Title: Moonlit Perdition
Author: Erika (firedrake88yahoo.com)
Summary: Sirius befriends a timid Remus and then struggles to learn more about his mysterious friend. What brutal nightmares cause him to scream and thrash so much that he becomes entangled in sweat-drenched covers? Why does he disappear once a month? Is there anything Sirius can do to help him?
Timeframe: Remus, Sirius, James, and Peter are first-years.
Spoilers: For PoA
Category: Angst, H/C, POV
Disclaimers: Hogwarts and all of its characters belong to JK Rowling, I'm only borrowing them to have a little fun and I promise to return them unharmed (well, at least mostly unharmed =0). I'm making no money from this and this is written for entertainment purposes only.
Feedback: Both positive feedback and constructive criticism are greatly appreciated and will be cherished!
Archive: Please ask first. =)
Author's Note: Yes, I am aware that first-years wouldn't know all the charms that they know in my story, but that's really not relevant to what happens so please be kind and overlook it.
James and I first met Remus on the Hogwarts Express. He and I had been busy pulling a prank on Snape – a fellow first-year who we had met in Diagon Alley and taken an immediate disliking to – and had almost missed the train. Having scrambled aboard just as the main cabin's doors were sliding shut we had found all the compartments full expect for one in the very back, which held a single occupant. A small, lean boy with shoulder-length sandy brown hair and inquisitive yet shy emerald eyes. Remus.
Though we had never chanced to speak with him we knew who he was. He was the quiet, withdrawn first-year that had wandered from shop to shop in Diagon Alley, alone. Whereas other first-years had busied themselves with getting to know their soon-to-be classmates while shopping for the necessary materials needed at Hogwarts, he had avoided that normal interaction and instead made his purchases as quickly as possible.
At first I had assumed he was one of those people that preferred solitude, that was perfectly happy outside the crowd, but then I had noticed the furtive glances he gave nearby groups of friends when he thought no one was watching. There was no annoyance in his eyes when he observed them boisterously looking for the perfect owl, wand, or caldron, only a wistful, longing look to have what they had. It was then that it occurred to me that Remus was a boy who had never had friends, desperately wanted them, but purposefully kept himself from opening up to anyone.
Honestly, he intrigued me. What would make someone close himself off from friendship? I wanted to find out. Therefore, while James was disappointed that we would have to endure an entire train ride with such an un-talkative companion, I was curious to learn more about Remus.
Having curled up by the window with what appeared to be an enthralling book that thoroughly captivated his interest, Remus did not at first notice James and I standing in the doorway. It wasn't until James and I had exchanged several nervous glances and I had pointedly cleared my throat that he looked up.
"D'you mind if we sit here?" I asked, "All the other compartments are full."
Remus seemed surprised that we were even speaking to him. It was as if he had grown used to being alone, to being avoided. "Of course not," he answered with a shy smile, "go ahead."
"Thanks," James and I said in unison, pushing our trunks into the corner of the compartment, next to Remus', and setting our caged owls on two of the empty seats before sitting down ourselves.
"I'm Sirius Black," I smiled, extending my hand to Remus.
"Remus Lupin," he shook my hand.
"James Potter," James said, forgoing Remus' hand and instead hitting him softly on the back.
My friend and I looked at each other and then back at Remus. No one spoke. After a rather awkward moment of silence, Remus returned to his book, though I could tell he was spending just as much time glancing up at the two of us as he was reading the text.
"So," James shifted his attention to me and grinned conspiratorially, "I reckon that greasy-haired Snape is gonna be a Slytherin for sure. Whataya say to sneaking into their dorms tonight and jinxing all their robes bright pink?"
"Yeah, it'll go with that becoming shade of fuchsia that we made his hair!" I agreed, laughing.
"Hmm…I wonder if there's a spell we can use to turn his robes into a lacy dress? Then he'd look like one of those Muggle barbies!" he added before breaking into a nearly hysterical fit of laugher, which was presumably in response to the image of Snape in a dress.
"Or maybe," a dangerously soft voice sneered, "I could enchant you two into squawking like chickens. I'm sure that we would all find that quite amusing."
James and I immediately jumped to our feet. Standing inside the doorway of our compartment – which had somehow slid open without our noticing – was Snape, wand drawn. Snape's hair, we noticed with glee, was still a greasy pink and judging by the murderous look in his eyes he had come searching for revenge.
Sharing a glance, we both reached for our wands but Snape had already uttered a few inaudible words and flicked his menacingly at us. A yellowish stream of light shot from the tip of his wand and towards us but before we could duck out of the way we heard Remus shout, "Expelliarmus!"
Snape's wand flew from his hand and into the hallway, disrupting the beam of light and causing it to disperse before hitting us. Glaring at us, he quickly went to retrieve his wand but before he could return we heard a voice calling, "Snape! Come here! It's against school rules for first-years to use magic on the train!"
Sparing us one last hateful smirk, Snape disappeared down the hallway.
James quickly shut the compartment door and we both turned to look at Remus, who still had his wand raised in the air.
"Wow!" I said, "I've never heard that one before, where'd you learn it?"
Remus tucked his wand back into his robes, "It's just something I picked up from a book I read. It's a disarming charm."
"Well…thanks." I sat down again and so did James.
"No problem," he answered distractedly as he focused on his book again. The slight smile that flicked across his lips told me he was pleased to have helped us.
James and I spent the next hour or so talking excitedly about Hogwarts and what it would be like there. We were both a little nervous that we wouldn't end up in Gryffindor but figured that as long as it wasn't Slytherin, we'd be fine. Much to James' confusion I tried to include Remus in our conversation several times. Unfortunately, Remus would answer whatever question I posed him as quickly and politely as possible before continuing with his book.
Sighing, I stared out the window at the passing countryside. There had to be someway to draw Remus out of his shell. Everyone deserved to have friends. Why was Remus so withdrawn from everyone when it was so clear that hanging out alone was the last thing he wanted?
"Remus!" I exclaimed suddenly, getting an idea. "Do you want to play Wizard Chess with me?"
It was hard to say who looked more surprised. James, for my not having asked him, or Remus, for the same reason.
"I-I…er…don't know how to play, actually," Remus admitted, blushing.
"That's okay," James said immediately, "We'll teach you."
I shot James a grateful look for not being annoyed.
Smiling hesitantly, Remus nodded and finally set aside his book. "Okay."
"Great!" I said, rummaging through my chest until I found my chess set.
It turned out that my idea to play Wizard Chess worked better than I ever could have imagined. True, the first few games were awkward as we played mostly in an uncomfortable silence, but after that, when it became obvious to Remus that neither James nor I were annoyed by his poor playing skills, everything changed. Remus, delighted by the fact that we actually wanted to get to know him, confided that being accepted to Hogwarts was the best thing that had ever happened to him and that he, too, wanted to be in Gryffindor. Then he asked us what we knew about the school and before we knew it we were lost in a conversation about what each of us had heard about our teachers and classes.
By the time we had arrived at Hogwarts James and I had learned that Remus had a peculiar but thoroughly amusing sense of humor, that he was very intelligent and determined to excel in school, and that he preferred to discuss anything except himself. Whenever James talked about his parents or I about the friends I was leaving behind, Remus would withdraw back into himself until the topic of conversation changed. It was to no avail that I tried to coax him into telling us more about himself and finally I gave up, realizing that learning more about my introverted friend would have to wait until he realized that we truly considered him to be our friend and stopped looking surprised whenever we laughed at one of his jokes or appeared interested in what he was saying.
It was sad, but it seemed to me that Remus truly thought it unlikely that anyone could ever like him enough to consider him a friend. If that was true, I realized it would be up to James and me to show him he was wrong. Fortunately for all of us, my resolution to befriend Remus was made easier by the fact that we were all sorted into Gryffindor and that, miraculously enough, we were all assigned the same dorm room.
"This is wonderful," I exclaimed happily as I theatrically allowed myself to fall back onto my bed.
"Yeah," James agreed, running his fingers through his hair in an attempt to keep it from falling onto his forehead. "So…" he looked at me with a familiar glint in his eyes, "Are you still on for sneaking into the Slytherin dorm?"
I immediately jumped up off the bed, "You bet! I can't wait to see Snape in pink!"
"Great!" James said, making his way to the door of our dorm, "We'll have to hurry though. We don't know the Slytherin password so we'll have to follow someone in."
"D'you want to come, Remus?" I asked, halfway to the door.
I expected Remus to again look surprised at being asked to join us, smile shyly, and then agree. My new friend, however, did not respond. When I turned back to see if he had heard me I found that he was sitting on his bed with his knees pulled up against his chest and his eyes fixed on the moon and starry night sky that were visible through the window.
"Remus?" I tried again, but still he did not answer. He was totally oblivious to his surroundings. Shrugging, I followed an impatient James.
The sound of the Great Hall roaring in laughter when all the Slytherin students showed up to breakfast in pink robes was worth the week's worth of detention we received for such a "childish, immature, and unnecessary" prank, as Professor McGonagall put it. As was the fact that we became Gryffindor heroes overnight. It seemed that news flew so fast in Hogwarts that by the time we entered the Transfigurations room – our first class of the year – everyone knew of our little expedition and applauded and whistled when we sat down next to Remus. Slytherin was not at all liked by any of the other three houses and we were immediately bombarded with congratulations and many questions on how we had managed to change the color of all their robes without having to do it one by one.
James, loving the attention, was about to launch into an over-dramatized explanation of how we had accomplished this feat when Professor McGonagall entered the classroom and immediately began the day's lesson. After that we didn't hear much talk about the prank until two hours later when Charms ended and we found ourselves outside for a flying lesson and our first class with the infuriated Slytherins.
As soon as James, Remus, and I arrived we saw a group of pink-robed boys break off from the rest of the students and make their way towards us. Unfortunately, the class began before they even reached us and the confrontation I knew was brewing would have to wait until later.
The class itself promised to be one of my favorites. After all, James and I had been practice-playing Quidditch for years now and were both already very talented on the broom. So, while the rest of the class was taught the basics of flying, James and I played airtag above them. For a while it even seemed that everything would proceed without incident. It wasn't until the very end, when the class was instructed to mount their brooms, take off, levitate some ten to fifteen feet above the ground, and then land, that we became aware of any problem.
Unfortunately, the problem was that Remus was afraid of heights. While the rest of the class was easily able to touch back down relatively smoothly, Remus froze while hovering about twelve feet up in the air. Though he was told, several times, how to tilt the broom back down and land, he seemed unable to stop shaking long enough to do so. In fact, he appeared totally and completely petrified with his hands clutching the broom so tightly that his knuckles turned white.
I was already flying towards him, ready to grab hold of his broom and ease him down, when the broom itself grew restless and proceeded to fly in haphazard circles for a few moments before unceremoniously dropping a ghost-white Remus to the ground.
Our fellow Gryffindors were quick to form a concerned circle around Remus while James and I landed and hurried over to our fallen friend, who was lying on the ground with a furious blush coloring his cheeks.
Hoping he would be able to ignore the howling laughter of the Slytherins, I drew Remus' attention. "Hey, are you okay?" I asked, lending him a hand and pulling him to his feet.
"Yeah," Remus muttered, sounding ashamed and not meeting my concerned gaze.
"Move aside," the professor ordered and the crowed immediately parted to allow her entry. "Lupin," she said, looking him up and down, "Come with me to the hospital wing, we must make sure you're unharmed."
Remus' blush deepened. "No! Really…I'm all right, I just–"
"Nonsense," the professor cut him off with a wave of her hand, "follow me."
Reluctantly, Remus allowed himself to be led back inside the castle.
"No wonder Gryffindor hasn't won the Quidditch cup in over four years, they can't even manage to stay on their brooms!" a Slytherin sneered from behind us.
Furious that anyone would be so insensitive to someone else's obvious fear, I lifted my wand and turned on the girl. "If you don't shut your mouth I'll give you pink skin to go with that robe!" I snarled.
Some of the Gryffindors laughed but the Slytherin girl – a rather nasty looking brunette with sharply chiseled yellow eyes that made her look like some sort of animal – immediately drew her wand and shouted "Impedimenta!"
A red spark of light shot straight out at me from the end of her wand and before I knew what hit me I was knocked off my feet and thrown back, spinning, through the air. When I landed it was with such impact that the wind was knocked from me and a sharp pain encased my body.
I could hear the sniggers of the girl's fellow-Slytherins as I winced and struggled to catch my breath.
I quickly scrambled to my feet just in time to see James swish his own wand and begin to say something. However, before the words left his lips the professor came strolling back into the circle of students.
"Lupin will be fine," she announced briskly, shooting everyone a glance of such strict scrutiny that any thoughts of further spell casting were quickly forgotten. Glaring at each other, the Gryffindors and Slytherins that had drawn their wands quickly put them away.
The rest of the lesson passed without incident and we were soon on our way to Potions, which, unfortunately, was another class we shared with the oh-so-lovable Slytherins. The reaction upon entering this classroom was far different from the one we had received in Transfigurations and Charms. No one clapped. In fact, the room was filled with the sound of loud snickering and it wasn't coming from the Gryffindors. It took but a moment for James and me to realize why.
It seemed that the Slytherins were taking this opportunity to work on their house's retaliation, not to mention their capacity for sheer cruelty. Five pink-robed boys had surrounded Remus, who had most likely arrived early after being released from the hospital wing, and were tormenting him about the flying fiasco.
"What's wrong Lupin?" one of them was hissing, "Can't you handle the high expectations and pressure of attending the finest school of witchcraft and wizardry in the world?"
"Yeah," another one joined in, "Are you gonna fail miserably in every subject, or is it just flying that you're planning to crash?"
"Let's see how you handle this!" the first boy chortled excitedly, pointing his wand at a stone-faced Remus and yelling, "Wingardium Leviosa!" – a charm we had learned only earlier today.
When Remus levitated a few feet into the air, the boy used his wand to lift him higher so that his head was nearly touching the ceiling. I could tell by the slight widening of my friend's eyes and the clenching and unclenching of his fists that he was struggling very hard to not succumb to his fear. He didn't want to give the Slytherins the pleasure of knowing how much they had frightened him.
The Slytherins were practically cackling with delight.
My throat went suddenly dry and I could feel my heart pounding against my chest. How dare they! They knew he was afraid of heights and they were subjecting him to this…this barbarism! Before I knew what I was doing, I had aimed my wand at the tormentor and yelled "Wingardium Leviosa!" Then, I violently flicked my wrist to the side and sent the vermin flying across the room and straight into the professor's caldron, which was filled to the brim with murky water.
The Slytherin landed with an outrageous splash that sent pails of pink-brown water cascading across the floor. He also let out an extremely satisfying mewl of pain that almost made me smirk. With his arms and legs hanging over opposite sides of the caldron and his now slightly faded pink robes stuck to his skin, he looked utterly ridiculous. I might have joined in the laughter of the Gryffindors if it hadn't been for the intense anger that still filled my every overly-tense muscle.
"You!" an angry voice suddenly barked at me from the doorway, "What is your name?"
I looked up to see our Potions professor standing just inside the classroom, a look of utter distaste and rage plastered on her sharply angular face.
"Sirius Black," I said, putting my wand away.
"Well, Black, you've just earned yourself detention after class, as well as a loss of twenty points to Gryffindor."
The laughter of the Gryffindors died away and many of my housemates shot me dismayed and angry looks as they took their seats. I, however, felt no disappointment in regards as to what I had done, only a sense of incredulity due to the fact that I was being punished but the Slytherin that had started it all wasn't.
"But professor, he was the one that–"
She cut my protest short with a sharp look and said, "If you do not take your seat, Black, I will make it another twenty points."
Ignoring the triumphant Slytherins, I did as I was told and sat next to James.
Glancing back towards the rest of the classroom I saw that Remus was all the way in the very last row, alone and looking down at his desk as if he wished he could crawl into it and disappear. He had no doubt fallen to the floor once his attacker had broken eye-contact but not having seen this for myself I wondered if he was all right. I could not, however, catch his eyes and eventually was forced to turn my attention to the professor, who had begun the class.
When the end of class bell rang I sullenly watched the rest of the students file out of the room, wondering how long my detention would last and exactly what I would have to do.
"Sirius," James said as he picked up his books and prepared to leave, "I'll see you in Defense Against the Dark Arts." Then he winked, "Don't worry, we'll get 'em back!" and followed the other students into the hallway.
"I would like you to make the potion detailed on page 192 of your textbook, Black. You are not to leave this classroom until you have finished and if, when I return, I do not find a flask of a perfectly concocted sleeping potion waiting on my desk, you will come back after classes today and make it again. And again, until it is perfect." Having said that, the professor quickly strode from the office.
Turning to the page indicated, I quickly read over the instructions and groaned. This potion was about five times more complicated than the one we had just made and I hadn't even been able to get that one right! It had turned a cold black instead of the light violet color it was supposed to. I'd be coming back here to make the potion again for ages!
"Er…Sirius?" someone said from just next to me, startling me for I had believed myself to be alone.
Turning, I saw Remus, who looked rather nervous. Momentarily forgetting my woes, I asked: "Are you all right?"
Remus smiled timidly and nodded but the sad look in his expressive eyes told me otherwise. "Thank you...for what you did…I-I wanted to use a disarming charm but I, er…"
"Don't mention it, it was nothing," I assured him, wanting him to know I thought nothing less of him for being afraid of heights, "And don't worry about what happened earlier either. I'll help you learn how to handle a broom, if you like."
He practically beamed with shock and gratitude but surprised me when he shook his head, "No, thank you. I'll be talking to Dumbledore about getting out of the flying classes," he laughed rather sadly, "I don't know what I was thinking, even trying it today. I've been afraid of heights my whole life."
Frowning, I wondered if Dumbledore would help Remus. As far as I knew, all our classes for the first three years were mandatory for everyone. "Okay," I said, smiling despite my doubts.
"Actually, the reason I stayed was because I, er, was hoping…wondering if you'd like help?" he gestured toward the open textbook. "I'm not that good at potions but I can make sure this one comes out right."
I glanced around the classroom. Everyone else had already left. "You'll get in trouble for helping me," I warned.
A devious smile flickered across his lips, "Only if we're caught."
James and I snuck quietly out of the Great Hall, fighting hard to keep ourselves from erupting with laughter. We had just jinxed the chairs around the Slytherin house table to throw their occupants into the air once breakfast started tomorrow morning. At first I had wanted to apply the charm to their beds but it had been James that pointed out we'd be pushing our luck to succeed in sneaking into the Slytherin dorms two nights in a row. In fact, he had cocked his head and said, "Look, I know you really want get back at 'em for what they did to Remus, but there's a difference between reckless and stupid. Besides," he had smiled, seeing my incredulity – James never balked from danger – "it'll be more fun to humiliate them in front of the entire school." I, of course, could not but agree to that.
"It'll be a riot tomorrow! Can't you just see the fuming look on Snape's face as he goes sailing gracelessly through the air?" James sniggered as we approached the Fat Lady painting that marked the entrance to the Gryffindor common room.
I chuckled and was about to reply when I heard Remus' earnest and pleading voice say, "Please, Professor Dumbledore, you don't know what it's like to panic when you know there's no reason to be so scared."
Grabbing James' shoulder, I signaled for him to be quiet and turned down the hallway we had just passed. When I peered carefully down into the darkness I saw the shady silhouettes of Remus and Dumbledore, facing each other.
"I am sorry, Remus," Dumbledore responded quietly, remorse reflected in his patient voice, "but I cannot in good conscious grant your request. I do assure you, however, that you are braver than you believe yourself to be. After all, if you were not courageous the Sorting Hat would hardly have placed you in Gryffindor."
"Maybe the Sorting Hat made a mistake," Remus mumbled, hanging his head.
Dumbledore touched Remus on the shoulder and when he responded his tone held nothing but gentle comfort, "I very much doubt it, Remus. Your bravery will yet avail you, even if you fear it is not so."
The Headmaster paused. When he spoke again his words were laced with amusement, "And now, my young friend, I suggest you go and speak to your friends before you return to the hospital wing. It appears they are most eager to hear of what we speak. Why else would they resort to eavesdropping?"
James and I looked at each other sheepishly. Dumbledore walked down the corridor, smiled when he passed us, and continued on his way. A few moments later, Remus was standing at the mouth of the hallway, face downtrodden and eyes dark.
"Remus," I spoke gently, "the offer to teach you to fly still stands. In fact, we still have a good hour before sunset. Why don't we go out now?"
Remus shook his head, his eyes fixed on the ground. "No, I can't…not now. Thanks…but how about tomorrow evening? I really have to go now…"
"Why do you have to go to hospital wing?" James questioned curiously, picking up on what I had missed.
"I just…do," Remus said by way of answer, "I'll see you later." Then, without saying another word, he ran off towards the hospital wing, leaving me confused and worried.
"What do you suppose that's about?" I asked James.
James shrugged, "No idea."
It was well past midnight when James and I finally retired to our dorms. At first we had stayed up planning all sorts of practical jokes we could pull on the obnoxious Slytherins but then, as the hours ticked by with no sign of Remus returning, we had remained in the mostly-empty common room in hopes of intercepting him whenever he did show up. Finally, though, we had to give up and get some sleep.
Where was Remus? I could think of nothing else as I lay in bed, wide awake despite the lateness of the hour. He hadn't appeared hurt. Why had he run off to the hospital wing? Why were they keeping him there overnight? And if they weren't keeping him overnight, where in world was he?
For hours, I stared at the ceiling. Finally, even my perplexed ponderings on Remus could keep the dreams at bay no longer and I fell asleep with a ray of moonlight dancing across my face.
Later that year (Christmas):
I was not surprised when Remus did not attend the Christmas feast in the Great Hall. Nor was I surprised to find him back in our dorm room, alone and gazing sadly up at the night sky with tears trickling down his cheeks.
I bit my lip. I hated seeing him like this, curled up in a tight ball on his bed, huddling into himself and staring, just staring up into space as if he wanted to lose himself in the vastness of the sky.
"Remus," I spoke his name as gently as I could, wanting to alert him to my presence without startling him.
"S-Sirius?" my friend responded slowly, a faint flush touching his face.
"Yeah," I said, coming to sit on the side of his bed.
"W-Why aren't you at…the Ch-Christmas feast?" he questioned, still not taking his eyes off of the sky.
"Because you aren't there," I answered, smiling sadly even though he wasn't watching, "Because I'm worried about you."
Even without being able to look into his eyes, I could see the hopeful disbelief that swept over his face. "Worried…about m-me?" he repeated in a small, tremulous voice.
"Is it that hard to believe?" I wanted him to say no, but I knew that for him it still was hard to believe that James, Peter, and I truly cared for him.
Remus didn't answer and for that I was glad.
"Please…Remus, won't you tell me what's wrong?" For months now, I had asked him this question. Ever since we had noticed how he disappeared once a month – for various reasons – and returned paler, thinner, and more withdrawn each time. I asked this question every morning that followed another night of screaming, thrashing, and whimpering in response to whatever haunted his dreams. And again, I asked him this question each time I found him like this, melancholy, morose, and scared.
Remus closed his eyes, pushing more tears down the wet trails that marked his face. "I'm sorry."
Touching his chin I forced him to look at me and not the sky that seemed to torment him so. "Don't be sorry," I said when he opened his eyes and met my gaze for the first time, "Just tell me what's wrong."
A painfully wistful look pooled in his sad eyes, "I wish I could," he confided desolately, the emotion in his voice forcing me to believe him.
"Then why don't you?" I pressed, not willing to let this continue for another month, not willing to watch him grow slowly more and more desperate and reserved until one night he just didn't return to our dorm. Not willing to wait until afternoon the next day to see him appear in class, exhausted and depressed. Not willing to watch him regain his strength and health for a handful of weeks only to see him deteriorate again.
I expected him to say 'Because you won't understand,' like he always did. Instead, he replied more honestly than he ever had before. "Because you're my friend," he whispered brokenly, "and I don't want to lose that."
God, he truly thought I would turn on him if he told me. What could be so horrible that he would think that? What could be so horrible that it had made him distance himself from everyone until I had dared to make him my friend? Swallowing, I took his hand in mine and squeezed his trembling fingers. "You won't, Remus, I swear you won't. You can tell me. You can tell me anything."
Remus didn't answer. He just shook his head.
I closed my eyes, feeling a great swell of sorrow course through my veins. Remus was withdrawn and rather silent, to be sure. His quiet demeanor and slender frame often made him seem unable and unwilling to defend himself yet I had seen him stand his ground against nearly a dozen Slytherins and seem completely impervious to their insults, though I could see the hurt and lack of understanding in his eyes.
I had watched as Remus realized he had been wrong to try and get out of flying lessons and then helped him, day after day, as he struggled to overcome his fear of heights. I had stood there, grinning like a fool, the first time he had managed to fly around the grounds of Hogwarts without surrendering to the terror that he could never quite quell but had learned to suppress. He had landed, pale but exuberantly triumphant. I would never forget how happy he had looked.
I would never forget how frightfully miserable he looked right now.
What could turn a boy with such an inner strength into…this?
"So," I said sadly, "I'm just supposed to lie here one night, wondering and worrying where you are? Waiting for an explanation I know won't be true? What will it be this time, Remus? A sick grandmother? A sudden illness so serious that they'll have to send you to St. Mungo's? A nightlong detention? What?"
Remus whimpered and turned his gaze back to the frost-covered window. "Please don't, Sirius," he pleaded
Releasing his hand, I stood and turned away from him. "It hurts that you lie to me."
"I wish I didn't have to," he answered after a moment of silence. I knew he was watching me, that he had shifted his attention from the stars and moon and back to me.
"Then please don't," I found myself begging, hoping that maybe, just maybe, I would get through to him this time.
"I…I can't." The despair in his voice told me I was further upsetting him and I sighed, realizing I needed to back off. The last thing I wanted right now was to make him feel worse. I had come up here to comfort him, after all.
Slowly returning to the side of his bed I carefully drew the warm covers up over his trembling body. "I know, Remus," I told him mildly, "I know. Why don't you just try and sleep? Maybe you'll feel better in the morning."
Nodding despondently, Remus closed his eyes. I stood there watching him until I was sure he slept. Then I sat down on my own bed and thought about my mysterious friend. At first I had thought that not having had any friends had made Remus unsure about himself and his own likeability. I had thought that if I could peal away the cocoon he hid behind I would be able to help him be happier and more secure.
Surprisingly enough, I had been partially right. Very quickly after becoming friends with James and me, Remus, though still quiet and reticent, had begun building up more confidence. He had started joining our little expeditions through the castle as we searched for secret rooms and passageways. He had shown us how truly kind he was by agreeing to tutor several other Gryffindors in subjects they were having problems with. We had learned that Remus loved to help people and that his consideration far outweighed that of anyone else we had ever met. He was, as Lily most aptly put it, a 'sweetheart'.
Yet, he was more than that shy, caring boy. He was a boy with a secret. A secret that tore him apart bit by bit every month. A secret that caused him to wake up screaming in the middle of the night, having thrashed about so much that the covers were tangled about his legs and plastered by sweat to his skin. A secret that caused him to retreat back to his bed and cry tears of fear and despair. A secret that I would uncover even if it killed me.
Five hours. Five hours of searching through countless books in hopes of reading something, anything, that would indicate what was wrong Remus. Five hours and nothing. Absolutely nothing.
I slammed shut the old, musty, "Ailments of our Age" encyclopedia and tiredly rubbed my eyes. Then I blinked and looked around. No one else was in the library. My small flickering lantern formed the only oasis from the veil of darkness that had settled over everything. I couldn't see more than three feet in any direction and the swallowing void of blackness seemed to reflect the sense of defeat that seeped through me.
Groaning, I looked at the pile of books I had pulled from the shelves but had yet to look through. There were at least ten. What I wouldn't give for James and Peter to be here! Together, the three of us could have made quick work of those thick volumes. Unfortunately, they had both returned home for the holidays. In fact, Remus and I were the only Gryffindors to remain. For a short time I had feared I would be the only one here, seeing as how Remus had been planning to leave also, but then, abruptly and without explanation, he had told me he was staying. I had tried to question him further on this change of heart but he had resolutely refused to elaborate.
Basically, what that meant was that for the next week I would be the only one here to do more research and possibly help Remus. Oh, of course I could write to James and ask for help or advice but without access to the library, what could he do? Send me a book on werewolves? Werewolves! That had been James' last brilliant idea! Imagine, Remus being a werewolf!
"Sirius?" I jumped, frightened, upon hearing someone utter my name from beyond the soft glow of my light.
"Y-yes?" I stammered, looking around but seeing no one.
"Forgive me for startling you," continued the voice, and this time I was relieved to recognize it as Dumbledore's, "but I must admit you have piqued my curiosity."
The aged Headmaster – dressed in light blue nightclothes – emerged from the obscurity just in front of me.
"Sir?" I watched, bemused, as he sat down opposite me at the table.
"What would a healthy, energetic young boy such as yourself be doing in a library, past midnight, on Christmas Eve?" he questioned, peering at me through his half-moon spectacles.
"I…er…am trying to find out what's wrong with Remus," I replied honestly, able to think of no reason to lie.
"Indeed," Dumbledore looked at the piles of books that surrounded me and smiled, "Any luck?"
I sighed. "No."
Frustrated at my lack of success, I studied Dumbledore. I was nearly positive he knew what was the matter with Remus. In the last few months I had stumbled upon them speaking to each other in hushed tones more than once. Oh, of course they always had perfectly plausible explanations for that – 'Oh, Dumbledore was just wondering how my flying lessons are going, Sirius.' 'Remus and I were just discussing the dissolving robes incident, I was wondering if he could give me any information on who the culprits might possibly be.' I, however, was inclined to believe that they were rarely ever discussing what they claimed to be discussing.
I was just about to tentatively ask Dumbledore to tell me what he could about Remus when the Headmaster fixed his pensive blue eyes on mine and said: "Then perhaps you should believe what you find unbelievable."
Huh? What, by Merlin's beard, was he trying to tell me?
Dumbledore pointedly shifted his gaze from me to a book that lay strewn across the table just in front of him.
Taking the hint, I reached forward and looked at it. It was one I had already perused – though only halfheartedly – as it had a snow-white wolf on the cover and was entitled: "Werewolves: Creatures of the Night."
For a moment I did not know what to think. Was Dumbledore telling me that what James had suggested was true? That Remus was a werewolf? But how could that be? Of course all the symptoms fit but…werewolves were vicious beasts, not fit to live with the rest of wizardkind. Even in their human form they were deceitful, untrustworthy, and wild. Remus was none of these things! Remus was kind, gentle, and understanding. Remus couldn't possibly be a werewolf!
"Much of what society thinks of werewolves is untrue, Sirius. You would do well to disregard what you have heard." Dumbledore advised me, seeming to catch my train of thought.
I gaped at him.
"Werewolves," he went on to say, "Are just like you and me. The only difference is that due to a horrible curse they are forced to lose their human form and mind under the light of the full moon, to exist as a dangerous, untamed, mad wolf until sunrise the following morning. For the rest of the month, however, they are indistinguishable from any normal wizard or witch. They do not deserve the prejudice with which society views them. I only hope that you will learn to see that."
After a long, thoughtful silence Dumbledore slowly rose to his feet, said: "Goodnight, Sirius," and then left the library without saying another word.
So…Remus was a werewolf.
For one brief, shameful moment, I was overcome with disgust. Remus was a werewolf. A monster. A halfbreed. A bloodthirsty creature that showed no remorse in who it scratched, bit, maimed, or killed. A clear danger to the rest of society. A disease to be…
Reason returned almost as quickly as it had fled, bringing with it the cruel, merciless tendrils of a horrible guilt that turned my chest cold. What was I saying? How, after everything I had done to purge myself of my parents' negative influence, could I think such terrible things about Remus? Remus, my friend. Remus, who I had been so worried about all year. Remus, who was still the same person now as he had been this morning, regardless of any condition I had only just learned of.
And what a condition. I couldn't even begin to fathom what it was like to be forced to transform into a wolf once a month, on the night of the full moon. Was it true that in wolf form he…he would lose his mind? Or was that another of society's myths? I couldn't begin to express how much I wished it was. It would be so unthinkably horrible for someone as…gentle as Remus to be robbed of all logical thought, of all control.
A gut wrenching realization darkened my thoughts. Poor Remus… Not only was he condemned to live a cursed life, but he was also forced to live one bereft of most forms of human caring. Terrified that people would think him a monster, he had to keep secret who he was, isolate himself because being lonely was infinitely better than being the object of scorn and fear.
The worst thing was that Remus' fears were all too true: people would turn from him in disgust. As I had almost done, only moments earlier. True, in wolf form Remus might very well play the part of a brutal monster, robbed of reason and sanity, but in reality he was just a boy. Like me. Like anyone.
Only people wouldn't see him that way. They wouldn't be able to separate the boy from the curse, from the beast.
He didn't deserve this! He didn't deserve to live his life in fear of discovery. He didn't deserve the dreams that tore him to shreds during the nights approaching the full moon. Remus was sensitive, intelligent, caring, and brave. I would not give credence to his fears. I would accept him for what he was. I would not abandon him in repugnance. I would find a way to help my friend.
I had only barely drifted off to sleep when a sudden piercing cry of utter anguish jolted me back into awareness. Quickly, I sat up. The ragged sound of rushed wheezing breaths flooded by ears, nearly drowning out the broken, soft whimpers of desolation that came between them. I could hear the matted rubbing of struggling arms and legs against constraining covers, punctuated by the occasional thumping kick.
Remus was having a nightmare.
Without thinking, I stumbled tiredly out of my bed and staggered across the room. Neither of us had drawn the canopy curtains after my suggestion that Remus get some sleep and I stopped a few feet away from his bed to peer through the clouded pale moonlight that disrupted the surrounding darkness.
Remus was deathly pale. Slickened sweat saturated his skin, causing the soaked cotton of his pajamas to stick in soft mounds to his body. Tangled locks of his long hair were matted across his cheeks and forehead. The covers were viciously entangled with his arms and legs and even as I watched he was trashing restlessly about in a fruitless endeavor to escape them and the torment of his dream.
The expression on his face was, however, what made my blood run cold. His features were contorted into a look of utter despair. One that made me want to rush to his side and wake him even though I remembered quite well what had happened the last time I had done so.
Not knowing what else to do, I took my friend's hand in mine and rubbed soft circles over the sweaty palm. Patiently, I waited for his agonized gasps to fade to normal breathing. I didn't know what to say to soothe him so I simply remained silent and watched calmness of mind and clarity of thought return to Remus' face. When I thought he had finally been released by the last clutching tentacles of his frightful dream, I leaned forward and asked: "Are you all right?"
Bleary emerald eyes fluttered open. "Y-yes," he stammered quietly. "I…I'm sorry to have woken you."
"Don't be," I whispered kindly, "You can't control your dreams."
Remus nodded but didn't say anything.
I sighed. I knew I should return to my bed and try to go to sleep. We had a big Transfigurations test tomorrow and I'd need to be alert to do well. I had woken Remus from his nightmare; there was nothing else I could do. Yet…I would feel bad for leaving him, lying there and thinking about what he had seen. I felt I had to do something to comfort him.
"Remus?" I started tentatively, "Maybe you'd…er…feel better if you talked about it."
My friend's saddened, pensive eyes suddenly went wide with fear. It was as if my words had been a bucket of ice against his face. "No!" he exclaimed, probably more loudly and more sharply than he had intended, "Y-you wouldn't understand…you should just go back to sleep."
"I promise I won't tell anyone else, you have to talk–"
My words were earnest but apparently that wasn't enough for Remus. Yanking his hand from mine he said: "Please…Sirius, just go…and…and next time just let me sleep."
Stung, I quickly returned to my own bed and fell asleep without uttering another word.
He had asked me not to wake him from his nightmares ever again. And I hadn't. That had been weeks ago, and he had suffered several more since then. I had done just what he had told me to. Each time his pitiful mewls and loud yells had unintentionally woken me, I had just stared up at the canopy, trying to ignore the unintelligible cries he made while he dreamt and then the muffled sobs he made when he finally awoke.
So what was I doing now, poised to wake him?
I didn't know, but somehow now that I knew, now that I knew what he was, I couldn't just let him endure this. I had no idea what it was like to be a werewolf, to endure the pain of transformation and the supposed madness that followed. I had no idea what horrors he faced in his dreams but I wouldn't let them torment him for longer than necessary.
Resolved, I settled myself on the edge of his bed. My hand was hovering just inches from his shoulder when Remus spoke; "No…please, not again!" he mumbled hopelessly, "Stop…no…please stop… James! Sirius! No!"
Tears stung at my eyes upon hearing the desperation in his voice. When I tentatively let my glance fall back to his face, I felt my throat tighten. It was contorted by lines of pure terror.
Oh, poor Remus.
"Remus!" I spoke roughly, shaking him by the shoulders. "Remus!"
Remus woke with a long wailing gasp for breath. For a while, he just lay there with his eyes closed, breathing heavily and trembling. Nervously, I withdrew my hand. Upon returning to the dorm I had immediately wanted to tell Remus that I knew what he was and that it didn't change anything. He had, however, been sound asleep and I hadn't wanted to disturb him, seeing as how he had been so miserable earlier. Now, though, I had been given the opportunity.
Should I tell him?
I wanted to, very badly, but something about Remus – about the state he was in – made me think better of it. He was so worked up now, because of the dream. What if I told him I knew and he panicked and didn't hear anything I might say to reassure him afterwards? It seemed a good possibility – he was, after all, quite obviously too frightened to tell anyone for the well based fear of how they would react.
A brief parting of the clouds let a sudden beam of bright, unfiltered moonlight dance across my face. I looked up at the brilliant white orb that lit up the night sky and saw that it was nearly fully waxed. It would be a full moon tomorrow night. Perhaps it would be better to wait until after it waned, until the looming promise of yet another painful transformation released its hold for a few solitary weeks.
Tears started to leak from the corners of Remus' eyes. Flowing down his face, they mingled with the layers of sweat that still glistened on his skin.
I felt a dull pain in my heart. He looked so utterly vulnerable and helpless right now. There was no way I could risk further upsetting him.
Having made up my mind, I reached forward and gently brushed away the hair that covered his face. Then I set my hand on his still heaving chest – felt the tremors that wracked his body – and gently soothed him with soft touches. Wrapping my hand around the fingers of his, I silently sat there with him as he calmed down.
I watched as his breathing quieted and the tears stopped. When he opened haunted eyes to look up at me, I smiled but said nothing. This time, I wouldn't question him. This time, I wouldn't push him. I knew what was wrong now and I could only imagine how painful it was for him to even think of telling me due to the fear that I would scorn him. So, this time, I would just be with him.
Remus studied me cautiously for a good long while, clearly expecting to be prodded with questions, before he finally closed his eyes and relaxed back into the mattress. As he did so his fingers tentatively tightened around mine. Nearly an hour later, when they again fell limp in my grip, I knew he was asleep.
A beam of surprisingly bright winter sunlight bathed my face in warmth, gradually drawing me forth from the world of dreams. For a few long minutes I lay there, basking in the sense of unadulterated peace that I felt only in those precious moments when I lingered between sleeping and waking. It was a worriless universe in which I would have gladly dallied longer if it had not been for the noisy creaking of my bed as the mattress dipped in.
Opening my eyes, I blinked several times to soften the edge off the rays of light that streamed in through the window. When my vision cleared of the yellow-white spots that had greeted my first peak of Christmas Day, I saw Remus sitting quietly at my bedside, smiling down at me. Despite the dark circles that surrounded his eyes and the look of dreading fear that was visible just beyond the surface of his face, his expression was warm.
"Good morning, Sirius," he addressed me shyly, grinning now.
"G'morning, Remus," I answered around a yawn, studying my friend with confused delight. It was wonderful to see him so relaxed and happy but it was the day of the full moon, the day which, in hindsight, I now realized was always Remus' worst. Reserved, anxious, and unreachable, he usually spent it curled up on his bed with the look of a man awaiting his own execution. Right now, though, he in no way resembled that broken boy. While the guarded fright in his eyes was still clearly visible, there was real joy there as well.
"I-I have a…er…Christmas present for you," he told me, blushing, "but first I wanted to…to…" His uncertain voice trailed off into silence and he hung his head uncertainly, the happiness in his eyes momentarily flickering.
Not wanting to see Remus succumb to the usual despair with which he usually greeted this day, I was quick to sit up and grip his shoulder comfortingly. "You wanted to what, Remus?" I prompted gently.
Resolutely, Remus again met my gaze. "I wanted to thank you," he said, this time his voice firm and unwavering. "I want to thank you for taking the time to make me your friend all those months ago on the Hogwarts Express – you'll never know what it meant…still means to me," he paused, his blush deepening, "Mostly, I want to thank you for what you did last night. At home, my mum always stayed with me after a nightmare and made me feel safe. Last night was the only time I've felt safe since then."
God, I didn't even want to imagine how horrible it was for Remus. He spent every day of his life hoping and praying no one would discover what he was, especially his friends. At night he had to witness horrific nightmares and at the same time push away my efforts to comfort him for fear that I would discover the truth and turn on him. It made my heart ache to think that last night – the one night I had comforted him without asking him to tell me what I was comforting him for – was the only night he had felt safe at Hogwarts.
Closing my eyes to stop the shameful flow of tears that threatened to spill from my stinging eyes, I answered Remus in a hoarse voice. "You're welcome. I-I wish I could do more."
"You've done enough." Remus assured me fiercely, and it was then that I understood why he was so happy. Remus had never had any friends before me. Though he had never spoken the words he had told me as much by his behavior. Now, for one of those friends to do something for him that before only his mother had done made our friendship seem real to him. It had made him realize how I much I cared.
Finally, it seemed he truly believed in our friendship.
I didn't dare open my eyes again until I was sure I would not cry. When I did, I found myself staring at a nervous Remus, whose outstretched arms were holding a huge present wrapped in sparking paper that had been enchanted to change colors and shoot off a dazzling array of miniature fireworks.
Grinning, I took the present from him. It was about six feet long with a width and height of about one foot. Even judging by the size it was still heavier than I expected. In fact, it weighed so much that I almost dropped it as I tried to set it down next to me on the bed.
Then, knowing that Remus was expectantly waiting for me to open it, I ripped off the wrapping paper and lifted the lid off of the box. Eagerly, I peered inside to see twelve hardcover books all lined up inside. On the spine of each book was a flashing message written in elegant gold cursive. First, the lettering read: "The Troublemaker's Complete Guide to Audacious Pranks and Jinxes." When those words faded they were replaced by the smaller-sized subtitle: "Amaze your friends and befuddle your foes with these step by step instructions on how to perform charms and spells that you never imagined were possible!" At the base of each spine a volume number was written and I noticed that they went all the way from one to twelve.
For a moment, I sat in complete disbelief. James and I had been talking about this set of books for ages! It was the most comprehensive collection for troublemakers out there! Basically, if James and I could think of it, these books would tell us how to do it! I had been trying to convince my snobby, well-to-do parents to buy them for me for ages but my mother considered them an "unnecessary expenditure" and refused.
Remus had gotten me the entire collection! It must have cost him a fortune, especially considering that it had to be special ordered as most bookstores didn't carry it.
Realizing that Remus was still nervously awaiting a reaction, I turned back towards him so that he could see the wide grin that had split my face. "Remus!" I exclaimed happily, "this is so…wonderful! You didn't have to…"
Remus smiled, "Yes I did, Sirius."
I shook my head, still in disbelief that he had spent so much on me. "I-I don't know what to say."
For the first time I noticed how Remus' face was glowing and alight with relief and delight. He was obviously extremely happy to see that I liked his gift. "You don't have to say anything," he assured me seriously, "but you could try, 'Thank you.'"
Leaning forward to touch his shoulder, I whispered the most heart-felt "Thank you" I had in years.
"This is seriously the best present anyone's ever given me!" I laughed happily as I pulled the first volume of the books out and began flipping through the smoothly laminated pages. It was better than I thought! Not only did it have detailed directions, it had color photographs showing each step!
For what must have been more than a mere handful of minutes I was absorbed in reading about a spell that would make any chair, desk, bed, or other such object, vanish when the enchanted person came in contact with it. It would be so hilarious to see the look on Snape's face as a chair disappeared from underneath him!
Finally, though, I realized I had yet to give Remus his gift from me.
Looking up, I was surprised to see that Remus was still sitting there watching me. He didn't seem at all annoyed that I had forgotten him. In fact, he looked thrilled to see I loved the books.
"I'm being such a prat!" I cried, startling Remus with my sudden outburst, "I have a present for you too!"
Whereas only yesterday Remus would have been surprised and tentatively pleased, it seemed that the way I had treated him last night after his nightmare had finally changed that. Instead, he only smiled shyly and waited as I leaned over the end of my bed and reached underneath it to pull out his present. It wasn't until I had settled back down again and my eyes fell on the rather small package that I felt suddenly embarrassed. Remus had spent so much on my gift. He had even taken the time to enchant the wrapping paper…mine was colorful but…plain. I felt bad giving him this after seeing what he had picked out for me.
There was, however, nothing I could do about it now. I could only hope he wouldn't be too disappointed.
"Here you go," I said, handing him his present.
Remus, fortunately, didn't seem perturbed by the fact that the package was so small compared to the one he had given me. Instead, he yanked it from my hands and proceeded to make shreds of the paper in his excitement to see what I had gotten him. When he gingerly lifted the lid I found myself holding my breath in hopes that he would like it.
I had long since noticed Remus' uncanny talent in Defense Against the Dark Arts. Not only was he able to perform all the charms excellently, and usually on the first try, but he simply loved the subject. He always carried around the same tattered copy of a book called "Practical Defenses Against the Dangerous." He had read it front to back many times and, after finding out that there were two additional books, I had purchased the trilogy as a boxed set. It wasn't much compared to the twelve volumes he had gotten me but…
Remus' eyes practically sparkled and a huge smile swept over his face. "I've wanted these books for so long!" he exclaimed joyously, pulling out the first one and opening it. "My copy is falling apart," he whispered, almost to himself as he set it aside and instead looked more closely at the second.
Relieved beyond measure, I sucked in a deep breath of air. "I'm glad you like it."
"Like it? It's wonderful!" He smiled up at me, "Thank you."
"You're welcome." Giving someone something had never felt as good as it did now, especially since I had the impression that I could have given Remus anything and he would have liked it just because of the sentiment behind it. It was wonderful just to watch him thumb through the pages, his smile growing broader and broader as he saw more and more interesting chapter titles.
My eyes fell to the floor beside my bed. There were two presents sitting there, waiting for me. I knew one of them would be from James and the other from Peter. My parents rarely ever indulged in such nonsense as busying Christmas presents. They were above that.
Judging by the three boxes that sat on Remus' bed, surrounded by scattered bits of wrapping paper, my friend had already opened all of his gifts.
"What else did you get?" I asked, gesturing towards his bed.
"Oh," Remus said distractedly, "James gave me the Wendigos' newest release and Peter gave me a journal to write in. My parents…they…er…sent me some new medicine that's supposed to help with the nightmares."
Seeing the bright flush that stained his cheeks, I decided not to question the last gift. Instead I set out opening my own two remaining presents. From James I received a ticket to one of the Quidditch games held during the summer, along with a note saying he had another and that we'd be going to the game together. Peter gave me a flask of a special potion that was supposed to turn anyone who drank it into a rat for exactly 24 hours. Perfect for Snape!
"So…what do you wanna do today?" I asked Remus after I was finished looking at my presents.
"I don't know…let's just go exploring. There's hardly anyone here to see us and I'm sure we'll find loads of stuff," Remus answered, putting the books I had given him aside.
"Sounds good," I said, getting up and changing into my school robes.
Remus had changed before I woke up so as soon I threw my pajamas onto my unmade bed we ran off for a day of mischief and adventure.
I had never before seen Remus so unrestrainedly happy. It was as if for a few brief hours he forgot what he was and banished any thought of how he would spend tonight to a shadowed corner of his otherwise bright eyes. It was as if the quiet passion I'd seen flicker inside him while he tutored a group of struggling students or tagged along with James, Peter, and I in exploring the castle had been kindled to a burning flame by his newfound belief in our friendship.
I couldn't help but wonder, as I spent the day allowing him to lead me deeper and deeper into the never ending maze of hallways and rooms that filled Hogwarts, how different things would have been for Remus if he had only had friends before me. Maybe, his condition wouldn't seem quite so terrible to him. Maybe, this laughing, playful Remus would be the norm rather than the deviation from it.
"I can't wait to show James what we've found when he gets back," I remarked as Remus and I sat down at the top of a long winding staircase we had just climbed. "I never would have thought to check the library for secret passages."
After eating lunch, Remus had dragged me to the library so that he could check out some random book he had been wanting to read for a while now. While waiting for him, I had lingered near the back of the room, where a faded old tapestry hung. On the tapestry was the woven form of a beautiful, pearl-white unicorn. Entranced by its splendor I had reached up and stroked its flank and been astounded to see the tapestry fade away to reveal the entrance to a virtual labyrinth of secret passages that I had never dreamed existed.
Remus and I had spent countless hours since then exploring my find. For a while I had been able to surmise our position in the castle but after wandering through so many never ending corridors and this last flight of stairs, I had to admit defeat. I had no idea where in the castle this could all be so unnoticeably hidden.
"Sirius," Remus broke the comfortable silence, "do we have to tell James and Peter about these secret passages?"
Surprised by this request, I turned to look at Remus. Some of the brightness in his eyes had been replaced with sadness but other than that his expression was unreadable. "Why?" I asked.
Remus blushed furiously but didn't break eye contact. "I just thought it'd be nice if we could have a place to go and talk where no one else could find us."
At first I wanted to say no because James was my best friend and I knew he'd love this, but then I realized that for the first time, Remus was reaching out to me. For the first time, he was trying to let me further into his heart. Always before, it had been me trying to pull him closer. Never had he tried to deepen our friendship. It was almost as if he feared that if he did so, I would turn from him and he would lose me. How could I say no to him, knowing how important it was? "All right," I agreed, smiling as Remus' eyes immediately lit up.
"Thanks," he said, allowing his lips to twitch up slightly.
We continued to sit in silence until the loud rumbling of my hungry stomach announced that far too much time had passed since lunch.
Grinning wryly, I shot Remus a sidelong glance, "Maybe we should head back," I suggested, loath though I was to disrupt the magical spell that seemed to have fallen over my friend today. "We've probably already missed dinner and I wager it'll take us a few hours to find our way back to the library."
The mirthful, contented warmth that had resided in Remus' eyes all day froze to one of terrified panic. "What!?" he cried, his voice a gateway of distress.
"Of course we don't have to go," I rushed to reassure him, hating to see this familiar look on his face, the one he always wore when waking from one of his soul shattering nightmares. "We can stay as long as you want." After all, who needed food!?
"Stay?" he echoed wildly, his inhalations of breath turning short and shallow. "I can't stay! I have to go…what time is it?"
I frowned, confused at this sudden change in behavior. "I don't know. We've been in here for a long time and–"
"How long!?" Remus was nearly yelling now, his face completely ashen white, his entire body trembling. "You said hours!" he rushed on without waiting for me to answer, "It can't have been hours…it can't take hours to get back!"
Jumping to his feet, Remus started taking the stairs two at a time.
What in the world…?
"Remus!" I called after him, hurrying to catch up.
Remus didn't answer, he just kept running as if the very hounds of hell were at his heels. Suddenly, feeling like the universe's greatest fool, I understood. Having lost track of time, Remus didn't know how long he had before the full moon came out. Neither did I; though I seriously doubted that the sun had even set, my friend was obviously horrified that he wouldn't make it to wherever it was he went every month. In his own mind, he felt he could literally transform at any moment.
Struggling to not lose sight of Remus, who, as it turned out, was a much faster sprinter than I was, I silently berated myself for having said that it'd take hours to find our way out of here. It had been a poorly thought miscalculation. Though it would be no quick journey, it wouldn't take that long.
I finally caught up with him at the junction of two corridors, but only because he had come to a complete stop. He looked stricken and I realized he didn't remember what way to go.
"Is it left or right?" he asked me frantically between short gasps, his normally emerald eyes a sick grey.
"Left," I responded after a moment's consideration.
"Are you sure!?" His eyes were wide and I could tell he wasn't thinking straight. I had to stop him from running off again. In a state this crazed it'd be all too easy for him to make a wrong turn and get us lost. Then it really would take hours to get back.
Grabbing his arm just as he made to leave, I forced him to face me. "Remus," I soothed, "calm down. It'll be all right."
"You don't know what you're talking about!" he protested, "You don't understand! If I don't get back before…before… I-I could hurt you."
Remus spoke without pause for breath, so quickly that I almost feared he would hyperventilate as he was already nearly wheezing because of the run and the panic.
"Please," I tried again, "calm down. We'll make it."
"You don't know that!" he pulled his arm free, "You don't even know when I need to make it back by! You don't know why it's so important!"
"That may be true," I conceded, deciding now was not the time to let him know he was wrong, "but I do know that it'll be quicker if we work together to remember how we came. Panicking won't help. Okay?"
Remus didn't answer, but he apparently made an effort to follow my words for his breathing calmed somewhat and the dread in his eyes settled to nerve-wracking apprehension.
"Okay?" I repeated forcefully.
"Okay," he replied, his voice shaky.
"All right then," I began walking briskly down the hallway, "Let's go."
Together, Remus and I managed to make it back to the library relatively quickly. Once there we were both relieved to look through a window and see that there were still two hours to sunset.
Embarrassed that he had overreacted, especially since he thought I had no idea why he had behaved so irrationally, Remus blushed and stuttered. "It's…er…earlier than I thought…I-I actually have time to go back to the dorm."
"Okay," I agreed simply.
Grateful to see that I wasn't going to press him, Remus turned and led the way out of the library. By the time we reached our room I realized that his temporary panic had jolted him back to his normal behavior. Instead of talking excitedly with me as he had done all day, he mournfully climbed onto his bed, hugged his knees to his chest, and spent the next hour staring out the window with a haunted, frightened look on his face.
When he finally did speak, it was to nervously big me goodbye. "Sirius," he said, coming to stand next to my bed, "I…I have to go…"
Now that I knew what was really going on, I felt no annoyance for his avoidance of an explanation. I still did not, however, enjoy being lied to so this time I wouldn't ask where he was going and why. "Okay." I flashed him a reassuring smile.
Remus seemed too taken aback to even think about leaving. "Really? You're not… You… You're okay with it?" After what I had said upon finding him crying in our dorm room during the Christmas feast, he obviously expected me to berate him for not telling me the truth and for making me worry.
"Yeah, Remus," I spoke levelly, "I'm okay with it."
"Oh…thank you," he smiled, but there was little joy behind it, "I'll-I'll see you tomorrow," he said, voice subdued, eyes dim and terrified.
As soon as Remus left the room, I leapt to my feet and ran to the trunk that sat at the foot of James' bed. Carelessly rummaging through its contents, I prayed he had left his invisibility cloak behind. He had said he might, just to make sure his parents didn't catch him with it.
Yes! There it was!
Pulling out the silky black cloak, I draped it over myself and hurried to follow Remus. At first I had planned on telling him I knew after he recovered from tonight's transformation but after seeing him panic, after seeing his eyes go dead and the joy ebb from their depths, I knew there was no way I could let him go through this alone tonight.
Fortunately, Remus was meandering along so slowly – as if every step he took was leading him closer to certain death – that he was still visible at the end of the hallway by the time I exited the Gryffindor common room by means of the Fat Lady portrait. By slinking along silently behind him, I was able to easily follow him past the section of Hogwarts where most lessons were held and directly to the hospital wing.
Lingering behind when Remus entered Madam Pomfrey's office, I stopped next to the doorway so that I could hear what was being said inside.
"Ah, Remus," I recognized Madam Pomfrey's affectionate, grandmotherly voice, "There you are, right on time as always."
"Yeah," Remus responded, his desolate voice barely above a bereft whisper.
"Well then, we'd best be off," Madam Pomfrey suggested kindly, some of the inherent joy in her voice being replaced by sympathy and pity.
Madam Pomfrey walked briskly out of her office, the sway of her robes causing a gentle breeze to stir my invisibility cloak. A few moments later, Remus followed, his pace still slow and drawn out. He had the appearance of one following a dreadful routine that would eventually suck the life from him.
I had long since determined that Remus always came to see Madam Pomfrey before disappearing, but I had never figured out where he went after this and was eager to see. When admitting him to the school, Dumbledore had surely devised a means by which Remus could safely undergo his transformations. He had to be sure, after all, that my friend couldn't accidentally hurt his fellow students. The only question was where Remus spent the full moon night.
Shamed by my own morbid curiosity, I trailed them.
I was not surprised when I was lead outside of the castle. After all, Remus couldn't very well spend the night anywhere where a wayward student might accidentally stumble upon him in wolf form. I was, however, taken aback to see that we were heading towards the Whomping Willow, which students were expressly warned to stay away from. James and I had, of course, ignored such warnings and had soon found out – after nearly being smashed by the bloody thing's massive branches – why it was sometimes a good idea to heed warnings.
Surely we were just heading in that general direction and would soon swerve off towards our real destination, I told myself silently.
I soon found, however, that the Whomping Willow was our real destination, for Madam Pomfrey stopped just outside the deadly range of its branches. It seemed that the thing, which disturbingly enough had a mind of its own, had sensed her presence and had already begun beating the ground around its haggard trunk with huge reverberating thumps that echoed through the vibrating ground.
Coming to a standstill just behind Remus, who had stopped just behind Madam Pomfrey, I watched as she raised her wand and muttered some unintelligible spell. Moments later, a random rock from the ground levitated into the air and flew through the maze of rising and falling branches until it reached a knot in the wood of the trunk and quickly pressed itself against it.
Amazed, I watched as the tree's branches froze in midair.
Madam Pomfrey and Remus walked forward and I hastened to follow. When we reached the trunk – wonderfully unharmed and in one piece – I saw that an opening had appeared in the mass of gnarled roots that surrounded it. It was definitely large enough for Remus and me to easily slide through, but I suspected that it was a tight fit for Madam Pomfrey.
Remus quickly ducked down and crawled through the opening. Once he had disappeared into the darkness, Madam Pomfrey followed, barely squeezing through. Then, suspecting that if I didn't hurry up and do the same I would soon find myself painfully smashed into tiny bits and pieces, I scurried after them.
As I crawled, the ground sloped underneath me, leading down into what appeared to be a narrow tunnel. However, the darkness that surrounded me was so encompassing that I couldn't be sure. Fortunately, I soon heard Madam Pomfrey murmur "Lumus."
A small light appeared ahead of me, revealing the crouched forms of Remus and Madam Pomfrey, both of which were now walking away from me. Stumbling to my feet, I bent low to the ground and followed them through the dank passage. A good while later – long after my back had begun protesting my painfully awkward stance – the ground began to slope up slightly and the tunnel opened up into…a room.
Carefully pulling myself up through the opening, I looked around. Sure enough, I was standing in what appeared to be a small living room. Only, it wasn't any normal living room. The windows were all boarded up, preventing all but the smallest traces of light from seeping through, and there was only a minimal amount of furniture, most of which was wrecked. A sofa, two chairs, and one locked cupboard, to be exact.
Upon closer examination, I saw that two of the three sofa cushions had been torn open to reveal a spongy, cotton colored filling. Deep red stains spotted the torn material, as well as the arms and base of the couch. One of the chairs had been knocked over and broken into multiple pieces of splintered wood. The other was still standing, but only on three legs. The cupboard, which I now noticed was bolted to the wall, was marred by deep gashes along its doors. The walls and floor were also covered in scarlet blemishes.
Wow, it looked like this place had really been ransacked. Distantly, I wondered what the perpetrators had been looking for.
Slowly and very quietly, I walked past Remus and Madam Pomfrey and came to stand next to a closed door opposite the tunnel's entrance. There was a small, dusty window in the door. When I peered through it I could see the shadowed walls of a hallway and what appeared to be a staircase.
My eyes fell to a large red blot just under the doorknob. There seemed to be a bloody clump of grayish hair plastered to the otherwise smooth wood. An uncomfortable ache grasped my heart in its pained tentacles. The hair was a little more than an inch long…just about the right length for wolf hair…
"I've brought a solution of strained and pickled murtlap tentacles, I want you to apply it to your wounds as soon as you transform back into yourself. It'll help with the healing and the pain until I get here," Madam Pomfrey handed Remus a large flask filled with murky yellow liquid.
My heart began to wrench itself into my chest, twisting like a knife, and a sudden, sick, churning feeling filled the pit of my stomach. Swallowing convulsively, I felt my throat constrict and nearly gagged on my own saliva. Oh…dear god. The crimson stains were…blood. Remus' blood. The gashes on the cupboard doors were…claw marks and…and it had been Remus who had torn apart the couch and destroyed the chair.
But…why? Why would he tear the place apart? And where would the injuries come from?
"Thank you, Madam Pomfrey," Remus said, though his voice held no real gratitude.
"All right then…I'd better go," for a moment she stood there, though. It was as if she wanted to say something – something profound that would comfort Remus – but was at a loss. Finally, she settled for a sympathetic smile before turning to slip back out into the tunnel.
Without the light from Madam Pomfrey's wand, it was very difficult to make anything out. Only the tiny trickles of fading sunlight that made it through the boarded up windows allowed me to see what my friend was doing.
Sighing loudly, Remus walked over to the cupboard and stood on tiptoe so that he could reach over the top and pull down a small key that hung from a nail in the wall. Once he had unlocked and opened the doors, he set the flask on one of the many, mostly empty shelves. Then he drew out a small lantern, which he lit and put on the floor.
Pulling out his wand, he murmured "Wingardium Leviosa."
The lantern flew up into the air until it was nearly touching the ceiling. Hovering above our heads, it cast an eerie glow about the room.
Remus regretfully set his wand inside the cupboard and then proceeded to strip off his robes and undergarments. Only when he stood completely naked did he fold up his clothes and place them inside the cupboard, next to his wand. Then he carefully locked the doors again, pulled against them roughly to make sure they wouldn't open, and replaced the key on the nail, above the cupboard.
When he slowly walked back over to the couch and sat down, his eyes seemed…blank.
While I resolutely avoided his more…er…private regions, I couldn't help but stare at the scarred skin of his chest and arms. Though none of the old cuts were raw, or even blistered anymore, they had left dark blemishes that ran all across his skin, permanently marring it. There were even several discolored indentations that looked like teeth marks.
Horrified, I stifled a gasp. At last I understood. Remus clawed and bit at himself while in wolf form. As frightening as the thought was, there really was no other explanation for the blood that stained everything, or the cicatrices on Remus' own flesh.
Still thudding, my heart now caused a stab of pain to reverberate in my chest with its every beat.
I had read all about werewolves and yet I had never imaged anything like this. Why would Remus hurt himself? I had heard that a werewolf in wolf form would stop at nothing for the taste of blood, but I had never thought it would…would turn on itself. It had to be true then, that Remus lost his mind when he lost his form. I had been hoping – desperately hoping – it wasn't, at least not entirely. I had prayed he retained some semblance of sanity. But how could he? How could he when he did these horrible things to himself?
It took a long while for the shock of my realization to wear off and by the time it did the small rays of sunlight that filtered through the holes in the blocked windows had completely faded. As soon as I saw how late it was, I came to the conclusion that it was probably not a good, or smart, idea for me to just stay standing here. Remus might not be able to see me, but as a wolf he would be able to smell me.
Of course, that presented the problem of how I was supposed to get through the closed door and out into the hallway without Remus noticing. It wasn't as if I could just walk through it. I'd have to chance opening and closing it and hope he wouldn't see.
Remus was still sitting, motionless on the couch. He appeared to be in some sort of…daze. In fact, on reflection, everything he had done since leaving our dorm room had seemed thoughtlessly methodical, as if Remus was trying to distance himself from his body in order to lessen the brutality of what he would soon face. Though he was staring off in the direction of the cupboard, I truly doubted it was what he saw.
I turned so that I was facing the door. Slowly, oh so very slowly, I turned the dusty handle and edged the door open inch by torturously careful inch. Then, with one quick glance over my shoulder to make sure Remus was still staring at the cupboard, I slipped through the doorway and very quietly pushed the door shut behind me.
When I turned to look through the window I saw that Remus hadn't moved. At all.
Even as I watched, waiting for the moon to come out and the transformation to take place, I found myself wondering why I was doing this. Why was I standing here in a dark, cold hallway, watching and not doing anything? It wasn't as if I could stop what was about to happen but I could at least tell Remus that I was here. That even if I couldn't stay in the same room with him, I was here for him. So, why hadn't I taken off the invisibility cloak as soon as Madam Pomfrey had left? Why hadn't the thought even occurred to me?
It was as if I wanted to see this without Remus knowing. As if I wanted to gain a better understanding of what he lived with before trying to help him. Otherwise, it would be like I was only pretending to know how to comfort him. It seemed cheap, somehow, to not have any idea what he went through but to come sauntering in thinking I could make him feel better. I had to watch this – had to watch it as he always experienced it, without him trying to change his behavior due to my presence – in order to truly understand and help him.
And I wanted to help him so badly. No one deserved this. Especially not him.
There was no warning before the transformation started – no agonized howl or whispered pleas. Nothing. Just the sudden emergence of a completely, twisted, sickening sight that made me want to close my eyes and cower away from the window so that I wouldn't have to watch. It was a sight I knew would haunt my nightmares for days to come and yet one that caused me to stare, frozen and unblinking, at my poor, cursed friend. I couldn't look away, no matter how much I wanted to.
It began in his eyes. The emerald pools swirled about in a changing vortex of color, giving way to golden specks that spread like tainted ripples in water until a pained, haunted look was all that was recognizably Remus'. Even as the humanity quickly receded from the now fierce and hungry eyes of a vicious predator, his mouth and nose repulsively elongated to form a hairless snout. Arms and legs witheringly shrunk, causing a half-wolf, half-human Remus to fall forward off the couch and land on barely formed paws. Next, a long tail jarringly erupted from the base of his wretchedly mutating back, which was still mostly human. It was as if furless wolf legs had grown from a warped human torso.
As disgusting as the sight of a pale-skin covered wolf was, the sounds made the experience even more horrifying. I could hear the crunching and cracking of rearranging bones. It was a loud, grating sound…as if my friend's bones were being broken and then put back together again. In the final moments of the atrocious transformation my ears were assaulted by an animalistic noise that – though canine in nature – I knew was the sole outcry of a human boy ripped to shreds by agony and terror. It was a single, piercing mewl of unimaginable anguish.
At last, grayish-white fur sprouted over Remus' body, marking him as a fully grown wolf.
When the relentless claws of my unwilling trance at last released me, I realized I was trembling convulsively. Ice-cold layers of sweat saturated my skin, dripping off my forehead to sting at my eyes. My lungs burned from lack of oxygen and I suddenly became aware of my own, wheezing gasps for breath.
Utterly shaken to the core by what I had seen, I was left momentarily unable to think.
Oh…God. That had been more horrible than I ever could have dared to imagine. The sight of his mutilated body… The sounds of his twisting form… And, most ghastly of all, the excruciating, torturous pain I knew Remus had just endured. Oh, God. How was something like this possible? And why? Why?
A keening bay was my only warning before a thunderous blast of impacting weight sent the door rattling noisily against its hinges.
Surprised, I let out a cry of alarm and instinctively leapt backwards. The next thing I knew, the world was spinning in crazy circles and a dizzy rush of blood flooded my brain. It was just as I hit the wooden planked floor with a loud groan that I realized I had gotten entangled with the invisibility cloak and tripped.
Pain immobilized me for a few moments. When I managed to shakily climb to my feet I realized that the wolf was throwing itself against the door in a repeated effort to get at me. As if on cue with my thoughts, a horrendously loud howl preceded another collision with the door. This time, I could see the wolf's blazing yellow eyes peering at me through the window as his muzzle was momentarily smashed against it.
Swallowing apprehensively as the crazed wolf continued to thrash wildly against the door, I noticed that the wood was beginning to creak and splinter. Even the hinges were starting to break lose. If Remus…no, not Remus…the wolf kept this up, he'd break down the door.
Glancing over my shoulder I took in the dilapidated staircase that led to the second floor of…what must have been a house. If worst came to worst I'd have to make a run for it and hope that somewhere upstairs there was a room I could lock myself in.
A particularly loud yowl and crash brought my attention back to the door. This time, though I missed catching sight of the wolf through the amazingly intact window, I did not miss the raw splattering of blood and fur that now smeared its dusty surface.
My heart began pumping blood through my veins so quickly that I felt it would beat its way out of my chest. Fear seeped through every part of my body, making me tremble and stiffen. At that moment it was not terror for myself that paralyzed me. It was fear for Remus. He was killing himself! If he didn't stop, there was no way he's survive the night!
Idiot! I berated myself. I was a recklessly, foolhardy, idiot! What was I doing here? I had wanted to help Remus, not make things worse for him. Why hadn't I stopped to think about what would happen if I came in here with him? Why hadn't I realized he would smell me through the door?
I had to do something to mask my scent from him… If I didn't, I'd be responsible for the death of one of my own best friends. But what could I do? I knew a silencing spell, but not one to mask odor. Even if I went upstairs, the wolf would still be able to smell where I had been and wouldn't stop trying to get through to…to what? Kill me? Taste my blood? What was it he wanted? Did he even want anything at all? Was this a creature running purely on a thoughtless instinct for blood? Was Remus at all aware of what was happening?
Wait! After James and I returned from practicing Quidditch – we both hoped to join the team next year – Remus always complained that we stunk up the room something fierce and performed a charm to make the dorm smell of…flowers.
Quickly taking out my wand, I muttered what I remembered Remus always saying, flicked my wrist, and…
A powerful flowery odor bubbled immediately in the air, wafting about until it was all I could smell. Almost immediately, the wolf in the other room fell silent, making not a whimper of noise. The constant pounding against the door stopped.
Breathlessly, I found myself waiting. What would he do now?
I did not have to wait long. A clattering crash soon reached my ears, followed by a series of low pitched growls. They sounded like they were coming from the other end of the room, but without looking I couldn't be sure what the wolf was doing.
Picking up the discarded invisibility cloak that had slipped off me during my fall, I quickly covered myself with it and tiptoed back up the battered door. The window was covered in dripping layers of blood, tinting my vision red as my eyes were drawn to the far corner of the room.
The wolf had knocked the three-legged chair to the ground and was now tearing at it with its claws and fangs. Wood cracked and split, no doubt splintering in the wolf's flesh, but he didn't stop. He continued to growl, gnaw, and rip until all that was left of the chair were scattered remnants, indistinguishable from those of the second chair, which had already suffered destruction before my arrival.
Then, keen eyes intensely vivid, he assaulted one of the torn sofa cushions. Downy white filling erupted from the material, covering the wolf and sticking to the bloodied fur of his face. Soon, the cushion was reduced to nothing but a piece of shredded cloth and the fizzed cottony substance that lay spread over the couch and floor.
For countless hours, as night trailed into early morning and early morning dwindled towards sunrise, I stood there, motionless. Watching. Unable to not watch as Remus bit and slashed at himself. Over and over again, the silvery wolf would sink sharp claws into tender fur and flesh, drawing forth blood and letting fall clumps of reddened hair and stained cushion filling. Turning its ferocious face, he would close his gleaming fangs over any part of himself he could reach, whining in pain even as he lapped up the oozing crimson liquid.
Whereas the transformation had torn at my mind, what I witnessed in those seemingly never-ending hours tore at my heart. I had never felt so…cold. So, awfully cold. As if all the joy had been sucked from my body, leaving no trace of warmth or peace to comfort me. It was like a disease had swept through me, chilling even my soul. Filling me with such a wretched, overpowering sadness that simple words alone lacked the ability to convey how I felt. Even trying to express how heartbroken this…ordeal made me feel would have been a grave injustice. No, there were no words I could string together that would not fall short, would not fail with horrible inadequacy.
I ended up in tears by the time the night was over, with my hands clenched so tightly into fists that my nails dug into the skin of my palms. I felt like retching. Like cursing the world for the horrible injustice it had committed against Remus by mercilessly forcing him to endure this every month for the rest of his life. As I watched the wolf at last succumb to exhaustion and curl up into a miserable ball in the corner of the room, I felt like destroying something myself. In that moment, I would have given my life to take away my friend's pain.
Sagging back away from the door, I pulled off the invisibility cloak and let it fall to the floor. Then I resolutely willed myself to stop crying and wiped the tears from my eyes. The moon would give way to sunrise soon and when Remus saw me, I didn't want him to see how horribly this had affected me. I needed to be strong for him. So I could comfort him.
Knowing it was insanely stupid and yet unable to stop myself, I opened the door and walked out into the room. The wolf could easily kill me. Could more easily turn me into a werewolf, like Remus. But even as half my mind was telling me how foolish I was acting, the other half was telling me that the wolf was too tired to do anything. Furthermore, something inside me said that the part of the wolf that was my friend wouldn't hurt me, wouldn't even try to.
So, feeling much less frightened than any rational person would have, I knelt down next to the wolf and reached out to very gently pet his head, right between the perked ears. As I did so, the wolf lifted its snout into the air, sniffed slightly, and opened golden colored eyes to look at me. I might have been imagining things, but I would have sworn that behind the bloodthirsty creature's glaring stare flashed a calm recognition.
"It's all right...Rem…er…Moony," I soothed gently, petting down his soft back. I had intended to say "Remus", but somehow that was just wrong. This wasn't Remus. Well, of course it was Remus but…not to me. Not really. The Remus I knew was there, somewhere, but not at the surface. He was trapped…trapped in this moonlit perdition. The Remus I knew was not the one who had destroyed the chair and cushion and then turned on himself. No, that was the wolf. A wolf that needed, in my own mind, a name of his own. Something to distinguish him from the kind boy that was my friend. Moony just seemed right.
"It'll all be over soon," I continued, smiling as I saw Moony's tail begin to wag slightly back and forth, almost like a dog's.
Drawing my hand down over his side, I carded my fingers through the sticky but soft fur. Moony let out a pitiful whine of pain as my hand brushed over one of the many gashes that covered his injured body, and I cringed, realizing just how badly he had hurt himself.
His long snout was caked in drying blood. Long, grisly lacerations covered his paws, sides, and belly. Bite marks were visible over much of his body. His teeth were tinted red and blood dribbled out whenever Moony licked at himself. He had probably splintered his tongue when gnawing at the chair.
Tenderly, I brushed away all traces off the now completely stained red cushion filling. I wanted to go to the cupboard and get the solution Madam Pomfrey had left for Remus but when I made as if to move, the wolf half rose and growled low in his throat and didn't stop until I had settled back down again, with my hand resting on his head.
"Shh," I spoke as if I was talking to a baby, "I'm right here. I'm not going anywhere."
Moony relaxed back against the floor.
When it came, the transformation from Moony to Remus seemed quicker and less gruesome than the previous one had. Perhaps it was because after everything I had witnessed the wolf do to himself, the vanishing of fur, the crunching and rearranging of bones, and the mutating of muscles, didn't seem quite so frightful. It was still a sight that belonged only in nightmares, but right now I felt more for what Moony had done to himself – for the wounds that now peppered his body – than I did for the ghastliness of the transfiguration.
The only thing that sickened me, that truly made me feel like crying, was that as Remus remerged from his wolf form, I had to watch matted fur turn to scabbed skin. Had to see nasty bite marks turn to cutting abrasions. Had to watch ugly, purple-blue bruises appear all over his body. Somehow, the clawed gashes that ran along his stomach and back seemed even more painful when they stood out against the trembling, pale skin.
Worst of all, was his face. He suffered from two black eyes. Deep gashes covered his cheeks and cracked lips. His skin was laced with horrid purplish swelling contusions. And he was pale…so pale. It looked like he had been beat up, truly pounded.
In the wake of his transformation, Remus was left trembling and huddling into himself on the cold, hardwood floor, breathing heavily and whimpering. Tears seeped in steady streams from underneath his tightly shuttered eyelids and every once in a while he would erupt into a fit of coughing that sent blood sputtering from his mouth.
Not knowing what else to do, I continued to gently smooth back his hair and rub soft circles over the abraded skin of his back. This seemed to have a somewhat reassuring effect on my friend, as his breathing calmed slightly. However, as more time passed and Remus did not further react to my presence I realized he wasn't aware of it. He was completely oblivious to me. His night as a wolf and his transformations had left him in an utterly exhausted sort of comatose daze.
Would Remus remember anything of his time as wolf when some of his energy returned to him? More importantly, how long would it take for him to regain awareness?
"Remus?" I whispered hoarsely.
Remus jerked slightly under my touch but other than that he gave no sign of having heard me.
"Remus?" I tried again, "It's Sirius, can you…"
Even knowing how hard Remus had tried to keep me, or anyone, from finding out about his condition, I was surprised by his reaction when he finally registered my words and presence. Emerald green eyes shooting open in alarm, Remus pulled away from my hands as if they scalded him. Then, in a flash, he sat up and backed himself into the corner where he hugged his knees to his chest and stared at me through huge, terrified eyes.
I sighed. I had thought that my gentle touches would ebb his fear of my reaction from his mind. I had thought that he would be able to see how much I was worried for him, how much I cared. Couldn't he see that I didn't think him a monster?
"Remus," I tried to comfort gently, "You don't have to–"
"No," he moaned softly, closing his eyes and rocking back and forth, "No, no, no, no…" His expression was…tortured.
He was panicked, I realized. Not in the same frantic way as he had been in the secret passage. No, this was more a desperate state of denial. He couldn't believe that his secret was out, that I had discovered what he was. He couldn't believe I was here. Didn't want me to be here. Not if it meant he was going to lose me. How could I make him see he wasn't?
Coming here before telling him that I knew had been a bad idea. He was weak now. Exhausted. Emotionally and physically drained. Scared and in pain. Definitely not rational enough to deal with this. Maybe if I had waited a few days, waited until he was his quiet, happy, less withdrawn self, he would have reacted differently.
"No…Sirius, please don't hate me," he pleaded, "I didn't want you to know…you or James or Peter. You've all been such brilliant friends…especially you." God, he sounded so…despondent now, as if he held no hope of retaining my friendship now that I knew, "N-never had friends before," he admitted in a small, broken voice, "should've known…it wouldn't last."
"Remus, I don't hate you," I tried to break through the terrified trance he had fallen victim to. "You're my friend. One of my best friends. I'll do everything I can to help you. Please believe that."
For all that Remus responded to my words it was as if I hadn't even spoken.
"Remus!" I was more forceful now, not realizing my mistake until after I had made it. Remus misinterpreted the loudness of my tone for anger, even hatred, and cringed back against the wall as if I had slapped him.
Making a conscious effort to soften my voice, I whispered, "Remus, it's all right. I'm not my hateful narrow-minded parents. You're being a werewolf doesn't change…" I let my voice trail off into a defeated silence. He wasn't listening. He wasn't even looking at me anymore. It was as if he was afraid of what he would see in my eyes, on my face. He was just sitting there, eyes glazed, full of dread.
No matter, I thought grimly. I would just have to show him that we were still friends. Determinedly, I rose to my feet. After pulling down the small key, I unlocked the cupboard doors and pulled out the flask that Madam Pomfrey had given him, as well as his clothes and a small cloth I found stored there.
Then I returned to Remus' side.
In his crouched, almost cowering position, most of his wounds were not exposed to me. There were, however, some gashes on his arms and legs that I could clean and tend to, to the best of my ability. I didn't know any healing spells, as of yet, but I determined to learn some. It would help for the future because there was no chance in hell I was gonna leave him to endure this agony alone ever again.
Opening the flask, I dipped two cloth-covered fingers inside and let the fabric soak in a good amount before I pulled them out. As gently as I knew how, I began applying the solution to an extremely nasty cut on his forearm. When I finished, I moved on to the next abrasion, and the next, and the next, until I had completely cleaned all the wounds I could see on his arms.
Next, came his legs. By the time I reached his face, Remus was staring at me with a look of awed hope lighting his eyes.
Smiling slightly, I raised the now-reddened rag to his face and cleaned the blood and tears from his cheeks. Then I applied more of the healing yellow solution to the cuts and bruises, smearing the liquid over them with trembling hands that betrayed the true extent to which this experience had touched me.
"Sirius?" Remus questioned timidly, watching me avidly as I coxed him into extending an arm so that I could look at the pale underside, which had before been hidden from my view. Amazingly enough, it was mostly unscratched.
"Yeah, Remus?" I said, now drawing his other arm forward for a similar examination. There was a small, profusely bleeding gash on this one. Applying pressure to the wound, I attempted to slow the flow of crimson liquid.
"You…you… You don't…hate me?" he asked in disbelief.
"No Remus," I said, unfalteringly meeting his questioning gaze, "I don't hate you."
Remus studied my face intently, hope battling with incredulity on his tired features. When he found what he was looking for a face-splitting grin instantly appeared on his lips and sheer joy blazed through his eyes. "Really?" he asked, his voice containing more happiness than I had ever heard in it before.
I also smiled broadly, "Really, Remus."
His eyes were so bright – so pleased – that they made him glow with an aura of exuberance. "Y-you…you've always been so…brilliant…so kind to me b-but I never thought…I mean, I hoped…dreamed…but-but I-I…" His faltering words were interrupted by a fit of coughing that brought more blood to his lips. Once I had again cleaned it, he continued in a voice choked by emotion. "After everything they…did to me in school I didn't let myself…believe that you'd…you'd…be like this…"
Before I could answer, before I could even think about the significance of his words, I heard soft footsteps echoing from the entrance tunnel. Madam Pomfrey was returning.
"Quick," I said, handing him his undergarments, "put these on."
Remus shakily climbed to his feet. As he pulled on his clothes he shot me a curious look and asked: "How did you…get in here?"
"I borrowed James' invisibility cloak and followed you to Madam Pomfrey's and then to the Whomping Willow," I told him, catching his arm to steady him when he wavered and would have fallen.
Remus froze. "You…were here all night?"
"Yeah," I admitted, "in the hallway."
"Oh." He seemed caught between gratitude and discomfort. It hadn't occurred to me before, but maybe Remus was embarrassed by the thought of what I had witnessed.
When he was finished he turned and watched me expectantly, obviously waiting for me to go hide in the hallway.
"No," I shook my head, "I'm staying here with you."
"But…Madam Pomfrey will want to know…h-how you got in here and–"
"I'll tell her the truth," I said simply, but then smiled deviously at his surprised expression, "Well…at least most of it."
"Wouldn't it be simpler to just–"
Remus was interrupted by Madam Pomfrey's entrance, "Hello Remus. Sorry that I'm a bit late but–" She stopped short when she caught sight of me, standing just next to Remus, and her expression immediately changed from one of concern to one of shock. "Sirius Black," she fixed me with a bemused look, "What…how…?" She seemed too confused to consider being angry or even displeased with me.
"Madam Pomfrey," I smiled, "I've been very worried about Remus ever since I first noticed how he disappears once a month. Last night, after discovering that he is a werewolf, I followed the both of you here in hopes of helping him."
"Followed…?" she echoed, "How did you follow us without either of us noticing?"
Remus' glanced at me nervously but I ignored him. "I simply hung back a good distance. As soon as you had entered the Whomping Willow, I rushed forward so as to avoid…er…getting killed."
Madam Pomfrey remained unconvinced but apparently decided to drop the issue. "Very well," she said, "I will leave Professor Dumbledore to decide what is to be done now that you know of Remus' condition. As you appear unharmed, I think it is best that I treat Remus' wounds now."
I hovered concernedly over Madam Pomfrey and Remus as she gently and efficiently used several charms to mend the damage he had done to himself. Most of injuries healed completely but some of the deeper, bloodier, ones left more scars to join those that already marked his skin. Though Remus still seemed fatigued beyond measure, I was relieved to not have to look upon the hurt body of my friend any longer. Seeing him so badly hurt had made my heart clench.
As soon as Madam Pomfrey finished, Remus quickly grabbed the rest of his clothes. Once he was done getting dressed, the three of us proceeded to walk quietly back to the castle. There were several times when Remus stumbled or had to stop, but I restrained myself from having him lean on me for support knowing that despite the nightmares and the tears, Remus was not as weak as he sometimes seemed. I would not snub him.
Upon entering Hogwarts, Madam Pomfrey left Remus and me to return to our dorm room on our own. Perhaps it was because she noticed my concern for Remus' wellbeing – how I was so observant of him as we walked and how I took great care to never rush or push him – and decided he would fair well under my supervision.
As soon as we entered our room, Remus went to rest peaceably on his bed. After a moment of hesitation, I sat down on the edge of his mattress. "How…How are you feeling?" I asked worriedly.
"My muscles are always very sore after a transformation," he informed me, his every tired word filled with a serene joy, his eyes still sparkling, "and I'm pretty much exhausted. It'll help that today I can just rest instead of going to classes."
Classes. Remus always attended classes the day after the full moon, I realized. I couldn't imagine how he managed to trudge his way through them all – what resolve it took to not simply come back here and collapse in bed.
"But…you're okay?" I pressed. After everything I had seen him go through last night, it was hard to believe that all he suffered from was sore muscles and overtiredness.
My friend's face softened, "I'm okay, Sirius."
Hearing him say this filled me with some measure of relief but it was hard to let go of my worry for him. The images of what I had seen last night were still too fresh in my mind, as was the knowledge of how painful – both physically and emotionally – this was for my friend. "Is there anything I can do?"
A warm smile further lit up Remus' face, "Just…keep me company."
"Okay," I agreed immediately.
"…And," he continued abruptly, "tell me how long you've known and how you figured it out."
I didn't need to ask to understand what he was referring to. "It was the night before the full moon. I was in the library, researching…trying to find out what was wrong with you. After many long, fruitless hours had passed–"
"You spent hours trying to find out what was wrong with me?" his voice marked by incredulity.
I smiled. "Yeah, Remus, I did. And it's not the only time. Nor am I the only one who's tried. James and Peter usually help me."
The best description of Remus at that point would be to say that he was totally and completely dumbfounded. Thunderstruck. "You've gone to the library before…looking for something to tell you what was wrong with me?"
Remus didn't say anything, but the gratitude in his eyes spoke volumes.
"Anyway," I cleared my throat, "as I was saying… After having been there for quite a long time, Dumbledore showed up and…pointed me in the right direction."
"Dumbledore…" he echoed and for the first time I noted how deeply he respected our Headmaster. "Why would he…"
"Because I wanted you to see that you choose your friends well, Remus," Dumbledore said from somewhere behind me, startling both Remus and I because neither of us had heard him enter.
I looked over my shoulder to see Dumbledore standing in the doorway to our dorm room. The Headmaster's blue eyes were practically as alight as Remus' were and when I met his gaze he seemed to silently be thanking me for helping my friend.
"Madam Pomfrey visited me only a few minutes ago. It seems she thinks I ought to do something to prevent you from telling your fellow classmates about Remus and to stop you from doing something that might be of harm to you or him."
Oh, no. He was going to tell me I couldn't ever go back to the shack, or whatever it was, with Remus doing his transformations because it would be too dangerous. For both of us. Not only would I be merely a doorway apart from a wolf that could end my life in but a few short moments, but Moony could – as he had already done – seriously harm himself in an attempt to get to me.
Steeling myself to protest Dumbledore, I was surprised at his next words. "I've come here only to say that I am placing my trust in both your hands. I am sure that neither of you will betray that trust by endangering the lives of the staff and students, or your own." He gave each of us a very meaningful glance before turning to leave.
I turned back to Remus, who was looking at me anxiously. "What?"
"Y-you're not going to tell anyone…are you?"
I had been planning on telling James and Peter, but one look at Remus' suddenly frightened face told me I couldn't. Not even if I knew they would not react as my friend feared. "No, of course not," I vowed, "You have my word, Remus, that I will take your secret with me to the grave."
The fright vanished from his deep green eyes. "Thank you," he said.
"I do think that you should tell James and Peter…or let me tell them for you. I know that you're worried but I can assure you that they would never–"
"No!" Remus shook his head vehemently, "I couldn't…please don't. You don't understand… You're different…maybe they aren't. Maybe they'll be like everyone else–"
"They won't be," I stated firmly.
"You don't know that!" he cried, suddenly very agitated, "You have no idea! Everyone else who's ever seemed like they'd be receptive – like they wouldn't hate me – has turned on me as soon as they heard."
"What did the other kids do to you, Remus?" I had spoken before thinking – as I so often did – and as soon as my own words registered in my mind, I wished desperately to take them back. What was I doing? I wanted to know more about Remus. About the way he had been treated that had made him so desperately frightened of having James, Peter, and I turn on him, had made him scared to even make friends. Something told me it wasn't just a fear based on reading and research into people's perception of werewolves. Something told me it was experience. Yes, I wanted to know that but…not now. Not when he had only just transformed back into himself and hadn't even recovered his energy yet.
"Remus, I'm sorry," I apologized before he could say anything, "I didn't mean to–"
"No, Sirius," he interrupted pensively, "It's all right. I…I've never been able to talk about this with anyone, and I've wanted to for so long… I'm glad I finally found someone who will listen."
Remus' eyes grew distant and clouded over with remembered pain. "You have to understand, Sirius… Everyone knew about me. Not because I wanted them to. Not because I told them, but because of my parents."
His parents? How could his parents tell anyone, when they knew with what reaction the news would most likely be greeted? Did they want their son to be miserable?"
"No, it's not that they made an announcement or anything or wanted everyone to know," he said, seeming to read my mind, "It's just… I was bitten by a werewolf when I was very little. Five years old. For my birthday, my parents took me camping in the woods. I remember…they told me over and over again to not wander off by myself but…I was stupid, so stupid, and I didn't listen." His voice had grown bitter, and I could tell that he blamed himself.
"I left the campsite in the middle of the night. I wanted to explore. I walked through the trees for hours, never realizing how much ground I had covered. It didn't even occur to me that I was in danger until I realized that the forest had grown dark and…dank. I could hear wild animals all around me. Howling…" His pained voice trailed off into silence and I knew he was lost in memory.
"It came out of nowhere…" he continued, his mind in a faraway place, remembering, "With its huge, fierce golden eyes and its gleaming teeth… I tried to run, but it was fast, too fast for me and it clawed at my feet…"
I was alarmed to see that tears had formed in Remus' eyes and were beginning to trail down his cheeks. "Remus…" I tried to bring him out of it, but he was too lost in what was clearly the worst memory of his life.
"I fell and it pounced on me, tearing at my skin and growling. I remember crying out for help because it hurt so much and I was so scared and then…it bit me. In the stomach… And it was like nothing I'd ever felt before… It hurt…but it was more than that. It was like I could feel something…spread through my body…encompass me...like a poison." He wiped some of his tears away with shaking fingers and focused his eyes on mine, seeming to come out of his reverie. "The next thing I knew I was back at the campsite, with my parents. They'd found me, just in time, and killed the werewolf.
"I didn't understand though. I thought it had been a wolf. Just a wild wolf. When I woke up my parents were so…grave. For a moment I thought someone had died. My mum was crying and my dad wouldn't even look at me. I tried to tell them that I was okay but that only made her cry more and my dad…just stormed off into the forest.
"When I healed enough, we went back home. I still didn't understand why they were so sad all the time. Then the doctors started coming. It was always the same… They would make me sip some potion…it'd turn this horrible, horrible shade of red, and then they'd tell my parents they were sorry and that there was nothing they could do. I remember being so confused… Thinking I had done something horribly wrong and apologizing to them… But my mum kept crying herself to sleep every night and my dad would never meet my eyes…
"Finally, a specialist came. Someone who had made a living out of studying werewolves. He took me aside and explained what had happened and what I was. I'll never forget what he told me…how his eyes blazed with hatred. Because, Sirius…even people who study werewolves don't understand…don't see. They hate us…hate me, just like everyone else does. They don't study us to help…they study us like we're some kind of plague that has to be wiped out," Remus' voice choked on a fresh wave of tears and it was a few moments before he could continue. "He told me I was a monster…told me what would happen every month and left me with a cage…a cage that wasn't even big enough for a wolf to turn around in…"
"That night was my first transformation. I spent it in that cage. And I finally understood. I understood why my mum was depressed and my dad was so ashamed. I understood…but that didn't prepare me for anything. It didn't prepare me for my dad trying to convince my mum to leave me in St. Mungo's for life. It didn't prepare me for the way I was treated at school. See, it was 'cause of all the doctors and specialists that my parents contacted that everyone figured out what I was. Parents would tell their kids to stay way from me, that I was a monster. For a while, that's exactly what everyone did. Avoided me like I was contagious.
"But everything changed in the next couple years, as we all grew older. Instead of avoiding me, they…brutalized me. They'd call me…horrible names… They'd beat me up whenever they could corner and outnumber me. It got to the point where a teacher would always have to escort me from class to class and then wait with me until my mum came to pick me up after school. I would cry myself to sleep every night and pray every morning that I could just make it through one day without getting hurt.
"And then a new boy came to the school and…and we-we became f-friends…or so I thought… He only pretended to like me. Maybe he did it so that it would hurt more when I realized he was just like everyone else. I don't know. One day, some of the other kids caused a diversion between classes so that the teacher that was supposed to escort me to my next class was distracted. Then my friend turned on me and beat me within an inch of my life while some other boys held me down. It was then that I understood how truly evil people can be."
A wicked anger coursed through me. How could people be so…sick? How could they do something like that just because someone was different, because they didn't understand? In the end I knew that I could read every book ever written – could talk to every person in existence – and would never understand how such hatred was possible. Maybe it was better that way.
I had never before imagined a tale so full of toil, pain, and sadness. No wonder Remus had isolated himself… No wonder he had thought no one would ever want to be his friend… No wonder he had never told me he was a werewolf…
"And understanding what I am most certainly didn't prepare me for the fact that my dad still won't look at me, still won't talk to me. It doesn't make it any easier to live with the knowledge that the only reason he tolerates my existence is because my mum loves me and he loves her," Remus' voice was barely audible now and I had to strain to catch his words.
"Is that why…why you didn't go back for Christmas?" I again spoke before thinking, my voice so guttural that I didn't recognize it as my own.
Remus nodded, using the sleeves of his robes to soak up the last of his tears. "I was going to…I miss my mum, I don't think I would have made it through this without her – but then I realized it'd be a full moon and I just didn't think I could deal with the cage – the same wretched cage I've used since the very first transformation – and my dad."
Remus, I realized, was stronger than I ever realized, more courageous than I could have thought possible. He had to be, to live this sort of life. Yes, he had horrible dreams and broke down in tears sometimes, but just the fact that he could endure all of this showed me how brave he was.
Not for the first time, I was struck by the injustice of it all. God…this wasn't fair! It wasn't fair that someone like Remus had to suffer through this! "I-I'm so sorry, Remus," I said, trying to infuse my voice with all the turbulent emotions that filled me so he would hear the sincerity in them, "I wish I could tell you how sorry–"
"You don't have to, Sirius," he assured me suddenly, "I can tell. You look like you want to cry… No one our own age has ever looked at me with anything but hatred or disgust after finding out." Once again, gratitude and joy burned in his eyes.
I smiled – or at least tried to.
"Does it hurt…Remus?" I couldn't stop myself asking. "When you transform…does it hurt?"
"More than you could possibly imagine," he whispered. "Even when that boy who pretended to be my friend nearly killed me…it didn't hurt as much as the transformations do."
"And…do you remember?" It made me feel bad to ask him all these things but I couldn't help it. I needed to know everything I could about this, so I could find someway to help him. Someway to make some of his pain go away.
"My time as a wolf?" he asked.
I nodded once.
"Yes. I mean…it's hard to explain. If I try to, I can remember. But I don't want to remember the madness so it usually comes back to me in flashes when I dream. If I concentrate now, I can remember how…" Remus' voice faltered suddenly and his eyes widened. "Sirius!" he exclaimed, sounding almost panicked, "You came into the room before I transformed back, didn't you!?"
"Yes, I did, but–"
"I could have killed you!" he yelled, his voice rising with an anger and intensity I had never heard in it before. "What were you thinking!?"
"You were too exhausted to hurt me!" I responded loudly, "You had spent the whole night hurting yourself and by the end you couldn't even stand anymore! And…and I couldn't just stand there anymore…I had to try and help… I had to do something… I felt so helpless, and you were curled up in this ball…covered in blood and…I couldn't stop myself!"
Remus' eyes glistened with tears that didn't fall, but he shook his head. "Don't ever do that again," he told me decisively, "Promise me that you'll never do that again."
I closed my eyes. "Remus…I can't." It was a simple answer, but true. There was no way I could make a promise like that. There was no way I would wait any longer than necessary to help Remus when he transformed.
"Promise me!" he yelled, but then, in a subdued voice pleaded, "Please…I can't stand the thought of hurting you. I have nightmares about it all the time…about hurting James, Peter, or you… I don't think I could live with myself if I was responsible for your death…or for turning you into a werewolf."
"I…" God, I couldn't stand the horrible fear that filled Remus' eyes…couldn't stand the thought that having this worry for my safety hanging over his heart would only make his time as a wolf worse for him. "I…promise. But hear this, Remus. I promise I'll never again enter that room while you're in wolf form but I also promise this: I promise I will never let you go back to that hellhole alone again. I promise I'll always be there, in that hallway, so that as soon as you're human again, I can do everything in my power to help you."
"I-I don't know what to say," Remus faltered, his eyes turning a vibrant color and overflowing with elation.
"You don't have to say anything," I smiled, "but you could try 'thank you.'"
Remus laughed exuberantly, "Thank you!"