The Sugar Quill
Author: Helen H (Professors' Bookshelf)  Story: The Beast of Exmoor  Chapter: The Beast Roams Again
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Even before he had opened his eyes, Remus Lupin had formed in his mind a vivid picture of his surroundings

The Beast of Exmoor

 

 

A Harry Potter story by Helen

 

Disclaimer: Any characters etc. you recognise from Harry Potter are not my own, but the creation of JK Rowling, to whose genius I am eternally grateful.

Cert PG for some mild language

 

 

Chapter 1 The Beast Roams Again

 

 

Even before he had opened his eyes, Remus Lupin had formed in his mind a vivid picture of his surroundings - birdsong in a piercing forte, and filling his nostrils, the powerful, musty aroma of damp earth beneath the sharp scent of pine needles and leafy greenness. His senses drew him to one reliable conclusion: a wood – somewhere. Where exactly? How far had the wolf travelled last night?  

 

Remus rolled onto his back with an involuntary groan and forced his eyes open. Above him, the branches of a lofty beech tree filtered the morning sunlight.  He swallowed; his mouth felt parched, his throat raw.  His stomach gave a loud growl and he became conscious of the hollow cavity in his belly.  A good sign, he thought wryly.  Dragging himself up into a sitting position, he draped his arms over his knees and, still blinking the sleep from his eyes, surveyed the little glade in which the wolf had made his bed last night.

 

Nothing looked familiar. To his left, the woodland seemed to slope steadily down into a valley. To his right, the trees seemed to thin out just a short distance away and through them he could see a glimpse of grassy scrub – he must be on the edge of the moor. That way was the way home. 

 

His head felt muzzy.  Rubbing his temple with his fingertips, he tried to recall the last night’s events. He shouldn’t be here – he should be at home, curled up on the hearth. He hadn’t missed any doses of his Wolfsbane Potion this month - but supposing there had been something wrong with the potion?  He hadn’t noticed anything different; it had tasted quite as dreadful as it usually did. There was no question that he trusted Snape with the Wolfsbane; any reservations he had felt in the past had long ago been discarded.  But the Wolfsbane Potion was notoriously difficult to brew accurately and it was safe to assume that, from time to time, there would be mistakes, even with Snape’s expertise.  He remembered returning to the cottage yesterday afternoon, as he had done every full moon for the last few months since Sirius’s death.  He couldn’t face enduring the transformation at Grimmauld Place, not without Padfoot to keep the wolf company during the long night; there, with Sirius’s scent all around, the wolf pined for its absent pack mate, its simple, primal emotions forcing his own feelings of grief and loss to the surface again and making the morning after an even more wretched experience than it usually was.  And so he had removed himself to this place again: his parents’ isolated old cottage on Exmoor, the wolf’s lonely refuge.  He had locked himself in last night, casting Unbreakable charms on all the windows, Sealing all the doors – so what had he overlooked?  How – why – had the wolf escaped the cottage? What was he doing here, so far from home?

 

Struggling shakily to his feet, Remus brushed off the dead leaves and clumps of soil that clung to his bare skin and started to pick his way gingerly towards the moor.  His legs felt stiff and unsteady, the bones and muscles still adjusting to their reconfiguration in his human form. Every part of him felt tender and he winced with every awkward step.  He had not gone far before a forceful wave of nausea overcame him and he dropped to his knees, retching violently.  Wiping the acrid bile from his chin, he pulled himself upright again and staggered onwards.

 

As he approached the edge of the wood, the prospect of leaving the relative cover of the trees and exposing his nakedness to the open moor made him hesitate and draw back.  No wand and no clothes…what would happen if he encountered anyone out there?  It was daylight but still very early….surely the chances of meeting any Muggles out walking on the moor were pretty slim?

 

Just then, the stillness of the woodland air was disrupted by the sound of a dog’s bark.  Quick as a flash, he dived behind the nearest bush and, from his hiding place, scanned the trees for a sign of the intruder – he’d give someone a mighty fright if they came across him like this. From some way off, deeper within the wood, he heard a shout and the dog’s answering barks as it crashed through the bracken. Well, there was nothing for it, then – the moor it was. Crouching low, he edged his way out onto the moor.

 

He straightened up. The soft, mossy grass beneath his bare feet was a welcome relief and he felt a renewed vigour as he padded his way out onto the moor, stepping along the well-worn sheep tracks through the expanse of purple heather. He needed to reach the crest of the moor – from there he’d be able to scan the panorama and orientate himself.  The nausea had subsided now, the throbbing pain within his joints having begun to dissipate, and as his body gradually eased itself back into his human skin again, he felt his spirits lift and his speed pick up.  He ploughed on through the heather, skipping to dodge the little piles of sheep-turds which littered the tracks, rejoicing in the pure, vast emptiness of the landscape stretching ahead of him in all directions, not even a sheep or a pony in sight, just the occasional skylark flitting from its nest, trilling its distinctive liquid warble.  Along the horizon, the cloudless September sky was still tinged with yellow and Remus paused for a moment to inhale the crisp, dew-laden air and allow himself to absorb the beauty of it all. 

 

Suddenly, a shout rent the air.

 

He spun round just in time to register a massive dog launching itself at him, its ferocious jaws gaping.  His eyes widened in shock as he raised his arm to shield himself from its teeth.  The dog’s paws landed on his chest and sent him reeling, winded.  Before he could recover sufficiently to clamber to his feet, the dog leapt at him again, knocking him back down and pinning him to the ground. It gave two loud, triumphant barks and then, fixing him with wild, excitable eyes -- set about licking his face enthusiastically. 

 

“Snuffles! Come here, Snuffles! What are you -? Oh!” The woman’s call to her dog had ended in a startled little gasp as she clocked the naked man struggling beneath her pet.

 

“Snuffles!” Her voice sounded shrill and tense now.  “Snuffles, get here! Heel, boy! Get here! Here!”

 

Lying on the ground as he was, with his view somewhat obscured by the great, hairy dog which straddled him, Remus could make out very little of the young woman who was shouting frantically a few feet from him.  Right then, he was still occupied with the dog, wrestling with it to try and shove its head away from his and resist its eager affection. Snuffles? Somewhere in his mind, he realised that this name was familiar but he couldn’t remember why….Finally, the dog decided to give up on its new plaything and stop ignoring its mistress’s commands, drawing back with a light bound. 

 

God, this is embarrassing.  Remus felt a deep blush suffuse his cheeks as turned his head to look up into the pale, frightened face of the young woman whose dog had just assaulted him.  Muggle, he thought, judging by her clothes, and the fact that she hadn’t drawn a wand and hexed him already.  Fumbling urgently with her dog’s leash, she was attempting to back away from him and to drag her unruly dog with her.  He sat up, instinctively reaching to cover his genital area, and hunching his shoulders over in a futile bid to hide his naked body from her horrified gaze.

 

“I – er – Look, it’s not what it looks like--” he stammered hoarsely.  He tried to offer a placatory palm, but this only seemed to increase her anxiety and so he hastily replaced it.

 

“Well – well - what is it, then?” she managed in between shallow, panicked breaths.  As she tugged at her dog’s leash again, Remus noticed that her whole body was trembling. He winced guiltily.  She had stopped edging backwards from him now and, in an effort to rally her defences, she squared her body to face his, drawing the dog in front of her.  The enormous, bear-like Alsatian fairly dwarfed her slight frame.  “Wh - Where are your clothes?” she demanded, glaring determinedly at him. “Or do you often wander around the moor, naked, hoping to surprise women innocently taking their dogs for walks?! You – you pervert!” She spat the last words, her voice rising in pitch.  Her initial shock was quickly giving way to furious indignation.

 

“I’m not-- not a-- I’m just….” He sighed gloomily. “Just lost…trying to find my way home….” He appealed to her with his eyes, but her face appeared hardened against him, her eyes narrowed, her jaw tight.  She gripped the dog’s leash firmly with one hand, the other balled into an angry little fist. He felt his own indignation rise as he remembered that it had been her dog which had attacked him.

 

“So, where are your clothes, then, Lady Godiva?” she hissed, her lips twisting viciously at the corners.

 

She was sneering at him now.  Just to increase the humiliation.  But it wouldn’t do to admit he’d left his clothes at home, in a neat pile at the end of his bed. “I don’t know where my clothes are,” he sighed. “And your dog attacked me,” he added, a little peevishly.

 

“He hardly attacked you,” she scoffed. “He just licked your face--” She broke off, clearly changing her mind about admitting that her one line of defence against the naked pervert was an over-sized puppy. “But he could attack you, y’know, if I gave him the command--” she attempted, with what she must have hoped was a confident flick of her head, tilting her chin towards him insolently.

 

Remus regarded the dog now – Snuffles.  He realised, looking at it from this angle, that its long, shaggy black and brown coat gave the illusion that it was much larger than in fact it was.  Its tongue lolled stupidly from its panting mouth and its eyes stared at him with playful innocence. He was not afraid of the dog now, now that he had seen the worst it could do.  He turned his face to hers again and raised his eyebrows sceptically.

 

“Look, I’m just trying to find my way home….I’m tired, it’s been a long night, and I can do without this, so why don’t we just agree to go our separate ways and we can both forget this ….encounter?”

 

She seemed to relax a little at these words, loosening her hold on the dog’s leash and leaning back on her heels. She glared at him through narrow, measuring eyes. “You didn’t spend the night out here, did you?”

 

“Y-es,” Remus answered slowly, eyeing her warily.

 

“What – is this some kind of weird hippy shit?  Communing with nature and all that?” She regarded him suspiciously.  “You’re not from that ‘organic community’ up at Fogshill Farm, are you?”

 

He stared back at her blankly.  Too many Muggle references – he didn’t know what she was talking about.  But it was clear that a ‘yes’ to any of these questions would be unwelcome. “Um, no? No, nothing like that,” he answered uncertainly, watching her face closely for her response: the little furrow in her brow, just above the bridge of her nose, relaxed a little. Think fast, Remus, he told himself, think fast. “Just, um – well, I remember leaving the pub….” Yes, alcohol - always a good excuse. Alcohol and memory loss.

 

“Which one?” she asked quickly, giving him a shrewd look.

 

Best stick to what you know, Remus. “ Er, The Green Man in Nettleton,” he replied, recalling the Muggle pub in the village a mile from his parents’ cottage, where he and his fellow Marauders had spent several long, drunken evenings that summer after they had left Hogwarts.

 

She frowned and swiped at a loose strand of hair, puzzling on this information. “Nettleton?  That’s got to be over ten miles from here.” 

 

This was very useful.  Nice one, Remus. “Er, is it? I came a long way, then!” he laughed nervously.  She had glossy brown hair, he noticed, the colour of milk chocolate; it had been drawn into a thick, untidy knot at the nape of her neck, a few stray pieces framing her face.  Late twenties, he guessed.

 

Folding her arms, she raised a scornful eyebrow at him. “So you left the pub in Nettleton.  Doesn’t explain how you came to be here, so far away.”

 

How would a Muggle travel so far? “Er, well… I remember getting in the back of James’s car …” - James had always wanted a car, something to rival Sirius’s motorbike - “…And then I guess I must have passed out. Then I woke up here.” He shrugged apologetically. Lame, but not unlikely.  “Er - without my-- er-- clothes,” he added, with another bashful attempt to shrink himself up smaller.

 

She made a tutting noise and muttered something under her breath which Remus did not catch. “So, what - is this some kind of stag-night prank, or something?”

 

Stag-night? The blood drained from his face.  He stared at her, desperately trying to compose his features as his mind whirred furiously –  what did she know about him?...his nights with the stag…The Marauders….the wolf….? She looked like a Muggle – jeans, trainers, some kind of light, zip-up jacket with bright stripes down the sleeves--

 

“Are you the unfortunate groom, then?” she asked when he didn’t reply.

 

Groom? The cogs in his brain began to clunk into place. “Oh! No! – no!” he spluttered, warm relief washing over his face as he realised the foolishness of his mistake.  This girl was nothing more than a harmless Muggle.  Moody was making him paranoid.  He couldn’t help releasing a short laugh at his own stupidity.

 

“It’s alright.  No need to worry. I’m not going to tell anyone – least of all your fiancée.” Her eyes glinted mischievously, the corners of her mouth twitching.

 

Remus paused to consider – should he put her straight? Or maybe it’d be easier to just go along with her misunderstanding? He looked at her now, taking in her appearance properly for the first time.  Now that her anger had cooled, he realised that she was really quite pretty, with large, round eyes and a very appealing mouth…Despite her tough stance with him, there was a rather child-like fragility about her features, that having now revealed itself to him, he found quite fascinating.  Perhaps agreeing to having a fiancée would be too big a lie to carry off – he knew very well that the best liars never stretched their stories too far. 

 

“No, no, there’s really no fiancée,” he admitted with a sigh and a rueful smile. “Just some rather high-spirited mates, who clearly thought it’d be great fun to abandon me out here last night, minus my clothes.” Now that was a lie he could sustain with ease – pranks of that sort were familiar territory for one of The Marauders.  He gave a little chuckle and shook his head indulgently as the memory of one such incident came back to him.

 

“Some mates you have, leaving you out here to freeze to death.”

 

He shrugged.  “They don’t mean any harm.”  For a brief moment, it was almost real to him. He blinked to break the spell and turned to look at her again.  She was giving him a strange, inscrutable look.  His discomfort with the situation returned with a new acuity.  “Um…well, I need to be getting home now, so…” he trailed off, hoping she might just take his hint without him having to ask her outright to go on her way.

 

She remained silent, staring at him, her brows knitted pensively.  The moment seemed to stretch to an age; then she appeared to come to some sort of decision, as she placed her hands on her hips, exhaled once and took a purposeful stride towards him. “Do you know your way home from here? I mean – have you got a long way to go?”

 

“Er…” He regarded her apprehensively. Where was this leading?

 

“Because you’re not going to get very far like that.” She wrinkled her nose. “With no shoes.” She made a mischievous moue.

 

“Are you offering me a pair?” he asked, slightly confused.

 

“I think I can do better than that.  Here--” She peeled off her zip-up jacket and flung it down to him. “Have that to restore your modesty, for starters.  And then, if you like, my ex left a few items of clothing back at mine – you can take what you want, I’ve no use for them.”

 

Remus choked in astonishment, gratefully grabbing the jacket and hurriedly arranging it to cover his private parts.   She was helping him?

 

“I’m Holly, by the way.  Holly Leonard.  I have the old Mill House, in the valley.” 

 

She offered him a friendly smile and he returned it with a sheepish grin as he tied the sleeves of her jacket behind his back.

 

“Um, Lupin. Remus Lupin,” he answered, climbing to his feet.  He was wearing her jacket like a pinny.  Modesty restored perhaps, but not dignity; he felt ridiculous.

 

Biting her lip, she flashed him eyes brimming with amusement. “Well, Remus Lupin, c’mon.  Before you catch your death.”

 

She turned to her dog and took his big, wolf-like head in her hands, rubbing it affectionately, locking his eyes with hers.  “Come on, boy – we’re going home!”  She released his head with a flourish and, encouraged by her ebullience, he tore off, bounding exuberantly through the heather in the direction of the woodland Remus had come from earlier. 

 

“It’s over this way!” she called to Remus as she strode off in her dog’s wake. “I might even make you a cup of tea!”

 

And he was suddenly blind-sided by the bright, ingenuous smile she shot back at him over her shoulder. He felt his stomach constrict as his breath caught in his throat. He blinked and swallowed. Then he started after her. Well – what else was there to do? 

 

 

A/N To those of you to whom the title of this story means nothing, it will be explained in the next chapters.

Grateful thanks to my beta, Silver Phoenix, to Seren, for her reliable honesty, and to Angela, who really ought bite the bullet and publish that novel of hers!

 

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