Canis Mutatem: Words,
Vows, Gifts, Tears
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
-- continuing from Canis
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
This story is illustrated, with both original works, and with permission of
the original artists. Please pardon the download times, I tried to keep
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.
Not long after their felonious excursion to Loch Ness, and less felonious
excursions for Christmas, a fuzzy ping-pong ball began ricocheting around the fugitives'
mountain hideout. Alex-corgi felt feathers whang off her head, and she
cracked one irritated eye open from her I-don't-have-anything-to-do nap.
Shrill hooting, sounding inexplicably happy, echoed from the close walls.
The corgi barked her charm, shifted to something with hands that could pin the
annoyance without getting plumage stuck in teeth. It was a tiny, cheerful
owl, with a bulky roll of parchment hanging off one miniscule leg. A
letter from Harry? This time, Alex waited politely for Padfoot's return,
despite her itching curiosity.
Sirius recognized the owl on sight. 'Ah, Ron must have kept
him. I asked this owl to take the first message I sent Harry after my
dramatic escape from Hogwarts. I suggested Ron keep him, as I had in a
way cost him his rat.' Alex had become familiar with Harry's friends from
Sirius talking about how much they'd both helped him, once convinced of his
innocence. The wizard unrolled the message, and Alex let the owl
go. 'Don't fly off just yet, owl,' Sirius commanded. The minuscule
bird actually perched at that command but kept hopping from foot to foot.
'Well?' asked Alex, starting to fidget like the owl. Sirius sat down
and began to read Harry's detailed report of his Triwizard Task, involving a
fearsome dragon. Alex found herself looking forward to broomsticks.
Sirius grinned like a proud parent by the time he reached the bottom of the
roll. Such a change in his face from the past weeks. Alex melted a
little inside, and beamed back.
Sirius decided to put the little owl to work for a few messages before
writing back to Harry. One of his best friends from the Marauder days was
also one of only six people (the kids, their headmaster and Hagrid being the
rest) who knew the truth about Sirius. A letter went off to Remus Lupin
to help Sirius fill in some of the missing pieces the Daily Prophet
(slightly used) couldn't complete.
Sirius busied himself composing his reply awaiting the owlet's return.
Congratulations on getting past the Horntail.
Whoever put your name in that Goblet shouldn't be feeling too happy right
now! I was going to suggest a conjuctivitis curse, as a dragon's eyes are
its weakest point, but your way was better, I'm impressed.
Don't get complacent, though, Harry. You've
only done one task; whoever put you in for the Tournament's got plenty more
opportunity if they're trying to hurt you. Keep your eyes open --
especially when the person we discussed is around -- and concentrate on keeping
yourself out of trouble.
Keep in touch, I still want to hear about
'Hmph,' Alex commented, leaning distractingly over Sirius's shoulder as his
quill scratched across the parchment. 'You're repeating yourself.
And sounding distinctly wild-eyed.'
'"Optimistic paranoia," remember? And shoo.'
Despite the break in routine at Christmas, Sirius grew more tense and
worried about the situation at Hogwarts in inverse proportion to his physical
well-being. Alex tried what she could to distract him from his almost
constant brooding, but each new owl or newspaper sent him into fits of pacing.
She felt helpless; she had no magical powers, and no real comprehension
of the nature of the danger, just the magnitude. Not surprisingly, other
than Christmas, they had had no moments of any sort of romance since reaching
Britain; the warming glow of their holiday had faded already in the bleakness
of mountainside living. In fact, Alex counted herself lucky if she didn't
wake up alone in the morning, Padfoot usually having gone out to scout the
village already. She had insisted on coming along as built-in cheering
section, emotional support and cannon-fodder backup. Instead she felt like
a fifth wheel, a burden. She hadn't forgotten a word of what Sirius had
said before; she had just stopped believing it again.
Circumstances proved Alex wrong in short order. Sirius had taken
Buckbeak out, presumably to meet one of his correspondents (he neglected to
say), and returned quite late. The Cardie greeted him, as fur-form was
her only real defence against the January cold. She had spent most of the
day in the village as she could find cozier shelter there, and had picked up a
used newspaper at the same time. Sirius greeted her wearily but
affectionately, ate the bit of food she'd been able to bring back, and almost
immediately curled up as Padfoot, asleep. So much for an evening's
conversation. She nestled against him like usual, her smaller form fitting
inside the curve of his body like the 'hole' cut out of a doughnut.
Alex-corgi woke first for a change, as the light outside the fissure turned
ice grey. She didn't know why, but then she heard a noise. Human
noise. Startled, she hurried over to Buckbeak to try to encourage the
hippogriff to remain silent, then as quietly as possible, climbed the 'front
door' rockfall and peeked over the top. Hunters. A regular human
hunting party, probably looking for deer. And possibly finding
hippogriff, instead. She thought frantically. How could they
possibly conceal Buckbeak? Finding two dogs in a cave would not be
remarkable, not even finding two humans (although that would end up causing
uncomfortable questions to be asked) -- but a 'real live monster'?
To increase her anxiety, the hunters seemed to be settling down for a rest
right in the shelter of their rockfall. Very, very quietly, she made her
way back to Padfoot to wake him, holding her paw over the front of his muzzle
in an inappropriately human gesture for silence. He followed her to their
vantage point on the hunters, and recognized the same danger. They slid
back to the floor, and retreated to the hippogriff's napping form to shift and
Alex's mind had been running rapidly from the moment she'd comprehended
their problem. 'I think I have a plan,' she hissed, before Sirius could
say anything. She clutched his upper arm for emphasis. 'I'm going
to be a diversion, and you fly Buckbeak out of here and out of sight.'
Sirius shook his shaggy head violently in negation. 'No. I
won't let you risk it.'
Alex rolled her eyes in exasperation, and remembered in time to keep her
voice low. 'Listen, there's good reasons for it. Buckbeak knows you
much better than me, and you also have a much better idea of where to take
him. I don't know this area at all, and you spent seven years in the
area. Padfoot is pretty ominous looking, and large enough to be
threatening, but I can't see that a bunch of macho hunters would do much more
than laugh at a corgi bouncing around at them. I'll put on a fuss, draw
their attention away from here, and you two fly out as quickly as possible.'
Sirius opened his mouth, paused, thought hard for a moment -- then grinned
grimly. 'Good plan.' Alex felt ridiculously pleased. She
shifted back, waited for Sirius to ready Buckbeak, then scrambled over the
rockfall and charged toward the hunters.
The next week consisted of constant movement; they didn't settle in the
same place for more than one day as they nervously surveilled the valley.
They received an owl from Harry, but Sirius didn't take the time to consider
Harry's letter until he could settle down with the letter in relative peace.
Sirius finally tethered Buckbeak back in the old fissure with the brown
Hogwarts owl to keep him company, while the humans searched the mountainside
the hard way. The two of them scrambled up a goat path searching for their
new shelter, looking for a cave deep enough to avoid the weather, and large
enough for a hippogriff -- and high enough up the mountain to make it
inconvenient for anyone without either wings, or patience. After one
wind-provoked nerve-wracking slip over a washed-out spot on the path, they both
shifted into dogshape to continue their hunt. The sun had risen fully
behind the mountain, casting sharp elongated tree shadows across the valley by
the time they came upon a suitable cave. It had a reasonably smooth
floor, extended about four hippogriff-lengths deep to a solid back wall -- not
a tunnel or sudden drop -- and seemed blessedly dry. This meant they'd
have to haul water, but it also meant no slime, or soggy trouser-seats.
Working together, fighting the violent wind, they got their pitiful camp
set back up, and the hippogriff moved. Even the owl helped by carrying
their bag of parchment, quill and generally unused hairbrush, and got all its
feathers blown wrong-way for its trouble. There was just enough light
after they were done to collapse near the entrance to catch the amber light of
the setting sun and read Harry's letter together. Sirius's scowl at the
conclusion of the account of the odd behaviour of various individuals involved
in the Tournament was the darkest yet. The sunlight had faded to a sort
of washed-out mauve, almost too dark to see, when a second owl landed on the
edge of their cave. Lupin had sent word for Sirius to meet an information
drop in just a few hours. Exasperated, Sirius grabbed the quill Alex
proffered, scribbled off a very hasty note to his godson:
Send date of
next Hogsmeade weekend by return owl.
...and dashed off into the night. Alex waved wearily goodbye,
dispatched the owl on its way (flying nearly sideways in the awful weather),
despondently kicked a stick off the verge to listen to it clatter downslope,
and curled up in fur on the scanty nest of grasses they were pretending was a
Sirius and Buckbeak remained away for several days this time. Alex,
failing any specific task put to her, made the rounds of the village, hunted
rabbits futilely in the fields, collected Daily Prophets for Sirius to
peruse when he got back, and basically tried to hold the fort. She'd
never been so consistently hungry in her life; she kept telling herself Fate
intended this as an educational experience, to make her more sympathetic for
impoverished Third World populations. The thought was cold comfort.
The tolerant brown owl returned before Sirius, bearing the date Harry and
his friends could visit the village. Alex stared over the chilly
landscape, captivated by the thought of actually getting to meet Sirius's
godson at last.
Sirius eventually returned, glad to get the return note, and scribbling off
a quick reply to get the owl on its way.
Be at stile
at the end of road out of Hogsmeade (past Dervish and Banges) at two o'clock on
Saturday afternoon. Bring as much food as you can.
Alex dangled conversational bait. 'Mmmm, real food. However, after all this
time, I'm really looking forward to meeting Harry.'
'Hmm?' Sirius mused. 'Oh. Yes. I don't see why not.'
Alex felt vaguely put off, but couldn't think of anything to say in
reply. The silence was obvious. Sirius looked up at her from his
tattered newspaper, pinched the bridge of his nose, and reached for her.
She allowed herself to be pulled next to him, where he said, apologetically,
'Of course.' He paused. 'Go hunting with me?'
'You missed our Broomsticks night. Want to see if Rosmerta has any
goodies for us?' Alex said hopefully. The only game either of them
had found for weeks had been rodential, and even in dogform one could only take
so much rat and squirrel. Sirius shapeshifted in response, and waited
for her to change as well. He walked close to her all the way into the
village, his foreleg brushing her shoulder; and let her have the better piece
of old sausage when the barkeeper fed them scraps.
Sirius hadn't realized until their moment of awkwardness how much his focus
on the events swirling around Harry had caused him to effectively neglect
Alex. Christmas had been only one day, after all. As they huddled
in the lee of the pub's rear door, eating their supper of left over leftovers,
thinking through Padfoot's less structured thoughts, he considered how much
harsher the past several months would have been, even considering their
excruciatingly limited resources. He had told Alex, when he tried to
convince her not to come, that he wanted someone to come home to... and he
did. And he was. Home was just closer than he'd had anticipated
back in September. Sirius knew single-mindedness was something of a flaw
of his, even though it had kept him sane in Azkaban. He resolved to split
his attention enough to keep Alex from getting sick of the deprivation she had
so far suffered willingly with him, and leaving. Resolve was definitely
one of his strengths.
The week before the Hogwarts Hogsmeade weekend passed quickly.
Padfoot took the Cardie down to the village with him early, so they could
collect the news before Harry, Ron and Hermione showed up... with FOOD.
Alex would have hummed the song from Oliver! in anticipation if corgis
could manage humming. Too many students made Hogsmeade a little
precarious for loose dogs, as the nastier Slytherins liked to throw things at
them, and the softer-hearted Hufflepuffs kept trying to succor them. They
dodged the crowds, Padfoot found his newspapers, and they headed back out to
wait at the designated meeting point. The sunlight shone with rather
watery strength, but felt good on dark coats on this mild day, the warmth
sinking all the way in.
Padfoot paced, like usual, and kept standing up on the stile to look down
the road. The Cardie grinned at him, her tongue lolling to one
side. She didn't bother looking, mostly because she couldn't stretch past
the hedge or weeds around the stile to see anything except leaves.
Eventually, she heard a boy's voice call 'Hello, Sirius!' with great affection
in its tone. Padfoot clambered over the stile, greeted the young wizards,
and led them back over to start up the path to their cave. The Cardie
finally got a look at the famous Harry and friends, and liked what she saw and
smelled. They stared back down at her in obvious surprise. Sirius
had never had occasion to mention her existence in any of the rather businessy
letters he'd swapped with Harry, and, well... they were guys. Their
surprise didn't surprise her. She grinned a canine grin back at them, and
trotted off next to Padfoot.
On the rocky trail up the mountainside, Alex-corgi took tail position, to
shepherd their human charges upward. She felt sorry they couldn't also
take advantage of '4 on the floor' as she and the Animagus could, as the
students obviously struggled over the rocks. The scent drifting back from
Harry's backpack tantalized her; she could barely wait.
Eventually, they all made it safely inside the cave, at which point Sirius
morphed back into his human form. The students greeted Buckbeak
appropriately, Hermione patting him with affection. Harry handed Sirius
the bag of food from which the Animagus pulled out two chicken legs, tossed the
corgi one, and tore into the other himself. 'Chicken! Thanks.
I've been living off rats, mostly. Can't steal too much food from
Hogsmeade; I'd draw attention to myself.'
Alex-corgi caught the chicken neatly, laid it down, barked her charm --
startling the students -- and said, 'Tsk. You should know you're not
supposed to feed dogs chicken bones. They splinter.' The
teenagers' eyes all got round as they stared at her, then Sirius. Alex
grinned mischievously, while Sirius appeared to be somewhat nonplussed.
'This is Alex. She's... ah... she's...'
'His good friend from being on the lam, and live-in cavekeeper. ' Her
American accent, now that they could hear more of her voice, surprised the
students even more. Her sense of humour, however, flat escaped them.
Harry shook it off first, and asked worriedly, 'What're you doing
'Fulfilling my duty as godfather. Don't worry about it. I'm
pretending to be a lovable stray.' Alex snickered loudly, and dug out
another chicken leg, and... oooh, fresh bread. Drool.
Sirius continued to try to reassure Harry. 'I want to be on the
spot. Your last letter... well, let's just say things are getting
Alex tuned out his explanation of his information gathering and the fine
art of fugitive life in order to concentrate on her share of the food, which
she finished off in short order. She lounged on the floor contemplating
a happy stomach. The students kept sneaking looks at her as they and
Sirius discussed the mysterious occurrences of recent days, and what they all
meant in Lord Voldemort's dark schemes.
She didn't realize exactly how much her forced diet had changed her shape
from her pre-Sirius figure. Hermione, still stroking Buckbeak, watched
her especially, and saw a woman of medium height and slim build (although it
was hard to tell under her baggy shirt and trousers), with fairly unexceptional
facial features -- except for very alert eyes. Alex scrambled to her
feet, and walked over to sit back down next to the witch, wrapping her arms
around her knees and twisting her head up to stare back at Hermione, who had
remained standing. The young witch now noticed Alex's extraordinarily
long plait, which pulled her hair sharply back from her face.
Hermione knelt down carefully, trying not to dirty her robes any more than
from the long climb, to meet Alex's gaze more directly. After a moment,
she stuck her hand out at the American, who promptly shook it and grinned
back. The boys were discussing the threatening incidents at the World
Cup. Hermione snapped her head to face them. 'Winky didn't steal
She returned her attention back to Alex. 'I'm Hermione,' she offered.
'I know,' Alex grinned back. 'Sirius has told me all about you.
Well... as much as he knows.' Hermione's eyebrows rose, but then she
heard a cue.
'Oh! Excuse me,' she apologized, and promptly defended the house-elf
Winky vociferously for several minutes (Alex had no idea what they were talking
about, but just filed it for future reference).
Alex waited patiently as Sirius commanded the attention of the young
wizards with a vivid, nay, lurid description of the evils of Voldemort's
power-play back when they were all babes in arms, and the response of the Light
wizards against him. The information clicked like puzzle pieces into other
things Sirius had told her and what she had read in the Daily Prophet.
Wizarding Britain was like Muggle Britain's mirror twin -- so similar and so
different at the same time. And she was an American -- perhaps a
well-educated one, but still foreign -- on top of that. Times like this
made her feel more alien than usual.
Sirius started talking about Azkaban, and his whole demeanor shifted.
Alex walked on all fours to where Sirius sprawled next to the food on the
floor, curled up her legs to sit just behind him, and started massaging his
shoulders in silent comfort. He patted one of her hands in grateful
acknowledgement, and reached for the pumpkin juice with the other.
Hermione's eyebrows sprang up again, and then she looked thoughtful.
Sirius gestured the flask towards Alex, who took it, sniffed, cautiously took a
tiny sip and made an extraordinary face. She promptly handed it back to
the wizard, who just as promptly drained it.
They turned their conversation towards somebody named Snape, who Alex
vaguely remembered from Sirius's tale of meeting Harry. She found out
much more just listening, her hands still moving slowly over her wizard's
shoulders. Very educational meeting, this.
After finding out they'd been at their brainstorming for over an hour,
Sirius suggested that the students return before they were missed, and reminded
them to keep sending him notes. '...And don't forget, if you're talking
about me among yourselves, call me "Snuffles," okay?' Alex
choked loudly; they all turned to stare at her, and she put on her best
innocent, I-didn't-do-nuthin' look. Sirius had a bad feeling about this,
but continued to the others, 'We'll walk to the edge of the village with you;
see if I can scrounge another paper.' Both of the adults shifted to make
their way down the rough path, but Alex changed back once off the mountain and
hung back to talk with Hermione.
'Sorry, I didn't mean to be rude to you,' Hermione tried to apologize, but
Alex waved it away dismissively.
'You weren't rude; I was butting in. So... you're a witch, and a very
well-studied one, from what I've heard.'
Hermione wrinkled her forehead at Alex's phrasing. 'You say that like
you're not a witch yourself. Are you some sort of American shapeshifter
we haven't studied yet, then? I haven't met many Animagi, but I've read
up on them, and I haven't found any who speak a charm to change. They
all usually do it the way Sirius does.'
Alex nodded, Hermione having just confirmed the 'well-studied' description
in the space of three sentences. 'No, actually, I appear to be a real
Hermione's jaw dropped, and she stopped dead. Alex jogged backwards a
couple steps to catch her up again. She enjoyed the young witch's
bogglement, as she looked first at Alex, then at Padfoot, then back at Alex,
then stared at the corgi pendant. She finally found words, and hissed in
alarm, 'That's illegal!'
'So is murder, illegal confinement, fleeing from lawful confinement, and
abuse of a minor, but people are getting away with it right this very minute
right around this very school, aren't they?' Alex paused, and thought
hard. 'You deserve more than a "but he's doing it" answer, so
let me run this by you, and you might want to kind of keep it between us for
now; not to be sexist, but I don't think the boys will really get it for a few
more years at the most optimistic guess. Sirius did this because a
wizard needs to perform magic like all humans need to breathe oxygen; because
it provided company which would be perfectly sympathetic to what he is; because
he was grateful to me for taking him in,' Alex enumerated, 'but mostly because
he believed it would make me happy. He loves me, I believe as much as I
love him, even if neither of us are very good at it or show it well.'
Hermione's expression had become a large 'Oh!' face, and as Alex concluded,
she sighed, 'That's so beautiful, Alex.' Alex, embarrassed now, just
shrugged, her face having gone a bit pink.
The party had reached the stile; Alex changed back to a corgi, and both
Dogs allowed affectionate pats goodbye before they parted ways. Once back
up to their shelter, and changed back to human, Alex rounded on Sirius and
asked imperiously, 'Oh, Snuffles.... You don't see the boy for over a
year, somebody's tried to kill him, and you don't even put your paws up on his
shoulders and give his face a good schlurp?!'
Sirius dropped his newspaper into the pile of other issues and abruptly
backed Alex up against the wall of the cave, pinning her with his long
arms. She looked startled until he growled intimately, 'I save that for
you,' licked the tip of her nose quickly then kissed her very thoroughly.
Being late March, even with a tiny fire, the weather prevented any flamboyant
expressions of physical affection, but for the first time since Christmas
night, Sirius and Alex slept spooned up with each other in their human forms
rather than as Padfoot and the Cardigan.
The weather after the students' visit to the cave improved rapidly, as did
the fugitives' diets. Only a day after the delivery of the delicious
chicken, a whole parliament of owls, including the tiny owl they'd found out
had been named 'Pigwidgeon,' brought a large ham, cakes and fruit. They
fell on the food with happy cries, but didn't forget to tip the owls. It
was indeed a large ham.
Alex grew thoughtful while meditating on the providers of their bounty, and
chewing. 'Sirius?' she mumbled through a mouthful.
'I just realised something. Didn't you tell me, when you gave me my Canis
charm, that you'd put in a sort of safety that would prevent me from changing
in front of witnesses? Other than you, of course.'
'Mm, yeah.' The Animagus was also distracted by his meal; he looked
forward to falling asleep on a full stomach.
'Then how do you explain me shifting in front of Harry, Ron and Hermione?'
'. . . .'
'Uh... I can't.' The Animagus looked sheepish. 'You're right,
it's not supposed to work like that.'
Alex chewed her lower lip thoughtfully for a moment. 'Maybe... it
just won't work in front of Muggles?'
The Animagus shrugged at her, mildly embarrassed. Thankfully,
neither his Charms professor nor his Transfiguration tutor would be grading him
on this project. With no definitive answer forthcoming, Alex shrugged
back at him and returned to the al fresco feast. As long as the
charm kept working, she didn't much care.
The Cardie took to basking on the path just below the cave's entrance if
she didn't have anything better to do. The number of post owls increased
steadily, not just from Harry, who started to write every day (and sent food almost
as often), but from Lupin, Dumbledore and others. Padfoot had just
returned one day, nimbly stepping over the inverted corgi blocking the
entrance, when a flurry of owls dropped in. Two of them shared the
delivery of a care package from Harry and friends, while the others simply had
messages. Sirius started unrolling the notes, re-read the outside of
one, and called out, 'Alex!' Opening the next, he skimmed the contents of
a parchment with Lupin's writing. 'Alex?' He craned his head towards the
Sirius stepped over to the cave mouth, leaned down, and tapped the sleeping
bitch on the muzzle with the parchment. The Cardigan's eyes snapped open,
she snorted, and writhed abruptly to her feet, rolling almost too close to the
edge of the path. Sirius grimaced when he noticed that. Um, not
a funny idea, perhaps.
Alex noticed that, too, and glared at him fiercely, hands on hips, all
a-bristle. Sirius held up his hands apologetically, then extended her the
letter gingerly. She snatched it from his hand, brows down-drawn until
she skimmed the letter and spotted the author's signature. 'It's from
Hermione!' Forgetting Sirius, she plunked down to read the letter
I hope you don't mind my writing to you. I
know you and Sirius are very busy. We've been getting lots and lots of
homework, and getting ready for the year-end exams -- well, Ron and I have, as
Harry's got the Third Task instead. I've also been helping Harry study
some hexes, jinxes and other spells which should be useful for the Task.
Sirius had suggested a couple, which got put right on the top of the list.
I don't know if you knew both my parents are
Muggles, so I'm pretty familiar with all sorts of Muggle things. What I
would really appreciate, though, is if you could tell me about America.
I've never got to meet an American, except when my family went on holiday to
France. Have you met any American witches? Are people really as
different as they say? Are the libraries really really huge?
Thanks so much,
Alex bounced to her feet and scrambled for the bag in which they kept the
writing supplies, but Sirius already had the quill and ink out. She
hovered impatiently until the wizard gave up his own letter in exasperation and
handed over the quill. Alex happily plunked down in good light, and
spent a good three quarters of an hour composing her reply, including the
suggestion Hermione ask her some specific questions, as 'America' was a rather
large subject to cover.
The owl took the letter off to the young witch, and Sirius finally finished
his letter. After that, Alex got her own owl about once a week, as
Hermione managed to squeeze in at least a few questions out of her busy
revision schedule; and Alex kept Hermione thinking with questions of her own
about how magic worked, and equality between witches and wizards.
'Idiot boy!' Sirius raged, stomping from side to side. His obvious
anger disturbed the hippogriff, and Alex hastened to stroke Buckbeak's head and
soothe him. Sirius wouldn't be soothed until he finished venting.
'He wandered off into the Forest with the Durmstrang champion, and could
have been attacked by anything. He came across Crouch -- that fellow from
the Ministry, remember? -- insane, went for help, and returned to find Crouch
missing, and the other boy knocked out. That could have been him!
Why isn't he listening to me?!'
Okay, enough hippogriff-soothing; time for Animagus-soothing. Alex
caught him up and held him still long enough to hug him fiercely, but allowed
him to shake her off and continue pacing. 'I don't suppose it'd do any
good to remind you what the Marauders got away with.'
The wizard gestured dismissively, violently. 'I've told him every
single letter to be careful. The Marauders never had to face
Voldemort! The worst we had to deal with was Remus's change, and Snape's
long nose.' He stopped his pacing to face her challengingly. 'He
knows he's safe from broad magical attack, but keeps forgetting a teenage boy
can be overwhelmed physically with very little effort. And it's not like
I can be there to watch out for him!' The anger on his face started
shifting to show the underlying fear and frustration.
Alex had felt the same way herself, and understood. She asked gently,
'Do you want to hear the practical response, or the sympathetic response?'
'Sympathetic,' Sirius snapped, biting off the end of the word.
His partner stood on tiptoe, and settled her hands on his shoulders, not
quite a hug again. She dipped her head toward his, and spoke in a low
voice, still gentle. 'Boys this age never believe they're anything but
immortal. He knows you're worried about him, but in the heat of the
moment, there's only reaction, not thinking. I'm sure he doesn't mean to
distress you -- he just doesn't realize it until it's too late.' She
paused, noticing the shoulders beneath her hands had unknotted slightly.
'I noticed, he thinks the world of you. Not just because you give the
best presents, or because you're the best connexion to his past. He loves
you for yourself; he's been waiting for a dad for a long time, after all.'
Sirius didn't as much hug her as much as drape himself on her, the drain of
emotion leaving him limp. Alex had seen him about as vulnerable as he'd
ever been, when she first found out his secrets; and Sirius had therefore
become unhesitant about his passions, positive or negative, exploding in her
presence. Since Azkaban, he had kept his face and heart shuttered before
anyone else, even Harry. They stood that way for several minutes, Alex
stroking his back. Finally, Sirius sighed, squeezed her back, and
straightened up, finger-combing scraggles of hair away from his face.
'Some better?' his lover asked.
Alex looked around, scooped up blank parchment and the well-used quill, and
held them out to Sirius. 'G'wan, chew the little idiot out for
distressing his godfather,' she grinned.
The Third Task of the Triwizard Tournament was scheduled for the end of the
month of June; Hermione's letters kept them up on how Harry's training
progressed, and Harry's letters kept them apprised of how he was actually
doing. He told Sirius that this time, he felt far better prepared.
Hermione's exacting standards confirmed this. Sirius felt some small
sense of reassurance, but couldn't help thinking -- it was fairly obvious -- that
whatever purpose that mysterious Someone had for imposing Tournament
participation on Harry, they didn't have much time left to fulfill it.
Alex still couldn't help much; Sirius could only provide coaching from a
distance, and she couldn't add to that. Her idea that she be slipped into
the castle as a familiar to provide an extra pair of eyes to watch for
suspicious activity, although lauded by both Sirius and Dumbledore (he
addressed part of a letter directly to her), was deemed to be too difficult to
execute. Wizards and witches rarely kept canine familiars, and her
presence would therefore prove to be both conspicuous and hard to justify.
The tension in the air increased as June ticked onward.
'So it's tomorrow morning,' Alex commented as the two of them woke the
morning of the twenty-seventh. Sirius nodded, his face more drawn than
ever. 'Wish we could do something special for him. Balloon
bouquet, something... you know, fun.'
Sirius growled, 'He doesn't need fun, he needs this to be over.' He
had just shifted into dogform when the proverbial lightbulb popped on in Alex's
'Wait! We can do something a little different. Don't go
yet.' Digging out a fresh sheet of parchment, Alex folded it crisply in
half, then half again. She picked up the bottle of ink, their water
bottle, and set them down again. 'No, wait, need ashes first.' She
scooped up a handful of ash from their 'fireplace' and carried it carefully
over to a faint hollow in the floor near the entrance, out of the way. Padfoot
watched curiously as she picked up the liquids again, poured a little bit of
ink into the ash, then a bit more water, and stirred it thoroughly with a
fingertip. 'Messy. Perfect. Okay, come over here.'
The huge black dog stepped over, then got tugged into place. 'All
right, then. Let me have your hand.' Alex picked up Padfoot's right
paw, touched it lightly into the sludgy puddle, then onto a clear spot of
floor, then picked it up again. She examined the mark that left
critically, and Padfoot got the idea. She dipped his paw again, this time
setting it squarely on the inside page of the folded parchment. It left a
lovely print, blurred a bit by straggles of hair.
Padfoot shimmered into Sirius, glad that the gook on his paw didn't
transfer to his human form. 'Lovely!' he pronounced, 'Your
turn.' Alex raised her eyebrows at him. She didn't even think of
that. Sirius shook his head at her, 'No, you too. You're part of
this, and you want to wish him well, don't you?' No argument to
that. The Cardigan moved into position next to the puddle, and Sirius
performed the same procedure Alex had on him, adding a neat little pawprint
next to the huge one.
She shimmered back, and examined the result critically. Her grin got
bigger the longer she looked at it, ridiculously pleased at being included like
this. Sirius smiled in response, and he took it from her to pin it down
with some small rocks, to let it dry thoroughly. 'Come on,' he beckoned,
and the two Dogs scrambled down the long goat path towards Hogsmeade.
Sirius paced all the next day. The Task didn't start until the
evening, and he couldn't concentrate on anything else, except for the one owl
from the headmaster. 'He requests we wait for him near Hagrid's cottage
'Doubt it's for the same thing he invited us to Hagrid's house before,'
Alex responded wryly. 'Although one may hope.' Sirius shot her a
look half-irritated, half-amused.
'We'll do what we did that time, though -- fly Buckbeak around to the back
edge of the Forest, and walk there. It's the least likely method to get
us noticed, and well away from the Quidditch pitch. That's where the Task
is set up.'
'Yes, I remember Harry bemoaning the state of his precious arena,' Alex
grinned. Sirius didn't smile back, as he was too busy stalking back and
forth. Alex found herself idly wondering how he didn't go totally dizzy,
considering the length of Sirius's legs and his ability to cross the width of
the cave in about three strides. 'Sirius, let's go for a run or
something. I'm going to get motion-sick watching you up here.'
Somehow, they made it through the morning and afternoon, and watched the
sun creep towards the horizon at an agonizingly slow pace this close to the
Summer Solstice. Sirius finally gave up on the sunlight, and took
Buckbeak out into the deep amber-pink gleams of sunset, the Cardigan balanced
carefully across the hippogriff's shoulders like usual.
The sky over Hagrid's pumpkin patch glowed a deep indigo by the time they
reached it. They had tied up Buckbeak in the shelter Hagrid had tucked
away deeper in the Forest, to keep him safe. The Cardie looked at Padfoot
once they reached the garden, wondering what they were to do next.
Padfoot settled down, facing the bright spot glowing on the other side of the
castle, only partly visible. Faint crowd noise drifted through the clear
summer air. The corgi looked up, seeing a sky as beautiful as any in
Sirius's fantasy landscapes from... almost a year ago now.
A year. It seemed more like a lifetime.
A cheer came from the half-seen Quidditch pitch, and a garbled, amplified
voice. Not even canine hearing could make out the words at this
distance. The Cardigan settled against Padfoot, letting her mind drift
off into that ineffably patient canine state of being.
Both Dogs jerked out of their state of patience by a sudden change in tone
from the pitch. Alarm, distress? Nothing happened for another
hour, although they remained alert. No threats emerged from the Forest,
or the visiting students' transports; nothing odd happened at the castle.
Then another great collective shout, more negative than the first, and
longer. Something bad had happened. Padfoot jumped to his feet,
straining every muscle to listen harder, but not daring to leave the pumpkin
Circumstances left them to wait in agony for another half-hour, at
least. Then a figure approached the garden, but not any of the people
they might have expected. Light streamed from the end of her wand as she
approached cautiously, and finally spotted the waiting Dogs. Padfoot's
coat blended into the night so completely, she only spotted him by eyeshine.
Padfoot recognized her as Professor McGonagall, the deputy
headmistress. The Cardigan would have to wait for introductions later.
The woman cleared her throat, and addressed them a little awkwardly, not
sure at all what sort of beings she spoke to. 'Ahem. Professor
Dumbledore has asked I bring you up to his office. He said he'll be with
you in about a half hour. If you'll follow me, please?' A corner of
Alex-corgi's mind noted the professor's distinct Scottish accent, and realized,
despite their location, she hadn't heard many burrs in Hogsmeade. Hmm.
McGonagall led the Dogs up a wide stone staircase, into a hall, up more
stairs, through so many corridors the Cardigan got totally disorientated.
Although she couldn't appreciate the building as she might from a human height,
she marvelled at the richness and variety of the ancient castle.
Eventually, they fetched up to a stone gargoyle, which leapt aside when the
professor murmured a phrase to it. They ascended an amazing moving
spiral staircase, and she left them in a handsome office, furnished with books,
portraits, and a large bird perch, which was currently empty.
The door clicked behind the deputy headmistress. Sirius started
pacing again. The Cardigan barked her charm, and curled up on a large
leather chair with a sigh. As fascinating as the office was, she knew she
wouldn't get the pleasure of prowling through its details, not with what was
going on outside. She was worried about Harry, too.
After Sirius had completed about three hundred transits of the office (Alex
counted; it was something to do), they both heard a sound on the other side of
the door. Sirius stopped stock-still, as the door swung open to reveal a
limping Harry, accompanied by someone who could only be Albus Dumbledore.
Sirius, his face gone fainting-white, almost leapt to his godson's side,
and asked urgently, 'Harry, are you all right? I knew it -- I knew
something like this -- what happened?' He seated Harry in the
chair Alex had jumped up from at the entrance of the others, and asked again,
'What happened?' Sirius's hands shook more than his voice. The
headmaster began telling Sirius about an interrogation he'd just completed,
while Alex knelt on the floor on the other side of the chair from where Sirius
stood, and took Harry's hand. His leg looked a mess; his robes were torn
in several places, and she could see deep lacerations in his skin. Harry
looked down at her blankly. His exhaustion was evident.
Alex suddenly heard wings immediately over her head. Startled, she
twisted back and forth, as a large, utterly beautiful bird with red and gold
plumage settled on Harry's undamaged knee. She would have sworn that
perch had been empty when the two Dogs entered the office....
''Lo, Fawkes,' Harry wearily greeted the spectacular bird, and stroked
it. Alex stared at the bird, fascinated, but did not let go of the young
'I need to know what happened after you touched the Portkey in the maze,
Harry,' Dumbledore stated, seating himself at his desk.
'We can leave that till morning, can't we, Dumbledore?' Sirius,
still standing at Harry's left, placed a protective hand on his godson's
shoulder. 'Let him have a sleep. Let him rest.' His tone was
Dumbledore didn't look at Sirius, but waited until he had captured Harry's
eyes. 'If I thought I could help you by putting you into an enchanted
sleep and allowing you to postpone the moment when you would have to think
about what has happened tonight, I would do it. But I know better.
Numbing the pain for a while will make it worse when you finally feel it.
You have shown bravery beyond anything I could have expected of you. I
ask you to demonstrate that courage one more time. I ask you to tell us
The strange and wonderful bird on Harry's knee warbled a single note, an
amazing sound that echoed through Alex's whole being. She would state it
more poetically later: that Fawkes's cry echoed in her very heart.
Harry's colour actually seemed to improve slightly, she imagined, as if he'd
drawn strength from the sound. The boy took a deep breath, and started a
tale that sounded to Alex like something from the horror fiction shelf.
An undead evil; a cauldron of rebirth like the Goddess Ceridwen's, only
twisted; ruthless minions and dark rituals. She kept shifting her attention
between Harry, whose hand had closed around hers tightly as he told his story,
and Sirius, still standing at Harry's side, still clutching Harry's
shoulder. She wished she could hold her lover, as his expression showed
more pain than she thought she'd ever seen, but she wouldn't let go of Harry.
Harry had begun telling how the head minion had stabbed his right arm to
steal a blood sample for the ritual. At that, Sirius cried out and both
he and Dumbledore moved hastily to examine that wound. Alex, holding Harry's
right hand, looked down in alarm at the boy's arm. She had missed that
earlier, as his damaged leg was so much more obvious. Alex released his
hand so he could stretch out the arm, spreading the cut in his sleeve with his
Dumbledore re-seated himself, and Harry reached for Alex's hand.
Quite touched, she clasped it securely again, patting their joined hands with
her right. He continued his story, but choked up as he started to
describe a magical duel. Alex stroked his arm as he struggled to
recover, overwhelmed by his memories, while Dumbledore discussed a phenomenon
of the duel with Sirius.
'Exactly. Harry's wand and Voldemort's wand share cores. Each
of them contain a feather from the tail of the same phoenix. This
phoenix, in fact.' The headmaster indicated the fabulous bird. A
phoenix?!? Alex thought, her eyes widening. She stared at the
bird more closely, and would have sworn she saw it wink at her in response to
She had a hard time following the next bit of Harry's story, about shades
appearing from the enemy's wand; she made a mental note to ask Sirius to
explain later, as the recitation of the shades' appearance caused Harry more
and more distress. Just before he choked up completely again, he described
how the images of his parents had appeared and had spoken to him. The
longing in his voice caused Alex's eyes to fill in sympathy. She saw
Sirius move out of the corner of her eye and turned to see him sink into the
other chair, one hand never leaving Harry's shoulder, but the other covering
his face in such a terrible expression of fresh grief. She knew, from his
own telling, how responsible he felt for James and Lily Potter's deaths.
She couldn't go to him. Not and leave Harry more alone with this terrible
memory. Fawkes suddenly moved, and dropped off Harry's lap to the
floor. He was a tall bird, and could easily rest his head on top of
Harry's knee, but not before first brushing his crest against Alex's loose
right hand, as if to tell her he'd take over for a moment. Astonished,
she nodded, and smoothed Harry's hand onto the chair's armrest, as Fawkes
started to weep over Harry's wounded leg.
She crossed behind Harry's chair to lunge to her knees before her beloved,
wrapping her arms around him, not caring if Dumbledore looked or not. He
responded to her touch, shifting position so he could clutch her in desperate
grief, burying his face in her neck, but without tears. She rocked him
gently, stroking the back of his head.
'I will say it again, you have shown bravery beyond anything I could have
expected of you tonight, Harry. You have shown bravery equal to those who
died fighting Voldemort at the height of his powers. You have shouldered
a grown wizard's burden and found yourself equal to it -- and you have now
given us all we have a right to expect. You will come with me to the
hospital wing. I do not want you returning to the dormitory
tonight. A sleeping potion and some peace... Sirius,' and the Animagus
looked up from Alex's shoulder, loosening his grip on his partner, 'would you
and Miss MacMillan like to stay with him?'
Sirius nodded, stood up and shifted. Alex, wondering at being
addressed by her surname, spoke her charm and transformed as well. The
Dogs accompanied the two wizards down a different flight of stairs which led
them straight to the hospital wing, Harry's adoptive family of Weasleys, and
the medical witch named Madam Pomfrey -- who apparently disapproved of dogs.
'Headmaster!' she exclaimed, staring down at Padfoot and the Cardigan, 'May
I ask what --'
'These dogs will be remaining with Harry for the while. I reassure
you, they are extremely well trained. Harry -- I will wait while you get
into bed,' Dumbledore stated without room for debate.
Madam Pomfrey got Harry settled into pyjamas and bed while the Dogs, the
Weasleys and Hermione waited. The Cardigan walked over to the girl and
licked her hand. Hermione crouched and hugged her. Her residual
anxiety transmitted through her hug, and Cardie licked her cheek as well in
reassurance. They were finally allowed to settle themselves in chairs at
Harry's bedside, but the Cardie had a better idea. She put her front
feet up on the side of the bed and gathered herself, springing onto Harry's
bed. She settled herself longwise, along Harry's legs, so her nose lay
just within reach of Harry's fingertips.
Madam Pomfrey returned, saw this complete violation of her usual infirmary
discipline, and sputtered angrily under her breath all the while she gave Harry
some purple potion. Looking up from under her corgi eyebrows, Alex-corgi
saw a tiny hint of a smile cross the boy's lips as he drifted off rapidly into
sleep, but not before giving her some tiny pats.
Everybody was disturbed the next morning as Professor McGonagall, a man
eventually identified as Minister of Magic Cornelius Fudge and, after a bit,
even Professor Dumbledore got into a long and loud brangle. Apparently --
and again, Alex regretted the lack of a full frame of reference -- the man the
headmaster had told Sirius about last night had been soul-stolen by one of the
horrible Azkaban guards, and this Minister refused to see the seriousness of
this as a problem. Is he covering things up? Why would he want
to eliminate a witness? she wondered, having shifted around to curl
up across the foot of the bed.
Dumbledore tried to move the disturbance up to his office, but Fudge
started glancing toward Harry with a sort of sneaky, smirking expression.
He crossed the line when he asked, 'You are -- er -- prepared to take Harry's
word on this, are you, Dumbledore?' Alex-corgi was dumbfounded.
Padfoot didn't react to that well, and began growling in a very serious manner
from Harry's bedside. The great black dog had climbed from his chair to
take a guard-like position as soon as Fudge had shown up.
The headmaster continued to defend his position as Fudge kept questioning
their facts. Harry, who had been quietly awake for several minutes -- as
if anyone, even medicated, could sleep through all this noise -- finally put in
his own two pence, first stating that the Minister read 'Rita Skeeter,' who
apparently served as a source of bad information. He finally shouted in
sheer frustration, 'Look, I saw Voldemort come back! I saw the Death
Eaters! I can give you their names! Lucius Malfoy --' He
struggled to get out of bed to confront the Minister, but Mrs Weasley hurried
to push his shoulders down. The Cardigan lent her assistance by moving up
to Harry's side, and laying her head across his waist. She was afraid if
she stayed at the end of the bed, she'd snap at the Minister if he got too
The Minister remained unmoved by Harry's and Dumbledore's
testimonies. If she'd been in human form, Alex's jaw would have hung
open. This man was amazingly blind. Talk about covering one's butt
-- but this coverage would consist of lost human lives, both wizard and
Muggle. The Cardie didn't need to be a witch to see the implications.
She could hear Padfoot's almost subsonic and continuous growl. Fudge
In weary finality, the elder wizard finally stated to the Minister, 'If
your determination to shut your eyes will carry you as far as this, Cornelius,
we have reached a parting of the ways. You must act as you see fit, and I
-- I shall act as I see fit.' The Cardigan refused to retain any of the
Minister's threatening bluster. He kept crying, 'He can't be back!'
Another professor -- the infamous Snape -- showed Fudge yet more proof, but the
Minister was impervious, refusing to let it register. He finally left,
but not before walking up to Harry's bedside table and dropping a heavy,
clinking bag on it. The Cardigan stood up swiftly when he approached, her
hackles raised and lips curled the whole time he was within reach of Harry.
Dumbledore began organizing those who remained, sending Bill Weasley off to
his father, Professor McGonagall off to arrange a meeting, Madam Pomfrey off on
another errand... and then announced, 'And now, it is time for two of our
number to recognize each other for what they are. Sirius... if you and
your lady friend could resume your usual forms.' The Dogs looked at him,
and the Cardigan jumped off the bed. A moment later, Sirius and Alex
stood on either side of Harry's bed.
Mrs Weasley screamed, 'Sirius Black!' and jumped away from where she was
comforting Harry, nearly knocking over one of the privacy screens.
'Mum, shut up! It's okay!' Ron yelled over his mother's vocal
Alex watched the others carefully. Snape snarled, 'Him! What
is he doing here?' Alex lunged forward to put herself between Snape and
Sirius, but Dumbledore blocked her way commandingly with an outstretched
arm. She growled, her eyes locked on Snape.
'He is here at my invitation, as you are, Severus. I trust you
both. It is time for you to lay aside your old differences and trust each
other.' The two dark men glared at each other. Dumbledore, an edge
in his voice, continued, 'I will settle, in the short term, for a lack of open
hostility. You will shake hands. You are on the same side now.
Time is short, and unless the few of us who know the truth do not stand
united, there is no hope for any of us.' That did it. The two shook
hands, very briefly. Dumbledore released Alex, who stepped quickly to
Sirius's side. Then the headmaster moved between his antagonistic
assistants, and continued his instructions.
'Now, I have work for each of you. Fudge's attitude, though not
unexpected, changes everything. Sirius, I need you to set off at
once. You are to alert Remus Lupin, Arabella Figg, Mundungus Fletcher --
the old crowd. Lie low at Lupin's for a while; I will contact you there.'
'But --' Harry looked as upset as Alex felt. She hadn't quantified it
yet, but she had a bad feeling about this.
Sirius addressed his godson, 'You'll see me very soon, Harry. I
promise you. But I must do what I can, you understand, don't you?'
'Yeah... of course I do.' He shook Sirius's hand in an adult fashion;
Alex insisted on a quick hug. There was, of course, no question that she
would go with Sirius.
Sirius nodded to Dumbledore and shifted, trotting down the long ward where
he opened the latched door with one great paw. Alex stepped up to
Dumbledore before she shifted, said, 'It's been a great honour meeting you,
sir. Please take it as a compliment when I say you're very
Gandalf.' She looked around at the others, locked eyes with
Hermione. She then lifted one hand in a small wave, the other to her
charm, and recited, 'Canis Mutatem.' The brindle Cardigan ran to
meet the black dog waiting for her, and they were gone.
They trotted along corridors, down staircases, along galleries; Padfoot
found the school had not changed that much since he attended it, and remembered
back ways that would allow the Dogs to avoid most students. Once back
outside, he loped towards Hagrid's cabin to leave him a note about Buckbeak.
They would not be able to ride Buckbeak where they were headed, as Remus
Lupin lived in a heavily-settled area now, where he could find his Wolfsbane
potion's ingredients easily.
Padfoot thought hard about whether to return to the cave before they headed
south; it's not as though either he or Alex-corgi had any possessions up there
not easily replaced, but all those letters.... In the end, he decided it
would be better to hide any signs of their residence, and led his companion
along the direct route from Hogwarts's front gate up to the village of Hogsmeade
and out the other side.
Alex was glad he'd thought that way. That hairbrush, which naturally
Sirius never thought about -- that was blatantly obvious -- was the only one
she'd found that would get through her hair without snagging or breaking... the
brush. They rolled up the students' letters, and stuffed all the rest in
a deep nook in the cave wall, threw out their pathetic bedding, and, bag
secured around Padfoot's neck, left the cave for the last time.
Alex-corgi hadn't yet asked the obvious question, in part because she
recognized the urgency of their mission, and because she wanted to avoid the
equally obvious answer. That wasn't the right answer, it couldn't be.
For several days they worked their way south, in the general direction of
Liverpool. Padfoot could cover quite a bit of ground in any given day,
but he matched his pace to that of the Cardigan, and that slowed him
considerably. It wasn't that corgis couldn't run or trot at a good pace,
but the size differential between the Dogs just overwhelmed any sort of
determined effort on the Cardie's part. She tried keeping up with Padfoot
in her Alex form, but that didn't work any better. Although all her
running around in dog form had done wonders for her endurance and wind, Padfoot
was still a very large dog with a very long stride.
After their second day, when they stopped to sleep between midnight and
dawn, Sirius's frustration had become visible even in Padfoot's body language.
'Um, look, I know I'm holding you up. Can you maybe change me to a
whippet or something temporarily, would that work?' Alex suggested
'No,' Sirius snapped, not looking at her. He knew she didn't mean to
slow him down, but his need to get word out kept him from patience.
'And you said you can't really Apparate without a wand....' Alex continued,
wanting badly to break the wall Sirius's temper had thrown up. 'Sirius...
Sirius.' She wanted him to look at her. 'Sirius, I want you
to go on ahead. I can make my way there, or at least a lot closer, and
we can arrange on meeting places or something for you to catch me up at.'
That got his attention. 'I will not leave you behind,' he stated,
enunciating each word slowly. That was the final word. Alex gave up
trying to assuage her guilt at having short legs and fell asleep until the sky
started turning light, when they set off again in order to take advantage of
the twilight and cool temperatures.
Eventually, they reached the neighborhood Remus Lupin had moved to after leaving
Hogwarts the previous year. He had found a mixed neighbourhood in a
suburban setting, young wizarding families with one Muggle spouse. He
still had to guard his secret closely, of course, and having children close
around worried him, but having other wizards in the neighborhood made
potion-shopping easier. And the area was far enough out from the city
that he could escape to empty fields if his were, his wolf, threatened
to overcome him.
Although Padfoot carried their scanty bag of items, the Cardigan bore
burdens of the spirit herself by the time they started searching for Lupin's
address. First, of course, there was the delay -- it had taken them
almost a week to get there; and then, there was The Unasked Question (it had
achieved capitalization), coiled up in the pit of her stomach, feeling much
like a cold rock had been dropped in there. Or, she mused sourly, to
be more scientific -- a hailstone, growing larger with each layer of anxiety.
She knew one day, The Question would grow so large it would erupt from her
mouth, and land with a loud thud between her and Sirius. She still
couldn't bring herself to ask him voluntarily. Not, at least, until they
had discharged the immediate part of their mission.
Or really, Sirius's mission. Dumbledore hadn't given her any task, or
indeed done more than treat her with genteel politeness. What good would
a Muggle be in this situation, anyway?
Her downward spiral of thoughts was interrupted by Padfoot's nip, as he
trotted up to the address Lupin had provided them. They had arrived, and
now they could spread the word about Voldemort's return.
Lupin welcomed them both warmly, although Alex found his long stare at
Sirius when the Animagus introduced her to his old friend both amusing and
telling. She drifted politely out into the tiny, ragged back garden so
Remus could interrogate Sirius behind her back and get it over with. The
closet werewolf was even warmer to her when she meandered back in; apparently,
he approved highly.
Remus approved enough to give them his whole bedroom. He volunteered
to sleep on his sofa, over Alex's embarrassed protests, insisting it was his
responsibility as their host. She only stopped when Sirius grabbed her
with one arm, wrapped the other hand over her mouth, and thanked Remus
firmly. She tried to bite him in indignation, but he anticipated this and
moved his fingers in time. She shifted quickly, and went for his ankles,
but Padfoot pinned the Cardigan with one great paw. Remus stood well out
of range, and laughed at the canine wrestling match in the middle of his
sitting room. They all needed to play a bit; circumstances looked grim
for the foreseeable future, and they could use all the lightness of heart they
That evening, after Sirius had told Remus everything that had happened at
Hogwarts over the summer, Alex and Sirius used up all of the hot water as they
enjoyed their first good wash since Christmas. They didn't get playful,
as Alex was far too conscious of Remus's presence in the house -- thin walls and
wolf-tuned hearing. Anyway, after the long trip and their tussle earlier,
neither of them had the energy to do more than get clean. That was quite
the task in itself, really.
They sat on Remus's bed, wrapped in towels, and took turns fighting through
matted hair with Alex's faithful hairbrush, while their host ran their battered
clothes through the wash twice. Sirius tolerated the painful tugging at
his scalp after his suggestion they just whack everything off with scissors was
again summarily rejected. He had to admit that Alex had the harder time
of it, as he brushed at her knee-length tangles as gently as possible.
Eventually, they felt much closer to human again -- washed, brushed,
braided, fed (Remus ordered take-away Indian food, and stuffed them full of
curry and rice) -- and ready to give in to their heavy eyelids. Remus,
coddling them after what they'd been through, ordered them off to bed.
Now that Sirius had delivered the news, he could take the next leg of their
information relay himself, and let them rest.
They spooned up naked in Remus's narrow bed, their clean ragged clothes
saved for tomorrow. Remus had told them, still being the perfect host,
he'd do some shopping for them as soon as he could. The feeling of
relaxation, of burdens lifted, made Sirius almost lightheaded, and he was
nearly asleep when he realized his arm was wet. Alex wept silently as he
cradled her in his arms.
He shifted, propping himself up on the elbow carefully drawn out from
beneath her head. He reached to cup her wet face with his other hand,
gently turning her to face him. 'Alex, what's the matter?'
She didn't answer for a moment, but finally twisted to half-sit up against
the headboard, tucking the covers tightly over her chest, as if she was trying to
keep herself together. She wouldn't meet Sirius's concerned eyes.
'I didn't want to dump this on you. You've got enough to worry about,
because you've got to do all the work, and know all the people, and...'
she sniffled wetly. Sirius freed up a corner of sheet and dabbed at her
tear tracks. She stroked his arm as he did so, and maintained the touch
as he placed his hand opposite her hip, so he half-leaned over her, braced on
'Tell me anyway.'
'It hit me after Dumbledore gave you his instructions, while we were
leaving the school. We... we're not going home, are we?' The
Question was out. Thud. Sirius's eyebrows climbed. He hadn't
really though of it that way. Alex wasn't finished, though. 'Which
means...' she choked up and visibly braced herself to force the next words out,
'I have to decide if I give up everything in Miami -- my house, my
stuff, my dogs, my job -- or give up being with you.' She closed her eyes
tightly, and tears cascaded down her face again.
Sirius, struck speechless, could only wipe tears for a moment as his
thoughts spun. He hadn't realized how much this could cost her, without
even being in immediate physical danger. His focus had let him be
blind-sided again. And... Sirius had his own Unasked Question which had
just got yanked to the forefront. His own voice tensed as much as his
partner's, dropping to an almost inaudible mumble, as he forced out, 'And with
everything I've put you through, do you regret... regret coming with me?'
Alex heard the unspoken part of his question -- Do you regret being with
me? She wrapped her arms around his neck and pulled him down to
her. 'Not for a second. You should never have thought that, ever.
But if I stay here, we won't have anyplace to go back to.
And it's a terrible imposition,' she laughed like a cough at the lightness of
the word, 'to ask my friends and mother to pack up everything, and find some
place to store it... assuming after all this time I haven't lost everything
already. I haven't kept in touch with anyone, and hadn't even
noticed. I had a life in Miami, even if it was kind of non-descript, and
responsibilities, and people who'll have missed me, not to mention NEO and
Mouse. I had finally started to feel like I had sort of established myself
as a householder, stable, competent. I had made a place for you to come
'But if I return, I won't know what's happening with you, except for the
occasional owl, if I'm lucky. There will be great and terrible things
happening here, and you'll be in danger, and I'll be alone every single second
because you won't be next to me. I don't have anything of you except this
charm, no proof that you ever existed, and I'll start to wonder after a while
if you weren't just an amazingly detailed fantasy story I told myself one
night. I won't know if you're dead or alive.
'You've changed my life in a way I could have never expected or
anticipated, and it's been like a whole other lifetime, this past year.
But now, no matter which choice I make, I'm going to pay hugely for it.'
Sirius loosened his equally tight embrace and pushed up to look in Alex's
face again. His face twisted with sorrow, he opened his mouth, but Alex
interrupted fiercely, 'Don't you DARE apologise.'
He closed his mouth, and kissed her lightly, lingeringly, instead, then
closed the space between them again to whisper in her ear, 'I can't help you
decide. I'm biased.'
Alex whispered back, 'I've got this little daydream I used to use to amuse
myself, or to drift off to sleep with, when you were out with Buckbeak or off
to Hogsmeade or whatever....'
It's after Voldemort is defeated again, finally and completely.
You've been cleared of course, front-page news in the Daily Prophet, and been
awarded the Order of Merlin as well for your heroism during the whole
war. First class. Finally, only the best for the
long-suffering, unjustly accused, self-sacrificing hero, Sirius Black.
We're going out to dinner together, in public and all dressed up.
You're wearing the sharpest set of robes in fine black wool, tailored within an
inch of your life. They accent the width of your shoulders, and the lean
line of your body, and you look magnificent. Your hair's loose, flowing,
but practically blends into your robes. I'm wearing something elegant in
my favourite shade of red, but nobody in the restaurant's looking at me --
they're oohing and aahing that you're there. Some people come over,
honoured to be able to shake your hand. They're secretly sorry they ever
suspected you were guilty. I'm watching them honour you as you deserve,
and basking in my satisfaction.
We enjoy magnificent steaks, and make our way home leisurely. We
decide to be scandalous, encouraged by the time of night and the sliver of moon
showing, and make love out on the golf course. You lay back after we've
pleased each other, eyes half closed, hair spilling all around, but you're only
visible in the dimness as a contrast against the grass. And I sit up,
and look down at you, and wish that this perfection would never end....