How does one go about defining good and evil? Those two words are principles upon which hundreds of varying interpretations are attached. Every individual and every society has a different concept of what is wrong and what is right. As we often judge those two concepts through laws established by a ruling power, good and evil is often defined as such:
Good is what conforms to society's laws. Evil is what strays from society's laws.
We are taught that slander is wrong, that bigamy is wrong, that sodomy is wrong, that fascism is wrong, and we came to believe that those ideas are natural truths. But these perceptions came to us through rules which other men imposed upon us.
Which parts of our beliefs are instinct and which parts are teachings? Theoretically, humans are born with little or no preset ideals. That is debatable; however, most beliefs came to us through external teachings. But thousands of years ago, the things people perceived were wrong are very different from what we perceive now.
In that light, do we as a society have the right to label any person as good or evil? What right do we have to judge a man with the rules fixed on us by society, and punish him as we see fit, when he has merely strayed from conforming, or perhaps acting on his own beliefs independent from the whole?
We should not have that right. We should withdraw ourselves from the confines of society and live our life on only the fundamentals.
We should focus only on the main essential of our being: survival. In that reality, any law or restriction of society is stripped bare from our life. The fact that we think and act is only secondary to the knowledge that we exist as a physical being. In that sense, nothing is essentially good. Nothing is essentially evil. There is only the foundation: existence.
How we live life is only a small aspect of how we live. Existence precedes essence. Men are born to live, and they live to die. Those aspects are the only things solid in this world. As to how we act is a separate issue. A person's crimes or achievements fade in comparison to the fact that he eats, breathes, lives, and dies.
There is nothing good or evil, only existence and life.
- James [January 11th, St. MaryAnn's Hospital ]
Sirius stirred his coffee and watched it swirl with the cream. They blended after a while, so he poured in the last of the milk and swirled it again. Resting his head against his hand, he listened to the sounds of the street around him. Rain was pouring down in sheets from the sky, and even under the canopy of the café, Sirius could feel the water splashing around him. He wasn't cold though, not even in his thin, short-sleeved shirt. Azkaban was always colder.
Sirius dumped the third package of sugar in the coffee and wondered if the thing was still drinkable. He certainly didn't feel like drinking it anymore.
"Mind if I sit here?"
It took a moment for Sirius to decide whether that voice was real or imagined. Sirius lifted his head, vaguely surprised when a pair of familiar grayish blue eyes stared back at him intently.
Remus isn't suppose to be here, Sirius' mind sluggishly decided. Without responding, Sirius let his head fall back against his hand, idly stirring the lukewarm drink again. He is supposed to be teaching. What is he doing here?
"Sirius?" Remus sounded cautious, as if he was prodding him for a response.
Go away, Sirius wanted to tell him. Leave me alone.
He had that speech of Remus' memorized. If he was going to be forced to sit through another one, he'd snap. It was becoming very irritating.
"How have you been?" Remus softly asked when Sirius was still silent.
Sirius glanced at the drink and wondered if Remus would leave him along if he flung the thing at him. Likely Remus would respond by acting as if the entire thing was accidental.
"Did you do anything interesting of the late?" Remus quietly drew a chair to sit beside him, and Sirius could feel his intent gaze on his back.
‘Oh? Something different from ‘What did you have for breakfast?' and ‘Are you sleeping well?' Sirius noted absently. Defensively, Sirius turned away and prodded at the bottom of the paper cup with the straw.
Remus frowned slightly. Leaning forward, he sharply grabbed the cup of cold coffee and dragged it away. Sirius stiffened, but didn't look up.
"Have you been doing anything interesting of the late?" Remus asked again.
He sounded more stubborn and more professor-like, and Sirius felt a surge of irritation at that tone. It sounded so patronizing…
"I was stirring the drink until you took it a few minutes ago," Sirius said finally, turning to face his friend.
He was surprised when he finally looked at Remus at how tired he looked, and tried to recall if the full moon was anytime near. But his memory came with too many holes and Sirius gave up.
Remus' eyes narrowed. Resignedly, Sirius leaned back and let his gaze drift out onto the street again.
"I took a walk around a park yesterday, if that's what you want to hear."
Remus said nothing, and for a long moment, the two sat in a heavy silence. They were too formal to be friends of over two decades, but Sirius couldn't seem to decide what he felt about it. He had never taken the time to rebuild his friendship with Remus after he escaped from Azkaban. Things had been too dangerous then. And when he was freed, everything had changed. Distractedly, Sirius twisted the straw between his fingers, restless and frustrated.
"What are you doing here?" Sirius said softly, staring at Remus from the corner of his eye. "I thought you had a class to teach."
Remus swirled the coffee in the fraying cup, and Sirius noted with some deadened amusement that he was doing the same thing Sirius had done earlier.
"Albus told me to take the day off," Remus muttered with a careful restraint.
To see how you're doing…
Those words were implied and not spoken. Sirius' expression darkened, and he jerked his head away. Leave it to the headmaster to think he needed guidance. It seemed that everyone believed that he was teetering on the edge of insanity. Even Remus believed it, and that hurt. Couldn't they see that he just wanted to be left alone?
"It's been a year, hasn't it?" Remus said softly. It wasn't really a question.
Sirius stiffened and his hand slipped to grip the edge of his chair tightly. He didn't want to be reminded of what happened. He tried so hard to escape it, but at the same time, he couldn't pass a day without thinking of it. Most of the time, he could think of nothing else. His life was in pieces, Sirius knew that just as well as anybody, but couldn't they see that this was what he wanted?
"How are Ron and Hermione?" Sirius finally asked.
Remus hesitated for a moment too long, and Sirius glanced at him out of the corner of his eye again. Remus had fallen completely still
Sirius frowned. "Did something happen?"
"Ron… he got detention today."
Sirius raised an eyebrow but didn't inquire. Not surprising, considering that boy's routine lately.
"He was angry. Divination had upset him," Remus continued softly, his eyes downcast. "Trelawney said some things that she shouldn't have. Ron didn't take it too well and he was looking for people to blame…"
It was Remus' turn to fall silent this time. For a while, they sat listlessly, listening to the dull rumble of voices that echoed around them and the drone of the passing cars. There were two boys nearby, carrying two large sacks of newspapers and chatting lightheartedly. It was odd for children their age to be outside at this hour, especially since the Muggle schools had closed for the summer holidays, and Remus let his eyes linger on them for a moment in silence.
The boy with the tattered blue shirt and unruly hair resembled Harry, especially from a distance, Remus noted. He had the same wild hair and the round-rimmed glasses, and though he was thinner and taller than the Harry he remembered, their similarities were so striking that Remus found himself unable to look away.
"Delivery boys," Sirius muttered when he noticed Remus was watching. "They're distributing newspaper. The one on the right looks like Harry, doesn't he?"
Remus glanced at Sirius sharply. "You were watching them?"
"I've been sitting here for two hours, Remus. You pick up on a lot of these things." Sirius shrugged it aside; he continued to watch at the boy for a few more minutes before turning away.
Remus drew a deep breath and released it in a long sigh. He knew Sirius hated it whenever he touched on the subject, but it couldn't be avoided. He couldn't stand aside and watch his friend plow ahead on the road to self-destruction. He had gone too far to lose everything now.
"Sirius, I know I've told you this before…"
"I don't need to hear it then," Sirius cut him off harshly. He was already angry and impatient, and he didn't bother to hide it.
"Well, you obviously didn't because you're not doing anything about it!" Remus raised his voice warningly as his frustration grew. "It's been a year already, Padfoot…"
"I know! I can count," Sirius snapped angrily. He glowered darkly at the table.
"Albus offered you a position at Hogwarts—"
"—and I turned it down, I know that too."
Remus stood abruptly, his chair screeching against the asphalt. A few customers turned their heads, watching the two in confusion. "Sirius, stop doing this to yourself. You've wasted your life for the past year. This can't go any further. You've got talents. You've got more than half your life ahead of you. Please, you can't keep doing this!"
"So you've skipped over the inspirational speech," Sirius remarked stiffly, "and all those flowery words and just jumped right at the meat this time—"
"Stop it. This isn't amusing." Remus ran a hand through his hair in frustration. "How long are you planning to live like this? Just wandering around through town and sitting in parks all day long?"
"Well, I'm finding parks very fascinating, Remus," Sirius bit out under his breath.
Remus sank back in his chair as if he suddenly deflated and leaned back with a very tired sigh.
"Sirius," he began in a whisper, "you're my friend, my only friend, and I don't want to see you… wasting away like this. If Harry was here, he'd never…"
"Don't even start on Harry with me," Sirius hissed. There was enough venom in his voice to make Remus cringe. "Harry is not here!"
"Moping around won't bring him back," Remus said with a pained grimace. "You're wasting your life like this. It's over. You have to accept it!"
Sirius was still as if his words went right through him, his attention solely absorbed in the completely maimed straw in his hand.
"Harry isn't here," Sirius whispered distantly.
Something seemed to have closed behind Sirius' eyes. Remus fell silent when he saw it, and knew immediately that he should never have drawn Harry into the conversation. But no other name incited a reaction out of Sirius anymore. Tentatively, Remus rested a hand on Sirius' shoulder, and felt Sirius tense beneath his fingers.
Abruptly, there was a loud shout. There was a loud clang as something struck the floor none too gently, and Remus glanced over his shoulder just in time to see one of the boys who had been selling newspaper fling himself at a tall teenager.
His professor instincts triggered, Remus immediately rushed forward. "Stop!"
*Fifteen minutes prior*
Will shifted the coarse bag on his shoulder uneasily when a few customers glanced their way. The large sack of newspapers he lugged wasn't making him any more inconspicuous, and combined with his oversized and unwashed coat, the people's wary glances were slowly melting into suspicion.
Will elbowed James sharply. "What are you doing? We're supposed to be getting rid of the rest of this stack, not in the pharmacy…"
"Keep your voice down!" James whispered with a warning glare and a finger to his lips. Scooting his bag along the aisle with his foot, he knelt down and carefully examined the rows of medicine with a critical eye.
The store manager pushed his cart strategically opposite their aisle, as if already suspecting them to be shoplifters. Will narrowed his eyes.
"People are watching," Will hissed under his breath. "Will you hurry?"
James just nudged him with his foot and resumed picking up a bottle after another, reading the back inscriptions rather meticulously.
"Why are we even here? Are you sick again?" asked Will rather irritably.
He was harsh, but he was inwardly anxious. James seemed to have a nonexistent immune system that loved to attract all sorts of bizarre diseases. Either he had never completely recovered from the injuries he suffered when he was found, or he had some sort of auto-immune disorder. James crashed with a fever if someone even sneezed in his direction, and in a household with over eighty children, he was almost constantly ill.
James gave a barely discernable shrug. "Angela said she might be coming down with something. You know how it's like a chain reaction when anyone gets sick. I think the kids are going to get the first wave of it."
Will rolled his eyes skyward. "Hurry up, alright? I at least want to get rid of these papers before the morning traffic."
James hummed and went tracing down the aisles again. Will sighed and, dumping the bag unceremoniously on the floor, plopped down using it as a stool. It was going to take some time, he already knew from experience. James was obsessive when it came to medicine.
But it was expected. After all, he was practically every little child's big brother in St. MaryAnn's orphanage. Although he was one of the latest arrivals in the children's home, James had slipped right into the folds like he had belonged there all along. Will couldn't figure out how he did it. Just two months into his stay, and suddenly, James had the younger children running after him in hoards. They went to James in the middle of the night when they were ill. They ran to him for schoolwork help when they were confused. One girl even ran crying to James when she was teased for not having her hair braided like every other little girl with a mother. Will silently smirked; James was never going to live that one down.
"Will, how much do you have on you?"
Will sluggishly stared at his friend out of the corner of his eye. "Four pounds, why?"
"This thing's fourteen," James grumbled with a bitter grimace. Sighing, he placed the pills back on the shelf. "And I'm in the red right now. I spent everything on next semester's books and summer reading assignments."
"Can't you use the fee wavier?"
"Not unless I'm already vomiting up my guts on their nice white tiles," James said mildly. He folded the hems of his outrageously long pants—obviously second hand, by the faded hue and ripped patches of the jeans—before standing with a wry smile. "Will, maybe if you suddenly had a seizure right here on the floor, they will give me the children's grape flavored daytime cold medicine for free."
How could he find this funny? Will noted with some amount of annoyance. Any other person would be furious by the unfairness of the entire situation, but James just shrugged it aside like some silly joke. But his friend was the type who took everything in stride with his head held high and both feet planted firmly on the ground. Will was sometimes tempted to push him to see just how far James could be stretched without snapping. Perhaps some of that person's famous resilience did hold true…
Will tore his thoughts away.
"So we're leaving?"
"Well… could I borrow some money?" James asked, giving his friend a sheepish smile. "I'm really hungry."
Will jumped to his feet in mock fury. "Again? You already ate before we left!"
"I had tinned corn," James responded indignantly. "That doesn't count!"
Will sighed, shaking his head as he reached for his wallet. "I give up. You're the kind of person who'll make buffet restaurants go bankrupt."
James made a blind swipe at his friend, pretending to be hurt by the comment, but Will could tell he was inwardly laughing. James had a ridiculously large appetite, and no matter how much he ate, it was never reflected in his weight. He had some sort of miracle metabolism soaked up everything like a sponge. He was growing, but Will found it odd that James still looked like a walking skeleton with skin.
But then again, James was just a strange boy.
James took one step outside the pharmacy and groaned aloud. Just on the day he didn't bring a coat, it decided to rain. The skies were grey and hazy; people were filtering from the streets to escape the downpour. A passing car sent a misty spray over the sidewalk.
James shivered. But then again, bringing a raincoat wouldn't have helped, James resigned decided. His had sprouted a leak somewhere in the hood so water ran down his shirt every time he wore it. But at least the newspaper would have been dry. James stiffly readjusted the sack strung from his shoulder, feeling his arm tingle.
Will not so subtly cursed under his breath. "As if those papers aren't heavy enough. Now we get water logged ones."
"Well, we'll just have to deliver them quickly," James thoughtfully mused. Hauling the coarse bag as he walked to lessen the strain on his arm, he walked to the edge of the sidewalk.
"In this weather?" Will snapped, shooting an irritable glare James' way. "We might as well leave just to spare the laundry cost."
James sighed, rolling his eyes skyward as he hoisted the bag stuffed with newspapers higher on his shoulder. The early morning chill left a dull throb in his right elbow and, with the added weight of his parcel, he found it increasingly hard to find the energy to argue. Nevertheless, Will still begrudging followed him to the intersection.
The rain was beginning to pour in torrents. It was freezing. And just as an added bonus, he was standing right beside a bristling coffee shop that exuded warmth. James was pretty sure the expression on his face reflected his mindset, because people were walking around him voluntarily.
James shivered, soaked to the skin, his vision blinded by wet glasses. Even though he was standing over the eaves of the café, he was still getting nicely drenched. His bed seemed so inviting right then. Fighting the urge to yawn, James took several deep breaths and stretched.
"You know, I had the weirdest dream last night," James said, trying to keep his mind off the vision of his bed and the thick aroma of hot coffee wafting towards him.
Will grunted. "You always have the weirdest dreams, James. I swear you were a nutcase before you lost your memory."
"Do you want to hear it or not?" James snapped, feigning offence.
"If you want to talk, I'm not going to stop you. Just don't make me listen."
James elbowed his friend sharply, but smiled nonetheless. He was well acquainted with his friend's sarcastic comments and ploughed blindly ahead with his tale despite Will's remark. "I dreamt that it was raining really hard, much worse than this. The wind was so strong that it was close to knocking me over." James hesitated. That was the odd thing about his dreams. He could actually feel the wind and taste the rain. Every detail was vivid, but when he woke again, he couldn't ignore the feeling of surrealism.
Will directed a pointed glare in James' way. "That's not very hard."
"Will, shut up!" James shot back, embarrassed but amused at the same time. "It really was raining unusually hard. You could barely see your hands. I was riding on a broom, flying…"
Will flinched. "You've got to be kidding. A broom, James? What are you, a witch?"
"I'm not female, if that's what you're implying," James grumbled indignantly. "Let me finish, okay? There were a lot of people watching, like it's some sort of sports event. I was flying on a broom, chasing this small and golden beetle-like thing. The rain was making it nearly impossible. But for some reason, my glasses were repelling the rain or something because they weren't getting wet and I was pretty sure they were on my face. Then there was this bright lightening that lit up the sky, and I could see a shadow of this big black dog in the bleachers. Suddenly, everyone fell silent..." He trailed off abruptly, brow furrowing in thought.
Was that what happened? It felt like an icy bath washing over him in midair as the heavy coat of silence settled over the field. He suddenly felt as if he were floating. Distantly, voices…
James bit his lip in thought, "That's it. That's all I can remember."
"I was right, James," Will sighed dramatically. "You are a nutcase."
He knew Will meant it as a joke, but James really didn't feel like laughing. Will's words hurt even if they were teasing. Sometimes, James found himself questioning his sanity rather seriously. He had the strangest dreams, not to mention his odd, eccentric obsessions. He was never able to sleep in pitch darkness; he was utterly and completely claustrophobic; he panicked whenever people pointed a pencil at him; and he had this indescribable fondness for people with bushy red hair.
It was strange. James couldn't figure out why those things bothered him so much.
"You know, coffee sounds so tempting right now." James purposely dragged his thoughts away. Wistfully, he watched the customers drifting in and out of the café with warm coats and steaming cups. He could smell the rich scent coffee beans, the sweet aroma of freshly baked bread; the slices of steaming buttered toasts were just lying meters away…
James' stomach grumbled.
Will lifted an eyebrow, "That was loud. Even I heard that."
"It smells really good," James groaned. "It's making my hypoglycemia act up."
Will frowned. "Do you actually have hypoglycemia?"
James shrugged. "Not really, but it's an official-sounding excuse for eating so much, don't you think?"
Will rolled his eyes.
James muffled another yawn, slipping his glasses aside to rub at his aching eyes, but a passerby knocked into his elbow hard. James staggered when the weight of the newspaper combined with the force of the collusion threw him back.
James turned around, muttering embarrassed apologies, but his words faded at the familiar face of his classmate. Flushing in humiliation, James swallowed back his anger and met the older boy's condescending stare in silence. Of all the days to meet his worst tormentor from school, it just had to be a rainy day when he's soaked, sleepy, and irritable.
"You!" Will hissed sharply beside him.
"Stunning observation." Somehow, the boy managed a dazzling smile in the face of Will's scowl. "I had not expected the two of you all the way out here."
Will took a step forward, but James quickly placed a restraining hand on his shoulder.
Forcing faltering smile on his face, James managed a stiff smile. "Good morning to you."
Smiling, the boy leaned against a nearby chair, already preparing himself for a long conversation. "Rather clumsy today, James? Is it too early in the morning for you?"
"It's always too early," James murmured with a good natured shrug.
"I don't understand you at all, James," The boy seemed to have lost some of his good humor. "How did you manage to pass every single class last year while snoring through the lessons?"
He did not snore while he slept, James thought with annoyed defensiveness, although he did sometimes drift in class… James felt like sinking to the ground in embarrassment.
"Obviously differently than you," James said slowly, trying to hide his blush. "There's no daddy to hold my hand while I'm taking tests."
The boy shrugged. "Yes, but you walk into class bumping into doors. That was the key moment of my weeks last year: James bumping into the door, guaranteed, every Monday morning."
Will huffed. "James does not—"
"Well, sometimes I do," James admitted with a shrug. "But it couldn't be worse than what you do. Listen, we're busy at the moment. You may not have many things to do, but Will and I certainly do, and we don't have the time to entertain you. Do you have somewhere to go?"
His patience was wearing thin, and the weather was weighing it down. James wasn't rapidly falling out of his calm mood.
"Don't worry about me. Where are the two of you off to?"
"We're not going anywhere at the moment," James said. "We're waiting out the rain."
"Look, would you go away already?" Will snapped. James pinched his arm in warning, but his friend shrugged him off.
The glance the older boy shot at him and Will was a lot less friendly this time. "I thought you might like to know, James, my father hates his papers wet. Try to keep those out of the rain," he said shortly.
Will visibly seethed, but James firmly tightened his grip on his friend's arm. Creating trouble directly outside a store and gathering a crowd was the last thing James wanted to do; Will already had a terrible reputation. It was foolish picking fights on the street, and James knew better than to explode when provoked. But he still couldn't suppress a surge of irritation.
"I'll try," James said quietly. "Look, just say what you came here to say and leave, alright? I'm sure you're not enjoying our company any more than we are enjoying yours."
The boy just shrugged but made no move to walk away. "Congratulations on being the honor student this year."
"Thank you," James replied stiffly.
"It was quite a shock, I suppose, considering how you began the year with a mind devoid of any intelligent thought."
"I'm sorry you feel that way," James whispered through gritted teeth.
"It's quite suspicious," he continued with narrowing eyes. "I'd be careful if I were you, James, unless you've already forgotten what happened last spring."
"Are you threatening him?" Will hissed, finally ripping his arm free of James' grasp. "What gives you the right? You asshole… think you're just better than us because, you bastard… still a little baby whining to his mother… still breast feeding, aren't you?"
James flinched at Will's choice of language and discreetly tried to look away as several heads severed around to stare at them in shock.
The boy glared. "They let trash like you into our school. They should have expelled you with Eric."
James winced, clenching his fists as he tried to rein his anger. "Eric never cheated. I know you hate him, but getting him expelled is going too far."
Despite the accusation, the boy seemed more amused. "You did his work for him, didn't you?"
"And you don't have people doing your homework?" James snapped back. "I did Eric's homework only because he had been ill. There was no harm in that."
"Eric should have been expelled years ago," the boy bit out. "He should never have been in the school in the first place, and neither should people like you."
"You have serious territorial problems," James ground out. "Will, we're leaving."
Grinding his teeth, James tried to forcibly drag his friend away. Will was quite hard to move, and James dug his nails into his friend in warning.
"We're going," James whispered.
A hand caught his elbow, and before James could even react to it, Will had wrenched free. The hand on his arm was slapped away and Will began shouting.
"Stay away from us!" Will shoved the boy back with enough force to send him stumbling.
James inwardly cringed. "Will—"
"James you should watch yourself and your friend," the boy snapped decisively. "If you're not careful, you might just get yourselves expelled next year."
With an enraged snarl, Will flung the bag of newspapers from his shoulder and lunged at the taller boy. Before James could even react or try to stop him, Will had other boy pinned against the wall and was flinging heavy punches at his face. Shouts of alarm rose up around them.
James threw up his hands in dismay. Oh hell…
"Will, stop!" James dropped his sack to the rainy ground and threw his weight against his friend to knock him aside. Catching Will by the arm, he jerked him back. "You're being an idiot. Stop it!"
But Will was uncontrollable when angry, thrashing against James' hold despite his shouts. Will shrugged James' hand off with ease, and James nearly slipped when Will lunged forward.
The older boy suddenly found his mind again. At the small distraction James offered, he shoved Will back and scrambled to his feet. Blood streamed from his nose and pooled at a corner of his mouth, but he seemed too infuriated to do anything except stare at them scathingly. James dimly wondered why he was so stupid as to not run.
"I can't believe you! I can't believe they let people like you in school!" he slurred out angrily. "All of you…"
Will's knuckles silenced him, and the boy's words choked off in a startled yelp.
Kicking aside the scattered newspaper, James pried his friend back. "No, Will…"
The unfamiliar shout caught James by surprise, and the grip he had on his friend slackened when James tried to look over his shoulder at the stranger. Will's arm lashed back and caught him completely unaware. James fell backwards, winded and stumbling. His back struck something with a solid clang, James slipped to the floor feeling as if someone had slammed into him with a red, hot cow prod. For a long moment, all James could do was fold in on himself and gasp for breath.
He had slammed into one of those metal café tables, James noted with pain-muddled bewilderment. Of all the things to run into... gosh, I don't think I can get up…
He clutched his side and wondered how Will's fistfight was progressing. He couldn't quite manage to lift his head. It hurts. Damn it. Gradually, he noticed the feet at the corner of his vision, and dimly realized someone was watching him. Inwardly, James groaned. He probably knocked over the man's breakfast by falling into his table. What a way to start the day…
Grimacing, James slowly lifted his head, his gaze following the faded black pants graying from numerous washings to the thin, plain shirt uncovered by a coat—isn't he cold?—to the stranger's face. James paused when he looked at the man's face. It was framed with tangled black hair, but that wasn't shocking; it was his eyes that made James' gut wrench. There had to be something wrong with them. They were like holes punched in cardboard—sunken and overshadowed, and yet unnaturally pale and blue.
The man's features seemed to have frozen into an expression of unimaginable shock. Do I look that strange? James returned the man's stare with some confusion.
The stranger drew a sharp breath and took an unsteady step back.