran through him like a physical sensation of cold and made him shiver. He shied away from it, scared by the knowledge that someday, his parents would die. He dared not think about it closely, as if it would bring it to pass. They were the only people he had left.
It was strange how easy it was, even now, when he was well, to think of his own death. For as long as he could remember, it had always been a possibility. Although they had never spoken about it, his parents must have imagined burying him, even discussed and planned it. Their possessiveness was understandable, considering that they had spent years watching him suffer, and saved every knut and penny to pay for experimental potions and backstreet treatments, all the time knowing they might survive him. For a brief moment, he considered his decision again. He did not want to hurt them, after all they had done to him.
Then he remembered some of the things they had said, and he became angry again. It was an exhausting feeling. If he let himself slip into it, he would find so many things to feed it that he would never be able to stop. All the reasons he loved them would become reasons to hate them.
I will not storm off in a rage, he told himself. I’m a rational adult. I will leave for the right reasons. It took immense effort to pull himself away from the pit of anger. He wanted to indulge it, but knew that all it would do would be to prove them right. If he shouted and broke things, they would treat him like a child having a tantrum or (indistinguishably) an invalid coming apart at the seams. He was left with the uneasy feeling this house and this room gave him. His parents’ protection of him trapped him here with old fears.
Just one more night, he promised himself. Then I’m leaving.
With a start, he woke. The darkness around him startled him. He blinked, expecting the imprint of light on his eyes, but there was nothing. He tried to calm his breathing. His deep breaths shook with the effort.
A creak from the shadows made him jump. Then a light appeared - his door had been opened.
The light from a lit wand fell on Mr Lupin’s face. Remus sighed in relief.
‘Sorry, you startled me.’ He found his own wand on the bedside table and lit it too. ‘What are you doing up, dad?’
‘You called out,’ he explained and stepped inside.
‘Sorry,’ Remus said and rubbed his eyes. ‘Did I wake mum as well?’
‘No,’ Mr Lupin said. He swished his wand, and the desk chair came trotting over to him. ‘I was already awake.’ He sat down and looked at him searchingly. ‘Nightmare?’
‘Do you want to talk about it?’
‘I can’t really remember any details. I... dropped my wand. There was fighting.’ The dream was slipping away. ‘I don’t know.’
His father made a sympathetic sound. When Remus looked over at him, he was struck by how old he looked. He was only two years away from turning sixty, but it was not just age. He looked worn out, not by violent bouts of illness, like Remus, but from the slow and relentless grind of an unforgiving reality. He would have had an easy life, if it hadn’t been for me, Remus thought. He’d have kept his Ministry job, he could have afforded to have more children, he would be spared all that sorrow...
And yet he smiled at him. It was a sad smile, but it was loving. Remus smiled back, cautiously. Having just woken up from a nightmare, he felt exposed. There was also the reminder of all the other times his father had sat where he sat now. When he had been little, and too scared of the moon waxing to sleep. When he had clawed himself bloody during the full-moon, and had not been certain whether he was about to faint or fall asleep. When he had kept himself awake for fear of dreaming about the war, yet desperate to escape the waking world of sudden noises and painful memories.
‘I’m okay,’ he said, half to his father, half to himself. ‘You don’t have to stay, dad.’ Mr Lupin rolled his wand between his fingers, watching how the light shifted over the room. Remus sensed him about to speak several times, then he clasped the wand again and took a deep breath.
‘We’re worried about you.’
‘Dad, I’m not changing my mind about this.’
‘Your mother says...’
‘Mum always worries,’ he said, interrupting him. ‘She frets for no good reason. You know that.’
Mr Lupin sighed.
‘She has good reason this time.’
Remus did not know what he meant. Surely this was not the rioting in London that she had mentioned? They must know what he could cope on his own - after all, he had fought a war. He might not have come out of it unscathed, but he had survived it.
‘I can take care of myself, dad.’
His father took a deep breath.
‘It’s not so much a matter of that,’ he said. ‘There’s been a lot in the Muggle newspapers recently... about a disease. It’s incurable and deadly.’ His words sounded stilted, as if he had rehearsed them many times in his head and now, when speaking them, found them inadequate. ‘Have you heard about this?’
‘No,’ Remus admitted, listening now. He wondered why he hadn’t. Surely something like that would be spoken about in wizarding circles too?
‘It’s... quite terrible, actually,’ his father said. He sounded almost embarrassed, but there was a slight quiver in his voice. Remus realised that he was genuinely upset. ‘It breaks down the body’s defences. People die within a few years. And there’s nothing they can do.’ He paused and swallowed. It shook Remus to realise that his father, who was by no means easily upset, was close to tears. ‘Remus... you’re...’ He paused and tried to compose himself. ‘You’re careful, aren’t you?’
‘Careful?’ Remus did not understand what he meant. It seemed like a complete non sequitur. ‘What do you mean, dad?’
Mr Lupin took a deep breath and, closing his eyes as if it would make it easier, said:
‘It’s spreading among homosexuals.’
Remus sat stock-still, not certain how to react.
‘Oh,’ he said. He shifted, clasped his hands, unclasped them again. His father had opened his eyes again, but was looking away. ‘You mean careful when it comes to sex.’
‘Yes.’ The word sounded hollow. They sat in silence, neither of them inclined to speak. Remus stared at his hands, not wanting to look at his father. After a long time, Mr Lupin spoke, with a new, almost authoritative tone. ‘Your mother and I feel we have reason to be concerned.’
Now Remus did look at him. With a sinking feeling, he realised what his parents were concerned about. In their mind’s eye, there must be a parade of nameless men, each a new corrupting influence on their son. His parents, who had always worked so hard to be understanding, and at times - happier times, before Sirius’ betrayal - had even seemed happy for him...
‘How long has it been going on - this disease?’ It all depended on that, of course. He felt himself tensing with worry.
‘Rather recent, in Britain, from what I’ve understood,’ Mr Lupin said. ‘It started in America four years ago or so, but there weren’t that many cases over here until last year.’
‘Then you don’t have anything to worry about.’
‘Remus, you can’t just dismiss this...’
‘Dad, drop it,’ he said, louder. ‘It’s....’ He reached out and brought his alarm-clock into the light from the wand. ‘...three o’clock in the morning, and I need to sleep, because I’m going away tomorrow.’ His father still watched him, as though he was not about to let it go. With a feeling of trepidation, Remus realised that it would be better, and ultimately easier, to be frank. ‘Look, dad,’ he said. He tried to speak up, but it was hard. ‘I haven’t seen anyone for four years. Not since Sirius.’ He paused, as though he needed to rid his mouth of the bad taste of that name. ‘And I can’t see that changing, even if I do get a Muggle job.’ He half wanted to elaborate - about how minute the chance of meeting other gay men was in the first place, and how, even if he did, he was thin and pale and covered in twenty years’ worth of werewolf scratches, and other scars besides - but there was no way he could say those things.
Mr Lupin frowned, looking just as disconcerted at this confidence as at his own assumption of his son’s promiscuity.
‘Right. Well... well, that’s good to... good to know,’ he stammered. ‘But you should be... aware of it.’
Remus smiled - being this tired, he found his father’s awkwardness endearing.
‘I need to go back to sleep, dad.’
‘Of course.’ He got to his feet and cleared his throat. ‘Well, good night.’
Mr Lupin left. The light under the door grew fainter as he crossed the landing. Remus put his hand on his own wand and said, ‘nox’. The light went out. He lay down again, first on his side, then on his back. The conversation had left him wide awake. He tried to clear his mind, but closing his eyes and trying to clear his mind did not work. Time and time again, he came back to the things his father had said. There was so much of it that he barely knew where to start. First of all, this illness, which his father had not given a name. And then his father’s sternness mixed with fear - ‘your mother and I feel we have reason to be concerned.’ The fact that they thought he was sleeping around! Anger, reminiscent of that he had felt last night, flared up inside him. Here was yet another sign that they did not trust him. Worse than that, they had let prejudice override common sense. Besides, they should have realised that after the events leading to Sirius’ imprisonment (how he hated even to think of him!), he was not likely to go off with some other bloke as if nothing had happened. Didn’t they know him well enough to see that? Had they not seen what that betrayal had done to him?
He sighed in frustration and turned onto his side again, punching his pillow into shape. It was a strange feeling, to be credited with more experience than one had. That it came from his parents made it particularly awkward. Now, he thought uneasily about the fact that he had told his father, however euphemistically, that he hadn’t slept with anyone since Sirius, even implying that he had been the only one he had ever slept with. He felt a strange guilt at even having said the word “sex” in his father’s presence. Then he remembered his father’s mortification at having to use the word “homosexual”. He must be just as embarrassed. Remus remembered his parents’ shocked faces when he had said he wanted to talk to them. They must have expected something completely different...
Remus sat up, remembering the conversation he had listened to that morning, and their speaking glances at dinner. They must have looked for the right time to speak to him all month, consciously keeping the knowledge away from him. In his mind’s eye, he could see the Daily Prophet clamped securely under his father’s arm as he smoked his morning pipe. It had been in the Muggle papers for over a year, but it had only just turned up in the Prophet.
Curiosity propelled Remus out of bed. He put on his dressing-gown, took his wand and lit it. Careful not to make a sound, he stepped out onto the landing. He paused. There was no light from under his parents’ door, and he could not hear anything. Perhaps his father was asleep again, or pretended to be. Remus went downstairs. The only thing to be heard was the sound of his bare feet against the steps. In his nightshirt and dressing-gown, walking barefoot, out of bed in the middle of the night, he somehow felt much younger. He was sneaking out of bed to rifle through his parents’ secrets, like a curious child would. The thought annoyed him.
The October chill had penetrated into the downstairs rooms. Remus crossed to the workshop, hesitating for a moment in the doorway. It felt like an imposition to enter, but then he reminded himself that his father entered his room without knocking.
While the living-room had been dark, the workshop was bathed in a faint light from the lunascopes. Remus swept the light of his wand over the surfaces. Soon, he spotted the newspaper, discarded on a chair. Unsettled by the artificial moonlight, Remus took it and hurried back into the living-room. There, sitting down in the sofa, he unfolded the paper. As it rustled, he glanced towards the stairs, even if he had not heard anyone there. In the night, every noise seemed magnified. It felt as if even the sound of him rubbing his foot against the carpet might wake his parents.
It took him a while to find the article. It was short, taking up only a third of a page. The headline read: “St Mungo healers warn of Muggle disease” Remus traced the lines with his wand:
Remus put the newspaper down on his lap. The beast had a name, then. He reread the first paragraph. His lit wand-tip paused at the phrase “Muggles engaging in a variety of unconventional practices”. That was the closest the article had got to mentioning homosexuality. The Muggle press was likely to be less euphemistic. There had obviously not been any doubt in his parent’s minds that he was at risk of this thing, so there were bound to be more direct references.
“Three healers at St Mungo’s Hospital for Magical Maladies and Injuries have made a statement about a recently discovered illness, primarily found among Muggles engaging in a variety of unconventional practices. Muggle medical experts have named the disease Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome, most often abbreviated AIDS. The disease was reportedly first observed in America in 1981, but soon crossed the Atlantic.
‘Muggle health authorities have stated that over a hundred cases occurred last year,’ says one healer. ‘Numbers are certainly on the rise. Over two hundred new cases has been reported since the beginning of 1985.’
AIDS is characterised by a breakdown of the body’s ability to fight off disease, which leads to several conditions which magical medicine is unable to treat. Life expectancy after the syndrome is diagnosed is seldom more than two years, and often less. Healer Sheridan Talbot warns that Muggle authorities is now expecting a dramatic rise in cases, as AIDS may spread beyond the confines of small groups. There is therefore a considerable risk that it will eventually affect the wizarding community.
‘We have as little chance to fight this thing as the Muggles’, Healer Talbot says.
When asked whether any patients with AIDS have been treated at St Mungo’s, the healers declined to answer, but emphasised that ‘there will inevitably be cases among wizards’.
AIDS is primarily spread through bodily fluids. The healers advice caution when dealing with Muggles.
‘The disease is mostly spread through intimate contacts’, says Healer Messaline Barrett. ‘There is no reason to be frightened of your Muggle neighbours. No one has caught AIDS through shaking someone’s hand.’
What then about those who do not stop at shaking hands? Fornication between wizards and Muggles, which only years ago could bring the wrath of the Death Eaters, followers of He Who Must Not Be Named, now carries with it a different threat.
‘When AIDS enters our community, it will be through wizards or witches who have engaged in venereal acts with Muggles’, Healer Talbot concludes.”
Putting the Prophet aside, he crossed to the fireplace and took a bunch of discarded newspapers from the basket beside it. He sorted out the wizarding ones, and returned to the sofa with several copies of the Times. The paper rustled as he turned the pages, and several times he paused, afraid he would wake his parents. Quickly, he forgot that worry. Instead, he started searching the papers with a new anxiousness. The light of his wand darted across headlines. Soon, he spotted the words he had been looking for. As soon as he started seeing them, there seemed no end to them. Wide-eyed, he read article upon article, leaning over the newspapers, shielding words he thought he would never see in print. He became inundated by facts, opinions, reported rumours.
“Rights before responsibility … a deadly disease that anyone could catch from intimate contact with an Aids sufferer … spreading at an alarming rate … Aids is rather like a black parody of Pascal’s wager. The risk of catching it may be slight, but the consequences of doings are horrendous. People therefore prefer to take no chances - and that means avoiding known sufferers and potential sufferers. … Aids is spread principally by the promiscuous homosexual activity … This is a reductio ad absurdum of civil rights - the right to sexual activity that risks both slow and horrible suicide and the spread of a fatal disease through society.”
“The cost of caring for a predicted total of 3,000 patients of Aids (acquired immune deficiency syndrome) by August 1987 will be £60 million … Hospital staff caring for Aids patients were already overburdened with the work involved and were struggling to cope. ‘There is a danger that other patients, with other diseases, will suffer from lack of care because of the commitment of staff needed to deal with Aids patients.’”
“…sexual contact, blood transfusion, syringe needles or other sharp instruments contaminated with infected blood … reduced energy, fever, swollen lymph glands, loss of resistance to infections, and some cancers …”
“‘Because of this unnatural act we have this disease of Aids spread throughout the world. We should be trying to get rid of the sickness in society, educating people to eliminate it.’”
“A judge in Manchester yesterday lifted a court order which prevented an Aids victim aged 29 from leaving hospital … the decision by magistrates to keep the man in hospital was a proper one, however, given the medical evidence … Health officials are concerned that many people who may be at risk from Aids will try to donate blood just to have it tested for traces of the infection …”
“Several thousand people in Britain will die of Aids within the next few years and nothing can be done to prevent it, according to the preliminary findings of a study into men’s homosexual behaviour … because of the incubation period of the disease is at least two years, the deaths will occur even if homosexuals become celibate immediately.”
“…the Gay Plague … the wise man or woman will modify his or her sex life. It would obviously as well to avoid intercourse with a bisexual or the very promiscuous … sexual drive being as strong as it is, discretion will often be rejected in favour of excitement … In view of the present situation it seems that the free and easy approach to sexual matters which started in the 1960s and 1970s, will now have to be abandoned until a vaccine can be produced.”
Remus rubbed his eyes. Reading in the poor light of his wand made them hurt, but he barely paid attention to it. While he had been reading, it was as if the world around him had grown. It was a towering, threatening presence, smothering and exposing him at the same time. The constant mentions of homosexuals startled him, but he had the sense that the journalists, and for that matter the readers, who the newspaper seemed to assume were all good and honest heterosexuals, were even more taken aback that such people even existed. There was a forced candidness in these articles, quite unlike the euphemisms in the Prophet. There were mentions of things he had never seen written down, and only seldom heard discussed outside the dormitory or the bedroom. Some of the mentions were verging on the sympathetic, but many were critical or even hateful. Here was yet another reason for society to hate homosexuals. There were rational arguments against them now - even if they didn’t corrupt the youth, or were generally unsavoury, they were plague-carriers. With a sense of unease, Remus thought about this new possible position. His orientation may have had the potential of inspiring disgust, but it had been his condition - which had nothing to with his preferences - that inspired fear. Now that was not a certainty anymore. Underneath or beyond the reasoned language of the articles of the broadsheet, Remus sensed a state of panic.
At least he was in the clear. There had only been a handful of cases in Britain before last year. Although he could not be certain about his former lover’s faithfulness, he was at least certain that he had never been to America. That fact may be enough for him, even if was unlikely to convince the homophobes. Still, this must have a huge impact on people’s behaviour. Were people still even having sex? On the other hand - how had they put it in that last article? “Discretion will often be rejected in favour of excitement.”
Remus sighed and started to folding up the papers again. His feet felt raw with cold. Through the gloom, he could just about make out the hands of the grandfather clock in the corner. It was half past four - he had sat here well over an hour. Now he was aware of how exhausted he felt.
He stuffed the newspapers back into the basket, feeling it was not worth it to try to hide the fact that he had read them. He looked around the darkened living-room, eager to escape. Tomorrow, he had promised himself. Tomorrow morning. He needed to get some sleep before then, if he was to be in any state to travel. Careful not to make any noise, he went upstairs again. He lay awake for some time yet, still thinking through what he had read.