Canis Mutatem: Words, Vows, Gifts, Tears - Canto One
Mutatem: Words, Vows, Gifts, Tears
Air feeds Fire; Fire transforms Air
(a Harry Potter fanfiction by
beginning immediately after the events of The Prisoner of
and continues through and after The Goblet of Fire
-- continuing from Canis Mutatem.
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
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.
'Sirius looked different from Harry's memory of him... the hair
was short and clean now, Sirius's face was fuller, and he looked
younger, much more like the only photograph Harry had of him which
had been taken at the Potters' wedding.'
Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, Chapter 19
'Words, vows, gifts, tears, and love's full sacrifice...'
Troilus and Cressida: I, ii
'Oh, yes I am.'
'Like you couldn't use somebody to watch your back!'
Sirius didn't need to shapechange to growl fiercely.
Alex looked incredibly underimpressed. He condescended to
tick off reasons on his fingers while he snugged his bundles onto
Buckbeak, who kept trying to nibble on the unfamiliar harnessing.
'One, you have dogs to take care of. Two, you have
a job. Three, you have bills to take care of, now that
you've finally got that mess straightened out for the second
time since I got here.' She remained stubborn looking,
arms folded, frowning. Sirius pulled out the weapon of
mass destruction. 'Fourth, I want to have a reason to come
Meltdown. He had really got her with that one.
However, he'd forgotten she was, after all, a Celt. She
brought her own fingers to bear. 'One, my mother can take
care of the dogs, even if she complains about it. Two, I
can take a emergency family leave.' Her expression
challenged him to deny the 'family' part. 'Three, I can
sign a bunch of cheques and leave them with said mother.
Fourth, if I'm with you, I can help you more than pining
away across an ocean and five time zones. Fifth, if I'm
with you, I can help guard Harry, even if it's just stepping
into the line of fire. If I'm family, and he's family,
then we're family together. Simple math.'
Sirius ground his teeth. 'Buckbeak can't carry two
adults all that way. He was exhausted carrying just me, and
that was when I was a lot lighter. Now he's got me, and
supplies, and I'm sorry, love, but you still outweigh me.'
Goal to Sirius, but Alex is still in the game, and zooming
after the quaffle. 'I... oh, you're not half a ra...creep.
I'll...' A wicked grin crossed her face. 'I'll
shapechange. I'm much lighter as a corgi.' Her
exasperated beloved threw up his hands and uttered the classic
strangled scream. That didn't keep him from noticing her
abrupt edit of the insult. As his ally, Alex professionally
despised Peter 'Wormtail' Pettigrew, and therefore 'rat' had
become an insult deadly beyond mere words.
Any metaphoric fly on the proverbial wall would have had
a good laugh at seeing the couple try to out-stubborn each
other... standing next to a hippogriff, in the middle of a swamp.
In the end, Sirius caved to the threat of her blowing off
her rent to buy a ticket on Virgin Atlantic and tracking them down
by staking out King's Cross. He shook his head, muttering to
himself about fools and love and such, to be taking... ah, blast,
a Muggle of all people into the middle of a dangerous magical war.
Later, Alex got to yell some more in the traditional manner of
relations between her mother and herself. She dodged committing
to a return date with great deftness, and evaded the question even
further by talking her friend Debbie into delivering the signed
cheques to her mother from a package Debbie would pick up at Alex's
workplace. Alex didn't feel particularly good about hoodwinking
her mother in this fashion, but the truth was both too complicated
and too strange; they weren’t her secrets to tell. And nothing was going
to stop her from following Sirius into danger. After all, isn't
that what loyalty and devotion meant?
A taste for adrenalin rushes didn't hurt either. She
patted NEO and Mouse goodbye.
The trip proved to be every bit as strenuous as Sirius had
threatened. Alex, who had travelled the bottom part of
their same route several times in Muggle fashion, found herself
impressed with the speed of their progress. Even with
many more stops to eat and rest than she took for the same
distance while driving, they still managed to reach the
Washington, D.C. area in about 28 hours of actual travelling
time; 33 counting naps and carnage.
Far ahead of them, neither the travellers nor Harry had any
way of knowing that Hedwig had run smack into the tail end of an
'extra-tropical' storm which obstructed her whole flightpath
across the mid-Atlantic. Sirius's latest letter to his
godson would be delayed in delivery by several days.
Buckbeak, of course, slept 'rough' as a matter of course; the
pair of two-foots found it far more practical to do almost all of
their travelling in dog-form, except when Sirius shifted to hold
Alex-corgi tightly to Buckbeak's back during flights. Even
sleeping on completely bare and unsheltered ground, Alex found
curling up inside the circle of Padfoot's huge, thick-coated
form more than warm enough. It would have felt good to her
under any circumstances.
Hedwig caught them up as they slowly made their way around the
southern coast of Greenland.
I reckon I just imagined my scar
hurting, I was half-asleep when I wrote to you last time.
There's no point coming back, everything's fine here.
Don't worry about me, my head feels perfectly normal.
'He says "reckon"? How... quaint,' Alex commented,
lurking over Sirius's shoulder as he read the note.
Sirius replied with a muttered 'Americans,' and a
barking half-laugh which caused Alex to twist around, trying
to keep the owl balanced on her arm, and see his face at the
same time. He ducked. She set the snowy owl down
respectfully, and grabbed Sirius to turn him towards her;
crooned a prolonged 'awwwww...' and stretched up to gather him
in her arms.
'He's worried about me,' Sirius mumbled into her
shoulder. 'He's trying to protect me.'
'What a great kid.'
From Greenland to Iceland... to the Faroes, to the Shetlands,
to the Orkneys... the fugitive party hop-scotched across the
North Sea as quickly as they could, fighting fatigue and the
perpetually hostile weather.
Buckbeak landed exhaustedly on Iceland's shore and the three
travellers started walking along the coast, huddling into
themselves against the sharp arctic ocean wind. Alex
fumbled her plait loose, and let her hair wrap itself around her.
It didn't help much, but it was better than nothing.
Sirius followed her example, glad now he'd never cut his
hair short as he'd kept threatening, and Alex kept adamantly
forbidding, dangling his license tag as if it gave her authority
over these decisions. They had no other clothes to put on
for layering; Sirius had been very stern in packing to minimize
the burden on the hippogriff. They had a single change of
underwear and socks each; he wouldn't even let Alex pack a spare
pair of eyeglasses or her habitual hat. He allowed the
Eventually, they found a sheltered area formed between a small
crevasse and a tumble of boulders. Moraine? Alex
pondered, but she couldn't really care about the accuracy of her
geology right now. The best feature of the shelter was the
little hot spring, courtesy of Iceland's vigourous geothermic
activity. The overhang of the slanted crevasse trapped the
warmth, creating a bubble of cozy heat protected from the cutting
wind. They fit snugly into the space; the hippogriff,
who felt the cold the least, curled up in front of the entrance,
his wings insulating his back.
The humans pulled the bag holding their scant store of food
from Buckbeak's harness -- that bag was almost empty by now.
Supply shopping had been one of Sirius's rare excursions
out into the Muggle public, complete with celebrity-like dark
glasses and pulled-down baseball cap. Once Alex caught on
to his selections, she then took them to a camping supply store,
for high-energy bars and other lightweight foods. Sirius
took the bag, and started assembling a meal for the humans.
Buckbeak would have to go hunting later. Alex knelt
carefully by the spring, trying to keep from getting her clothes
wet, and scooped up a mouthful of the bubbling water. She
made a face, but announced, 'Tasted worse.' They watered
the hippogriff, reserved some for themselves to allow it to cool
off a little, and made up powdered soup at spring-temperature.
Soup, energy bar and some dried fruit for the sweet
restored both of them.
Sirius surprised Alex by starting to strip off his clothes.
In response to sardonically inquiring eyebrows, he grinned
back, 'I'm not passing up the chance for a hot bath. I'm
covered with dirt and sea salt. I'm surprised you can stand
me, actually.' Alex snorted in amusement. She grabbed
his robe, shirt and trousers as he flang them at her, shook them
out in a vain attempt to do some good, and hung them on rock snags
to try to air a bit. He peeled out of his underpants and
looked at them, then the rocks critically. 'Do you think
these would dry if I washed them out, too?'
'It's pretty humid in here. Unless you're really fond of
walking around in freezing wind with plastic bags of wet cloth, I
wouldn't chance it.' Alex held out a baggie to use as their
laundry bag. Sirius stuffed in the offending undergarment,
Alex zipped it up, and he eased himself into the steamy burbling
water. The spring was surprisingly deep for its small
circumference, and Sirius stood ribs-deep at its lowest point.
He ducked to drench his head, and emerged with his
still-loose midnight hair straggling over his face and shoulders
as if someone had just poured India ink slowly over his scalp.
Alex watched him appreciatively, but without heat. Not
every time she watched... 'her wizard' (she grinned to herself)
had to be an exercise in her newly-permissible lust.
Anyway, they were both too tired to get any kind of
stirred up. He had his back mostly turned to her, and had
waded to hip-depth. She considered his body with an
artistically critical eye. She wished she had a camera
-- black and white film, of course -- for a photographic study
of her subject. Sirius's build, even after a few months of
rest and feeding, remained whip-lean, cleanly-defined unbulky
muscle rippling over ribs and broad shoulders as he scrubbed at
his arms, spine in distinct relief. Hazy light bleeding
through the top of the crevasse from the cloud-covered early
morning sky softened the shadows, minimizing harsh lines as well
as lighting from a pro. The ink-spill of wet hair concealed
the line of his neck, but his twist to reach a spot let her
consider his strong, sharp facial features in profile.
The water figleafed him modestly at the depth where he stood
as he turned, still not aware of her attention. Considering
Padfoot's thick pelt, one might expect Sirius to be as densely
furred, but he wasn't. A scattering across the top of his
chest, and a narrow black line all the way down the midline of his
torso, bifurcating his flat pectorals and abs, was about it.
Alex considered his muscle definition didn't come from
as much the physical activity of, say, keeping up with NEO at
a flat run, but a lack of any visible body fat whatsoever.
Sirius finished his scrubbing, hunkered down to find a
place to sit and soak, and flipped his hair back out of his face.
He finally noticed his partner's intent gaze, and held
her eyes for a moment, considering; then pulled one arm out
of the water and extended it to her, beckoningly. She
smiled a small thoughtful smile back, stripped, and joined him
in the pool where he massaged her scalp, played with her hair,
and tucked her into the crook of his arm to soak.
Alex felt incredibly lucky to have something, some one
so beautiful in her existence.
Sirius put off answering Harry's mock-reassuring letter until
they had got safely to Scotland. For one thing, neither
of them had any writing implements due to Sirius's draconian
packing strictures. Sirius sent Alex into a small wizardly
shop they encountered to buy a few small things with her Muggle
money; she sold the story about conversion problems and her odd
Nice try, Harry.
I'm back in the country and well
hidden. I want you to keep me posted on everything that's
going on at Hogwarts. Don't use Hedwig, keep changing owls,
and don't worry about me, just watch out for yourself.
Don't forget what I said about your scar.
'Will you please stop lurking over my shoulder while
I'm trying to write?'
They moved carefully through the Scottish highlands -- on
foot for the most part, to spare Buckbeak and avoid low-flying
military jets on practice runs. Thankfully, they could
stay far away from settlements, although they knew they'd have
a harder time of concealed movement the further south they went,
and the closer to Hogwarts they got. Hiking through the moors
without decent gear, however, proved to be an incredibly chilly
experience. Their spring-side meal in Iceland had used up
everything except three dried apricots, and that was nearly a
week ago. One good thing about travelling with a hippogriff,
though -- the humans asked him nicely to bring down two deer from
one of the herds which swept wild over the highlands. They cut a
couple of fat steaks from the carcass, surrendered the rest to Buckbeak's obvious satisfaction, and managed enough of a fire
for a stupefying supper. Eventually, a barn owl, probably
borrowed from the school owlery, swooped out of the lowering,
turbulent Scottish sky to deliver Harry's latest letter.
You told me to keep you posted on
what's happening at Hogwarts, so here goes -- I don't know if
you've heard, but the Triwizard Tournament's happening this
year and on Saturday night I got picked as a fourth champion.
I don't know who put my name in the Goblet of Fire,
because I didn't. The other Hogwarts champion is Cedric
Diggory, from Hufflepuff.
Hope you're okay, and Buckbeak.
Sirius furrowed his brow at this message. 'I've... got to
think about what to do next.' He walked away from his
travelling companions, as Alex tried to feed the tired owl bits
of leftover meat. After several minutes of intense pacing,
Sirius returned with a grim expression. 'I have to talk
to him. We're going to have to take a really big chance.
I need to use the Floo Network, which means we need a
connected fireplace. Which means we're going to have to
break into a wizard's house.'
He didn't expect the manic grin on Alex's face in response.
'Breaking and entering, cool,' she chortled.
Sirius blinked. More of a Marauder than I would
have ever supposed.
I can't say everything I would
like to in a letter, it's too risky in case the owl is intercepted
-- we need to talk face to face. Can you ensure you are
alone by the fire in Gryffindor Tower at one o'clock in the morning
on the 22nd November?
I know better than anyone that you
can look after yourself, and while you're around Dumbledore and
Moody, I don't think anyone will be able to hurt you.
However, someone seems to be having a good try.
Entering you in that Tournament would have been very risky,
especially right under Dumbledore's nose.
Be on the watch, Harry. I
still want to hear about anything unusual. Let me know about
the 22nd November as quickly as you can.
Sirius knew he would have to pick the house carefully.
Only a few days separated them from Hogsmeade, near to which
Sirius felt sure he could find convenient hiding places; but
in case of a close call, he certainly didn't want to bring the
Dementors back down on the wizarding village. It would
have to be within convenient hippogriff flight distance.
Alex was all ready to trot off to the Bank of Scotland
with her diminishing American funds, and fetch them an Ordnance
Survey map over which to plot, but Sirius showed her a simple
spell that functioned even better for their purposes. She
bought them McDonald's instead, the last hot food either
of them would enjoy for some time.
Buckbeak banked sharply around a mountain ridge, and landed
abruptly. They only had about a half-hour of useful dark
left, and had to get the hippogriff out of sight. The grey
glimmers from the east provided just enough light to navigate by
if they stayed fairly low and slow. Sirius slid down
Buckbeak's shoulder, set the corgi on the ground, who promptly
barked five times, turned back into Alex-human and looked at the
wizard expectantly. He had started getting gaunt again, as
food became hard for them to find; his untended hair was tangling
into mats. The hunger and stress of furtiveness turned him
haggard. Alex looked in somewhat better condition, but only
because she had shifted into a relatively passive, follow-the-
leader mindset, less stress; 'better' was only relative, though.
'Now what?' she asked, tugging loose their impoverished bag
Sirius pointed up the steep, intimidating slope. 'Now we
While Buckbeak napped, tied up in a dense thicket, the humans
clambered around the side of the mountain, seeking shelter.
They wanted to find something with reasonable access, but
not obvious to a casual glance, of course. A crevasse with
a three-metre rockfall at the opening seemed to fit their needs
-- concealed entrance, dry floor, good overhang to protect from
storms, but still reasonably easy for two humans or two Dogs to
scramble in and out.
Sirius decided to move Buckbeak now, before the hippogriff got
restless and wandered too close to town. Alex came with him
to forage for firewood and, if she had a run of luck, food.
They might not be able to have a big fire, for fear of
smoke being spotted, but... maybe a little one. Sirius
sensibly held the hippogriff on the ground until they had made
a decent collection of tinder. They gathered the few very late berries
hanging on for dear life to some blackberry brambles, too.
Alex had a light-bulb moment just before Sirius took off,
and grabbed armfuls of fallen leafy branches and some tall grass
to try to make some sort of bedding to insulate them from the
cold rock floor. With Buckbeak's help, they moved all
their gatherings in one go.
The wizard secured the hippogriff at the back of the fissure,
so he couldn't be tempted to lunge after passing birds, and left
his Muggle to make things as comfortable as possible.
Padfoot made his way back down the long slope, and trotted
into Hogsmeade for the first time in over a year to look for
A couple weeks later, they had settled in to their bare-bones
existence. Padfoot had made a habit of scavenging day-old
Daily Prophets from dustbins. Sometimes the Cardigan accompanied
him, and they would do a sort of canine soft-shoe act, cute friendly stray dogs,
to cadge sympathy and scraps. Madam Rosmerta of the local pub, the 'Three Broomsticks,'
turned out to be the most consistently generous. Alex made
it a point to try to lighten Sirius's mood, and insisted that
stopping at Rosmerta's would be their 'weekly date night.'
The date of Sirius's meeting with Harry approached quickly.
Sirius decided on where to go for their little excursion
into benign burglary, and the three of them left just after sunset.
They headed east-north-east, skimming up Glen Mor, the
Great Glen, and headed in the direction of Inverness. The
famous loch had been an especially favoured summer holiday spot for
witches and wizards for centuries, and should have several
Floo-Networked homes that would be safely unoccupied this late
in the year. Nobody wanted to spend the holiday by themselves
if they could help it; many of the loch-side cottages had been
abandoned in favour of family gatherings elsewhere.
Sure enough, they found a perfect house -- off the high
street of a shorefront hamlet, obviously shut up for its owner's long
absence, and with easily fiddled locks. They had
apologetically left the 'borrowed' wizard's house as undisturbed
as possible, of course. Alex stood watch for passers-by
in corgi form while Sirius had his furtive conversation with his
godson. Buckbeak was tied up a good several minutes walk away.
Padfoot came up behind Alex-corgi sooner than she'd expected.
She jumped, then followed him into the shadows to change
back. 'Somebody interrupted Harry. We had to cut the
'But how is he?'
Sirius smiled happily in a way Alex had never seen before.
'He's all right. Pretty worked up, though.
He's been chosen as a champion for the Triwizard
Tournament, remember? And most of the other students seem
to resent him for it.' The wizard continued to explain the
tournament rules and history as they made their way carefully out
of town and back to the hippogriff under the cover of the
'Teenagers are cruel,' Alex pronounced pompously.
Alex, not being wanted by the law on both sides of British
society, got to do the shopping for Harry's Christmas present,
which proved to be more of a pain than she had expected.
One of Sirius's owl-post contacts had spared them a few
galleons, which the fugitives had agreed should be spent on
something important like Christmas.
Sirius was as picky a shopper as Alex, and sent her back three
times until the exactly-right penknife / lockpick had been fetched.
Nothing like a Firebolt, of course, but that had been a
catching-up present, too. He had taught her about the
Hogwarts Houses, and in House pride, and therefore Alex ensured glowing
Gryffindor-red enameled the chosen model. Sirius approved
of that touch highly, and claimed that made it from both of them.
A passing owl delivered the package to the Hogwarts house
elves, who carefully sorted all the students' and staff's
presents every year, making perfectly arranged mounds at the
foot of each bed Christmas morning. They would ensure
Harry got his present right on time.
Sirius, having got Harry's present despatched, still found
himself gored on the horns of a dilemma -- what to get Alex
for the holiday. Alex, in the same situation, finally gave
up on debating it in her mind, and brought the problem up.
'I'm embarrassed,' she announced, not sounding particularly
embarrassed at the moment. 'Here we've been on pretty darn
intimate terms for... six months already, and I have no idea what
to get you for Christmas. I don't even know what your
favourite colour is, not that it matters right this minute.'
'Blue, on the dark side. I know yours is red.
There was that one shirt you liked best....' Sirius paused.
'My dear woman, I am so out of practice for celebrating
holidays that I really wouldn't miss observing it again.
I don't want you to worry about... depriving me.'
He gestured dismissively, but Alex was not diverted.
'Aw, c'monnnn....' she pleaded, sounding exceptionally American
at the moment. He'd half-noticed her accent drifting to
match his more and more often. Alex continued her plaint,
'I've never assumed any sort of...' she waved her hands, groping
for a word, 'intense relationship I might ever get into would
be anything like "normal," but I guess I had an assumption
that the first Christmas I might spend with someone, really
"with," would be...' Now she did look embarrassed, and
her voice dropped to a mumble. '...kinda... special.'
Sirius's mind sent up all sorts of alarms at this. He
had one or two serious girlfriends before... well, before;
he recognized emotional thin ice when he heard it crackle
beneath him. Instead of tucking his tail in and running
yelping for the woods like he strongly desired to, he stood to
gather Alex up, and crooned, 'All right. So, little girl,
come sit on Santa Sirius's lap, and tell him what you want for
The quip made her grin, at least. They settled back
onto the floor together, long-dried grass crackling beneath them.
She curled up neatly in his long-limbed lap,
surreptitiously glad she didn't have to look him in the face to
answer his request. She leaned her head against his, and
spoke directly to his collarbone. 'I've seen how
Hogsmeade's decorated for the season; it's amazing how easy it
is for Britain to do the classic storybook look with so little
effort. I wish we could have a nice, traditional
roast beef supper inside a building on plates, instead of outside
on the pavement; and a tree, and a real fire to get nice and
warm in front of, and a decent bed with pillows. I've
always liked having a real tree.'
Sirius's hopes plummeted. Even if they had the galleons
-- or the pounds -- his face was too notorious to try to stay
out in public that long. An idea glimmered at the back of
his mind... who did he know who almost always managed to produce
positive results from messy situations? Alex had dozed
off, snuggled into him as she was. He touched her corgi
charm, quietly uttered the spell to change her shape, and settled
the more easily moved Cardigan onto their 'bed'. Digging
out a fresh parchment, quill and ink, Sirius began his plea for
I find myself in a situation
totally unrelated to the threat to Harry, but which may prove
equally as hazardous. My companion, Alex, has expressed
longing for a Christmas more traditionally British than a poor
couple taking lodging in a cave with animals.
As you are the master of resolving
sticky situations, I would appreciate your guidance.
He whistled up an owl, and sent the message on its way.
Padfoot had already gone down to the village when the owl
returned a day later with a reply. Alex had taken to
sorting messages after Sirius read them, the growing piles
weighted down with rocks, and out of Buckbeak's curious reach.
This time, however, she unrolled the parchment, thanked
the owl, and read the brief reply:
Visit Hagrid after sunset on the Day.
'Hmm?' she puzzled over the parchment, and shrugged, securing
it under the 'new owl' rock. Time to go hunt for... ghh.
She shifted, and headed down the long slope into the
The Cardie returned empty-mouthed, and just after Padfoot
arrived with another newspaper. She snagged the new letter
delicately with her teeth, and waved it at her partner.
Sirius shimmered into human form, took it from her, and
glanced back at Alex uneasily.
'Did you, erm, read this?' he asked.
'Yeah, but....' she shrugged at him. Seeing no signs
that she had caught on to what the response implied -- and
blessing Dumbledore for his brevity -- Sirius just nodded and
offered no explanation. Alex looked perplexed, but
satisfied herself with stealing his newspaper away instead.
The date on the paper, yesterday's date, was December 23.
Christmas Day, like every other day in the cave, dawned with
brilliant glints spearing in from the snowy countryside, and a
good brisk zero-temp breeze eddying past the narrow entrance.
'Wake up, Alex,' Sirius gently shook the corgi's shoulder,
and waited for her to shapeshift. One of the benefits of
a mock Animagus spell was the retention of whatever clothing
and accessories one wore when one shifted last, so Alex blinked
behind her glasses, let go of the charm and pushed up
'Wha...?' Sirius, grinning, moved out of her line of
sight so she could see a tiny pine tree on the other side of
the cave, garlanded with bits of yarn scavenged from the knitting
shop trash, decorated with stolen Bertie Bott's Every Flavour
Beans stuck onto the ends of its needles, and topped with a
golden toffee wrapper tweaked into a vaguely starlike shape.
Sirius hunkered back, immensely pleased with himself as he
watched Alex's eyes go huge in surprise. She uttered an
incoherent noise that probably would have hurt both of their
pairs of ears if they'd been in dogform, and crawled over to
examine the tree more closely. Cleverly, Sirius had the
base packed tightly in a snowball, surrounded by a dam of dirt
and rocks. She reached for him and hugged him tightly,
ignoring the sharp poke of unpadded bones.
'This is wonderful! It must have taken you ages to get
it all together!'
Sirius hugged back, gratified by the magnitude of her
delight. They took the day off from their routine and
responsibilities, ignoring hollow stomachs for a game of tag
in the snow, lightly fallen in the wind-shadow of the mountain.
Hogsmeade, like most of rural Britain, was going to be
very quiet today, and the likelihood of a handout was small.
They checked the Three Broomsticks anyway, and to their
delight, got an excellent breakfast. Rosmerta had kept her
place open for the residents who had no particular family to
spend Christmas with, and splurged on her favourite canine
customers in true holiday spirit. 'Now, come back tomorrow
and we'll have some nice turkey for you as well, all right?' she
told them, not really expecting that they understood her so well.
She klip-klopped back inside, her holiday pumps flashing
with each step between glittery green and radiant red.
The Dogs wandered back out of town, and found a sheltered
spot, free of snow, which still provided a nice vantage of the
scenic village. They shifted, settling down to bask in
the sunlight of the surprisingly clear day. 'That was nice
of Rosmerta, wasn't it?' Alex said drowsily, the warmth and the
meal dragging at her eyelids. She turned to Sirius, grabbed
his face and kissed him quickly. 'And very very nice of
He chuckled, and teased, 'I'll bring you a big limb next time
if this is how you react to foliage.' He found he wouldn't
mind a nap himself, and suggested to Alex she use Padfoot as a
pillow. She nestled her head in the soft spot between his
hip and ribs, wrapped her arms over her chest and drifted off.
He took one last watchful look around, put his head down,
and followed her example.
By early afternoon, the sun deep in the southern sky had
westered enough for the sleepy pair to be in full shadow, and
getting chilly once more. Alex shifted again, and they
climbed back up to the cave to check for owls. Indeed,
there was a message waiting. Instead of checking on Buckbeak,
the Cardie plunked herself down on her chest to stare at her
tiny tree, nose almost touching its impromptu base while Sirius
read his latest letter. He looked up to comment to her,
saw her position, and laughed. Now, that wasn't a sound that
had been heard in this cave for quite some time. Buckbeak shrieked
his own response, and promptly got the attention he demanded.
The sun set quite early, being so close to its solstice.
As it touched the horizon, Sirius said, 'Come on,' and
untied Buckbeak. Alex raised her eyebrows -- they rarely
took the hippogriff out while it was still light enough to be
easily spotted. She shifted to her portable form, her
wizard scooped her up across Buckbeak's shoulders, and they
soared off into the gloaming -- not towards Hogsmeade directly,
but a long circling route taking them around the mountain, and
into the edge of a looming forest. There they took to the
ground, the trees too close together to risk Buckbeak's wings.
'Find Hagrid,' whispered Sirius into one of the creature's
feathery ears, and he shifted to Padfoot to follow.
The Cardigan still didn't know what they were doing, and would
have hopped with impatience if she were in Alex-form, but trotted
along just the same. Padfoot managed to look amazingly smug
for a large dog. They followed the hippogriff in near-total
darkness, between the gloomy overhang of the forest and the time
of evening -- it was certainly full after sunset by now.
At least they didn't have to break snow-crust.
Eventually, the trees thinned and broke open to a wide
stretch of lawn, interrupted by a cottage with a large pumpkin
patch and paddocks attached. Sirius shimmered, and grabbed
Buckbeak who had sped up on seeing the cottage. 'Shh, shh,
wait here,' he crooned, and handed the rope to Alex. She
wrapped it around both hands, as the hippogriff strained hard to
'What are we doing here?' Alex hissed, presuming a need for
cautious quiet. Sirius had that look on his face again, an
I'm-up-to-something expression. He hushed her with a finger
over his lips, and Padfoot walked carefully up to the back door
of the cottage. Alex also strained, but to see what her
not-so-secret Santa was up to. He listened at the door
before scratching on it lightly. After a moment, a Very
Large Person opened the door, clapped Padfoot staggeringly on
the shoulder, and brought him inside, closing the door behind
Alex waited impatiently. So did Buckbeak. If she at
least knew what she was waiting for.... Thankfully,
the door didn't stay closed long. Padfoot and the cottage's
resident, carrying a shaded lantern and followed by a Very Large
dog, walked back to the trees behind which Alex fought to keep
Buckbeak. 'Beaky!' the large... very large person cried in
a deep, growly voice, full of delight. The hippogriff
squawked joyfully in return, and submitted to affectionate
'Hagrid, this is Alex,' Sirius introduced. 'Alex, this
is my friend Rubeus Hagrid, the gamekeeper for Hogwarts.
He raised Buckbeak. And this is Fang.' Alex
offered what suddenly seemed to be an incredibly tiny hand to the
enormous man, who shook it carefully, then touched noses with
Fang, who wagged cheerfully. She didn't have to bend over
hardly at all -- Fang was almost as tall as Padfoot. Alex
turned back towards her partner with an obvious
and-we're-here-because? look. Hagrid caught the look, and
'I'm going to put Beaky up in a shed I've got a ways into the
forest. I've got some nice dead chickens waiting for him
there. I'll head up to the Hall after that, so go on in,
I won't be coming back tonight. It's the Yule Ball, after
all, go on for hours.'
Alex looked confused. Hagrid winked at Sirius, and led
the hippogriff off, murmuring the whole time. Sirius moved
to Alex's right, tucked her hand into the crook of his arm in a
gallant gesture, and walked her to the door. He swept it
open, and gestured her inside. Hagrid's cottage, while
undoubtedly cozy for him, was a nice size for smaller humans.
He had put up his own tree, and holly garland over his
windows. A steaming tub sat over in one corner behind a
screen, and the table... oh, my. A full Christmas feast.
Three kinds of meat, including a juicy pink roast beef;
Yorkshire pudding, Christmas pudding, apple and pumpkin and pecan
and mincemeat pies; mashed vegetables of various sorts, whole
carrots; a boat full of gravy, flagons of several different
beverages -- and even a pair of Cribbage's Wizarding Christmas
For the second time that day, Sirius saw Alex totally
dumbfounded. She turned to him in amazement, still
speechless. 'Courtesy of the headmaster, Albus Dumbledore,
as a thanks for a job well done.'
'That being?' she croaked.
'Helping keep me alive and in one piece, apparently.'
Alex sat down heavily, not quite knowing where to start.
Sirius bent and scooped her up, shoulders and knees, and
walked the few steps over to the tub. Standing her up, he
started to undress her and loosen her tangled braid in a gentle
but businesslike manner. 'Soak first, the food's kept at
perfect temperature by magic.'
'Join me,' Alex demanded. 'I've been wanting to deal with
your hair for months.' Thankfully, Sirius had thought ahead
and brought the lonely, unused hairbrush. They just sat in
the tub for some time, letting the heat soak down to their bones
before they began the practical business of washing. The
water got distressingly murky, at which point Sirius sloshed out
of the tub, brought back a pink umbrella from the front door,
pointed it at the water and intoned, 'Sedementia!'
The water cleared instantly.
'Wow!' Alex exclaimed, then started giggling.
'That spell isn't supposed to tickle.'
'No, it's... you're standing there stark naked, dripping wet,
with a pink umbrella. Please. The image is just TOO
He dunked her. Had to get the soap out of her hair
anyway, didn't he.
Hagrid, or more likely, one of the Hogwarts house elves, had
also thoughtfully left huge fluffy towels to wrap themselves in
like togas when they finally oozed from the tub. Sirius
helped Alex wrap up her hair, carefully brushed while they were
still able to float out some of the tangles, but left his to drip
over his shoulders. They settled down to eat. It had
been so long since they had so much bounty, they both found they
filled up distressingly quickly, and as a result, lingered long
over the food, eating in short stages.
Eventually, they gave up and retreated to the fireside.
Sirius piled up cushions to make a nest, and with the
efficiency of Hagrid's excellent fireplace, baked dry in short
order, discarding the towels gradually. Alex, as usual,
reclined tucked up against Sirius's chest, watching the flames
dance. Fire always fascinated her, but she pulled her
attention away to ask, 'How did you manage this? This...
this was amazing, it's perfect.'
'I got expert help, remember? Dumbledore calculated that
not even the most fanatical law enforcers would be sniffing around
Hogwarts tonight, not with the Yule Ball keeping everyone's
attention. Hagrid was happy to help, as he's attending the Ball
as staff anyway, and he'd be able to keep Buckbeak happy.
And since I told him all about you,' Alex looked alarmed
at this mention, 'he took great delight in treating you to a...
sort of holiday holiday.'
'Told him what?!'
'Only good things, my love.' She blinked at that
appellation; she still wasn't used to it, and neither she nor
Sirius were terribly demonstrative. While Sirius could be
flamboyantly affectionate, he had quickly picked up on Alex's
almost gun-shy sense of privacy. As a result, their 'mush
factor' together was surprisingly low at times.
Sirius continued, 'I told him about the generous and daring
woman who took me in on faith and without emasculating me,' and
waited while Alex convulsed in laughter, 'and threw off all the
comforts of civilisation to sleep in a cold cave for weeks on
end, bringing that very civilisation with her. How she's
kept me sane and human. How she's been plunged into a
completely different world, at immediate hazard, and hasn't
succumbed to despair....' Sirius trailed off.
Alex was overwhelmed. She hadn't done that much, and she
stubborned her way into that cave. She shook her head in
disbelief, and Sirius nodded slowly back in refutation.
They embraced tightly, then slowly and gently loved each
other in the warm nest by the fire. This was Sirius's
Christmas present -- her joy.