It Wasn't Built In A Day
"Hmmm?" replied Remus, not really listening. He was absorbed in the textbook, re-living Merlin's epic battles, coming face-to-face with horrors that lurked on the boundaries between worlds, devils and banshees, things that were un-named. Un-named because they had first walked this Earth before language was invented...
"In the name of someone scary, put down that book! I'm worn out," announced Sirius, leaning across the otherwise deserted table and neatly snatching the book away. Remus sighed, and lay his head on top of the pile of unfinished homework. He'd just returned from the hospital wing, and as ever needed to catch up with almost a week's worth of work. This month's transformation had been particularly bad, and he cringed when he thought of the ugly red scar bisecting his abdomen. James would certainly have something to say about that when he saw it later.
Surprisingly, Sirius hadn't said a word.
"You're worn out?" retorted Remus, quirking an eyebrow. "All you've done for
the past three hours is sit there and try to scratch 'I Love Bunnies – Severus
Snape' into the table."
"Less of the 'try', more of the 'completed that task exactly 53 minutes ago and am now extremely bored, thankyou. Anyway, it's late. I'm tired...even old Pincey's gone to bed."
He hadn't said a word, none of the usual exclamations, dark mutterings about how Dumbledore should come up with some potion, reassurances that girls didn't care about huge scars, in fact they positively encouraged them...he'd just looked at the wound, then looked right back at Remus. Right into his eyes.
It was a well-known fact that Sirius Black couldn't play poker.
"You don't have to stay."
"No, no," he said, immediately apologetic. "I didn't mean it like that...here, I'm passable at Transfiguration..."
"Ah, so top of the class is only passable, now."
"I would give you a measured and unimpressed stare, but I can't be bothered. What I was trying to say was that I'll do the rest of those Transfig. calculations, if you like."
They'd all been playing in the Three Broomsticks, Remus, Sirius, James and Peter. Peter's father had taught him how the previous summer, and Sirius had embraced the Muggle card game with gusto. Unfortunately, he hadn't been very good at it.
"Nothing, nothing," Sirius said gleefully, almost falling off his chair in excitement. "Carry on, my pretties."
James exchanged a Look with Remus, and Peter frowned. "Why did you say 'my pretties' ? That's what you said when you were winning at Scrabble last week! And when you were beating James at chess the week before that!"
"Your point is?"
The card game continued for a few more minutes, until Sirius burst into sudden uncontrollable laughter. James slammed his cards down on to the table.
"Really, what is it?"
"It's just...you lot...oh, I'm just so damnedlucky! I've got the best hand! I'm definitely going to win!"
The other two followed James' example, and Peter rolled his eyes in an uncharacteristic display of sarcasm. Remus pushed some stray strands of brown hair away from his eyes, and in a gentle voice started to explain.
"The point of the game is to bluff. You have to keep a poker face – no
emotions. You see, that way, the best hands don't always win."
"Yes, alright, but look, Moony," he said, excitedly, showing the other boy his 'lucky' hand. "It's the best hand! It has to win."
Sirius Black couldn't play poker, and in his near-black, serious black eyes Remus had seen it. For the smallest fraction of a barely noticed second.
"I should really do them myself," he protested, that oh-so-familiar 'I'll break the rules but only if you make me' expression stealing over his face. Sirius grabbed the appropriate piece of parchment and flashed his friend a wicked grin.
"You can do them yourself another time. Like on Saturday."
"But the homework's due in tomorrow."
With much sighing and hesitant body language, Remus finally gave his consent, which was completely irrelevant, as Sirius was already on the third problem.
Who would've guessed that unpredictable Sirius Black loved Transfiguration calculations? He loved anything that had a solution, an answer. There was black, and there was white. There was right, and there was wrong. That would make a neat little world, one he could occupy quite happily. A world where he could get down to the all important business of having fun, and never have to worry about consequences or whether his best friend was going to accidentally slit his own stomach open one moonlit night.
Of course, Remus Lupin was everything he should, by all accounts, dislike. Remus was a werewolf. Werewolves were evil. Therefore, Remus was evil. Except, of course, he wasn't. Remus was possibly the kindest, gentlest and most thoroughly likeable person Sirius had ever met.
He was also a shade of grey.
There had been no other word for it. Perhaps pity, or hopelessness would have been easier to understand, but those would never come from Sirius.
Had it been disgust, then? Had his friend unmasked his true feelings?
That didn't ring quite true.
Still, he needed to ask. He had to know. Because that fury, that rage, sparkling like an uncoiled live wire, had disturbed him. Remus knew that spark well, it stared from cold glass plates on chill nights, with the moon, always the moon in the background, ever present, ever watching. A harshly glittered orb that cast its haughty gaze upon the wolf who howled in the room. The wolf whose eyes sparkled with a live wire crack of murderous rage, and the self-same wolf that would kill in an instant.
Remus had a valid excuse for his fury. Sirius, at the moment, did not.
"Why were you angry?"
The question came from nowhere, spilled from his lips before he had a chance to stop it. Embarrassed by the intense melodrama of the situation, Remus attempted to carry on working, fully aware that Sirius was frowning in his general direction.
"Earlier, when I showed you my cut. You were angry...furious."
"Don't be so bloody stupid."
That was it. Stupid. Bloody stupid, in fact. Maybe it was the words, or the dismissive tone, or the doubt that poisoned the back of his mind, whatever it was, Remus snapped. His head snapped up, his teeth snapped together and his heart started thudding against his ribcage. He could easily imagine the snapping crack of each rib. Snap, snap, snap.
"I'm not being stupid, I'm serious."
"No, I'm Sirius...really, Moony, that's an old one..."
"I saw it."
Now he was standing up, and Remus knew he had to leave the room. It scared him, this feeling of uncontrollable emotion. Later he reflected that he always would be scared by it, would be doomed to a life of eternal restraint, just in case.
"Saw what? Look, I'm sorry I said you were stupid, I just didn't
understand...honestly, please, sit down."
Just in case one day he really let himself feel.
"Moony, come back!"
"Stay away from me."
In case it turned out that all this time he'd been living a lie.
"Remus, I won't let you leave until you tell me what's wrong!"
Sirius was closing in, two steps nearer and he would reach out to grab Remus' arm.
"I'm warning you, stay back!"
"Oh, you're warning me now? What is that, a threat? What'll you
"You don't know what I'm capable of."
In case he really was the wolf.
"Yes I do, that's the problem..."
There was a surprising amount of blood. He really hadn't expected the sound, either. The soft pop, the way Sirius' head had recoiled so sharply, the sting of pain in his knuckles and the blood. Thick and red it covered Padfoot's lower jaw, spilling into his open mouth. Remus suddenly exhaled, remembering to breath. Sirius simply stared, before lifting his hand to his mouth and gingerly touching his jaw.
"I'm so sorry, I just...sit down, here, sit down," he managed to say, strangely overcome, not with grief but a steadily increasing fear.
A stunned Sirius allowed himself to be herded into the chair Remus had so violently sprung from only moments ago. Fingers of impatient adrenaline prompted Remus into tearing a scrappy strip from the bottom of his shirt. Carefully, so carefully, he daubed at the blood. For once Sirius let somebody tend to him. This was, after all, an evening of firsts.
The cut was still bleeding, and the area around it was rapidly bruising. Remus sighed, and straightened up. "It's no good, we'll have to go to see Madam Pomfrey," he said shakily.
"No. No, it can wait. Moo..Remus, sit down. You're in shock," Sirius countered, his voice so kind and reasonable that Remus couldn't decide whether he wanted to cry or to jump out of the nearest window. Instead he did as he was told, and sat. They sat in relative silence for some while, the steady ticking of the clock a welcome distraction. Eventually Sirius drew a breath and Remus felt the intense Black gaze centred on his head.
"Why did you do it?"
"Because you said I was a problem. Because you were angry earlier, and don't try to deny it, you were. Because I lost it. Because I'm an evil creature, and that's what evil creatures do."
There was another mortifying silence, and for the millionth time Remus wished he could take it all back.
"You are a problem. I was angry. But you aren't an evil creature."
He looked up sharply, and Sirius gave a wry grin.
"We're sixteen, we're single and we're good-looking...yet here we are, in a
deserted library, discussing the nature of good and evil. It really is
completely ridiculous...not that ridiculous," he added hastily, looking worried.
"Don't hit me, or anything."
Now it was Remus' turn to groan, and grin. "I suppose now you'll be terrified of me."
"Hmmm, make the most of it. I suppose we better have a manly heart-to-heart, old bean." Sirius slung a companionable arm around the other boy's shoulders. Remus felt better. "Here's the score. Earlier, when you showed me that cut, I was angry. Furious. Absoloutely livid. But not with you, not at you. With me. There I was, sleeping warm in my bed, while you were ripping chunks out of yourself in some dirty old house!"
"You can't help it..."
"I know, and that's what's so galling...I'm never helpless. Never. Helplessness just isn't something Blacks do. Are. Whichever, the second point is that you aren't evil. Now, I have to say something to you, promise you won't start going all mental again..." He waited for Remus to nod. "Alright. Don't be so bloody stupid. That's all I've got to say."
"And...I'm a problem?"
"Of course you are. Y'know, when you finally told us the truth, it was good for us. We've all had to grow up. Things aren't just black and white, I see that now, I do. And I'm glad. If there's one thing that I like, it's solving problems."
Remus started to protest, but Sirius shouted him done. "None of that pessimistic stuff. It might take me slightly longer than a day. A year, or two years, or possibly even three, but I'll solve your problem, Remus Lupin, I will. That's what friends are for, and don't you forget it."
Afraid he was going to start sobbing, and so prove that he really wasn't qualified to be a Dark and Evil Thing Of The Night, Remus ventured another question.
"Solve this for me then. When I punched you, that wasn't me...what if it was
the wolf...what if I'm the wolf..."
"Have you ever thought about acting?"
"Do you realise how incredibly melodramatic and idiotic you sound? It was
you, you plonker. I touched a nerve and you retaliated."
"But...but I'm not like that!"
"You know what they say...it's always the quiet ones. Come on, let's get back to the common room. Peter and James are dying to tell you what happened in Potions."
"What about your face?"
"Oh, that." Sirius grabbed his wand and muttered a few words. When he turned around the cut was gone and the bruise was fading fast. Remus gawped.
"How did you do that?"
"Made Poppy teach me. She's always had a soft spot for me, must be all those sponge baths..."
"So it's Poppy now..."
And so happiness was restored, at least for the time being. As they made their way back to the tower, Remus sighed contentedly. Rome certainly wasn't built in a day...but he was willing to bet that the Romans didn't have Sirius Black on their side.