Disclaimer: Whoopee ti yi yo, git along little doggies / You're J.K.
Rowling's and none of my own...
Thanks: To Gabriela, JillZee, and Paige for their comments!
Flipping to the next page of the illuminated bestiary, Sirius Black slumped
in his chair.
CAMEL, CAPYBARA, CARACAL, CAT.
"Decided yet?" asked a voice from behind him, familiar but muffled in
the stuffy library air. The dim light of their chosen study nook winked
off owlish glasses as James Potter leaned forward to peer over his shoulder.
"No," said Sirius, glaring at his book. He paid no heed at all to the
antics of the illustrations, many of which were threatening to flap, wriggle,
or gallop their way right off the parchment. The testy rasp of shifting
paper continued. "Bugger it, James, I can't concentrate when you loom
like that." After a pause to rub his eyes, he glanced at the copy of _
Advanced Principles of Transfiguration (Third Edition)_ that lay open
on the table before him. As if they were a spell or a prayer, he began
to mutter the words he'd almost learned by heart.
"'The selected species should be one for which the prospective Animagus
has a particular affinity, whether it be physiological or psychological
similarity, experience in interacting with said species, personal attachment
or affection (as for a beloved pet)--'"
James interrupted him crisply. "I don't think you're concentrating at
all. Just pick a beast, any beast. Peter and I have already made up our
minds. Haven't we, Peter?"
The third member of their party, a short, sallow, slightly pudgy boy
who sat across the table from the other two, nodded vigorously. He looked
perhaps a little too pleased to have at last bested Sirius Black in speed
There were times when Sirius would have liked to bite James for adopting
the smaller boy as a pet project. Over the course of their four years
at Hogwarts, though, Peter Pettigrew's status had been elevated from tagalong
to genuine friend, and it was too late for Sirius to argue the point now.
Besides, although the prat might suffer a severe want of balls at times,
he was at least susceptible to the lure of good, old-fashioned mischief-making.
Sirius reasoned that no one willing to break a few rules could be all
"So the only thing holding us back now is the infamous wizarding genius,
Sirius Black," James was saying.
Sirius made a gravelly sound of warning. Unimpressed, James narrowed
his eyes as he read the nearest entry in the bestiary. "Lord, I hope you're
not setting your cap at a capybara. Where are you going to get capybara
fur around here?"
"They might have it at the Apothecary's in Diagon Alley," offered Peter,
a bit meekly. He never could manage to maintain smugness for long.
"Good point, and you can send for it by owl. Right! Capybara it is."
James folded his arms with an air of satisfaction. "You'll make a charming
pig-sized rodent, I'm sure."
"Would you both have the grace to shut it when a fellow's trying to make
an important life decision?" growled Sirius. "Capybara my arse!"
This outburst drew a haggard frown from the reference section's sole
other denizen, Madam Fitz. Oldest and most irascible of the Hogwarts librarians,
she guarded her charges with all the ferocity of a Hungarian Horntail.
Glaring at each of the trio from above a nose of dizzying height, she
raised a finger to leathery lips and hissed.
James smothered laughter. "Language, Mr. Black," he whispered. "No profanity
in the library."
"I said shut it, Potter. Go fly into a nice pair of Bludgers, why don't
you." Sirius raked a hand through his bangs, hoping to shove them out
of his eyes and into momentary submission. "Let's see, where was I? DINGO,
no, DODO, no--"
"I thought he wasn't supposed to tell us his animal," whispered Peter,
small eyes shifting nervously from Madam Fitz to James and Sirius, then
back to the librarian's baleful stare. "I thought we each had to keep
it a secret."
"That's right, we do, at least until we finish the spell. Here, see?"
James shifted toward the other boy's seat and flipped to another page
of _Advanced Principles_. Tapping the passage with his finger, he began
to quote. "'Premature admission of the chosen species by the candidate
will violate Xork's Principle of Magical Confidentiality, thus rendering
the entire process void.' That's just a fancy way of saying that if you
tell your animal, you'll spoil it. It's the same as when you blow out
the candles on your birthday cake and make a wish. If you say it out loud,
it won't come true, right? Even Muggles know that."
Although his eyes had begun to glaze at mention of the redoubtable Dr.
Xork, Peter nodded gamely.
"The point is, a certain laggard has to actually pick an animal
before he can start keeping it secret."
Rumbling, Sirius withheld one jab at the book's author for excessive
verbal sludge, and another at his friend for being an insufferable know-it-all.
He then turned his attention once more to the beasts on the page.
HARRIER, HAVELINA, HAWK.
On the parchment beneath the entry for HAWK, a stern-faced raptor folded
its wings, dove, climbed the ink-trails of wind, and dove again.
I could have wings, Sirius realized. His limbs began to tingle. Who needed
a broom--or a flying motorbike, come to that--when you could fly, really
fly, all by yourself? Suddenly he was out of the library, beyond the castle
walls, soaring. He glided over the treetops of the enchanted forest that
surrounded Hogwarts, swooping, plunging, reveling in his abandonment of
earth. Somewhere far beneath him, though, James was still speaking, and
a single name amid the blather seized his awareness in firm jaws, dragging
him back into himself at once.
"And the longer Sirius takes, the longer Moony will have to wait for
The dream of flight faded as Sirius thought of the Shrieking Shack, remembered
the ravaged soul who waited within it, recalled the ultimate goal of all
these stultifying hours spent between library stacks. What help would
hawk's wings be to a werewolf on full moon nights? If Sirius spent all
his time flapping cloudward, flirting with updrafts, what would become
of the flightless ones abandoned below?
He gripped the book as though to subdue it, and returned to his survey.
MANATEE, MANDRILL, MANTICORE, MEERKAT.
It was several moments before he noticed that James had finally shut
up. His old friend was, in fact, studying him intently.
"What now?" he asked, shoving his hair back again irritably.
"Have you thought about it?"
Sirius had never approved of the cryptic--at least, not when he was the
one being baffled. "About what?"
"What Moony would like."
"I am thinking about it! Or I'd be thinking about it, if
someone would give me enough brain space to think at all!"
"Right then." Glancing up towards the entrance to the library, James
suddenly smiled. Turning to Peter, who was still gazing woozily at a page
of _Advanced Principles_, he clapped the smaller boy on the shoulder.
"You know, dinner seems awfully far off. I was thinking a kitchen raid
might be in order."
Peter grinned and closed the book. "Pumpkin juice," he mumbled, his voice
low and fervent. "Biscuits."
"Kitchen raid?" Sirius snapped to attention. "Biscuits?" He squirmed
in his seat, leaning to rise, but a firm palm laid flat on the top of
his head restrained him.
"Oh, no, you don't." James released him only to waggle one finger immediately
in front of his nose. Sirius blinked at it, cross-eyed. "You're not going
anywhere until you've chosen."
"What?" He was too aghast to control the volume of his yelp, and from
the direction of Madam Fitz came another acidic shushing. Sirius could
only gape at James. Left out of a kitchen raid? He, Sirius Black, the
original mastermind of kitchen raids? His belly began to scream bloody
"Sit. Stay. Think. Or I'll thrash you with a newspaper. There's a good
boy." With a final pat to his head, James left, Peter trailing eagerly
Sirius watched them disappear through the doors, then grimaced horribly.
He flipped to the next page in his book.
PHOENIX, POLLYWOG, PORCUPINE, PUG.
The bestiary was not inspiring, he thought. If anything, it was probably
hindering him. He ought to be narrowing his options, not looking for more.
Idly he wondered what animal James had chosen. Something fast, no doubt--something
befitting the best Chaser Gryffindor had seen in years. A racehorse, maybe,
or a hare. He sniggered briefly at the thought of James sporting long
bunny ears, pink, triangular nose a-quiver. As for Peter, well, something
small and innocuous. Maybe he would end up as the rabbit. He certainly
had the right name for it.
At last Sirius shut the book, pushing it and the others far across the
table, as though to clear away the clutter they had brought to his mind.
Restlessly he sorted through the mental bric-a-brac, lingering over some
possibilities, discarding others. Personal attachment or affection.
He leaned backward in the chair, balancing it on its two hind legs, and
furrowed his brow. Just what would Moony like?
It occurred to him that he might simply go and ask Remus, who was likely
still dozing in the Gryffindor common room. Having judged their friend
too weary from his last transformation to make it through the day without
a nap, they'd left him there to rest undisturbed, homework in his lap.
Sirius considered. Although Moony had agreed to the Animagus project,
he seemed to waver between gratitude and deep discomfort about it. Perhaps
it unnerved him that his three friends were ready to risk so much for
his sake. Even Sirius had eventually come to recognize that the subject
was best approached indirectly.
Yes, even you have your moments of lucidity, Black, he thought.
While Sirius remained unsure of exactly how he'd wound up the confidant
of a teenage werewolf, he was far from unhappy with the position. Ever
since the day when he'd worked out Remus' secret and promised to defend
it, the other boy had gradually begun to tell him things. Sometimes those
things were never spoken of to James or Peter. However close a conspirator
he might be with James, Sirius discovered that he didn't mind keeping
certain intrigues between himself and Remus alone.
Once they'd been talking, a few nights before the monthly ordeal. Remus
had been curled up on his bed in their shared room in Gryffindor Tower,
gazing out his window at the glow in the evening sky. Sirius had been
sprawled on the floor, mindlessly fingering a prank wand he was pretending
to work on, watching covertly as his friend frowned at the rising moon.
"You know, I'd never wish this on anyone--not even on someone I hated,"
Remus had murmured, almost too softly to be heard.
"Of course you wouldn't," Sirius said. He then paused to muse--as he
quite often did--how much kinder and nicer and generally more worthy a
being Remus was than himself. Sirius wouldn't have hesitated to wish monthly
woes on several Slytherins, not to mention a professor or two.
Remus continued as though he hadn't heard. "Still...sometimes I wish
that somebody else here knew what it was like." Brown eyes flashed golden
for a heartbeat as Remus tilted his head. He gave Sirius a wan smile before
turning back to the window. "To feel like howling now and then."
Like howling. Sirius fell forward in his chair with a thump, knocking
his elbow on the corner of the library table. He cursed under his breath,
railing against his own clumsiness and impossibly thick skull.
A wolf. Another wolf. That was it. He could be a wolf and stand nose-to-nose
with Moony. No more lonely moaning to that big, nasty orb in the sky.
If there was howling to be done, they'd do it together.
So easy! he thought, delighted with his solution. And wouldn't it be
a surprise for Remus? He pushed back the chair, ready to dash off and
take his place in a glorious kitchen raid to end all kitchen raids.
Then he froze, picturing again the surprise on his friend's face.
It was not surprise of the happy sort.
Becoming a wolf might be easy for a successful Animagus, he realized,
but it would never be for Remus. Moony bled for the change. Sirius had
seen the scars. The wolf ripped and tore its way out of the boy each month,
whether Remus willed it or not. For the most part, he desperately willed
it not to. How would it be for him, then, to watch another transform smoothly,
leaping from human to wolf-shape with painless mastery?
No, Sirius thought, no good. Not a wolf, then. But something like a wolf.
Something near enough to understand wolfish concerns--something friendly
and canine--something with a particular affinity for howling.
Hadn't he been called a dog more than once in his life?
Werewolf's best friend, he thought. Perfect.
Busily smirking with self-congratulation, he scarcely noticed the advance
of footsteps into the library, and did not recognize whose they were until
Remus was sliding into the vacant chair across from him. The other boy
was still flushed with sleep, his movements languorous. He opened his
mouth to speak, but a tremendous yawn emerged instead. "I didn't think
you'd still be here," he said at last. "Where are James and Peter?"
"In the kitchen." Sirius cracked a knuckle. "Spoiling their dinner."
Wide eyes met his. "And you're still sitting here? Who are you, and what
have you done with my Sirius?"
Although the nape of his neck prickled, Sirius managed to pull a suitably
grumpy face. "I was encouraged not to move from this spot until progress
"Well, I don't see how anyone can make progress when his stomach's busy
staging a riot." Remus rustled briefly in the pockets of his robes. He
cast a glance in the direction of Madam Fitz before sliding a fistful
of somethings across the table.
The somethings were Chocolate Frogs.
"Remus, you brilliant creature!"
"Better eat them quick, before Fitz catches on."
Gathering the sweets into his hands, Sirius made short work of the foil
wrappings. With a blissful grin he crammed Frogs into his mouth. Not all
of them fit, but he figured the effort was none too shabby. Chocolate
clung to his teeth, made his cheeks bulge, melted on his tongue. "Mmm.
Remus observed him with eyebrows lifted. "Could you possibly be any noisier?"
he asked, after a moment of listening to what Sirius had no doubt was
obscenely enthusiastic chewing.
He swallowed enough to speak. "Probably." Just as he held up the last
of the Frogs to be devoured, a gray-haired and bespectacled specter appeared
beside them. Both boys looked up into the livid countenance of Madam Fitz.
"Gentlemen," she gritted, "I'm sure you're aware of the policy regarding
food in this library."
Since Sirius had been caught in mid-chew, Remus answered for him. "Yes,
ma'am, we are."
"Mr. Black, chocolate and rare books do not mix. I'll have to ask you
to take that outside. Please do not return until your hands are washed
and your mouth is empty. I'll also be deducting five points from Gryffindor
for your disregard of library rules."
"Yes, ma'am. We're very sorry. It won't happen again." Hastily stacking
the strewn books on the table, Remus nudged Sirius to his feet and toward
the library doors. Madam Fitz glowered after until they escaped into the
corridor and fled from her sight.
Outside, Sirius clutched at his stomach. "Oh, Lord," he wheezed, "did
you see those nostrils flare? I thought she'd burst a blood vessel. Chocolate
and rare books, mmm!"
Remus looked amused, if slightly mystified. "Care to explain what that
"Well." Sirius straightened. "James can hardly thrash me for leaving
the library if I got thrown out. Not that he could thrash me anyway, the
pansy," he added.
"Ah. I knew you must have had a motive."
"I always do." They walked down the corridor past a set of tapestries
which were busily weaving and unweaving themselves. Sirius noticed that
his feet were carrying him in the direction of the stairs to the kitchens.
O, clever feet, he thought happily. Splendid feet. Only then did he realize
that James would have no reason to thrash him: now that his mind was made
up, the kitchens were fair game.
He grinned to himself. Things were looking better and better.
There was only one question left to be decided, and this much he could
ask with perfect safety.
"Say, Remus. What's your favorite color?"
"Color?" Remus appeared to consider. "Black."
Sirius nearly tripped. He did his best to disguise the stumble as a swagger.
"Admirable taste," he said. "But I'm afraid it's not a proper color."
"No. Black is merely the absence of light."
The other boy was quiet for a moment. "Yes," he said at last. "Exactly."
He walked a few more paces, then murmured, "It's the color of no moon."
Remus' steps had lengthened, just enough that Sirius could no longer
see his face. Gazing at the back of Remus' head, Sirius opened his mouth,
grasping for a joke or a jibe that could answer that sadness, meet it,
Instead, he reached and grabbed at one dangling sleeve. His fingers fisted
around it stubbornly, as if to keep Remus from pulling too far ahead,
or going to some distant place he could not follow.
"We've all chosen, you know," he said. His voice was soft, and at the
sound of it, the other boy slowed. "I was the last one. We're going to
do it. We might not finish this year, but next year for sure. We're going
to do it, Remus."
Silence for a time, and then Remus nodded. "I believe you will," he said.
Relaxing, Sirius released his grip, and was pleased when Remus fell back
to keep pace beside him. He liked this quiet, steady presence at his side,
liked the way its nearness both calmed and needled him at once. If he
had paused to think about that contradiction, it might have puzzled or
even alarmed him--but he did not pause to think. He'd done more than his
share of contemplation for one day.
Remus lifted his chin slightly, sniffing at the air. "Are we going where
I think we're going?"
They rounded a corner and found themselves at the top of the long spiral
staircase that descended to the kitchens. From what seemed like fathoms
below wafted tantalizing scents, and Sirius wondered how they would smell
to a keener nose. Someday, he thought, someday soon I'll find out.
Remus stopped on the first step, pivoting toward him. Sirius halted,
startled by the sudden jolt of his shoulder against his friend's. In the
darkness of the stairwell, a strange, heated light flashed in Remus' eye.
Unbreathing, Sirius waited to see if he would speak.
A blink, and he was gone, whirling around the curve of the stair like
a wild creature into its den. With a whoop, Sirius went charging after.
"Last one at the bottom's a rotten Slytherin--!"
Shouts and footsteps clattered, while in one boy's head the final words
of an instructive passage echoed: "'Above all, the selected animal should
be one that the candidate can easily imagine himself becoming.'"
As he chased down the stairs after Remus, Sirius fancied he was already
wagging a furry black tail.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~