The Sugar Quill
Author: Corgi (Professors' Bookshelf)  Story: Canis Mutatem  Chapter: Canto Two
The distribution of this story is for personal use only. Any other form of distribution is prohibited without the consent of the author.

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.

This story is illustrated, with both original works, and with permission of the original artists.  Please pardon the download times, I tried to keep them small.

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 Two

Alex slowly drifted to consciousness, in a way she usually didn't get to experience without there being a day off involved.  No alarm clock, no herald, no harsh ray of over-brilliant sunlight spearing into her eyes... just... waking.  Without a headache or other unpleasant physical malfunctions accompanying, too.  Waking up, like a normal --

Normal.  There was a not-normal involved.  OK, let's review, waking up, feeling good, but Something's Not Normal.  Whaaaaat's not normal here, let's run the checklist.

Hmm, no nightshirt.  No big deal, she's slept nude before but found the air conditioning usually has an uncomfortable impact on certain fattier areas of the body.  And there's the paranoia function of nightclothes, too.

No alarm clock.  Without opening her eyes, Alex couldn't tell by how much her waking had beat the clock.

Arm draped over her waist, arm/shoulder under her head.  OH.  Her eyes popped open, but this time there was no huge panicky alarm.  The events of just a few hours ago zipped through her brain in fast forward -- the revelation, the explanation, her lightning assessment of threat and promise, her decision to... ohhhhh, yeah.  Trust.  Faith.  That stuff.

She blinked several times, her vision turned inwards to the theatrical stage of her brain, currently screening the new Hollywood hit, 'The Animagus Who Followed Me Home,' until the film loop snapped and flapped noisily in the virtual projector.  That prompted her to glance to her right, where her clocks sat on top of NEO's crate next to the bed -- 8:12ish.  Wow.  That is early.  Especially since, oh yeah, it's Saturday.  Enough morning light bled through the inefficient vertical blinds and the sheets serving as temporary curtains to illuminate the bedroom dimly in glowing red and purple twilight.

Still not sure of the consistency of her reality, Alex turned her head to her left, her body twisting to follow... and she saw him lying there, messy black hair strewn over pillows and shoulders, still apparently asleep.  Her dog who had turned into this... this man.  She reached up her right hand, her left arm trapped between their bodies.  She felt like that hand should be shaking like the proverbial leaf but as she stroked the bearded cheek lightly, almost delicately, like she was afraid he'd pop like a soap bubble, her hand remained quite steady.

His dark-lashed eyes opened slowly in response to her touch, the ice-blue irises almost eclipsed by widely-dilated pupils in the dim lighting.  'You're real,' Alex whispered, her voice shaking as her hand did not.  'You're not just some half-dreaming fantasy born of an overly vivid imagination and too large a dose of loneliness.'  She felt the hand which had been draped over her waist move driftingly up her back to cradle the back of her head, stroke her hair, then move to the side of her face in an echo of her own caress.

'I was thinking much the same thing,' he responded, his voice gentle, but harsh with disuse.  Alex imagined she could hear a hidden music beneath, though -- like an instrument waiting to be tuned back into performance readiness.  'I thought I was dreaming about being free again, not having to run, having a home....'  His mouth quirked as he added, 'But I'm more used to my hallucinations coming from fatigue and starvation.'

'Tell me your name again.  I can't very well call you 'Keedee" anymore, especially not like this.'

'Sirius... Black,' he announced it slowly, as if to impress it permanently on Alex's memory.  As if it needed help.

Alex started grinning wider and ducked her head to muffle her growing giggle, her hand falling away from Sirius's cheek to lay flat on his overly lean chest.  Sirius smiled uncertainly in return.  Certainly he'd dealt with his share of cheap, overstretched 'Sirius/serious' puns and astronomical jokes in school, but just saying his name had never generated such hilarity before.  His own hand went from caressing Alex's cheek to seeking her chin, and pulled her face up so he could question her with his eyebrows.

'Ah, sorry, it's probably not really that funny, but it just hit me from a bad angle.  "Ci du" means "black dog" in Welsh, right?  "Ci du," "Sirius Black"?  It's just too, too perfect!'  She tried to quell her chortling, noticed Sirius didn't seem to be quite as amused with the synchronicity as she was, and gave in to impulse (again) instead.  She slid her hand back up around to the back of his neck, reached up a little and kissed his lips quickly.

Time for a small geology metaphor:  Wales is rising.  No, not politically, at least not as relevant to this.  No, Wales is literally rising, a fraction of an inch a year, and England is sinking in response.  Wickedly gleeful Celtic nationalist snickers aside, the phenomenon is caused by spring-back from the last Ice Age, when the western half of Britain became weighed down with glaciers.  Since the immense pressure melted away, that same land that lay suppressed before is now popping back up in very slow motion, and shows no sign of stopping any time soon.

In much the same way, Sirius found his emotions overflowing since his escape from Azkaban.   When the Fat Lady prevented him from entering Gryffindor Tower to seek James and Lily Potter's betrayer, his frustration drove him to slash her canvas to ribbons.  When he finally confronted Wormtail in person, his godson and his surviving best friend could barely restrain him from committing murder on the spot.  His subsequent capture drove him to prison-like despair; his escape sent him into an adrenalized frenzy of joy.  If he had ever been able to quantify his reactions into words for Alex, she would have told him he had induced bipolar syndrome.  Twelve years of artificial despair, of emotional torture, leeching of all happiness or positive emotion -- and it was all coming back inexorably.

Which resulted in Alex's little kiss growing quickly into a far more passionate embrace.  Sirius wrapped both arms around her, pulling her half onto his chest, pressing his mouth almost roughly onto hers.  Alex, still entirely bemused by the fantastical events of this very unusual morning, threw herself into responding with equal enthusiasm, albeit a bit awkwardly with her inexperience in matters of physical ardor.  He shifted his weight, and rolled the two of them over so Alex lay on her back, and began slowly, intensely kissing his way down her neck, then down the rest of her body.

Sirius, lost in the moment himself, realised somewhere in the back of his mind still bothering to process actual words, that as much as he craved his own physical satiation, the certainty that he could... create ecstasy, bring joy, be responsible for this woman's happiness (even if it was only momentary) gave him almost as much satisfaction.  It felt like an amber-rose beam of light sweeping through the dark, mouldy corners of his soul, cleaning as it illuminated, healing as it purified.  This was Good, this was positive -- this didn't involve actually committing the murder for which he'd been punished for so long, or hurting anyone, or making unforgivable mistakes....

They stopped by mutual agreement before going 'too far' (they both felt too uncertain yet) and spent a long time holding each other, speaking with hands rather than words - not touching to arouse, but to explore and wonder.  They probably could have spent hours like this except for an extremely anxious boxer clambering on top of them with absolutely no consideration for where he placed his paws.  The large puppy wasn't used to having to negotiate such a full bed, and therefore walked half on top of Alex to reach her face, and half between her and Sirius.  One badly-placed paw, and Sirius's sharp groan of agony interrupted Alex's snappish 'NEO, get DOWN!'s.  The Animagus curled around himself, and Alex cried out in sympathy, finally struggling to upright herself enough to upright enough to lever the boxer off and back onto the floor.

'Um, do you need an ice bag... or something?  I don't really know what to do for, ah, these kinds of injuries.'  Alex gathered herself onto her knees, stroking Sirius's arm awkwardly.

'No,' he replied through gritted teeth, 'I'll be all right in a few minutes.'

'Um...' Alex bit her lip, 'I guess I'll let NEO out before he bursts... or does any more damage.'  Sirius merely groaned in response.  'I'm sorry, really.'  He waved her off feebly.  She grabbed her terrycloth robe and fled to the bathroom.

Alex barely gave the boxer time to relieve himself before dragging him back into the house; Mouse would just have to wait a while longer.  She threw NEO's leash to one side, and hurried back into the bedroom, nearly stumbling as she remembered something midway and abruptly changing direction to snag an item off the back of the couch on her way.  She peered timorously into her own bedroom from the doorway.  'Sirius?'

'It's all right, Alex,' he sighed, his voice muffled by his position.  All Alex could see was matted black hair and shins.

She draped her robe over the folding wire dog-crate/night table, then stepped up onto the bed to maneuver carefully around Sirius's doubled-up form.  She knelt behind him, her legs cradling his back; picked up one nearly-dreadlocked strand of hair, and began utilising her hastily-snagged hairbrush.  She brushed gingerly, at the very end of the lock, which still proved challenging.  Her brushing of Sirius's dog-form seemed to've had some good effect on his human hair as well, but not enough to keep her from despairing that it wouldn't come untangled without the use of scissors.

Sirius felt a slight tugging at his scalp.  'What're you doing?'

'Bruuuushing,' Alex answered in a sing-song.

'Don't bother, really.  Just hack off the whole mess.  I usually liked to wear my hair a bit long, but this has gotten ridiculous.'  Sirius promptly found his nose battered with the end of Alex's exceedingly long plait.

'Excuse me, "ridiculous"?'

'Ridiculous for me, of course.'

'Nope.'

Sirius found himself perplexed.  At least it distracted from the throbbing.  'Alex, I really appreciate your wanting to make the effort, but I'd really rather get it over with, with one great mowing, and start... well, clean.'

'Nooo-oope.'

He unfolded himself to turn and stare at her.  'But it's my hair!'

'My house, my scissors, and I paid for your rabies shots.  And I like your hair this long.'  Alex busied herself untangling.  She'd freed up about three inches already.

Sirius continued to stare, completely flummoxed.  Then he did the only thing he could under the circumstances -- he started laughing.  Alex grinned down at her hands deftly pulling apart a really badly knotted spot, knowing she'd won this one.  Sirius relaxed in surrender, and settled his head on Alex's thigh after she shifted to a more comfortable position.  He drowsed off and on, between conversations, while she worked steadily through his matted mane.

'So what were you doing all day while I was at work?'

'I couldn't take the chance of leaving any indications of a human being in the house, so I read a lot.  Even if I accidentally left a book out of place, you've got enough of them scattered about that I hoped it wouldn't seem odd.'

'That's why you didn't chop your beautiful hair off already, then?  Couldn't dispose of the evidence?'

'Mmm-hmm.  You'll let me shave though, won't you?  I'd like to get rid of this beard at some point.'

'I guess.  I think I have some disposable razors, once you trim it off with scissors.  It'll be nice to see your whole face then.'

'You'll trust me with scissors?'

'Hmmmmmm...'

'Come on, Alex, I'm teasing.'

'HMMMMMMM...'

'Aaaa-lex...!'

[giggle]

...

'I want to ask you something, but it's... kind of delicate.'

'Sirius, we've been kinda naked together.  I think that might mostly supersede 'delicate".'

'All right, I just don't want to offend you.'

'Hit me with your best shot.'

'Why are you alone?'

'Pardon?'

'I'll be happy to tell you over and over that even as Padfoot...'

'Padfoot?'

'My canine nickname.  My friends and I each had nicknames for our alternate forms.'

'Cool!  I'll have to change your card at the vet.'  [beat]  'Oh, don't scowl like that.'

'Ahem.  Even as Padfoot, I found you sweet, and generous, and interesting; handsome in your own way, and -- I'll admit it, although I'm sure you'll hold it against me -- '

'That reminds me of this cheezy line...'

'I think your hair is really spectacular.  And you are a real pleasure to make love with.'

'I may have to start blushing again.'

'I'm telling you all this, not just because it's true, but because I can't believe others haven't noticed.'

'Haven't really wanted them to.'

'Sorry, couldn't hear...?'

'I haven't really wanted them to.  I guess the short form is... I have issues with trusting men, in general.  In specific, I deal with specifics, but ... yeah, trust issues.'

'Can I ask why?'

'Sure, but I don't really have an answer.  I've never quantified it, so I'll have to try to think of an answer for you.  It'll take a while.'

'Okay.'  [pause]  'Thank you.'

'For?'

'Trying.  Trusting me.  Saving my life.'

...

'Soooo... tell me about what it's like to be a dog.  I've always wondered.'

'Hard question to answer....  The senses are different, of course.  The emotions... my emotions become more... basic, more immediate.  It's what let me survive the Dementors.  I'd change and the despair and deprivation became blunted.  They feed off human emotions, not animal ones, and I believe they just thought I had started to lose my mind when they couldn't feel me the same way.'

'What about... oh, I'm not sure how to put this, um... just like running and playing and, well, eating?  I mean, would you turn your canine nose up at kibble and lamb-and-rice now that you know you could be fed steak?'

'Alex, I swear, I'd probably eat the kibble and canned food with a spoon if you handed it to me right now.'

'That's right, you must be hungry.  I didn't feed my big black dog this morning, after all.'

'I'm always hungry.'

'Why didn't you say something?!'

'Because I'm always hungry.  I think it's become a sort of reflex, rather than actual emptiness.  But I could do with some lunch at this point.'

Alex's hands had started to cramp, so she agreed now would be a good time to break.  She unfolded creakily from the bed -- her knees had practically frozen from the position in which she'd been sitting.  She hadn't wanted to disturb Sirius; his head in her lap felt nice, anyway.  Sirius looked around and found where his trousers had landed, and pulled them on.  It seemed the appropriate thing to do.  Alex looked at him critically, now that they had pulled themselves out of their mutual romantic haze.

'You're right.  You're still way too thin.  And here I thought I'd been feeding you decently.'

'You should have seen me human before you adopted me.  I probably would have scared you to death.'  Sirius sucked in his cheeks and his stomach, and widened his eyes melodramatically, doing a far-too-accurate impersonation of a skeleton.  His skin still looked somewhat waxy also, probably due as much to his perpetual indoor-ness as diet.

Alex shuddered, remembering how ribby Keed... Padfoot had been once she'd gotten his coat soaked down to bathe him the first time.  She pulled her bathrobe back on, deciding to get dressed later, and walked toward the kitchen, Sirius casually draping a hand on her shoulder as he followed her out.  The pantry proved emptier than she'd hoped as her recent expenditures consisted mostly of dog food, not people food purchases.

Sirius noticed her frustration.  'Look, don't fuss on my account.  I'll eat what I've been eating.  It's perfectly fine.'

Alex snorted, but felt touched by his offer.  She finally found a box of pasta she'd overlooked the first time, a new jar of Paul Newman's spaghetti sauce, and even some frozen chicken thighs, also overlooked from previous mealtime excursions.  She had a 6'2" wizard to feed, and planned to add at least two stone on him straightaway to round him up a wee bit.  After a quarter hour or so, she presented Sirius with a huge bowl heaped with chicken-chunk-laced rotini, smothered in garlicky tomato sauce, and a Lender's Bagel, also garlic, with which to clean the bowl.  Her own serving was perhaps a third of the size of his, and he noticed.

'Alex, take some of this, please.  You have hardly anything there!'

'I have plenty, thank you.  And I need to lose weight, despite your gallant compliments, not add or maintain it.'

He knew that tone as Padfoot; he had started to tread on thin alpha-territory ice.  Once again he conceded, but knew he had to find one point of dispute to win on soon, or he'd... he'd....  He grinned around a forkful of lunch.  All those situations he'd charmed or fast-talked his and the Marauders' way out of while at Hogwarts and now he can't even cut his own hair.  Maybe it really was time for him to roll over and play omega dog.  NEO fidgeted between his mom and Sirius, not sure who would be the best begging target.  Sirius looked at the boxer, and revised his thought:  Beta dog.  Definitely had to be at least one-up from the four-foots.

Despite the difference in servings, they finished their lunches at about the same time.  Sirius quite wolfed his food down.  Alex rose to put their dishes in the sink, and came back to stand behind Sirius where he sat on the tattered love seat.  She stroked his bearded throat with one hand and tipped his chin up, leaning his head back to meet her eyes, albeit invertedly.  Sirius wondered if she realised what an interesting view this gave him, but managed to pay attention to what she was saying.

'As much as I want to work on your hair some more--'

'Not the rest of me?'

'Are you always like this?  I would very much appreciate your company walking the dogs properly.  Poor Mouse hasn't been out yet.  Would you be able to do that... safely?'  Her expression reflected the concern in her voice.

'Unless things are much worse than I believe they are, nobody should know where I am.  As long as we're careful, it shouldn't be a problem.  It's not like it's on a crowded street, after all.  Can we get rid of my beard first?  I think all the photos distributed to the press had me bearded, and it would help delay identification in the worst case scenario.'

Alex reached behind her and produced a large dishtowel which she swept around his neck; then stepped around to dig behind the couch, producing a pair of scissors with a flourish.  'May I?'

'Are you sure we can't cut the hair while you're at it?'

'THE HAIR STAYS.'

'I can try.'

Sirius held up the corners of the towel while Alex snipped carefully as close to the skin as possible, eventually filling the hollow of fabric with not quite twelve years' worth of scraggly beard hair.  At one point in his flight, Sirius told her, he'd hacked off a foot or more of draggles with a shard of glass as the beard proved more problem than his hair at the time.  She left him to dump the trimmings in the trash, while she looked for razors.

'Okay, here's two -- you might need both, I'm not sure how dull they get how fast -- but I don't have any shaving foam.  You might need to try to do it the old-fashioned way, with plain soap and hot water.'  Alex came back out of the hallway brandishing the plastic razors, and stopped at the sight of the wizard standing before her almost barefaced.  'Wow.  What a difference.'

She was glad now that she hadn't pushed the point of keeping any facial hair, as Sirius proved even more handsome (despite thinness) when she could see the planes of his face, his strong bone structure, without the deceptive filter of the beard.

He walked forward and took the razors from her upheld right hand with his left, swooping his right arm under the loosely-tied robe and around her waist, and pulling her to him tightly to kiss her.  'Thank you,' he murmured, his tone suggestive and full of implication, and spun her off his arm, continuing the motion to duck into the hall bathroom.

Alex caught her balance and boggled.  'Jeezly GOD, are you always like this?  You're gonna wear me totally out!'

'That might be my master plan.  May I use the towels in here?  They look rather decorative....'

'Yes, you may!  Gawd!  'master plan." ' Alex shook her head in astonishment.  She'd better get dressed, or... she'd better get dressed while he was busy.  Yeah, definitely.

In short order, two fully-dressed humans took two collar-wearing dogs out on leashes to walk around the second fairway's rough in the summer heat.  Sirius kept one arm around Alex's shoulders most of the time; for all his flirty, frivolous talk and behaviour, he didn't want to lose the feel of human contact for any longer than he had to.  Alex seemed to agree, as she leaned into his side except when NEO lunged at blowing leaves, birds, and other provocatively fast-moving objects.  After one such lunge, she recovered from her stumble forward, and turned back to Sirius with a self-deprecating grin, but caught her breath instead.  The sun had broken through a patch of fluffy cloud, and the long-time prisoner had turned his face, like a sunflower, up to the source of light and warmth.

Sirius Sun by Kristin, www.chamberofkeys.com
Used with permission of the artist: Sirius Sun by Kristin, www.chamberofkeys.com

Alex watched him silently for a moment, until he slit his eyes open and turned back to her inquisitively.  'You looked almost like a saint receiving the blessing of his Deity,' she said.  She noticed his pupils had contracted in the sub-tropical sunlight to near pinpoints, leaving an astonishing amount of pale blue iris visible.

He grinned mockingly.  'No saint I.  Just ask Professor Dumbledore.'

'Who?'

'My old headmaster.'

'Ahhh.'

They continued their walk, up to a landmark tree then back again.  They couldn't continue onto the course while golfers still roamed, which would be for a few hours yet.  When they returned to the house, Alex had almost expected Sirius to swoop her up again and ravish her some more -- or something -- but instead, he merely asked for parchment and a quill.  She provided paper and a bevelled calligraphy marker, which he found both fascinating and acceptable.  Alex decided that she, too, could exercise a little self-control and wandered off to her computer after washing up the lunch dishes.

Several e-mails and deleted handfuls of spam later, Sirius interrupted Alex.  He waved his rolled-up paper at her from the Library doorway.  'Alex, come watch me post my letter.  I think you might enjoy this.'

Alex untangled herself from her computer chair and followed him into the living room.  She squinted at the light levels bleeding through the front window, and started looking for her dark-tinted glasses.  'Who're you writing to, if you don't mind me asking?'

'It's to my godson.  I wanted to let him know I was safe.  I haven't really had the chance before.'

Alex smiled at him, 'What a good godfather.'

Sirius didn't reply as she expected, but answered gravely, 'I've got to try.  There's a lot I have to make up for.'  Alex was taken aback.  However might one respond to a statement like that?  Sirius noticed her discomfort and stuck his hand out, wiggling his fingers in invitation.  She took the proffered hand, which Sirius used to pull her close and hug her comfortingly one-armed.

Leaving the house, he walked Alex to the end of the common-area path, just to the other side of the huge ficus trees separating the clusters of houses from the golf course itself.  'And considering there's no post boxes here, how...?'  Alex queried.

'Wait,' was all the wizard said, and muttered a charm inaudibly, holding up the arm not already occupied with Alex.  They didn't have to wait long -- a minute or two passed before a hyacinthine macaw swept down from the sky and settled itself on Sirius's proffered perch.

'You called this bird?'  Alex exclaimed.

'Hold up your arm for her to perch on, please.  I'm going to need both hands.'

Alex, although not what she termed 'a bird person,' still had no problem handling feathered creatures, and complied promptly.  The macaw weighed more than she expected, and she started to feel a strain in her shoulder almost immediately, but braced her arm to hold steady.  The macaw, on its part, politely did not dig its talons into her forearm.  Sirius had found a bit of string or thong somewhere and had tied it securely around his scroll.  He reached for one of the macaw's legs, which the bird lifted for easier access and secured the scroll to the leg with the ends of the knotted string.

'She'd like a scritch behind her head if you'd like to help thank her for her service,' Sirius grinned at Alex, who had almost frozen in place to keep from startling the presumably wild bird.

'What service?'  Alex asked, reaching across her body to gently ruffle the cobalt feathers.

'This is how wizards send their mail.  We use birds as messengers.  The delivery owls for the Daily Prophet expect to be paid with money on delivery, but for letters, it can be a negotiation.'

'If I'd known, I could have brought some apple with me or something.  Aren't you just the most beautiful creature, though,' she crooned to the macaw, who seemed happy with the current level of attention.

'Have a good flight,' Sirius told the macaw, and it suddenly launched itself from Alex's arm, leaving some faint scratches which the woman rubbed at absently as she and Sirius watched the macaw until it disappeared into the northern distance.

'And it... she's going all the way to Britain?' she asked.

'To England, where Harry's aunt and uncle live, yes.'  Sirius noticed Alex rubbing her arm, and took over the task from her.  Admittedly, it was a cheap ploy to hold her hand.  She didn't seem to mind.

'Wow.  Well, I have to admit -- that's better than Parrot Jungle!  There, the birds just pose with you for photos.'  Alex ensured Sirius's fingers were securely ensnared with hers and tugged him toward the house again.  She seemed lost in thought during the short walk; the wizard decided to wait to see what would become of her silence, and didn't have long to wait after all.

Alex sat him down on the couch, and like a good beta (he grinned to himself), he stayed sat.  'I was thinking,' she began tentatively, 'that since I know who my houseguest really is now, that he might be willing to help me out a little.  Not out of any sense of obligation, or guilt, or recompense, but just because you'd like to, as a friend and a resident.  Does that make sense?' Alex started to talk a little faster, 'I don't want to make this sound like a guilt trip, or like I'm trying to manipulate or force you into doing what I ask.  I've been doing okay, or okay enough, with you as a dog, but if you want something to do during the day, even if it's kinda drudge work....'  Alex looked frustrated, trying to ask without asking.

Sirius understood what she was trying to get at, and held up a hand to stop her.  'Alex, there's no guilt needed.  I had actually been thinking along the same lines, but if you have specific things in mind, please, tell me.  You've helped me more than you can imagine, and I'd be happy to try to return the favour.  As a friend.  As your guest.  Because it's the right thing to do.'

Relieved, Alex sat next to him and started discussing what she'd been wanting to do around the house, but never seemed to have the time to accomplish.  Some of the tasks were just so dull, she never got the energy to do them alone -- having Sirius simply as company would make the difference there as well.

'...And if I can get shopping out of the way during lunch, instead of coming home, AND if you trust yourself enough around the kitchen to make supper for all four of us, then...' Alex's face lit up more than she knew with her conclusion, '...we'll have more time for us to... well, be together.  However together.'

Sirius looked into that honestly, openly happy face; his heart spasmed with the intensity of feeling washing over him.  He owed her so much, had disrupted her life completely, and she was happy about it.  Happy about him.  Overwhelmed with emotion, he wrapped her in his arms, unable to express the churning within him other than to echo, 'Together.'

,`,,`,,`,,`,,`,

They settled into a routine fairly quickly.  Sirius turned the bedroom into a different fantastical location each night -- it was a simple illusion created by a magical phrase and a clearly-visualized image alone.  They spent their time before sleep becoming better acquainted by touch - sometimes quietly and gently, sometimes more playfully.

Sirius found his mindset had shifted -- he'd been the rake of the Marauders while at Hogwarts, and after the four friends had graduated.  James, of course, had been totally besotted by Lily for years; Remus, while admired by the girls, had always remained aloof from most people out of his deep-seated fear of discovery; and Peter... well, nobody had ever seemed much interested in Peter.  Serves him right, Sirius thought vindictively.  But now, after the deprivation of Azkaban, he found himself more than satisfied with nights where the two lovers simply wrapped their arms around each other, tangled their legs together, and whispered themselves to sleep.   He basked in Alex's attention.

Although he didn't really notice, Alex's reaction mirrored his.  Every morning when the hated alarm went off too early, she marvelled at her good fortune.  She didn't expect it to last, of course.  Deep inside, she was already steeling herself for Sirius's eventual rejection of her, no matter how kindly or regretful a rejection he made it.   This was too good to be real, of course, she would never get to 'keep' him.  Even if she had paid for his rabies shots.  But as long as he was here, she was going to soak in it.  Boy... the withdrawal reaction from this was going to be a total prehistoric bear.

Once they got up, and the boxer's precarious bladder relieved, Sirius usually made oatmeal for the two of them for breakfast -- the microwave fascinated him with its almost magical efficiency -- and provided snacks to amuse the full-time dogs.  Alex rushed around frantically, muttering about being late and moaning about caffeine.  After an enforced breakfast, Alex collected her work things, and then some more things, and laden all about, grabbed Sirius to kiss him goodbye.  Then he'd kiss her goodbye, and smooch by smooch they approached the door in tiny increments.  The door opening to reveal them to the general public (who, of course, were neither watching nor caring less) signalled a halt to the blatant affection.

Alex turned out to have an almost phobic aversion to being seen being affectionate in anything resembling public.  As far as he knew, she hadn't even told anyone about him.   Well, about the human part of him, so to speak.   Well and good -- he was still a wanted man in Britain, both Muggle and wizardly versions; and after Azkaban, he was still out of practice being simply human.  One person at a time.  Easy steps.  Remus, and Harry, and Harry's friends Ron and Hermione; and Dumbledore, and now Alex.  The fact that Alex was a Muggle never crossed his mind again without prompting.

Alex would hurry to work, and fidget until lunchtime.  Sometimes she did errands, knowing that she no longer had to worry about crating dogs, walking dogs, remembering to refill water bowls.  At least now she didn't have to buy as much dog food as she had for the past month or so.  Before Sirius's mistake, she had been feeding 'Keedee' all the kibble he'd eat, plus two cans of premium food a night.  Now she could go back to buying more cheap human food, just twice as much.  The dogs came first, after all.  More often than not, though, she would rush back to the house just to be able to spend the extra fifteen minutes with Sirius.  If she kept her wits about her, she'd arrive with hamburgers or chicken breast sandwiches, something quick they could eat together for lunch if they hadn't planned ahead.  Then she would rush back.  She tried hard not to glow.

Sirius, besides being Chief Entertainment Officer for NEO and Mouse, found himself dealing with all sorts of Muggle technology as Alex put him to work.  He was becoming an absolute housewizard, he discovered -- he was wicked with a Swiffer.  The washing-up, dusting, everything that wizards had become accustomed to doing with house elves or wands, Sirius did by hand, feeling more sympathy for Muggles than ever before.   No wonder they have no magic -- they have no time to develop it.  However, the first time Alex came home and found the bed made up with neatly tucked in corners, she cocked her head at him, asked 'Why bother?' and promptly recruited him into mussing it up again.  Certain chores just had no priority in this home.

Other than succumbing to Alex's pleading to relieve her from past-due cleaning chores, she also showed him how to copy videotapes, making copies of a friend's movie to distribute to his fans.  She had to explain 'movie,' 'videotape recorder,' and 'fan' -- at least in the freaky, science-fictiony sense -- in extensive detail, but 'Wizard of Speed and Time' needed, at least he thought, no explanation at all.  She also showed him how to access the Internet and her laserdisk and DVD movie collection, which fascinated him endlessly.  The movies were like wizard photos, portable, only they told whole stories; and the Internet... well, the wizarding world didn't have anything quite like it.  Muggles have their own sort of magic, he decided.  Keeping inside the house all day, except for frequent dog walking, was in Sirius's best interest, he knew.  The fewer chances to be seen, the fewer to be identified.  And if the authorities never identified his location, except for the occasional red herring he threw them, he wouldn't have to abandon his new home.  His stomach contracted tightly at that thought.

After Alex's workday concluded, and she arrived home at breakneck speed, Padfoot would usually greet her first.   They had decided together that having three dogs would be less conspicuous than a strange man, especially since nobody was looking for the dog.  Sirius would always shift whenever he didn't need his hands for the machines in the house, in case of... whatever.  Alex called this 'optimistic paranoia,' and Sirius decided he liked the phrase.

Alex would open the door with her key, and promptly stagger under the weight of two great black paws on her shoulders.   Laughing, she would hug the luxurious black coat, struggle all the way inside, close the door, and have dog kisses shimmer into human kisses.  Somehow, the two other inhabitants would get their greetings as well.  Supper and entertainment -- hair brushing was a big one -- would be decided upon, one last dog walk, and off to bed.

After the first week or two, Sirius realized Alex had begun to struggle with supporting the four of them.  She admitted she wasn't the best at financial arrangements, but running out of money due to unexpected expenses was still running out of money.   Gringotts had never frozen Sirius's vault access, and he had a tidy bit of money left over from before his arrest, even after buying Harry's Firebolt.  But how to covert it to Muggle money, and slip it to Alex?  He never asked, but he felt fairly certain just giving her the money would be as inappropriate as if he tried that with fellow wizards.  Eventually, using much the same channel of communications as he had done with his stealthy broomstick purchase, he got a goodly sum taken out of his vault, converted by the Gringotts goblins into pounds sterling, and then into American dollars.  An owl, blinking irritably at the westering sub-tropical late-summer sun, brought him the cash -- dull-coloured paper rectangles, even stranger than British Muggles' money.  Advertisements on television gave him a rough idea of the scale of prices, and he slipped 10s and 20s, one at a time, into Alex's pocket or odd places where she'd think she just forgotten she had tucked a note, every now and then.  It worked perfectly.  If Alex ever figured it out, she never let on.

,`,,`,,`,,`,,`,

People noticed the change in Alex.  She smiled more -- after all, she had more of a reason to smile.  Random thoughts of her handsome wizard made her smile, and if her concentration was not specifically directed elsewhere, her thoughts drifted quite randomly.  She had more time to relax as well, and seemed to be losing a bit of weight -- Sirius had also been reading every book in the house voraciously, including the cookbooks, and had become Mr Nutrition Wizard.   Longer walks at night helped, too.  She didn't think any other nocturnal activities really counted as exercise; despite being smitten, she still shied away from... oh, how did she put it?  A complete physical commitment to their relationship.  Sirius wasn't familiar with either psychobabble or Southern Californian.  Alex eventually got exasperated and repeated her statement in extremely blunt language, blushing as she said it, and then stomped off to sit on the omphalos for a while.  Sirius hadn't got the best grades in Magical Remedies at Hogwarts, but he knew better than to come out to collect her without bearing chocolate as apology for causing her embarrassment.  That stood as the only real tension between the two of them -- her assumption that he'd want more from her, and his not realizing she didn't know he was happy with how things stood.

One night, as Padfoot chased NEO around the base of the omphalos for the fifth time at high speed, he noticed the absence of Alex's usual light laugh at their antics.  Panting, he climbed the few steps to the crest where she sat, threw himself at her feet, and changed.  'What's the matter?' he asked, his lean chest still heaving with the exercise.

'Thinking about something I can't have, like, frequently,' she replied wistfully.

Sirius sat up so he could look her straighter in the face.  'You know anything I can do, I'll....'

Alex cut him off.  'You can't.  At least, as I understand it, you can't.'  His eyebrows kept asking 'what?' and she sighed gustily.  'I want to be able to shapeshift as well.  I'd love to be able to run with you, or at least try.  Even before I knew you, before I knew it was at all possible, I wondered what it would be like to be canine.'  Her frustration was plain in her voice.  'I think I might actually be jealous.'

'I can teach you... oh.  No, I can't.'  Sirius's face fell.  'I keep forgetting you're a Muggle.'   Some of their longest talks had been teaching each other about the other's culture.

'Yeah,' she answered softly, equally crestfallen.  Sirius could hardly bear to see her in this distress, over something he should be able to fix.  He vowed to think of some way to work this out.  Without a wand, or any way to get one, though, a spell of the complexity of a Transfiguration would be incredibly difficult to render.

Alex shook off her gloom, grabbed Sirius, pulled him off-balance onto the grass next to her, and tickled him relentlessly before springing up to attempt a mock escape.   Her chronically sore ankle, a souvenir from college, would never let her outpace Sirius's long legs, even if her attempt was serious.  NEO decided he had to get in on the fun, and jumped up and down on the two of them after Sirius tackled her back.  Game called on account of boxer.

By coincidence, the next sunset brought Hedwig to Alex's door.  She was Sirius's godson's owl, a beautiful snowy owl with a wide wingspan and a slightly imperious manner.  Sirius brought her in, warning NEO that owls are not to be played with, and offered her some of the Chinese food he had ordered for supper.  Despite it not being mice, Hedwig graciously accepted, and delicately picked meat bits out between rice and sauced vegetables.  Harry's letter updated Sirius on the boy's summer holiday with his loathsome aunt and uncle.  At least this year, Harry had leverage -- he used Sirius as a constant threat against their usually abusive behaviour toward the boy.  As a result, Harry had fairly little to say, other than thanks for his birthday wishes.  Sirius grinned, and headed into 'The Library' to start an answer for one of the local birds to carry back.   Hedwig would leave after she had a decent rest.  She had made a long trip, finding Sirius in the mysterious way wizards' familiars always could.

He overcame the temptation to ask Harry for some Transfiguration research quickly.  Other than putting an undue burden on Hedwig, or whichever bird would carry the book or notes, Sirius knew better than to involve a fourth-year student in something this complex and illicit.  He dashed off a note, offered it to Hedwig with the invitation to spend a day resting, and returned to the Library to see if there was any chance the Internet had Transfiguration tucked away in it somewhere.  As he adjusted the decrepit kneeling chair before the computer desk, he once again hit the loose corkboard leaning up against the printer stand.  I must ask her where she intended for this to hang, he noted, and readjusted its position for the umpteenth time.  This time, however, he looked at what had fallen off from repeated rattlings.  A small enamelled metal pendant lay face-down on the floor.  He picked it up -- a Cardigan corgi.   The token triggered a cascade of thoughts in Sirius's mind, long-dormant bits of magical information starting to fit themselves together.

He placed the pendant carefully on the top edge of the keyboard where he'd be sure to find it later, and left the problem on a mental back burner.  Alex came home to the usual joyful greeting from all parties, and took dogs for a ride to go buy groceries after supper.  With Padfoot in the car, she had no hesitation at leaving the windows completely down for ventilation while she shopped.  After settling down for the night, Sirius's mind still worked on the thread of the idea that had drifted into his mind earlier, but nothing occurred to him before he drifted off to sleep, spooned around his lover, long fingers loosely curled over the soft skin of Alex's breast.

,`,,`,,`,,`,,`,

Sirius finally puzzled out the spell he'd been trying to concoct.  He had taken over the 'guest' bathroom as his, moving the decorative, tongue-in-cheek kitsch out of the way for various herbs and strange concoctions -- and his shaving kit.  From where she sat on the living room couch, Alex heard some abrupt rattling, followed by a loud POOF, and Sirius coughing (he forgot to open the window).  'What are you up to now?' she yelled down the hall, amused.  The wizard emerged, fanning the air around him with one hand and holding something she couldn't see in the other.

He grinned at her, and answered in a similarly teasing, almost seductive tone, 'I've made a surprise for you, my dear.'

'Oh, yeah?' she answered lazily, playing into the banter.  He walked over, and she reached for him, stretching cat-like.  Sirius quickly snagged the ribbon attached to his project in his mouth, bent, and ran both hands up her torso from her waist, stopping where he got a purr of pleasure from her.

His hands didn't linger, though.  'I'll get back to that,' he promised when she pouted audibly.  He took the ribbon from his teeth and passed it around her neck, tying it securely in the back.

'What...?' Alex said, and got up to look in Sirius's bathroom's mirror.  'It's my corgi pendant.  I got it at the Youth Fair ages ago, but even with my best intentions, I'm usually not comfortable wearing jewelry.'  She didn't want to sound ungrateful.  'You restrung it for me?'

'Not just that.'  His smile was extra wide.  'I charmed it.   Hold it in one hand, doesn't matter which, and say "canis mutatem".'

Dubiously, Alex followed his directions... and shimmered.  Where she stood in the bathroom was now a large, red-brindle Cardigan corgi.   Sirius scooped her up and held her up to the mirror to see the truth of the change.  The Alex-corgi started wiggling frantically, and Sirius put her down before he dropped her.  She ran around the living room at top speed, until NEO, overexcited, pounced one time too many and sent her bowling.  She jumped up at Sirius, barking like crazy.  He laughed in delight at her excitement, and squatted to take her face in his hands.  'Listen... listen, silly girl.   I need to tell you how to change back.'  Alex-corgi quieted politely, and sat (as much as corgwn ever do).  'Can you touch the charm with a paw?'  She tried, finding it would work if she lay down.  'Good.  Now, think the words "canis mutatem," and bark the rhythm of the phrase.'  It took two tries, but on the second, Alex-human sprawled across the hall floor.  She scrambled to her knees, and bowled an off-balance Sirius backwards with her embrace.

'I can't believe you did it!  Oh my GOD, you are... <squeak>!'  She just couldn't find words big enough, so she kissed him instead.  Abruptly, she pushed up.   'Let's go outside.  I want to try this out!'

'One more thing, though,' Sirius instructed.  'There's a safety catch.  It won't work if another human, either Muggle or wizard, can see you make the change.  It's safer for both of us that way.'  Alex nodded, and found herself pinning Padfoot instead.  She let him up, ran to crack the front door open, cried out her spellphrase, and the four dogs ran out into the night to play in the moonlight.

,`,,`,,`,,`,,`,

Days, in and out of fur, passed smoothly through the heat of a late Florida summer.  Sirius had Alex drive him out to where he could call Buckbeak, to check on how the hippogriff managed.   He loved the look on her face at her first glimpse of the monster.  She managed to execute a flashy Cavalier-like bow in good order, though.  Buckbeak bowed back promptly, and allowed her to stroke his beak and neck.  Buckbeak looked fine, well-fed and satisfied with marsh living.  Sirius managed to keep up with wizardly news without too much effort, and amazed Alex with the moving pictures in magical publications.

Nights passed as one might expect, with love expressed between Sirius and Alex in many ways, and always ending with each sheltered in the haven they found in each other's arms.  They hadn't quite reached the point of actually saying 'I love you.'   Alex secretly feared that might be seen as too possessive -- not that she was sure yet anyway, no matter how much affection the two of them expressed.  Worn-out words, overused phrases also made her wary.  She wanted to say exactly what she meant or felt, and not whatever meaning society had decided to attach to those words.

Sirius's uncertainty lay more in himself.  Azkaban's scars left him unsure of the validity of anything unquantifiable.   He was supposed to take care of Harry because Harry was his godson, a clear and obvious responsibility; but did he actually love Alex, or was he just... grateful and comfortable?  He had lost his sense of scale, didn't trust his judgment, and didn't want to hurt either of them as a side-effect.

Despite all this hidden anxiety, they still took great delight and comfort together.  They lived in what Richard Pini in Elfquest once called 'wolf time,' an always-now with little sense of the future, while they had the chance, before Sirius had to run again or Alex had to be excessively alone again.

Until Hedwig, looking as if her flight had been quite hard on her, showed up in mid-September with another letter from Harry.

,`,,`,,`,,`,,`,

Sirius had Alex stroke the weather-battered owl as he untied the letter from Hedwig's leg.  He read it with increasing tension, then read it a second time, expressions chasing across his face.  Alex could read him fairly well by now, and didn't like what she saw -- it looked all bad.  He handed her the letter, his face going blank and rigid.  She read the quill-on-parchment boyscribble:

Dear Sirius,

     Thanks for your last letter; that bird was enormous.  It could hardly get through my window.
     Things are the same as usual here.  Dudley's diet isn't going too well.  My aunt found him smuggling doughnuts into his room yesterday.   They told him they'd have to cut his pocket money if he keeps doing it, so he got really angry and chucked his PlayStation out of the window.  That's a sort of computer thing you can play games on.  Bit stupid, really, now he hasn't even got
Mega Mutilation Part 3 to take his mind off things.
     I'm okay, mainly because the Dursleys are terrified you might turn up and turn them all into bats if I ask you to.
     A weird thing happened this morning, though.  My scar hurt again.  Last time that happened, it was because Voldemort was at Hogwarts.  But I don't reckon he can be anywhere near me now, can he?  Do you know if curse scars sometimes hurt years afterward?
     I'll send this with Hedwig when she gets back.  She's off hunting at the moment.   Say hello to Buckbeak for me.

Harry

P.S. If you want to contact me, I'll be at my friend Ron Weasley's for the rest of the summer.  His dad's got us tickets for the Quidditch World Cup!

Alex looked back at Sirius, confused.  He broke his middle-distance stare as she queried, 'I don't understand why you're so perturbed by this.  If his scar hurts, can't he just go to... some kind of healer?  Take an aspirin?'   The face he turned to her looked grimmer than she'd ever seen.

'I have to go. I'm sorry.'

Ah, there it was!  The bolt from above she'd been expecting all summer.  She knew it, she knew it....   Her throat started to tighten up.  Her supervisor kept kindly pointing out that she had a tendency towards being defensive -- well, you bet defensive.  BOY, was she going to be defensive.  Alex could feel her eyes start to well up.  She hated her tendency towards angry tears when upset.  It made it very difficult to yell effectively when one couldn't even talk clearly.  And then, of course, some guys just couldn't deal with tears no matter what their cause.

Sirius saw her face cloud up.  It took him a moment to realize something was wrong, but he wasn't sure what.   He couldn't take long, though; he had to get to Buckbeak and get on his way.  'Alex, he's in danger.  This isn't just a simple headache -- it's a warning.  Very powerful Dark Forces tried to kill him once, and failed; they're going to try again.  I have to protect him.  It's my responsibility.'

'Yes, of course he is.  And I just happened to be a convenient, disposable stop-off, right?  Just poof, off you go?  I suppose you want me to drive you out to the Everglades too, don't you.  GODDESS, I hate men!'  Sirius was taken aback.  Nothing in the past several weeks had ever caused either of them to get really angry, at anything, especially each other.  Alex's fury hit him almost physically.  He shook his head, as much in reaction as negation.  The end of his plait flicked from side to side with the energy of his movement, as his own temper started to flare in response.

'Stop.  This has absolutely nothing to do with what I want to do, it's what I have to do.'  Sirius glared back, the volume of his voice rising to meet hers.  Getting caught up in his own fear and fury at knowing of Harry's danger, he completely missed reading the sheer panic underlying Alex's anger.  'Do you think I really look forward to living in a dangerous forest with no shelter, no food, no rest, knowing that if I get caught I'll get my soul sucked out of me, just because a power-hungry madman decided to use my family as a target?  Do you honestly believe I want to leave the warm, safe place that's become my home to fight another battle with the ends of my strength?  I'd say I'm scared to death, but that might become the truth.  I told you once I don't want to leave you, and that's more true now than ever, but I have to if I'm going to remain the person you want to stay.  Are you going to help me?!'  He took a deep breath after his final bellow, and let it out in a huge puff.  He continued quietly, 'I owe you more than you'll ever know.'

Alex deflated visibly.  'I... I...'  She curled up in a ball on the couch and couldn't meet his eyes.  'I'm sorry.   I understand all that.  It's just that... you know, no warning or anything, and now I'm losing you, and....'

Sirius knelt before her, to try to meet her eyes.  'Nobody said you were losing me.  Not unless things go very very badly.'

The wretched woman sniffled, reaching for a tissue.  'Except Harry's your family, and you need to take care of him first.'

'Not while I can't prove my innocence to the authorities.   I told you about that -- Peter's vanished, and he's my only proof.  And...' Sirius thought hard about what he said next, 'you're my family now, too... unless...'

Alex bit her lower lip.  'Unless what?'

'Unless you don't want to be.'

Her voice was very quiet as she half-asked, 'I'm not sure I understand exactly what you mean by that.'

'I want to know I can come back to you, or that you'll come to me when it's safe.  I'm fairly sure I... I... love you.'   Sirius never stammered.

Alex froze, all the classic clichs about emotional shock happening to her at once.  She couldn't stand the tension.   'You tell me this five minutes before you take off for Goddess-knows-how-long?'  Her forced laugh cracked in the middle.  Sirius didn't laugh.  His eyes had opened to panic size, white showing all around the ice-hued iris, which had almost vanished behind dilated pupils.  Alex couldn't leave him looking at her like that.  She unclutched her right hand from her doubled knees, and caressed the side of his face.  He closed his eyes and leaned into her palm.

'I think I loved you from the moment when you came after me on the golf course.  You brought me hope, and dreams, and magic, and made me feel beautiful.  Cherished.  That's the best thing in the world, I swear it is.  How could I not love you?   I've just been so afraid that you'd... get tired of me, or find I was some kind of wrong.  I'm really tired of being wrong, and you've given me almost three months of being right.'   Her eyes welled up again, a reaction to the intensity of her softly-spoken words.

Sirius couldn't speak, but embraced her fiercely instead.   He never wanted to let go, but forced himself after a few minutes.  She met his eyes, nodded, and brushed away lingering tears.

Harry --

     I'm flying north immediately.   This news about your scar is the latest in a series of strange rumours that have reached me here.  If it hurts again, go straight to Dumbledore -- they're saying he's got Mad-Eye out of retirement, which means he's reading the signs even if no one else is.
     I'll be in touch soon.  My best to Ron and Hermione.  Keep your eyes open, Harry.

Sirius


Alex has to make a decision:

Let Sirius leave alone

Canis Mutatem:  Wish Upon a Star

Try to go with Sirius

Canis Mutatem:  Words, Vows, Gifts, Tears

//
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