The Sugar Quill
Author: Canis M. (Professors' Bookshelf)  Story: A Particular Affinity  Chapter: Default
The distribution of this story is for personal use only. Any other form of distribution is prohibited without the consent of the author.

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 at something.

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 bad.

"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 us."

Moony.

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 murder.

"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 after.

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 was made."

"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. Ahmm."

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.

"Proally."

"Eh?"

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 was about?"

"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."

"It's not?"

"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, overturn it.

None came.

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?"

"We are."

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.

He did.

"Race you."

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.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

 

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