The Sugar Quill
Author: Corgi (Professors' Bookshelf)  Story: Canis Mutatem: Wish Upon a Star  Chapter: Canto Two
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Canis Mutatem:  Wish Upon a Star - Canto Two

Canis Mutatem:  Wish Upon a Star
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 Mutatem.
 

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

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

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


Canto Two

Alex had an anxious, distracted Christmas.  The thought ran through her mind so loudly she was surprised all the people she visited couldn't hear it broadcast out her ears:  'I wonder if Sirius has got his box yet?'

She hadn't got any confirmation from the students yet, either.   These trans-Atlantic owl flights would be the death of her patience, she swore to herself.

The more sensible part of her mind kept trying to warn her.   Frequently in the past, whenever she got this worked up about a gift for someone, and they didn't respond right away, all this feverish excitement would sour into anger or depression or both in the dulling light of disappointment.  Alex knew, Alex thanked herself, and as usual when running on this kind of 'high,' didn't care at the moment.  Okay, perhaps it was selfish or self-centred, wanting to be praised for such extravagance; an ego-booster in the guise of generosity, a ploy for lavish approval in the person of a present.  Maybe this is why she made her gift so elaborate, obsessing over including one of everything she thought might be useful.  It was possible.  It was, at least subconsciously, even likely.

And then again, maybe she was just taking care of the man who'd taken her heart with him.

Making her absent-minded thanks to friends and 'adopted' family through the day, Alex went home, sitting up or lying down for hours before sleep finally overtook her, waiting for the beat of an owl's wings or the song of a mobile.

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

Sirius had to wait until nightfall of Boxing Day, which, due to the depth of the winter, still wasn't very late.  He flew Buckbeak towards the outskirts of a Muggle village about 40 minutes away, as the hippogriff flies.  After they landed, he tied the creature securely in a concealed spot, and remembered to shed his wizardly robes, leaving the less conspicuous trousers and duster coat visible.  His new layers kept him entirely warm enough, anyway.  He walked into the village, and found the local pub.  Although pubs, especially in small settlements, were the haven of regulars, they also tolerated the odd stranger passing through.  Sirius hoped he wouldn't be too strange for them, or someone might start staring hard enough to recognize the fugitive all over the newspapers last year.

He asked for a pint and a socket, was provided with both pleasantly enough, and huddled around the phone to try to ensure himself as much privacy and sound shielding as he could manage under the circumstances.  He checked the phone's clock display, subtracted time zones, and realized he'd likely be catching Alex in the middle of work.  Or did she have today off?  He didn't remember Americans doing anything special with Boxing Day.

Sirius didn't have too much of a choice.  The phone couldn't charge much in the time he could idle here, and he couldn't stay over-long without making himself conspicuous.   He pressed the speed-dial, and held the phone to his ear, ducking his head low as a shout of laughter behind him nearly drowned out the ringing.

The phone rang almost long enough for the voice mail to pick up; Sirius started to feel discouraged when finally Alex picked up, gasping 'Sirius!' into his ear.  He had missed her voice, he realised with a pang.

'Alex, I need to warn you, I'm in a pub and it's neither private nor quiet, all right?'

'That's okay, I'm just so glad to hear you.  I was on a call, thank God I was just finishing up, that's why it took me so long to answer,' Alex almost babbled.

'It's good to hear your voice, you know,' Sirius smiled into the phone.  'And I had the best Christmas ever yesterday.   Thank you, my love.'

Alex had dashed around a partition into the lunch area when she'd grabbed her phone, and was coincidentally mimicking Sirius's hunched-over position for much the same reasons.  She rocked her delight, seated cross-legged on the floor, trying hard to keep her tone quiet so as not to be overheard.

'So the box got there okay?  I hadn't got any owls back about any of it yet, so I wasn't sure.  I was agonizing over the possibility that something had gone wrong.'

'No, it was perfect.  Magnificent.  But Alex, as much as it will help me, you shouldn't have done it.'

'Ahhh, pshaw.'

'No, I'm not saying that to be polite.  It was too much, too much effort from you.'

Alex felt like she had the proverbial bucket of cold water dumped over her head.  Dj vu -- this sounded way too familiar.  'What.'

Sirius couldn't hear the warning tone in her voice for the off-key song the regulars boomed out behind him.  'I said, it was too much.  I don't deserve it yet, but I hope I can live up to that box, because it's such an overwhelming, magnificent gift.'

Alex lost everything past 'deserve it' in a burst of digital static.  She sat, stunned, stilled... frozen.  Furious.

Sirius had no way to know he had hit a sore spot that had never quite healed over.  '...Alex?' came from the phone.

Low and flat, Alex hissed into the mobile, 'What makes you think you are worthy and deserving of my heart, willing to accept that, but not my material goods?'

'What?'  Sirius, fighting a losing battle against noise, slithered off the barstool to the end of the phone's power cord to crouch on the floor, and covered his other ear.  'I'm not so sure I'm worthy, but I want to try to be.  I have nothing I can give you except my best effort.'

Alex had the same auditory problem on her end.  'What?   Look, I don't want you to give me anything; I just want a little gracious acceptance and appreciation of my effort.   I don't know what your problem is here!  It's like you're saying I can give you my personal space, my attention, but my stuff isn't good enough!'

'It's excellent stuff.  Wonderful stuff!  I'm... I haven't earned it from you, do you see what I mean?  I haven't earned you, really.'

'Now you're questioning my judgment?' Alex couldn't believe what she heard, but then... she wasn't exactly hearing what she heard, either.  She remembered to drop her voice before snarling, 'Maybe I should have killed you after all.'  Her workplace got terribly nervous about death threats.

Sirius, confused and frustrated, gave up.  The pub's noise level wasn't improving, and the conversation was definitely headed downhill at a rapid clip.  'Alex, I'll write to you.   I can't hear half of what you're saying.  Don't get upset about this, I'll send a letter back as soon as I can.'

Alex heard the 'can't,' 'don't,' 'upset' and 'send... back' most clearly out of the last, and then the garbled connexion broke.   '"Meddle not in the affairs of wizards, for you are crunchy and good with ketchup" ,' she quoted to herself, working into an excellent example of wretched.  She had to get back to work, but couldn't concentrate, and finally begged off at lunchtime as ill.  It wasn't much of an exaggeration -- her stomach wouldn't settle, and she felt she might actually get sick.

She did her duty by the dogs, and walked them as usual before curling up in a ball of misery.  I warned you, the back of her mind murmured, you got too wound up over that box.  That, added to a still-lurking fatalism -- this won't last, he'll get tired of you, nobody wants to deal with long-distance relationships -- caused a huge wave of depression to crash down, tsunami-like, on Alex.  She set about eating almost every bit of prepared food in the house, managing to make herself sick for real before crying herself to a restless sleep.

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

She called in sick the next morning as well, feeling vaguely guilty but knowing she couldn't deal with her emotional state in public yet.  She had thought hard about the rejection she'd perceived in Sirius's call while she lay half-awake, all-miserable, and started to coalesce her thoughts.

Alex let NEO out the door on lead, waited for him to come back in, then dug up a notebook and a pencil.  She had to apologise.

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

Sirius had been up for hours on a similar project.  He knew something went wrong last night, but couldn't hear Alex clearly enough to know exactly how he'd apparently mis-stepped.

Alex,

     I'm sorry that the call last night went so wrong.  I wanted to hear your voice after so long, and wanted you to hear how much I enjoyed the best Christmas present anyone's ever given me.  I know I made you upset, but I confess I'm not sure why.  I'm sorry I distressed you, and wish I could comfort your upset away in person.
     I could not believe how much you'd sent me, and how you managed to get it here in time as well.  You organised an excellent conspiracy!   I slept more comfortably last night since the last time I fell asleep in your arms, with a fuller stomach than for weeks.  Your Christmas tree shone all night over the goodies you'd sent.
     And Alex... that poem.  That picture.  I am in awe.  I can't find the words to express how much that moved me, how much that means to me.   I know how you value your privacy and modesty, and for you to include that picture is powerful evidence of your depth of feeling.  It struck me just as deeply, I assure you.   As soon as I realised what the bracelet was, I put it on immediately and don't plan on taking it off, ever.  As close as I've been to some of my friends, as much as we've done for each other, I've never had anyone give me so much of herself.   That's what I was trying to tell you about.  I'm worried that you're giving so much of yourself to me, that you won't have anything left for yourself.  I don't deserve to have you lose yourself in me -- it's a selfish protective move on my part, I told you I want to come home to you.  And if you keep spending this much money on me, you won't be able to afford the home at all!
     I'm not sure what I did to be lucky enough to have you as my 'guardian spirit,' but I swear to you that I will do everything I can, once we can be together again, to remain worthy of you.  You obviously seem to feel I'm deserving now.  I dare not contradict my goddess of Christmas, for she is kind and benevolent and generous and beautiful.

Your humbled and awestruck Sirius

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

Alex stared at her pad miserably.  She had started and discarded several versions, and hadn't hit the right note yet.   She tried again:

I'm so sorry, Sirius. I owe you a huge apology for how I reacted on the phone yesterday.  No matter what you were calling to tell me -- and I couldn't hear all of it, there was too much static -- I had no good reason to react in such an extreme manner.  You deserve better than that.

I'm not sure why, because I couldn't hear everything, why you don't approve of my gift.  I'm only trying to help, because of what you've told me about the conditions you're in.  I'm not going to apologise for my effort, because I certainly wouldn't leave any friend in those straits, never mind someone I've given my heart to.  I'll apologise instead for imposing on you.  I realize I can be pushy and excessive, and I've apparently overstepped some boundary I didn't know was there.

There's also the probability I did this all as an exercise in my own ego, just to show you what a wonderful generous person I am.   I can't tell you if this is the truth or not, because it would not have been my conscious motivation.  I'm ashamed that's a possibility, though.  However, I'm left to wonder if it wasn't as much the dry goods as the... personal items which I included which give offense.  Considering how... intimate we'd been over the summer, I thought... OK, maybe I didn't think.

Look, no matter what's wrong with how it got there, you have the box now.  There's no point in you trying to send it back, or not use what's in there, just because it's tainted.   Please be practical, and keep yourself warm and fed.   The poem and the picture can be burned, and you can toss the bracelet into the woods.  The rest of the box is pretty neutral, and shouldn't be any sort of bother.

If this is all too much for you to deal with, especially with taking care of Harry's problems, I can understand that.   It's just going to take me a long, long time to get you out of my system, and I hope you can understand that, if I act even more stupidly in the future.

Alex

She read it over a couple times, and went into the Library to type it up on the computer before she called a messenger bird.   The tear stains absolutely had to go.

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

Due to the perversity of weather, Sirius got Alex's message a few days after the New Year, and before she got his, despite the letters being sent at almost the same time.  He read it twice, not believing his eyes the first read-through.   Whatever Alex had heard during his call on Boxing Day, it was horribly, horribly wrong.  He had to call her again, but now that holiday hours had passed for businesses and such, Sirius vowed he would find a better location this time.

By the time Sirius located a cyber-caf a few hours away and made plans to travel there, Alex had got his apology in turn, and reacted not dissimilarly.  She had been soooo so wrong!  Pounding her head against a wall would just muss up the wall, so she discarded that option.  He didn't want to leave her, he loved the present, he was just... worried for her.  Since Sirius's mobile might not respond, she couldn't call him, and this owls-crossing-mid-ocean thing HAD to stop.   Alex promptly redefined Waiting as a frenetic and high-energy exercise.

Mid-month, Sirius flew Buckbeak as close to the city as he dared; then taking his new pack and bedroll, he walked along back roads and alleys, avoiding notice, losing himself in crowds.   He found a battered cap on a roadside, and after knocking most of the dirt off it, used it to help shadow his distinctive features.  Finally reaching the cyber-caf, well into downtown, he paid his logon fee and bought a large elaborate coffee with the last of a carefully hoarded bit of Muggle money.  The caf enhanced the beverage price outrageously, but the relative peace and quiet would be well worth it.  Sirius found an unoccupied corner, and plugged in the mobile.   It was early enough in the day that he hoped Alex would still be home.

'Alex?'

'Sirius!  I got your letter just a couple days ago.   I am SO sorry I misunderstood you.'

'Alex, Alex, I read your apology and...'

'But that was wrong, too.'

'Shh... shh....' his voice got very soft.  'It's all right.  I shouldn't try to suppress your impulses, I should know better by now.  You are magnificent when you're passionate.'

Their connexion sounded very clear this time, because he thought he heard the bedclothes rustle as Alex shifted position.   Her voice strained when she answered.

'Sirius... I got scared.  What you said reminded me of a... a philosophical disagreement I had, still have, with a very close friend of mine, and I reacted from my frustration with him instead of listening to you.  I thought... I guess... that you were rejecting me because of... because it was too much, and it was like I was trying to control you or something.'

Sirius sighed into the phone, and took a moment before replying.  'I think, and this is from our relatively limited experience together, that we're enough alike in that anyone trying to "control" us will find they have a totally contrary creature fighting them from the first hint of a pull in the wrong direction.  If I ever felt you were trying to control me, you would have a fight on your hands, not a push away.   I'll tell you again and again, until you believe me:   I don't want to leave you.  Even if I'm not there physically... wait, you said it in that beautiful poem.   "We meet and spiral 'round our centre shared/ One heart from two blent well in souls' true kiss." '

'You memorised it?'

'How could I not?'

'"It's you, my heart's own adamantine sun..."   You know I think about you almost every single second of the day.'

'You humble me.  I keep wondering what did I do to deserve such...' he trailed off, searching for a sufficiently expansive word.

'And what did I do, to have someone like you almost literally fall into my lap and free me from myself?  Someone who turned out to be just about everything I'd ever thought any kind of attractive?  I might not be doing it well, or appropriately, or whatever, but I'm trying to express my joy and unfettered gratitude as... as broadly as possible.'

Sirius paused again, considering this, then spoke with a broad smile in his voice, 'You know, if we keep up this oneupmanship competition of ours, we shall become dreadfully obvious.'

She laughed, all the worry and strain gone in an instant.   It sounded sweeter than bells to Sirius.  'I know, I know, we're disputing the alpha position in our pack, aren't we?' he snickered back.

They spent the next twenty minutes or so conversing with far less consequence, happy verbal meandering, Alex telling Sirius about the latest Silly Boxer Trick, Sirius catching her up on Hogwarts and his investigations.  Apparently she and Hermione had struck up a bit of a correspondence after Alex solicited the young witch's assistance, and had delved into comparative cultural anthropology:  sub-tropical Muggle America versus sub-polar wizarding Britain.  Sirius took the opportunity to apologise for his lack of a Christmas present for Alex, who promptly dismissed the notion, claiming the only suitable present would have been Sirius wrapped in mistletoe.  He filed that notion for later potential application.

Alex finally tore herself away, needing to get ready for work and to tend to the dogs.  Sirius let her go reluctantly.   Her apologetic letter had scared him badly with the anguish she'd expressed there, and all his protective instincts wanted to keep her on the phone, where he could hear she was safe and happy.  He half-consciously rubbed the bracelet on his arm, pushed high up under his sleeve.  Oh, well.

As long as he had to let the phone charge, he pulled the PC keyboard over to him, and started poking around to see what the caf loaded on their machines.  Finding a dictionary/ thesaurus link, and forgoing his and Alex's new no-competition clause, he started picking away at a poem of his own.  He lost track of the clock in the process, and by the time the caf cut off his access, he found the phone completely charged.   He printed out his pages, being charged an additional 50p for the convenience.

Actually, the timing worked out well.  By the time he walked as far out as the suburbs, full dark had come on, and he could catch a few hours sleep less likely to be disturbed before continuing back to the hippogriff, and hence back to Hogsmeade.   He stayed in human form, instead of the kilometer-devouring form of Padfoot, because the pack would not follow his clothes through the transformation -- a limitation of the spell, and somewhat inconvenient.  He didn't mind the walk, though.   It had been quite a while since he could stroll along and observe the landscape at human eye level, and his excellently-insulating layers of clothing kept even his feet from chilling as he occasionally had to wade through crusted snowdrifts.  He kept looking east, and finally spotted Sirius glittering brilliantly between the patchy clouds scudding across the night sky.   He watched his eponym steadily, thinking of Alex, and feeling warm inside as well as out.

Eventually, Sirius and Buckbeak returned to their cave as dawn threatened the eastern horizon.  The wizard peeled off soggy wool and leather, laid the snow-soaked items out flat to dry as well as they could, lit his fire and curled back caninely on his sleeping pad and space blanket.  He woke with a start a few hours later, jolted from his nap by a truly insane idea.   He scrambled for pen and parchment, scribbled:

Remus,

I've had a mad idea.  Can you scrape together some Muggle money, or get some of mine converted without hazard to yourself?   Will come discuss this in person.

S.

And promptly sent it off.  After Buckbeak hunted that evening, Sirius had him follow the returned owl toward Remus Lupin's home.

//
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