Canis Mutatem: Wish Upon a Star - Canto One
Mutatem: Wish Upon a Star
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
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.
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 at him, eyes full of concern; eyes that had not
the look that Azkaban had given them, that deadened, haunted
Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, Chapter 19
Alex had helped Sirius shop for the trip -- she wouldn't hear
of letting 'her wizard' leave so abruptly that he'd starve the
whole way back. Buckbeak ended up with two bags of dried
fruit, nuts, and camping food tied onto his back. Wouldn't
do the hippogriff any good, of course, as he would have to hunt
the whole way, but at least it would keep Sirius in better shape
than the last time they took this route.
Sirius wouldn't let her load him up with weatherproof clothing,
tools, all the other things she thought he would use on the way.
Buckbeak had had a hard enough trip heading south during the
summer; now he would have to fight the violent weather autumn and
early winter often brought, while carrying Sirius too. Alex
did manage to get a good coat on the wizard though, to layer over
his original raggedly grey robes, and missed paying three petrol
credit cards as a side effect. 'It was worth it,' she stated
One other thing she pressed upon him that he agreed to take --
a strange Muggle instrument called a 'cellphone'.
Not wanting to depend on owls or macaws or what-have-you,
Alex had researched mobile providers, found the one that provided
the most thorough coverage of Great Britain, ordered and pre-paid
for a year of service and an extra extended-life battery.
The phone unit arrived express at the expense of the department
store payments. 'It's SO worth it, stop bugging me.'
She showed Sirius how to use it, after programming her own
mobile and landline numbers into the speed-dial feature, to make it easier
for him to call. He'd have to find some Muggle power source
to plug the recharger into of course, but she didn't worry about that.
She even had him practice, using her phone (as the British
phone didn't have service in the States), until he rolled his
eyes, shifted, and took NEO out for a run to escape.
Alex kept something back from his packing: Sirius's shirt,
the one he arrived in, as ragged as it had become from almost
constant wear. In lieu of shopping, even on-line, she had
made him some simple tunics and trousers to wear instead of his
temporarily discarded robes; nothing fancy, nothing binding,
which suited him quite well. Like many men, Sirius had
never been fussy about his clothes unless he was trying to impress
a girl. It was a fair trade. Alex wanted to keep as
much of him as possible around, and the shirt, pulled out of the
laundry, was rich with his scent. She sealed it up in a
Ziploc and stored it under her pillow to save it. Sirius
was quite moved when she shyly told him what she'd done.
Three days after Harry's letter arrived, Buckbeak took to the
night air with Sirius on his back. This time the wizard had a map of the route
up I-95 and into Canada to help them find forests and avoid the
cities. Alex drove back from the Everglades numb, dazed.
Their goodbyes had been minimal, in contrast to the almost
desperate lovemaking of the previous evenings, where they each
seemed to be trying to absorb as much of the other as they could
before their forced parting. Alex almost regretted not surrendering
her virginity to him then, but knew deeper
down, where she was inevitably right about herself, that it
would have only made missing him hurt worse. No, before
scrambling onto Buckbeak's back, Sirius had hugged her so tightly
for a long, long time; kissed her hard; stared at her like he
was memorizing her face and said, 'I love you.' He didn't
wait for her response.
Alex didn't break until she got home. She patted the
dogs listlessly, forgot to feed them supper, and went to bed
right away. She hadn't changed the bedlinen yet, and when
she pulled out the shirt and laid it on the body-pillow next to
her, her loss hit her like a migraine on steroids. NEO,
who had followed her into the bedroom and had curled up like
usual on the trundle bed, looked startled... then slunk back
into the living room, avoiding her unrelievable pain, afraid
he'd done something wrong. She sobbed most of the night,
called in sick to her work, and didn't get up except to let NEO out the
front door on a long lead instead of walking him. She
remembered to feed them eventually.
A musical phrase cut through her misery. The mobile
rang, using one of the programmed tones that could be set for
individual numbers entered into its address book feature.
It was an important song, she knew, but thought took a
long time to filter through the soggy channels of her mind.
It was... it was... IT WAS SIRIUS. She lunged for
the phone, reaching it just before it cut over to voice mail.
She didn't care that his phone couldn't possibly be
getting signal yet, not after only a day of travelling.
'Hello?!' she answered, splitting microseconds before
hearing his voice again.
'Alex!' Pure audio honey. Not even the rich
voice of her friend Mike, an actor-hyphenate, ever sounded so good.
'I love you.' She didn't want to lose her chance.
The other end of the call stayed quiet; she started to
worry the impossible signal had dropped.
'I miss you already,' Sirius finally said, softly. She
even thought she heard yearning in his voice. At least,
she hoped she heard yearning. Yearning would be very very
nice. He continued, more pragmatically, 'Buckbeak and I
are making good progress. I believe we're in Georgia already.
I didn't expect the phone to work already, I was going to
use the, erm, "calling card" you gave me, but it displayed what
you told me to look for, so....'
'I'm glad. It's a lot safer than you trying to use a
public phone.' Alex actually found herself not knowing
what to say. She really just wanted to reach through the
phone and fall into his arms, but that couldn't be expressed
too well... wait, she just thought it. So she repeated
her wish to her beloved, who laughed softly in response and
agreed that would be a nice feature, wouldn't it.
Although fine in person, long silences preyed on phone bills,
so Alex reluctantly bid him goodbye and Goddesspeed, breaking the
connexion after final reassurances that she, the dogs, he and
Buckbeak were all fine. Well, mostly fine.
She lay back on her bed, trying to remember how to breathe,
and produced a hysterical cackle of relief instead. It
was all too intense to be borne easily. She passed a hand
over her face and down her sternum, and suddenly remembered when
her hand hit her corgi charm. Pulling on pyjamas, in case
of emergency change-backs, Alex bolted to her front door, shut
it in NEO's face, hunched down -- and the Cardie took off like
a bolt to lap her eastern half of the golf course, to run until
exhaustion drained her.
The last night Sirius and Alex slept together, between cycles
of insatiable, hungry caressing, they'd talked about keeping in
touch. Not just the phone, but... rituals. Alex had
always been big on rituals and habits, even if she complied with
them sloppily. They discussed when he’d call and how he could
leave messages on the answering machine Alex had finally installed
so she wouldn’t miss a single word from him... and then she asked
him for one thing more.
'You're going to be outside a lot, so this should be easy,'
she started. Sirius looked attentive, but never stopped
stroking her side with his hand, lightly, from shoulder to as far
down as he could reach, over and over. 'An hour after
Sirius rises, if you stare at it and think especially of me,
I'll be doing the same thing.'
Her lover couldn't help himself. 'You'll be thinking
She nibbled his lower lip to shut him up, and the stroking
stopped so he could pull her close instead. 'It's not as
good as sitting next to each other on the omphalos, but it's
about as good as I can get right now,' she replied more
'Okay,' he agreed, and buried his face in her neck, squeezing
her tightly as she clung to him in response.
Sirius the star burned brightly over the head of Sirius the
wizard, and he stared at his star as if wishing on it would allow
him to be in two places at once. Wonder if anyone ever
developed a spell for that without nasty side-effects? he
wondered to himself. Definitely something to look into if
he ever got the chance to walk into a library again without
having Dementors set on him. Moving north, and away from
the coast, the nights grew chillier, but other than propping
himself up against Buckbeak's warm side, Sirius couldn't bring
himself to do the practical thing and change into Padfoot for a
nap before they continued moving north under the safety of darkness.
He stared at the sky, and cursed his and Harry's enemies
Alex lived for phone calls now. She knew it wasn't
really healthy behaviour -- as her friend at work kept saying,
she was the obsessive-compulsive poster child -- but right this
moment, she couldn't care less. She rushed home from work
at lunch, back to her old pre-Sirius habits. At least she
didn't have to crate NEO any more -- Padfoot had straightened him
out there. However, she still felt walking the two dogs
during the day was only fair for them, since they were accustomed
to the exercise... and it gave her a chance
to check the answering machine.
The message light blinked as she opened the door to bouncy
canine greetings. Her heart clutched, and she tapped the
playback button while NEO insisted on being hugged bipedally.
Yes, there was a message... but not for her. For
the dogs. She played back three minutes of woofing, whines
and other canine vocalizations for NEO and Mouse. NEO
paused in his Tiggerness to cock his head in that stereotypically
cute, RCA-Victor-dog pose and seemed to be listening carefully.
After the recording stopped, he wiggled all over, jumped
up on Alex again and licked her face enthusiastically.
With a suspicious look on her face, Alex quickly shifted into dog
form to listen to the messages again, and howled (literally) in laughter
as Padfoot instructed NEO, in that curious emotive language dogs
use, to 'give Mummy lots of kisses for me.' She needed that
laugh. It counteracted hours of sighs. She grinned
for the rest of the afternoon.
Sirius and Buckbeak made it back to the Scottish mainland in
under two months; they had had a close call crossing one of the wide
stretches of water between the islands of the North Sea due to
the violent weather for which the Sea was well-known.
Sirius hoarded the mobile's charge carefully;
it was going to be difficult to get it recharged. Dumbledore
had suggested a place, not far away from the school and close enough
to Hogsmeade village to be able to cadge or steal food, where he could
hole up with the hippogriff.
Padfoot and Buckbeak
could also hunt to some extent, although with winter coming on,
game would be getting scarcer and scarcer.
He made a point, no matter how bad the weather got, to climb
over the cave every night and check the sky for any sight of his
star, as he'd promised. Even when he had to fly elsewhere
on Buckbeak, he would check the eastern horizon after sunset and
wait for a blue-white glimmer. He didn't depend on just
the mobile, but also sent owls with specific instructions to
'treat the Muggle nicely!' He didn't think Alex would be
able to stomach feeding them live mice, but hoped she found an
Her letters back to him were either totally mundane -- or
totally amazing, full of the passion of missing him. He
saved them carefully and tried his best to send back letters
of equal worth. He had been forced by his circumstances
to 'show her his belly,' (to put it in dog idiom) and had come
to relax into this vulnerability. As Alex put it neatly
one morning not long after he had blown his cover: it’s
a very nice thing to have someone to watch one’s back. And then
she spoiled the philosophy of the moment with a slyly lascivious
comment about some people's backs being more worth watching
Harry's letters weren't quite as ...stirring, although Sirius
was warmed by his effort to divert, and thereby protect his
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.
Sirius hadn't answered until he had settled in his
hiding place, let the two adults who knew of his innocence --
Albus Dumbledore and his old friend Remus Lupin -- know where
he was (carefully, in case of intercepted owls), and started
collecting old newspapers from town to get an idea of what had
been going on in wizarding Britain while he rejuvenated
in Muggle Miami.
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.
Food became a real challenge. Sirius would turn Buckbeak
out to hunt at night, but the hippogriff picked his kills clean,
crunching even the bones with his fearsome beak. Padfoot was reduced to
hunting for small rodents -- the only game he could find this close to town --
especially once it started to snow. He found the villagers were willing
to toss a dog a few scraps every now and then as well, but he couldn't steal
much if he meant to keep scrounging there. Madam Rosmerta, the
proprietress of the Three Broomsticks public house, proved to
be his most generous benefactrix. She was used to odd types
around her pub.
The cave got colder and colder as the year wound down;
surprisingly, Buckbeak allowed Padfoot to curl right up next
to him, and the two shared body warmth through the night.
Sirius found himself daydreaming about Miami and curling
up with Alex instead.
However, Harry's letter, written after Hogwarts's great
Halloween feast, gave him chills no tropical location would
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.
It's a trap, Sirius thought, his mind spinning.
Who could have done this? He needed to
talk to Harry directly, but... how? Sirius thought
furiously about this logistical problem for the next few days,
not even distracted by the package Alex had sent him in the
mistaken impression wizards and witches held Halloween in more
regard than Muggles. She had persuaded two large Canadian
geese (how, he couldn't imagine -- they didn't fly that far south,
normally) to carry a small bundle of paper parchment,
narrow-nibbed calligraphy markers (to simulate quill points),
and a solid milk chocolate heart. He would have to be
grateful later. For now, he used one of the pens and sheets
of paper to dash a note to Dumbledore. Nobody could best
him at solutions, and Sirius needed to utilize every resource
Alex had a quiet, nondescript Halloween. There weren't
any kids who trick-or-treated in her neighborhood, and her thoughts
lay elsewhere anyway. She stared at her ceramic
jack-o-lantern and meandered through seasonal memories --
Sirius's descriptions of the holiday feasts at school, with
candle-lit carved pumpkins floating through the air over the students'
heads, Alex's frustrated attempts to try to explain Wicca versus
wizardry.... She hoped he'd got her package okay.
Getting those geese when she called -- another tiny charm
Sirius had left her -- was a Goddessend; these birds she knew could
handle the distance. Waterproofing the package turned out to be
a real trick -- gotta protect against those water landings.
At least temperature wasn't an issue at this time of year.
She knew where her problem lay. She was in 'waiting mode.'
She couldn't concentrate on anything else when she was
Waiting for something; it would distract her from being able to
act on the anticipated... whatever. No matter how long it
took. And, from what Sirius had written to her about this
Triwizard Tournament, he'd be gone at least until the end of
the Hogwarts school year, until next summer. Alex
counted months again, and the number added up the same -- from
Halloween until the end of June was still eight months.
Hadn't changed from five minutes ago.
June had changed from being the celebration of one of her best
friend's birthdays to 'when Sirius comes back maybe' month.
Thanksgiving was being anticipated as 'it's a shame Sirius
isn't here to experience this' day. Everything around Alex
had become redefined in terms of Waiting.
Maybe an owl would come today.
Sirius had got his solution to contacting Harry. He would
use the Floo Network, and reach him through the Gryffindor common
room fire. It suddenly struck him that the mobile phone
worked in a similar manner. He hadn't called Alex lately
because the batteries had finally worn down, and he had no way
to recharge it yet -- another reason to depend on owl post.
He wrote to Harry first:
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.
The presence of the headmaster of one of the participating
schools -- Durmstrang -- concerned him. Karkaroff had been one
of Voldemort's followers who had turned, in the end. Sirius
considered him unreliable, and possibly the source of the immediate
Once that message flew on its way, tied to the leg of the
school owl with whom Harry had sent his own announcement, Sirius
turned his mind south-west. He needed to let Alex know her
package got to him, but it had to be so carefully written to
rise to the level of the gift. He carefully pulled out
a sheet of the parchment-like paper, trying not to smudge it
with his dirty fingers, and one of her pens; then sat at the
entrance of the cave in good light, waiting for the right words
to come to him.
My dearest Alex,
It's a good thing I wasn't in dog-form
when your amazing present arrived, as I may have been tempted
to eat one of your gracious messengers. The hunting's been
scarce, and they reminded me of old-fashioned Christmas dinner.
However, all thought of roast goose
left my mind when I saw what they had brought. Not only
the means to allow me to keep in touch, but you sent me your heart.
I had left mine behind, invisibly, tucked into your bed
where it would always be close, and there to protect you, but
now I hold yours in my hands, marvelling at its perfection
and purity. I almost dare not eat the chocolate for the
loss of the sight, but when I do, I'll know your heart will
dwell within me as thoughts of you constantly dwell in my mind.
Never doubt I cherish the least thing
from you, and I long for the day when I can see you again and
hold you in my arms.
Your most loyal Dog
Sirius looked it over critically. He usually spoke far
more directly, even this past summer in Alex's presence, but
somehow, the situation called for 'flowery', or 'baroque', or...
well, some sort of elaborate. Words couldn't make up for
punctuating a sentence with a hug or kiss, but he tried hard.
He stared off into the distance feeling hollow, not just with
his almost constant hunger. This sort of longing was new
for him. Before... before Azkaban, and Voldemort, and
James and Lily's murder, he was the sort of flashy one of all the
Marauders. James was the leader devoted to his lady, Remus
the shy intellectual, Peter -- the scum -- the hapless sidekick
to his more charismatic friends. Sirius had always been
the classic rakish Best Friend, loyal as one could wish for, but
refusing to 'settle,' whether it be on a girlfriend, or a hobby,
or some other kind of project. He'd brush off anything,
be it was extra homework or almost killing Severus Snape,
with a wicked grin and a sly look. He did own a
flying motorcycle, after all. Must live up to the image.
But then his best friends died, and because of his suggestion;
and he lost everything except for the deep, deep desire to kill
Peter Pettigrew. Azkaban had come very close to hollowing
And Alex had refilled him, by simply trusting him and loving
him with few expectations. Her absence almost allowed
circumstances to start chipping away at him again, but this
time Sirius knew he was not truly alone.
Alex got Sirius's reply the week before Thanksgiving.
As usual, she had volunteered to work that holiday, this
year to actively avoid any social gatherings. Certainly,
she could be thankful for her health, and having employment, and
all the usual Thanksgiving blessings, and she definitely felt
thankful for Sirius in general; but unsurprisingly, she
couldn't bring herself to be thankful about his absence.
Especially after she found a weary owl sitting on her porch
on the Saturday previous to the holiday. She coaxed it onto
her arm, brought it into the house, sternly instructed NEO not
to harass the poor thing, and settled it on the ladder in the
middle of the pantry. Her hands shook ever so slightly as
she unfastened the roll of parchment on its leg, but tucked it
into her shirt instead of reading it. Feeding the owl came
first, of course. Sirius's supposition had been correct --
no live mice. But Alex had gone to an exotic pet supply and
found that owls snacked, if reluctantly, on thawed fresh-frozen
mice. She could deal with mammals she didn't have to kill
herself, and therefore purchased a few pounds of mouse-sicles. She
took a few tiny corpses out of the freezer now, wrapped them
in a paper towel to microwave them thawed, and took the owl back
outside with its meal. She had got a perch, which she kept
supplied with seed and water for her unusual visitors, as well
as the frozen mice, and made the owl comfy.
Only then did she bolt for her bedroom, and curl up in her
nest of pillows to read Sirius's latest letter. She missed
hearing his voice (or his bark), but there's always something
special about written communication. She read his thank-you
three times over before frantically digging his old shirt out of
its sealed bag and hugging it as tightly as if the man had been
in it. If she'd been a witch the way Sirius was a wizard,
she likely would have invoked him right back to the house.
Alex thought all his letters special, but this one was
more wonderful than most.
She had to... show nobody. Sirius remained a fugitive on
the books of both wizarding and Muggle Britain and Alex rarely shared
any of her feeble attempts at romance with anyone out of fear of
eventual mortification. As a result, nobody knew about her
wonderful, blissful, magical summer. She had nobody to share
the letter with who wouldn’t try to eat it— or lie on it at least.
Alex had nobody to share her overbrimming emotions
with, and therefore no way to vent. She suddenly felt
diminished, and lay down hugging the shirt between her and a
pillow as tears crept down her face in a constant stream.
Christmas approached as the snow around Hogsmeade deepened, as
if to ensure the classic greeting-card look for the village in
time for the celebrations. Sirius had his first
almost-in-person meeting with Harry in months just before the First
Task, but his godson got interrupted by a wandering Gryffindor
before they could discuss strategies. However, Harry had
passed the harrowing Task with -- literally -- flying colours, and
had written to Sirius with blow-by-blow description a week or so
ago. The proud godfather passed on a Muggles' Digest version
of the same to Alex.
Sirius found himself once more vexed by holidays. How
could he possible celebrate with either of the important people
in his life when he was pinned inside an unheated cave halfway
up a Scottish mountain by circumstance? Tempted to write
to Dumbledore, he instead sent the wizarding equivalent of
a power-of-attorney to Remus Lupin, with instructions to 'buy
Harry a penknife, something that we would have wanted.'
His vault seven hundred and eleven at the wizarding bank
still had a decent balance available.
Lupin sent back an excellent Gryffindor-red item a week later,
complete with story: he had swept into Gringotts with the
legal document, carefully aged by magic to look thirteen years
old, telling the tale of how obviously Sirius Black was
an unsuitable godfather, so it was only appropriate Harry's
parents' second-best friend take up the burden of ensuring
the poor lad had at least a little bit of Christmas
cheer. Sirius could almost hear the pompous accent Remus
claimed he affected, and laughed a little as he sent the owl
onward to Hogwarts's superbly competent house elves, so they could
wrap and store the present with Sirius's gift note for delivery
on the proper day.
However... Alex. This would have been... should have
been their first Christmas together. For all his
near-swaggering mock indifference as a teenager, the holiday
meant a lot to Sirius. He had looked forward to all the
traditional drinks, and firesides, and... well, mistletoe.
Lots of mistletoe this year. He had been
certain they could manage at least a video fire and fake mistletoe
in Miami. He and Alex would have supplied the genuine holiday
An errant breeze blasted into the narrow cave entrance, and
set Sirius to shivering. He retreated to where Buckbeak
had curled up, covered almost completely by his wings, head
tucked under in bird fashion. The hippogriff allowed him
to nestle beneath his wingtips at other times, and Sirius did so
now, sinking into the relative furnace of the creature's body
warmth. Alex... what in the world could he do for Alex...?
Between his stressed physical condition, the hippogriff's
warmth, and the stuffiness of the air pocketed beneath the great
wings, Sirius fell into a doze instead of a solution.
Alex, on the other hand, had to try to limit herself.
Her problem lay not in what to send, but
how much to send and how to send it. Nothing smaller
than a roc could manage the smallest reduction of her presents-box
-- and the rocs didn't come when she called. She tried.
She had no connexions to the Floo Network. Hogsmeade
didn't receive regular British post as far as she could tell,
and neither FedEx nor UPS had any clue where to find the town.
No Apparition, no broomstick, no luck. She had to
think harder. Okay, if she got it across the ocean in
Muggle-fashion, maybe she could get someone to pick it up on the
other side and shove it through a fireplace, or dispatch a whole
parliament of owls for it. But who? The only wizards
she knew... knew of, really... had been mentioned to her
by Sirius. She didn't have much in the way of contact
information. Riffling through Sirius's letters, she narrowed
the possibilities to two names: Hermione Granger, and Remus
Lupin. Hermione's parents were both Muggles, knew their
daughter was a witch, and seemed proud of the fact, if a bit
puzzled. Remus had left Hogwarts the year before and had
settled somewhere, but Sirius never specified. Maybe he
hadn't been told yet.
Of the two, the Grangers seemed the most practical. Thank
Goddess for Internet phone directories -- twenty minutes of
looking came up with the Doctors Granger, DDS. Express
mail to ask if they would manage this package for her went off
that evening, as did a macaw to Hermione asking for her help.
Alex fidgeted for a week, until the Muggle mail reply arrived.
Polite, with a slight overtone of puzzlement (must be
anything associated with magic which caused that), they advised
they'd be happy to assist her present on its way. Alex
wrestled the box into her car and hurried it to the Post Office,
where the overseas express charges sent her reeling, and the
box on its way.
Hermione's answer came the next week, after the box presumably
had arrived at her parents'. Maybe it was just Alex's
extended aura, because Hermione's reply also had an overtone of
puzzlement, as well as being quite mannerly.
Dear Miss MacMillan,
I received your letter explaining about
the box you would like delivered to Sirius Black, how you know him
and how you know who I am. I had to share the letter with my
friend Harry, who you know is Sirius's godson, because he's
actually been in contact with Sirius.
Harry didn't happen to be familiar with
your name, but got quite excited over the idea of Sirius getting
a big Christmas present, especially a surprise sort of present,
and asked me to tell you that we -- Harry, Ron and I -- will take
care of getting to Sirius once my parents forward it here.
I hope you have a very Happy Christmas,
'Didn't happen to be familiar with my name... that secretive,
close-to-the-vest, black-haired MALE.' Alex's snarl came
with a genuine grin. She couldn't guess if Sirius hadn't
mentioned her for the same reasons she hadn't told anyone about
him -- a form of shyness; or because he was, after all, a man,
and simply didn't see any reason to tell Harry. She'd heard
guys did things like that. Couldn't do anything about
them, either. Oh, well.
She wrote Hermione back quickly, thanking her effusively, and
updating her on the box's progress. It seemed likely that
the letter would arrive at the school after the box (which also
had a letter for Hermione secured to the top), but she sent it
anyway. The parrot sat on the perch, still snacking, and
looking rather tired, so Alex called a local owl and asked it
to make the trip.
Ah, activity. Something to DO. Much better than
Sirius was running out of time, and not running into any
ideas. He even resorted to prowling around town as Padfoot,
hoping someone might drop something appropriate, or leave a
perfect present unattended. No such luck. He remained
completely unaware of the Christmas conspiracy swirling about
him, currently roiled by the just-in-time arrival of Alex's box
at the school. Hermione managed to keep the boys from
checking out the contents only by the threat of superior spellpower.
Hermione had the transportation responsibilities; Harry had
to coordinate their logistics. Even he didn't know exactly
where Sirius was, just 'back in the country and well hidden.'
Harry recognised the importance of not compromising
Sirius's security, and didn't dare ask his godfather if he
could drop by and oh, bring his friends and a huge box.
Ron helped him come up with what they all hoped would prove
a successful alternative plan. Using the faithful
Invisibility Cloak to conceal it, Harry and Ron would guide it
to the far side of the village while Hermione, being the best
at the spell, levitated the box. They would have to wait
until Christmas Eve to deliver it to a hiding place -- although
not an 'official' Hogsmeade visit, older students were permitted
down to the village for last-minute gift shopping, and the three
of them and box would not be able to sneak through the Whomping
Willow tunnel. Since Professor Snape had re-discovered it,
the tunnel was now warded anyway.
Sirius had just sent Harry off his letter of congratulations
the day before, and didn't expect an owl -- Pigwidgeon, in fact
-- the next morning, that of the Solstice. He snorted to
himself, thinking his old astronomy tutor would have been proud
he'd remembered. Astronomy had not been one of Sirius's
stronger subjects, other than the obvious self-interest factor.
Harry's letter had crossed his; Sirius skimmed it in alarm,
looking for any indication of trouble. It turned out to
be directions for something sounding surprisingly like a treasure
hunt. On Christmas Day, after lunch, he had to locate a
specific set of directions, hidden outside the Three Broomsticks.
Harry apologised for asking him to come so close to the
village, but added:
P.S. Bring Buckbeak with you -- you'll need his help.
He squinted at the note crammed onto the bottom of the
parchment. Buckbeak? Now his curiosity was
The days passed, cold and beautiful. Whatever Voldemort
or lesser evils might be plotting, it seemed they decided to
respect the holiday as well. The Daily Prophets
reported no new unusual troubles, and no reports came out of
Hogwarts either, from any of Sirius's correspondents.
Padfoot toured the village as usual on Christmas Day, collected a newspaper,
got a special luncheon from Madam Rosmerta... and
found his 'treasure map' hidden beneath an empty barrel outside
the back of the pub. He read it carefully, trying very
hard not to look like a dog reading a parchment in case anyone
The directions instructed him to start at Dervish &
Banges, the last student-interest shop on that side of the
village. He had to take a certain number of paces away
from the shop, turn right, and walk past or through some hedges
until he saw a large cairn on his left, on the other side of a
fence. Bemused, he wondered if the students had remember
how much longer Sirius's legs were, and decided Padfoot's pace
would match the teenagers' strides best. His canine vision
might also serve him better as the winter sunlight failed early
in the day, especially this far north.
Padfoot gave them credit -- the instructions worked very well.
From their precision, he suspected the best student of
the three, Hermione, had been in charge of writing them.
The large black Dog pushed through an untended hedge
running at right angles to a board fence, also neglected; just
around the shoulder of a small rise in the field to the left, he
saw the cairn. Probably built by a forcibly patient farmer
clearing a field for planting, the substantial pile of head-sized
rocks stood taller than his human height.
He jumped the fence, and approached the cairn. Circling
it, he noticed some of the rocks on the far side had fallen away,
spoiling the symmetry, but creating a sort of sheltered nook.
Pausing in admiration, he considered Harry & Co.'s
ingenuity in locating this place. The Marauders certainly
hadn't, and they had covered Hogsmeade pretty thoroughly when
they all ran together in fur-form once a month.
Padfoot approached the nook, but didn't need any great powers
of vision to see the very large cardboard box, covered with
packing tape, crammed into the rocks as far as it would fit --
presumably to give it the best protection from the weather.
Now he could understand why Buckbeak's assistance had
been recommended. He looked a little closer, and felt a
buzzing start in his head. The box had Alex's writing on
He looked at the sky. The sun, low in the sky and
beginning to be veiled by thin icy-looking clouds, wouldn't set
for another hour or two. Sirius didn't dare take the
hippogriff out of concealment until well into twilight.
Oh, well. Getting back up to the cave would take
at least a half-hour if he hurried, and if he didn't hurry, he
might be able to come right back with Buckbeak. And
His timing worked out perfectly. The sky glowed the
indigo of last light as Sirius soared through the frigid
winter's-night air on Buckbeak's back. The 'treasure map'
directions proved as easy to follow from the air as the ground,
and they landed before the cairn in short order. Sirius
tugged the box from its concealment, finding it not as heavy as
he had guessed, and directed Buckbeak to clutch it in his front
talons. Balancing statuesquely on his horse hinders, wings
extended for balance, Buckbeak waited for Sirius to throw himself
back over the hippogriff's shoulders before bounding free of the
ground once again.
By air, the trip to the cave took only a few minutes, even
going the long way to minimize being spotted. Buckbeak
had to set the box down on the path a little way down from the
cave to be able to land safely; from there Sirius easily carried
it inside. The exterior light failing, he hastened to get
his tiny fire lit, all that he would allow himself to prevent
How had she done it? From the markings and stamps on
the box, it had travelled the large part of the distance by
Muggle post of some sort, then apparently by owl post.
Now he deduced the extent of the 'conspiracy' -- Alex
must have shipped the box to someone the students knew, they sent
it to the school, and the kids got it to him. He stared at
the still-closed box in astonishment, overwhelmed. The
Marauders had done things like this for each other -- the
Animagus spell they'd learned being the exemplar. But
Azkaban makes you forget people will make these kinds of efforts.
He touched the box almost reverently, then set to work on
the tough tape with teeth and an edged rock. A letter lay
on the very top of the contents:
O my best-beloved (I've always liked that phrase),
I could not bear to leave you on that mountain without some sort
of solace for the holiday. I'm sure you wish as I do that
we could be spending it together -- I was kinda looking forward
to the whole mistletoe concept for once.
If things work as I've planned them, you can thank the Doctors
Granger, your godson and his best friends. Hermione's
parents are the only other Muggles I know of who also know about
Hogwarts, and were kind enough to play relay for me.
I can't possibly tell you how much I miss you, because that
would probably be depressing. I can't possibly tell you
how much I love you, because I don't think there are superlatives
'big' enough in English. I can tell you I want you to be
comfortable, and whole, and safe, and HERE, but there's
priorities beyond my self-centred desires. So all I can do,
beside longing for you and dreaming about you enfolding me in
your arms, is to try to take care of you from this great distance
of ocean and culture.
Your most devoted... Alex
P.S. The packing 'popcorn' is cornstarch, so it'll dissolve if
you get it wet if you want to get rid of it. Buckbeak might like the
stuff, although it doesn't taste like anything (I tried).
One of the nice things about people being in love with each
other seems to be their ability to be pleased easily by the
least effort from their partner. In that light, Sirius
would have considered that cover letter alone entirely enough
Christmas all by itself. However, he had considerably more
Christmasing to come.
Under the letter lay a colourful picture of a Christmas tree,
thoroughly bedecked -- with dog bones and other canine decorations.
A little note attached to it read:
Put this up on a wall, and you can pretend the box came
from under the tree!
Grinning broadly, Sirius followed the direction; then, tucking
the tail of his robes and his now well-worn duster beneath him to
protect his hindquarters from the cold rock, he reseated himself
The next layer covered the contents of the box, and consisted
of two extra-large towels, wadded up at one corner to, as it
turned out, pad some of the rest of the contents.
Thoughtfully, Alex had chosen towels in the dark blue
Sirius preferred. He pulled the towels loose, and discovered
that 'popcorn' Alex had P.S.'d about. Elusive stuff, packing
popcorn. Sirius offered a loose handful to Buckbeak, curious
to see his response. The hippogriff didn't seem to pay much
attention unless Sirius tossed the fluffy bits in the air, where
Buckbeak could snap at them playfully as they drifted to the floor.
Eventually the wizard got tired of trying to scoop 'popcorn,'
finding that digging into it and drawing out the items produced
much better results. He pulled out a large daypack; a fat
cylinder about as long as his arm and a little thinner around
than the span of both hands; a small, firm pillow shaped much
like a bone; and what turned out to be two metal and glass
lanterns and several large bundles of candles to place in the
lanterns. Just what he needed to keep exploring the
contents of the marvellous box!
Sirius installed candles in both lanterns, lighting them from
his fire. One lantern perched on an outcropping next to
the Christmas tree; the other he kept next to him.
Visibility improved drastically, but he knew he couldn't
use this much light too often -- it wasn't safe. The
daypack looked as if it would take quite a while to explore, so
Sirius looked at the strange cylinder next. Another note
hung off the drawstring:
At the risk of insulting your intelligence and the
knowledge you acquired while you were here, I'm going to
overexplain anything I think might be exclusively Muggle-ish.
This is a ThermoRest self-inflating sleeping pad, which
means it's A: insulated and B: will puff itself up with air when
you unroll it. To make it firmer, you will have to blow
into the valve at one end, then secure the cap quickly by
twisting it on to the right. To open the drawstring, you
squeeze both ends of the toggle in, and slide toward the end of
Again, he followed the directions, and pulled the contents of
the stuff-sack free. True to Alex's words, it puffed right
up; Sirius found the valve, and inflated it further, then sat on
it. Bliss. He hadn't sat so comfortably in this cave
before, or so warmly. He crossed his legs as he centred
himself on the sleeping pad, brushed 'popcorn' off the daypack,
and started in on it.
The pack consisted of two large compartments, one twice as
deep as the other, and smaller pockets on each side and the front.
He decided to start with the smallest, and work his way up.
The pouch in front contained waterproof matches, a striking
flint -- presumably if he ran out of matches, a small sewing kit
in a plastic box -- although Sirius couldn't imagine why; several
large cotton handkerchiefs folded up tightly and lip balm.
The label advertised it had 'SPF 30!' although the wizard
couldn't figure out what that meant.
Tucking everything back in carefully, he checked the longer
pocket on the left of the pack. This held a large, handsome
hunting knife and sharpening kit, wound about with a long leather
belt and the inevitable little note showing how to knot a belt
equipped with a ring instead of a standard buckle. Alex had
apparently bought it at a Society for Creative Anachronism event.
The right pocket held a set of plain flatware, five pieces,
wrapped up in large cloth napkins. Apparently, Alex held
the philosophy that many large squares of fabric were Very Good
Things to have. Tucked in to fill the space the flatware
and napkins didn't, were several long cylinders. The
attached note described them as 'glowsticks,' and explained how
they provided a weird green cold light by a chemical process.
On to the large compartments. The shallower section in
the front held a metal box, a fully stocked first-aid kit.
Sirius had no way of performing the most basic healing
spells, and considered himself lucky for not having to need any
so far. Alex described the contents in exacting detail
in her explanatory note inside the box. Sirius set the kit
aside to see what else the compartment contained. It turned
out to have many little pockets, into which had been tucked more
pens, hair elastics for the ends of plaits -- and a small pair
of blunt-ended scissors which had a note attached which Alex must
have printed out from her computer. The letters were a good
two inches high, thick, bright red, and read:
NOT FOR USE ON HAIR!!!
Leaving the metal first-aid case to one side with the bundles of
candles, Sirius opened the main section of the pack.
Irregular round things bounded out from the internal
pressure. Sirius captured one before Buckbeak nabbed it
with his sharp beak and realised it was actually a pair of woolen socks,
knotted up. Six pair had bounced from the pack.
Under the socks lay a pair of fleece lined moccasins; he
presumed these, from their soft soles, were intended for cave-only
use, to give his now extremely battered boots a rest.
A pair of ski gloves, thickly insulated and with textured
palms for good grip lay tucked in with the moccasins.
Alex also included a couple knit caps and scarves, and one
full-coverage black balaclava. The note pinned on that item
specifically read, with elaborate curly capital letters,
'Stealth Is Good'.
Sirius shook his head in amusement at that one, and
murmured to himself, 'She would have made a Marauder in our day,
wouldn't she? "Moony, Wormtail, Padfoot, Prongs, and the
Cardigan." Bit long, though....'
Layers of clothing came out next. The note said the long
underwear, glove- and sock-liners were made of silk, for its
excellent insulating qualities. Four sets of the long-sleeved
tunics and trousers Alex had made for him previously lay under the
underwear; two made from sturdy cotton fabric, the second two from
wool and cut fuller, to allow Sirius to layer the clothing for
warmth. Almost to the bottom, Sirius also found two dozen
men's underpants ('enough to allow Padfoot to bury a few if you
can't possibly wash them'). Under those, finally to the
bottom of the extremely stuffed pack, lay several bars of
all-purpose soap. It said it, right there on the wrapper,
'All Purpose Soap.'
The wizard noticed that the back of the pack now seemed
strangely loose, once all the clothing had been pulled out.
He lifted the lantern closer, and discovered what he
had thought a sort of backboard or bracing inside actually had
sections. Picking at a corner, a quarter of the semi-matte
black 'board' came loose. A book. One of four, it
looked like. Concealed in the vertical centre, protected
by the books facing spine-out and forming a narrow 'tunnel'
between the page edges until he removed the first volume, Sirius
found a parchment, tightly rolled. This didn't look as
'practical' as the rest of his wondrous box had so far, and he
resolved to keep it for last. He stacked the four small
black books, the roll of parchment, and buried behind the bottom
two books, a lumpy envelope all to one side with the
Now to see what's in the bottom layer, he thought as
he pulled the box closer to his blissfully comfy seat.
The pack, pad and lanterns had rested on a layer of some
strange, stiffish silvery material. Not the liquid sort of
silver of an Invisibility Cloak, this remained very solid and
visible. As he lifted the material out, he displaced the
rest of the 'popcorn' and found Alex's note sliding out between
These are called 'space blankets' because they're made
from materials developed by the American space program, to
protect the people who travelled in orbit around the world and
to the moon. There're two so you have plenty of slack to
tuck under the ThermoRest, and to pull completely over your head
if it gets that cold.
He wrapped one around himself experimentally, and felt the
warmth gather around him almost instantly.
Under the space blankets was... FOOD. Oh, was there
ever food! One corner held tea bags, coffee bags, sugar
cubes, dried milk, flavoured instant oatmeals and other cereals,
in hopes he could possibly heat water. Another corner held
salt, pepper,garlic powder, various herbs, powdered soups, a set
of camping tinware which included two cups, and two items noted
as 'folding buckets, sort of'. The whole long half of the
bottom of the box was filled with meat jerkies, energy bars,
dried and dehydrated fruits, nuts, other camping foods, and
Sirius was glad he was in human form, because Padfoot would
not have been able to keep from drooling a river. He
plunged into the bounty, and had his first good supper in months.
After wolfing down three energy bars and a handful of
apricots, he pulled out the 'buckets' and slipped outside to
fill them with snow. If he kept his fire burning, the snow
should melt by morning, he hoped.
Sirius surveyed the cave floor. Christmas, indeed. He
arranged things in a somewhat more orderly fashion, leaving all
the food together, pushing the pack with all the clothing up
against the wall next to the box, stacking the bundles of candles
on a bit of a ledge in the corner.
And so, he left himself his wonderful new sleeping pad, the
blankets... and the mysterious books and parchment. He
tucked himself back under a blanket and picked up a volume.
This cover was blank; but when he flipped it over, he
saw a Roman 'IV' painted neatly in bright silver ink in the
upper right corner, and a pawprint in the same ink in lower right.
He turned all the books silver-side up, arranging them in
a rectangle as they'd probably been inside the pack.
Picking up 'I,' he opened it to see what might be inside,
and found another Alex-note.
One of the very first victims of any war is, as you know
painfully well, the truth. I hope and pray with everything
in me that things will not go as badly as you told me they might
at worst; but if we are so cursed with the worst, I would like
to try to allow truth to survive less scathed than before.
I've sent you these blank books -- they're artist-quality
paper and should last well -- to encourage you to keep a journal
if you possibly can.
Tell your story. Start from the very beginning, before the
murders, so all the pieces of the story are in one place at last.
Write down what's happening at the Triwizard Tournament,
and your suspicions and conclusions, so those omens of forboding
can be read clearly in the future. I've sent four books,
not only because they'd fit better that way, but in case you
either have to abandon one for some reason, or if you end up
having a lot to transcribe.
The other items here will be self-evident if you haven't looked
at them already. I want you back, and will do whatever I
can to ensure that will happen.
Curious, he opened the envelope first. Tucked between
padding layers of tissue paper was a bracelet... he thought.
Holding it closer to his lantern, it appeared to be
plaited from two thick strands of coloured metal -- red and yellow?
The candlelight made the hues uncertain. Between the
wires ran a third strand, not of metal but perhaps leather or
fabric, as it had irregularity on the surface and only a satiny
sort of shine. He couldn't tell the true colour of it,
either. Shrugging, he set it down on the books and unrolled
Two sheets fought his straightening, and Sirius lay them flat
on the end of the sleeping pad, using two of the volumes to
anchor the edges. The top sheet contained writing, but
formal-looking -- a calligraphed poem.
The children sing out 'twinkle little star'
And claim you're like a diamond in the sky
While wondering how far away you are,
As glit'ring on the zenith you do lie.
In sooth, I know that you are here with me,
For heart to heart we meet. Your soul with mine
Is woven tighter far than lace may be,
More pure and sweet than any rose from vine.
I draw you down from your celestial lair;
You pull me up to unknown heights of bliss.
We meet and spiral 'round our centre shared,
One heart from two blent well in souls' true kiss.
It's you, my heart's own adamantine sun;
And I your knotwork rose so bravely won.
Sirius read it, then read it again. Then read it out
loud to himself, slowly, savouring the words as he leaned over
the pinned-down parchment. She wrote me poetry.
Thousands of miles and three months away, and she wrote
me a beautiful poem, he smiled in sheer delight. Nobody
had done anything like that for him for... he couldn't remember
how long. He pulled the sonnet loose from under the books,
expecting a second poem, and froze in place. If it hadn't
started pounding so loudly in his ears, he would have thought
his heart had stopped as well.
Alex had sent a photo of herself. A three-quarters
composition, she perched on the edge of a stool, one hand braced
behind her on the stool top, the other resting gracefully on her
thigh, looking almost majestically dignified... and clad in
naught but her hair.
She had posed quite modestly, and her hair being the utter
mane it was, covered her as completely as any normal swim suit,
but it was clear she presented herself to her beloved in the
most striking, memorable and private way possible -- a sight
reserved for the two of them alone.
Sirius didn't even wonder how she got the image; he nearly
ached with wishing this wasn't a Muggle photo but a wizarding
one, so he could watch the light shimmer over her hair as she
breathed, the living gleam of her pale, pale skin... so she
could smile at him. Devouring the details of the image,
he finally looked closer at her free hand, the one resting on
her leg. The hand wasn't empty, after all, but... he held
the picture carefully closer to the candlelight.
The bracelet. The same one, he was sure, that she
had sent in the envelope. He reached over, picked it up
again, and suddenly realized -- the dark, textile strand of the
bracelet's weave was a quarter-inch-wide plait of Alex's hair.
As much of her as could be there, she had sent to be
Sirius sat there, staring at the bracelet. One trembling
finger stroked the silky braid as it wreathed through its framing
wires. He slid it over his left hand; it just fit, with a
little encouragement, which meant it was unlikely to be able to
fall off. He stared at the picture again, his eyes filling,
whispering, ' "You pull me up to unknown heights of bliss."'
He brushed the photo gently, following curves with his
fingertip which he remembered molding with his hands.
His hands were shaking; his whole body was shaking, and
to his surprise he realised his face was wet with tears as well.
Sirius felt overtaken not so much by arousal as by... awe.
Simply... awe. And a chest-bursting feeling of love
mingled with pride for her, and humility for himself.
That she would do this for him...
But... this... this bounty, this gift -- it was all too much.
Sirius remembered how much she'd spent almost recklessly
to equip him just to cross back to Britain; and the markings on
this box looked as expensive. And the time she must have
taken, to put this all together.... Dumbfounded by the
depth and breadth of her passion, he nonetheless feared for Alex
herself. He remembered the proverb about the candle
burning at both ends, and decided, despite his selfish urges,
he must try to ensure she didn't do this again. Not that
all that she sent him, including so much of herself, her heart,
wouldn't do an excellent job of keeping him not only alive, but
comfortable, sane and civilised alone here in his cave, but if
she sent him everything, nothing would remain at home.
He would use the mobile, but it needed to be charged; and on
Christmas Night, no Muggle establishment in the whole of Britain
would open its doors to a stranger who just needed an electrical
plug socket. He'd have to wait until morning. His
sense of humour quirked -- he would call to thank her for his
box on Boxing Day. Apt.
So instead, Sirius set up housekeeping with his new goods.
He wished he could bathe properly before donning his new
clothes, but some things couldn't be helped. Shivering in
the perpetual light draft which stirred through the cave, he
stripped to the skin, and put on new everything -- underpants,
long underwear, tunic and trousers; sock liners and wool socks,
and the moccasins. To honour Alex's magnificent gifts, he
even pulled out the hairbrush she gave him so long ago, and
spent the next hour unmatting his hair, thinking longingly of
those scissors the whole time. He pulled it back tightly
and plaited it, using one of the elastics to secure the end.
He had got plenty of practice braiding when he'd played
with Alex's hair. However, now his neck felt unusually
exposed, and he unpacked a scarf to remedy that chink in his warmth.
Warm. He was warm, and fed, and clothed, and
well-taken-care-of. Sirius blew out the candles in both
lanterns, to save them for later. He fed the fire, and
turned the water containers, getting the clever idea to fold
one space blanket around them in a sort of half-tent, to help
trap the scanty heat from the flames while he slept. The
blank books and precious parchment, he'd placed carefully in a
cranny to keep them safe; the bracelet remained secure on his
left wrist, pushed up far enough so he could feel it when the
muscles of his forearm flexed against it.
He settled the sleeping pad between Buckbeak and the fire,
and stretched out under the space blanket. The 'bone'
pillow's odd shape proved to provide excellent cradling for his
head when he tucked in right under his neck. The flames
flickered dimly on the ceiling of the cave as the man lay there
and watched the play of light, his thoughts whirling as he
fingered the memento on his left arm. What had he ever
done to deserve to be treated this well? He only hoped he
could prove equal to the gift. Just before he shifted to
dog-form to sleep, he remembered a little prayer captioned on
one of Alex's corgi calendars hanging around the house.
Lord, please let me be the person my dog
thinks I am.