Summary: Sirius' friendship with Crookshanks (spoilers: PoA)
Summary: Sirius' friendship with Crookshanks (spoilers: PoA).
Disclaimer: I do not own JK Rowling’s characters or world. They are all hers. Dang it.
Author’s Note: Thanks to the members of the SQ Workshop for assigning the exercise that became this piece, and for their thoughtful commentary. And thanks to Alkari for letting me borrow Dickens!
He woke when something touched his face, a feather touch that knocked him rudely from sleep and sent him on a headlong rush for better cover. He only remembered that he had taken suitable precautions before sleeping when he rolled out of the tree and into a wild blackberry bramble. He’d have to find a better solution, he thought, ruefully, as he crept out of the bramble, keeping as far below the spiny blackberry branches as he could, and wincing as the thorns pulled at his tangled fur. Of course, he’d made a respectable hole in the center of the bramble, and if he could find a less painful way in and out, the brambles had promise as a secure sleeping spot. A secure spot that was not ten feet off the ground. It would be warmer there, anyway; January in Scotland was not his favorite time to sleep out, up in a tree, not even with Padfoot’s thick fur as covering.
--If only the caves in the forest weren’t spider territory, he thought. –They’d at least be under cover. He yelped as he stepped on a particularly sharp thorn that stung the inner pads of his front left paw. –What was that, anyway? Was I dreaming …? He huffed, the canine equivalent of a sardonic chuckle. –Or maybe it was something I ate …
He struggled to the edge of the bramble, but carefully peered out into the small snow-covered clearing to satisfy himself that it was empty of predators, human or otherwise, before wriggling out into the open. Once free, he shook hard, sending trailing vines and small leaves flying. Slowly he nosed his way back to the tree’s base. –I hope I was just dreaming. Padfoot’s dreams … what did he dream as Padfoot? He rarely remembered. Just as well, he supposed. He didn’t want to remember, really (--That’s, after all, the whole point), but still he found himself wondering … what had Padfoot dreamed … before …
He shook again, as much to rid himself of meandering, half-stuporous thought as to shake off the remaining blackberry vines, and focused on the immediate problem. No tracks through the clearing, either, save for his own. –And now my feet are cold. Nothing on the tree trunk itself, save for his own scent, marking this tree out as his territory, and faint scents around him of other animals in the forest. The nastiest ones, those that might give an extremely large black dog some trouble, tended not to wander this more open part of the Forest. –Still, better to be careful. Padfoot’s not in the best of shape for fighting anything off, and we won’t mention lapses in concentration. Which could get me --us? -- killed. And maybe there are things in the trees as well as under them. This is the Forbidden Forest, after all. Stags and werewolves don’t usually climb trees, so we never really went up before.
He sat back on his haunches and looked up. –Don’t know what you expect to see in this shape, Padfoot, he thought, peering into the indistinct grey blur above him. He had never really thought about being colour blind or having little depth perception before; Padfoot’s senses had always seemed perfectly adequate to him. Nothing. No movement—that he could detect. He was about to change, to climb back up the tree as himself, just to be sure, when he caught the faintest whiff of a fresh, slightly earthy scent. He closed his eyes, concentrated on the smell. Yes. From the tree above him. But not a threat. Not a shellycoat (--but they don’t climb trees, anyway), not a red squirrel or a large hunting spider. Familiar. But what ….
--Feline, he thought suddenly, and opened his eyes, seeing a grayish blur of motion on the lowest branch. Rustle in the crunchy snow beside him as the cat landed heavily and paced toward him. They touched noses, and then Padfoot sat back, quite still, although his tail first twitched, and then pounded out a steady tattoo. He had spent a good deal of time with the cat, a large tom with an indented round face. He had never changed with it, had no idea about its colouring, other than that it was of some middling colour with deeper stripes. But it was extraordinarily intelligent, and seemed to grasp early on that Padfoot was somehow unlike other dogs. –Although this one is not quite like other cats, either. This one--had it a name? He just called it "Cat." But one … named animals, he remembered. The … caretaker … Filch … he had had a cat, hadn't he, named … what? They had played pranks on it … nothing hurtful …
The thought slid away. The name didn't matter, he supposed, not with Padfoot and the cat. It was just good to have someone to talk to—even the left-handed sort of talking they did. He thought back to full moon nights. How had he and James communicated? Both human, neither with a human voice or face, but just a shared knowledge, mind to mind. Blurrier communication with Moony, as with the cat; intelligence, but more layers of instinct. And Wormtail …
The cat nudged him, hard, and chirped imperiously; he thumped his tail harder in response. The cat had somehow understood his hatred of the rat; had even tried to corner it and bring it to him, but for nothing. Now the cat stared up at him, all intensity and luminous eyes. Padfoot stretched out on the ground, and stopped thinking. He couldn’t hear the cat if he was thinking. –Dickens, that was it, Padfoot thought, suddenly remembering; remembering, too, his father’s cat, Chilperic. Had Padfoot ever tried to communicate with him … ?
The cat chirped again, a definite edge of annoyance in its voice. Jerked out of his thoughts, Padfoot caught a series of images: a parchment list, a hollow tree covered in leaves … The cat whisked around and walked away, stopping every few paces to glare back over its shoulder until Padfoot scrambled to his feet, began to follow the cat through the forest. They walked almost to the edge of the Forbidden Forest. Padfoot could see the smoke from Hagrid’s hut … he had encountered Hagrid and his giant of a dog in the Forest, and now and again Hagrid had set out scraps for him, believing him to be a local stray. Padfoot had kept the interactions to a minimum, though, despite the nearly overwhelming thought of the food; the fewer people who mentioned seeing a large black dog around Hogwarts, the better. –Although I had to see Harry flying at Quidditch … so like James … He blinked in the sunshine, which was strong after the dimness of the deep Forest. –Ah, there’s the stump. He nosed through the leaves and snow at its base and uncovered a small ragged piece of parchment, covered in loose writing in violet ink.
The words were meaningless squiggles at first; reading as Padfoot always took concentration. Even after he deciphered them, they remained incomprehensible. –Beldame, Bertilak, Oddsbodikins, Codswallop .... He looked again at the cat, who flirted its tail toward the castle. –Beldame, Bertilak, Oddsbodikins … The cat chirped at him again, stalked out of the forest edge toward the castle, and sat firmly in the snow, staring up at the nearest tower. Gryffindor tower; where the Rat slept at night, warm and snugly. Where Harry slept. –Beldame, Bertilak … passwords! This week’s passwords!
Padfoot looked at the cat, pale eyes wide, amazed at its perception. The cat merely looked smug. He stared back at the parchment. He could get in, find the Rat, and be at Dumbledore’s door before any of the students was the wiser. –If I go up there again I’m going to have to apologize to the Fat Lady, he thought suddenly, but pushed the thought away for later. –If it works … Tonight … when it’s dark … Hagrid leaves a knife for shaving kindling outside the hut …
He huffed once, softly, as thanks, and carefully picked up the parchment, trying not to tear it or dampen it. –Beldame, Bertilak, Oddsbodikins, Codswallop, he rehearsed as he walked back toward the clearing. Once out of sight, he transformed and folded the parchment in his one ragged pocket, where it rustled against the old clipping from The Daily Prophet. Sirius climbed back to his original perch wearily and leaned back against the tree trunk. Maybe he’d better sleep up here in human shape for the rest of the afternoon … but it was warmer as Padfoot.
The cat had followed him, and slowly walked along the branch toward him. Ginger. It was a ginger tom. "Thank you again," Sirius said, his voice scratchy and strange in his ears. It nosed him, watched him for a few moments, and then leapt into his lap. It butted its head against his hand and chirped, and then settled back against him, its chin on his chest. It looked at him with half-lidded eyes, and then began to blink lazily. The warm weight on Sirius’ chest was comforting, and tentatively he reached out, began to scratch the cat’s ears and cheekbones, to stroke slowly along the bridge of its nose, finally to rub its chin. As he stroked it, the cat turned and stretched under his fingers, purring almost subaudibly, a sketch of a deep cat song. –How odd, he thought, almost hazy in the aftermath of being so close to what he sought. –How small a body this is to carry so much of a presence. He shifted his weight, and the cat raised its head and glared at him. More wryly, he thought, --How small a body this is to be so heavy! Cats seem to gain mass along with contentment, don’t they?
The cat yawned hugely, and Sirius settled back again. After a moment the cat shifted, curled up into a ball, nose in tail. The weight and warmth of the cat lying on his chest was making him feel drowsy. –It’s nice … not being alone. Lying along the broad branch, Sirius stroked the cat’s rough fur, and drifted, remembering early mornings, before sunrise; the rat and the stag resting in a hollow, and he and Moony lying next to them in a companionable, exhausted heap of fur and wordless friendship.
His hands slowed, stilled. After a moment the cat’s purring faltered, but then resumed its strength. The cat began to lick his hand, in long rough strokes, cleaning off accumulated sweat and dirt. A non-demanding, companionable touch, the persistent washing was hypnotic, and he drifted further into drowsy restfulness. Memories. A long day at the seaside, somewhere … somewhere south; the family had vacationed in Greece. Playing in the bright sunlight, covered with fine sand. Eating dinner, hardly noticing, and then being washed, gently, as his mother sang to him about sleep, naughty little sleep that would not come to the child … the rumble of his father’s voice and the smell of his suit as his father picked him up, ever so gently, and laid him in a bed with soft sun-smelling sheets … the low voices of the adults from the next room, laughing softly … knowing he was loved.
The intensity of his memory was fugitive, disappearing almost as quickly as he acknowledged it. The warmth of knowing that he had been loved once, and deeply, no matter later disagreements and misunderstandings, was enough for now, even if the feeling itself had faded away. Even the intellectual knowledge was more than he had remembered for a very long time.
The cat began to purr again, and Sirius continued to stroke it, gently, until finally he fell asleep.