The Sugar Quill
Author: Corgi (Professors' Bookshelf)  Story: Canis Mutatem  Chapter: Default
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Canis Mutatem

Canis Mutatem
Air feeds Fire; Fire transforms Air

(a Harry Potter fanfiction by Corgi)

beginning immediately after the events of The Prisoner of Azkaban, and continues through and after The Goblet of Fire

 

Author's Note:  I started wondering, during a rereading of Goblet of Fire, exactly what was Sirius doing in all that time between letters... and then added in his 'going south' to escape and came up with this.  Alexandra MacMillan's hair is based heavily on a real person's.

Some sections of this story quote heavily from Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire in order to remain as true as possible to the incidents in the book.

Disclaimer:   All characters, names and situations from the Harry Potter novels belong to J.K. Rowling, her publishers and filmmakers.   No infringement of any copyrights is intended, no profit will ever be made on this story, and all rights are reserved to their legal owners.   Alex MacMillan and her dogs (Canis familiaris, not Canis sapiens) are mine, however.  You can have Miami, I don't particularly want it.


Canto One

'I'm pretending to be a lovable stray.'

'Harry had received two letters from Sirius since he had been back at Privet Drive.  Both had been delivered not by owls, as was usual for wizards, but by large, brightly-coloured tropical birds....  They put him in mind of palm trees, and white sand, and he hoped that wherever Sirius was... he was enjoying himself.  ...Sirius had gone south.'

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, Chapter 2

 

Sirius and Buckbeak flew as far as their stamina -- mostly Buckbeak's, of course -- could take them in one night.   They flew north, toward John O'Groats.  Aside from the fact that this was an unexpected direction, Sirius planned using the Orkneys, Shetlands and Faroes as stepping-stones for Buckbeak's crossing the Atlantic.  The Americans wouldn't be anywhere near as concerned about finding him as British wizarding society.  Of course, he could Apparate (with immense difficulty without a wand, and a great risk of detection by the Ministry of Magic), but he couldn't take Buckbeak with him that way.

Following what Muggle pilots know as the Great Circle Route, with a couple days' rest at each landfall, the two fugitives crossed the great Nordic expanse.  Some legs of the journey, Buckbeak had to fly for hours and hours without any hint of land in any direction; he trusted Sirius to keep them going in the right direction.  The wizard's magic was limited without a wand, but he managed to conjure a sort of compass that eventually landed them safely on mainland Newfoundland.   Once on Canadian soil, the journey became much less strenuous strictly in terms of physical effort, but much harder in terms of hiding from both Muggles and the random witch or wizard.  Buckbeak, after all, was a large creature.   A large, hungry creature.

They flew at night, rested or walked during the day, and hunted in the forests from Newfoundland all the way down through the Carolinas.  Sirius found being Padfoot far more convenient when he had to deal with fresh road-killed deer for supper; after all, who had ever seen a large dog be a picky eater?

He had plenty of time, without the constant soul-sucking vacuum of the Dementors, to ponder the mysteries of being an Animagus.  As a dog, the Azkaban guards weren't as able to feed off him; his emotions were simpler, but he always remained... himself.  Self-aware, remembering as a human but perceiving as a dog.  He was able to understand other animals much better in canine form as well.  Must be a gift of the spell, to understand the language instinctively and instantly without trying to learn all the right sounds, and smells, and body language.  That's why Crookshanks trusted me so quickly.

Eventually, the two of them crossed into Florida.  Sirius had always wanted to see the famous beaches that most Muggle Britons yearn to visit; he had just never got around to taking a holiday that far off.  After all, it wasn't really on the Floo Network -- no fireplaces.  He also calculated the hunting might be better year-round for the hippogriff -- in fact, hiding in the nature preserve around Cape Canaveral, Buckbeak stuffed himself so thoroughly on wild pig that he couldn't fly for a whole day.  And lastly, Sirius was tired of being cold.  Azkaban had a minimal heating bill, as the Ministry of Magic had very little interest in keeping the prisoners comfortable while they went mad.

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Sirius and Buckbeak settled in to hide in South Florida, as so many do.  The hippogriff flew deep into the great marsh of the Everglades, and Sirius -- Padfoot, actually -- started prowling around parks, vacant lots, golf courses, other spaces where a very large dog could shelter without alerting Animal Control.  He had explored the Muggle part of London while still attending Hogwarts, and saw how the authorities could treat human vagrants.  A dog had a much better chance.  He didn't join Buckbeak out in the Everglades because he wanted to maintain contact with Harry, of course, and keep aware of the news.  One could usually find a discarded Daily Prophet in a city without much effort.

Still, feeding himself became every day's all-day effort.   Thin to the point of emaciation from prison, the long trip and scarcity of scraps put no weight on his frame.  Even using human intelligence to hunt for food didn't make much difference in his meals.  The ripple of ribs showed clearly through Padfoot's thick black double-coat.  He was going to have to come up with a different plan to survive.  He was going to have to get himself... adopted.

Phase One of Padfoot's plan involved careful surveillance.   First, he had to find a reasonably nice neighborhood, to ensure finding someone who could afford feeding a good-sized... pet.  (He was going to be a pet.  A pet.   It's for Harry, it's for Harry, it's for Harry....)   Then he had to find where the Muggles exercised their dogs, so he could pick a good... owner.  He ended up in Miami Springs, which had a substantial and attractive golf course, with many clusters of trees providing shade and concealment, especially around the ruined mansion on the far eastern edge of the property.  After about a week of observation, and begging for Chinese food from a nearby restaurant, Padfoot started to notice patterns.  A woman jogged early in the morning with her Dalmatian (too busy); a man walked his three somewhat elderly dogs in the early evening (too many dogs really); some people who had houses right next to the golf course had small dogs who only got tied up in the front gardens for air (won't want another as big as a pony).

But then there was the woman with the white boxer.  He saw her frequently, although she rarely walked as far as the ruin.   She seemed to always be in a rush during the day, either towing or being towed by a miniature schnauzer while the boxer ran and bounced around the two of them.  At night, however, their walks wandered over much more of the course at a much more relaxed pace.  He could tell from the boxer's general air how happy he was, playing with his human, running after sprinklers and nighthawks, but always keeping an eye out for how far away she walked from him.  Maybe....

One night, he decided to risk it.  His stomach couldn't even growl from emptiness at this point, and he noticed the beginnings of a general -- and ominous -- weakness.  He needed real shelter, at least long enough to recover.  He could play the good house-pet that long, and move on.  Maybe get a Muggle job, or find one of the rare magical blind spots where he could use his powers a little more openly to feed himself.   It was that, or share Buckbeak's meals.  Padfoot curled his lips at the thought of the carnage considered hippogriff cuisine.  And eating rats provided a certain emotional satisfaction, but little nourishment.

The boxer ran free again, and made long looping orbits around the woman, who had seated herself on one of the little landscaped hillocks to stare up into the night sky.  Padfoot trotted toward the other dog, his black coat making him almost invisible in the scanty cityglow illuminating the field.  The boxer eventually spotted him, coming to an abrupt halt, every line of his body expressing Alert!  Padfoot slowed his trot; body language was going to be crucial to pull off the friendly-dog routine for both the canine and the human.  He still wasn't sure about the schnauzer, but comparative size made her inconsequential.

He ambled closer, tail lofty and swishing.  Although he focussed on the boxer, out of the corner of his eye he noticed the woman had turned her head to stare intently at her dog.   His posture had alerted her.  The white dog bounded forward a few meters, and plunged into his Alert! position again.   Padfoot continued wagging, and stopped walking.   The human got to her feet hastily, and started to hurry toward her boxer, looping the schnauzer's leash onto a tree branch.  Ah, she was keeping the noncombatant out of the way, getting both hands free.  Sensible.  Good thing he didn't want to pick a fight.  The bigger dog did his sproingy thing again, and this time bounded right up within sniffing range of Padfoot.  Canine vision allowed him to see the alarmed expression on the boxer's human as she hurried closer.  Polite sniffing took place, which told Padfoot that his new acquaintance ate well, kept clean, slept comfortably and had a tendency toward almost aggressive friendliness.  They started playing, and to keep the human as relaxed as she had become on seeing no hostility between the two dogs, Padfoot courteously kept the bounding in a fairly tight radius with the woman as the centre.

The big black dog tired quickly due to his hunger, and he finally stopped, panting hard.  He allowed the woman to stroke his head.  She had to reach up to pat him; standing level with her, Padfoot's eyeline met her throat.   She had a pleasant voice and a gentle touch, although rather a bit more... oh, let's be kind, well-rounded than any of the women Sirius had ever dated.  He snorted at himself mentally for thinking along those lines under these circumstances.   Women were the least of his concerns at the moment, although he realized, startled, that he hadn't thought along romantic -- or more earthy -- lines in... yeah, twelve years.   Snapping himself out of his deep thoughts, he found the woman moving away from him, the boxer reluctantly following.   As she collected the schnauzer from the tree, he started trotting after them.  She noticed, and stopped.

'No, boy, go home.  You can't come with us, I'm sure somebody's looking for you.  Go on.'  This proved no deterrence at all.  Seizing the opportunity to show off, Padfoot trotted right up to the woman and flopped over onto his back right at her feet.  She laughed in response, and swatted her boxer away while she rubbed his chest, clucking over the mats and weeds tangled in the thick hair.  'I'm sorry, dog, but we can't stay and play now.  I've got stuff to do.'  She got up and kept walking.  Padfoot kept following.  She kept trying to discourage him, but he knew, he was certain his plan had just succeeded.  He followed the three up to a small house, like one of the ones where he had noticed small dogs living.  The woman shook her head when she noticed Padfoot right on their heels, and carefully shepherded her two inside the house as two other dogs, unseen behind a neighbor's fence, barked watchfully.  The wizardly dog settled himself neatly on the small porch.  A pleasant light breeze blew -- what a nice night.  The weather remained beastly during the summer days, but cooled off sufficiently for him after sunset.

He only had to wait about twenty minutes by his guess, from watching the stars overhead.  The woman bustled out with a large waterbowl, and kibble in an aluminium pan, admonishing Padfoot for hanging around and warning him she wasn't going to be able to do this for long.

By the next night, he had been shampooed, towelled, brushed roughly, fed thoroughly and allowed to curl up on the sofa while the other two dogs slept in the woman's bedroom with the door shut -- to avoid trouble, she informed him.

By the next Sunday, he had a license -- he hated the shots, as wizards always used potions and spells to ward off illness -- a collar, a new nickname and his own food dish.  The other customers at PetsMart were informed he was a 'rescued Newfie... or something,' whatever that meant, and he found himself greatly admired.  That night, after some wary observation by his new 'owner,' he got to share the trundle bed with the boxer, NEO (not, as some thought, named after the Matrix character, but short for 'Near Earth Object'), and the schnauzer, Mouse.

Phase Two had been overwhelmingly successful.  Padfoot had been adopted, and how.

Her name was Alex.

NEO and Mouse (14Kb)
Mouse, NEO...
Alex and Padfoot
(23Kb)
...Alex and Padfoot.

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Alex had been wary of adopting a third dog -- especially with how thin this one was, her Iams costs were going to go through her inadequately insulated roof.  And she had concerns about conflicts.  NEO's only problems with other dogs involved his size and energy levels -- little dogs could get severely stepped on too easily, and all by accident, but Keedee could pin the bouncy boxer with one huge black paw.  Mouse, on the other hand, swung between being a quivering terrified lump of grey hair and Mouse Anfa Schnauzer, Warrior Queen of the golf course.  But since she seemed to flirt with any male dog she came across, the only concern there would be Keedee deciding to eat her in one gulp.

However, the big black dog showed no more aggressive tendencies than NEO, and acted much calmer on the whole.  Thank Goddess.  Alex considered the concept of having two Tiggerish dogs at the same time and shuddered.

At the same time, she felt glad she'd taken him in.  Animal Control probably wouldn't have placed him; Broward County's Humane Society might have had trouble placing him, considering his size and condition.  For a dog his height and build, Keedee was horribly thin.  His ribs and hips poked painfully through his thick double coat; according to Dr Marmesh's scale, he weighed about 140 pounds -- probably a good 20-30 pounds underweight.  Despite his low weight and the obvious signs of long travel, the vet pronounced him in reasonably good shape, especially his teeth and eyes.

Alex picked up a bottle of veterinary vitamins, and schlepped off to PetsMart for other supplies the same day Keedee got his shots.  She got frivolous with her choices of a collar and bowl, and more serious with several more cases of canned food, and a fresh bag of kibble.  Keedee's feeding plan commenced that evening -- two cans of food and a couple cups of kibble, and the same the next morning before Alex left for work, topped with two vitamins each meal.  The other two dogs got their usual snacks instead of breakfast.

Until she could do some cautious testing for behaviour, Keedee had the run of the house except for the bedroom, where NEO got stuck in his crate and Mouse kept him company behind the closed door.  No use risking the chance that Keedee would be possessive over his food bowl.  At lunchtime, Alex rushed back to the house as usual for pre-Keedee time, walked all three dogs, and ran back to work after dispensing more snacks, and dumping extra kibble in Keedee's bowl.  She was gratified to notice the bowl nearly sparkled clean every time she picked it up to refill it.  With an appetite like this, her adoptee would put his proper weight back on in no time.

Alex wondered, while she worked, what the dogs might be up to.  She'd threatened to rig up her video camera to watch NEO more than once, and felt tempted to do so again.  If she had but known, she would have realised it would be wasted tape.  While left alone, Keedee -- or, as she couldn't possibly know, Padfoot -- slept almost all the time he wasn't eating.  His recovery from near starvation, and what came very close to the medical definition of exhaustion, called for great periods of unconsciousness as his canine body knit all those lovely new calories and proteins back into muscle and skin and nails and reserves.  Alex, not knowing what his 'normal' behaviour was like, had no way of knowing his heavy panting after bouts of playing with NEO were caused by his from his body's unreadiness to recover quickly yet.  Padfoot longingly remembered the nights of following Moony and Prongs for effortless hours through the Forbidden Forest outside of Hogwarts at those times, when he had to flop on the grass, winded after just a quick sprint down the fairway.

Occasionally, during daylight hours, just to remind himself he could actually do it, Padfoot shifted back to being Sirius.  The first time he did this, NEO barked at him for a half-hour straight, until the boxer realised the dog and the man were actually the same person -- see?   Sniff.  Sirius didn't dare leave any signs of non-canine presence in the house, despite a longing for something to eat that wasn't lamb-and-rice dogfood.  He also longed for a laundry, a shave and a haircut, but even Alex had to do laundry elsewhere, and he couldn't be sure of disposing of the huge mass of black hair that couldn't pass for doghair.  The hair on his head was too matted to trust to being flushed safely away, for instance -- he couldn't risk overflowing toilets.  He restricted himself to stretching, and reading part of Alex's plentiful library, but only while there was daylight enough.  Can't turn on lights that weren't on when she left, after all....

Eventually, Alex became satisfied that nobody would kill anybody else if she wasn't there to alpha the whole situation.  In fact, when she noticed that NEO had stopped eating the house and disassembling the couch when left loose with Keedee, she couldn't have been more delighted.  'No' can be said quite effectively in both dog and human, and Padfoot gladly took charge to keep the peace.

She also found herself getting used to the black dog's affectionate welcome whenever she came home.  After uncurling himself from his nap cued by the sound of her car, he'd meet her at the door, jumping up to place paws on shoulders -- and with his size, he could look her straight in the eye.  He gave 'his human' one big schlurp on the cheek before getting out of NEO's way, so the boxer could jump up on Alex several times and spin around and be otherwise happily silly.  Mouse just tried to keep from getting stepped on before she could get patted as well.

Padfoot had started greeting her that way, not just because he was genuinely glad to see her when she came home.   His human feelings, buried under a few layers of mental fur, stirred with honest gratitude and relief, as well as an irresistible craving for affection -- as if he wished to make up, in the shortest possible time, for the twelve years without.  Trying to keep within canine character, Padfoot  kept as close to Alex as he could manage -- lying at, or actually on her feet when she sat to read or watch TV; curling up on the end of her bed or even stretching out next to her at night.  She started calling him a 'huggy puppy' when he'd snuggle next to her, although having a dog the  same size as a human being in bed with her made her feel a bit odd every now and then.

Alex delighted in her new dog (even if he wasn't a Cardigan corgi) after their settling-in period finished, enjoying his calming company for another six weeks or so.

And then Padfoot made a mistake.

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A little over two months after Alex had adopted the surprisingly friendly black dog from the golf course, she awoke to a nasty shock.  The extra Diet Pepsi before bed prodded her back to resentful consciousness, but something was... odd.  Keedee, who had been putting weight back on nicely, had been stretched out between her and the wall (taking up an annoying amount of bed) as she fell asleep.   There was still a warm body there, but... it had arms, one was snugged around her waist, the other tucked under her head, the hand flung out limply.

For a count of three, the situation sunk in as her eyes widened hugely.  Then she plunged her hand under the pillow, dragging out her dagger, and lunged away from the head of the bed as if she'd been jabbed with a cattle prod.  'Who the HELL are you, and how did you get in here?!' she screeched, flinging the scabbard across the room and pointing the dagger at a very useful place to threaten.

The dark-haired man held very still, not offering any reason for piercing overreaction.  Only his face moved, sagging in disappointment and resignation.  Quietly, he replied, 'My name is Sirius, and I'm here because you invited me to live with you and your dogs a month ago.'  He expected the look of complete disbelief crossing Alex's face, and continued, 'Let me show you.'  He flinched as the sharp dagger point dented the bedlinens further.  'I'll need you to move that back a little, or you might hurt me before you really intend to.   This will startle you, but explain half of it.'

Alex relented by about four inches.  Sirius breathed deeply once, then his form... shimmered, was the only word Alex could think of, reforming into the Newfie/wolfhound-like beast she'd nicknamed 'Black Dog' in Welsh.  He shifted back to human form after several seconds.  There wasn't enough light bleeding through the curtains from streetlights to see his eyes, but he seemed weary from the revelation.

Alex found the sudden fracture in reality surprisingly easy to deal with, but then she started dropping puzzle pieces into place.  'Soo... this is why NEO started behaving during the day, and...' her voice trailed off as more mental clicks occurred '...oh...my...GOD.  You've seen me naked.  You've seen me....'  Her face convulsed with completely mortified horror as she realized what else dogs might see single owners doing.  Sirius closed his eyes in pain.  'I'm going to throw up,' she muttered, scrambling off her precarious perch on the bottom corner of the narrow bed, snatching up her bathrobe and fleeing all the way out of the house.

Sirius sighed loudly, the sigh fading into a groan.  He had been careless.  He hadn't meant to fall asleep until he'd changed back.  He sat up, swung his legs around and stood up, tugging his loose shirt back into place.   Thank God for small favours -- at least my clothes change with the spell.  I'd probably be bleeding nastily right now if I'd woken up nude.  He picked up the forgotten knife and set it on top of the TV, safely out of stepping-on range.

When he reached the living room, he found NEO standing facing the closed door, quite puzzled at his 'mother's' precipitous departure.  Sirius stroked the boxer's head, nudged him out of the way, and walked outside, closing the door once again securely behind him.  He felt pretty sure he knew where Alex had gone.

The grass of the golf course soaked his trouser cuffs with dew as he padded on bare feet across the rough and the fairway.   Past the hurst of pines, there was a small mound positioned between two more holes.  Alex referred to it as her 'omphalos,' as it provided a nice central feeling to the park-like space.  She straightened from a huddle as he approached quietly, her back to him, not apparently hearing him yet.

Sirius paused at the bottom of the mound. 'Alex,' he called quietly.  She whipped around, her hands still clutching her robe tight around her almost convulsively -- it was chilly out here at 3 A.M., and damp.  He slowly walked up to face her, trying to seem as un-threatening as possible.  Her expression, easily seen in the nearby parking-lot and street lights and limned by the low-hanging moon, was wretched.

'There's your star,' she said abruptly, freeing her left hand from its clutch on terrycloth and flinging her arm up toward the southern sky.  Sirius turned his head, looking over his right shoulder to the brilliant blue-white star that rode high in the sky this far south.  It was almost to its zenith, and the sky was very clear.

'Yes,' he agreed, turning back to the woman before him.  He had to look up at her a little, with their relative positions on the hillside.  She stared back at him, almost deadpan, her face tightly controlled.  'I can't begin to express how sorry I am for violating your privacy.  I did what I could, without seeming un-dog-like, to minimize my intrusion -- left the room when I could.'  He paused, choosing words carefully.  'I'm a fugitive from a crime I was framed for; if I'm caught, they will strip my soul from my body.'  The scorn that had started to show in Alex's face faded again as Sirius continued, 'I have to stay alive for my godson -- he's my only family.   His parents were my best friends, since we were Harry's age.  They were murdered, and I was blamed.'

He approached one step, his body language straining to capture Alex's belief, his eyes capturing hers.  'I could have shifted and run, you know, once you discovered who I was.  But I owe you more than that.  You made room in your home and heart for me, and...' Sirius looked down quickly, awkwardly, 'I don't want to leave you.  Part of the reason I was leaving your bedroom was because,' he fidgeted, embarrassed, 'dogs can't exactly take cold showers.'  Alex's face was a mosaic of reactions, but she still did not speak.

Still, her silence did not feel like spurning, and Sirius rushed to fill the space.  He fought down his sudden fear of her rejection.  'I didn't mean for you to find me in my normal shape.  I was going to just hold you for a little while, and change back before I fell asleep.'   He met her eyes again, 'I haven't been able to hold someone, just hold someone, in even simple affection for over twelve years.  Not even when my godson proved my innocence did I get to hug him as a godfather should be able to.  Where I had been imprisoned, loneliness was part of the punishment.'

Sirius watched Alex swallow hard, and she cleared her throat.  'Okay,' she rasped, 'okay.'  She took a deep breath, and started again.  'Since I talk to dogs, and you've seen me about as naked as a human can get, I might as well discard my last shreds of dignity right now.'   Sirius shook his head at this, but Alex kept going.   'I'm feeling such a conflict of... of reactions right now, I don't know what to do.  First, I want to absolutely kill you for what you've done to me.'  She stared at him as if to impress him with the seriousness of her homicidal urge.

'Second... despite my current stomach-turning humiliation, there's part of my head that's thinking, "Here's a guy who's ectomorphic, long-haired, Celt-looking, British, gods help me, who knows from dogs, and he wants to stick around me.   I think.  I mean, you're not grossed out by the way I look, or what I've been doing, or how I smell, or my habits.   Apparently.'

'Third -- and this is embarrassing because I'm just not "this way" around men, never have been,' Alex stared over Sirius's head at his eponymous star instead of at her feet '-- I want to throw myself at you as much as anything else.'

Sirius dared to quip, 'Can't decide whether to kiss me or kill me?'

Alex took a deep breath, and finally lowered her gaze.  Sirius could see her eyes were shinier than normal, and she seemed to be trembling.  'Yeah,' she said, her voice strained with the intensity of her mixed emotions.  As she stepped a little closer to him, she visibly steeled herself before she spoke again, her voice shaking.  'And considering that I think we're probably equally starved for affection, I think it'd be much more productive to kiss you.'

Sirius stared back at her with a growing delight which felt like warm butterbeer in the pit of his stomach.  Alex moved closer yet, down-slope, which put her eyeline about level with his throat.  'How tall are you?' she asked, looking up.

'Ah... about 6'2",' he answered.

'Good,' she returned, put both arms around his neck, slid the fingers of her right hand up through his tangle of hair to cup the back of his head, and with a little unpracticed awkwardness, pulled his face down to meet her lips.

Sirius wrapped his arms around her and hugged her tightly to him, lifting her clear of the ground.  Their shared energy swirled through him like a shock spell.  He had forgotten how good this could feel, he really had.  Azkaban had taken more out of him than he'd realized.  Alex was trembling, to the point where her teeth were almost chattering when they pulled back from their first kiss.  He raised his eyebrows at her in concern.

'What?' she asked, breathlessly.

'You must be freezing, you're shaking so,' he said.

'That's not cold I'm shaking with.  Let's go back to the house.'  Alex had thrown all caution and concerns to the proverbial winds.  She was sure that either Reality or she had finally snapped.  One way or another, she was free -- she could be someone who could throw herself recklessly and joyously into a not-so-stranger's embrace.

Sirius turned, tugging Alex tight against his side with his arm snugged around her shoulders; her arm correspondingly looped around his waist.  Walking was a little awkward, but neither of them wanted to slacken their embrace for the least second.

They spent the rest of the night in each other's arms, but too uncertain of themselves for their caresses to be more than wildly tentative.  Sirius dared use a wandless little spell to turn Alex's bedroom into the illusion of a grotto, and lay down with her on warm moss-covered rocks underneath a fantastically starry sky.  It quite delighted her, not that their mutual delight stopped there.   They eventually fell asleep entwined, as close to each other as they could make themselves.

//
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