The Sugar Quill
Author: Helen H (Professors' Bookshelf)  Story: The Beast of Exmoor  Chapter: A Dog Person
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Chapter 2

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 and property of JK Rowling, to whose genius I gratefully doff my cap.

 

Chapter 2 A Dog Person

 

Remus followed along the winding, grass-lined sheep-tracks, hurrying to catch up with Holly and Snuffles.  The dog gambolled and dived amongst the heather, scattering nesting skylarks and sending the lazy partridge into flurries.  Every now and then, Snuffles would hurtle back to Holly’s side and circle her several times before bouncing off again, urging her onwards with excited barks.  As Remus drew up beside her, Snuffles charged at him, shoving a wet nose into his outstretched hand and springing up to greet him. 

 

            “Oommpfh!Down, Snuffles – Uh! - down - good boy – down,” Remus coaxed gently as he struggled to push the huge Alsatian off him, all the while keeping a wary eye on the strategically placed jacket which was threatening to expose his nakedness again.  Holly was laughing.  He threw her an imploring look before bursting into laughter himself.

 

She watched as Remus knelt and stroked Snuffles’s soft, broad head, ruffling his ears affectionately and smiling into the dog’s big gentle eyes.

 

 “He really could do you some damage, you know, if he actually saw you as a threat to me,” she said with a wry smile. 

 

Remus was now trying to fend off Snuffles’s tongue again, his face contorted by a mixture of disgust and amusement. 

 

She giggled. “Clearly, you’re not.” 

 

He returned her smile bashfully.

 

“He has good instincts about people,” she continued. There was a mischievous glint in her eyes. “Now, what is it that he likes so much about you?”

 

He had to bury his head in the dog’s shaggy neck to hide the broad grin that slid across his face at this question.

 

“You’re a dog person, then?” she asked, chuckling.

 

“A what?” He turned a puzzled face to hers. Snuffles planted his nose in Remus’s eye. “Ooof! Get off!”

 

“A dog person – you like dogs.”

 

“Oh - yes!” he agreed, nodding. “I like dogs.” Padfoot.

 

There was a pause as they watched Snuffles take off again, disappearing into the trees that bordered the moor. 

 

“Do you have one of your own?”

 

“A dog? No….Not any more.” He stood up and carefully re-arranged the jacket, the ridiculousness of his appearance and the irony of his serious mood not lost on him.  He began walking again, slowly, his eyes fixed to the ground.  She fell in step beside him.  “He died.  A few months ago.” He stated it bluntly, matter-of-factly almost, but there was a brittle edge to his voice which surprised him. He had done such a good job of burying these feelings over the last few months - for Harry’s sake mainly, but also for his own. It just made it easier that way.

 

She uttered a sad little, “Oh,” in response.  Then, gently, “What was he called?”

 

He sighed heavily. “Sirius.” 

 

“Oh, like the Dog Star?  How lovely.”

 

He glanced at her; she was watching him closely.  He felt a curious prickling sensation at the back of his neck, which he attempted to ignore.

 

“He was not lovely,” he snorted, but a smile of fond recollection creased his features. “He was surly, irascible….and impossible – never did as he was told.  And a magnet for fleas. But I loved him.  He was my best friend,” he finished simply.

 

He turned to look at her. She wore a pale smile but her eyes were warm. He noticed, close up, that her eyes were a striking hazel, almost amber. For a moment, he was mesmerised by them, and it was as if his mind had been wiped clean of all other thoughts.  But then, abruptly, she dropped her gaze and turned away, and he snapped out of his trance, suddenly conscious that he had been staring rather intensely at her.  He felt the heat rise in his cheeks as he scrabbled his thoughts together again.  Sirius.  He swallowed his guilty feelings, struggling to hide the look of dismay which had fallen across his face.

 

“Yes,” she said thoughtfully from beside him.  “It is true, what they say about dogs.  Snuffles is a best friend to me, too.  I wouldn’t be without him.”

 

He nodded abstractedly.  When he risked a glance at her again, she was gazing through the trees, somewhere far ahead of her.

 

A silence descended between them as they made their way through the woodland along a muddy, and occasionally slippery, trail which lead downwards into the valley.  At least the soft mud was easy on his bare feet, even if it was rather cold and sticky and splattered half way up his legs.  Every now and again the silence was penetrated by Snuffles’s barks from further ahead.  Just when it seemed that they had lost sight of him, Snuffles would suddenly emerge from the undergrowth with a crash and career towards them again, hurrying them on with his impatient, excitable prancing.  Cheered by the dog’s inexhaustible enthusiasm, Remus plucked a large stick from the path and lobbed it for him, laughing as Snuffles bounded off in eager pursuit. 

 

“So – do you live here on the moor, or are you just here on holiday?” Holly asked, stopping for a moment to let him draw level with her again.

 

“No, I’m not on holiday, but I don’t live here either, not anymore.  I used to – I grew up here. I’ve been staying at my parents’ old place.  These days, I just visit when I can, which isn’t very often.” About once every twenty eight days, he thought dryly.

 

“Oh?  What keeps you away?”

 

 “I’m a teacher,” he supplied after a moment’s hesitation, unsure at first where to pick up the lies. “In a boarding school, up North.”

 

“Oh! A teacher!” She raised her eyebrows and let out a short laugh. “In a boarding school? State sector not good enough for you, then?”

 

Her eyes twinkled and Remus could tell she was teasing him but her Muggle references had confused him again and he did not know quite how to respond.

 

She rolled her eyes good humouredly at his blank look of bewilderment. “It’s alright,” she reassured him.  “I’m a teacher too, actually.  A science teacher, at King Arthur’s in Porlock. What subject do you teach?”

 

“Ancient Greek.” Well, he knew enough to dodge any awkward questions, anyway - if she had any.  Experience told him that confessing to an expertise in Ancient Greek was a very effective conversation killer for wizards and Muggles alike.

 

“Oh.  That explains the boarding school, then.”  She nodded thoughtfully and directed an indolent kick at a fallen branch on the path.  Remus watched the mud squelching between his toes. Yup, never fails.

 

At this moment, returning from one of his forays into the forest, Snuffles surfaced from the bracken with his face covered in black filth and trailing the most horrendous stench which sent both Holly and Remus reeling, clasping their noses.

 

“Oh, Snuffles! Ugh! Go on! Get out of here, you dirty, filthy beast! Rolling in fox poo – you dirty, dirty boy! You wait ‘til I get you home!” Holly scolded, flapping her arms wildly, trying to shoo her dog, and the stink, away from them.

 

Remus could not help laughing at the naughty dog. Snuffles had the grace, at least, to look genuinely contrite, his ears flat against his head, puppy dog eyes raised in remorseful appeal.  But the repellent effects of the fox poo were too powerful and Holly was not to be so easily appeased.  Finally giving up on his attempt to win back her favour, Snuffles sloped off down the path ahead, shooting hangdog glances back at them.

 

Still chuckling, Remus picked up the conversation again. “So - Snuffles?  What made you pick a name like ‘Snuffles’ for such an unlikely creature? He raised an eyebrow in mock scorn.

 

 “Snuffles picked it, not me,” she answered, raising her hands jokily to defend herself from his disbelieving stare.   “It’s true!” she protested, laughing. “It was just a silly nickname I gave him when he was a puppy.  I do remember naming him something sensible, and not remotely embarrassing, like ‘Fred’….or was it ‘Jake’? But to my eternal mortification, he now only answers to ‘Snuffles’, so I’m stuck with it.” She pulled a face.

 

Remus laughed. “Well, at least he knows his own mind. ‘Fred’ might’ve suited him though,” he added, thinking of the mischief-making Weasley by the same name.

 

She turned to him again, her eyes gleaming animatedly. “Hey, if you grew up round here, you must know some stories about The Beast?

 

The effect of this question on him was dramatic: his smile died instantly and his face acquired an odd, closed look. He swallowed. “The what?” he croaked gruffly.

 

The Beast of Exmoor,” she repeated, adopting a misty, spectral voice, her eyes widened in feigned terror. “Surely you’ve heard of it?”

 

He shook his head warily.

 

“Oh.” Her zeal had deflated somewhat. “Well, a few years back,” she explained, “early 80s I think, there were rumours of an unidentified ‘beast’ roaming the moor.”

 

Remus watched her carefully, apprehensively – she seemed to find the idea of a ‘beast roaming the moor’ inexplicably thrilling. She couldn’t possibly know about him, could she?  Was she teasing him? Was this part of some malicious game?

 

“Dead sheep were found, completely disembowelled, their stomachs ripped open with one slashing claw mark, their bones licked clean,” she continued with undisguised relish.  “People thought it was a big cat, a panther or possibly a puma, escaped from a zoo or a circus.  I think they may have found some paw prints, and lots of people claimed to have actually seen a large black cat prowling across the moor - there was a sighting just a few miles from here.  There were photographs too.  Press went mad for it – one time there were more journalists on Exmoor than ponies, or so I’ve been told. Well, it went on for a few years, I believe, and then, I guess, the dead sheep stopped piling up, the sightings dried up….And so did the interest.  Some people think the beast was just a myth - an elaborate hoax by pranksters, or perhaps by the local tourist industry; others think it may have moved to Bodmin.”

 

“To Bodmin?” The incongruity of her last statement baffled him.

 

“Yes,” she nodded sagely. “There’s a Beast of Bodmin Moor, too. You never heard or saw anything, then?” The eager, hopeful glow in her eyes faded as she met his cool gaze.

 

“No, never,” he answered calmly. Seeing her disappointment, he added an apologetic shrug. 

 

“Pity,” she said ruefully. And then, flashing him a bright smile, she was striding off ahead of him again, calling to Snuffles and swinging her arms blithely.  Remus watched her with some relief: her capricious unconcern persuaded him, at least, that her interest in the story was nothing more than a harmless curiosity.

 

But he did remember something of this so-called beast, he realised.  That spring, after Lily and James, when he had come back to his parents’ cottage for …well, he didn’t quite know what he’d been looking for, really – perhaps some peace, some consolation, his mother’s loving arms….That spring he had spent the nights of the full moon locked in the shed his father had built many years before, when he had been just a boy.  He remembered, shortly after a full moon, his father quizzing him over breakfast one morning: had the wolf smelt or sensed any other creature on the moor? Was there any chance that the wolf had escaped the shed, even for a little while? He had had to remind his father that he was left with no memory of his transformation, but he thought it very unlikely the wolf would escape the shed and later return to it, Sealing all the doors and restoring all the wards.  His father had seemed only partially reassured; Remus remembered him appearing agitated and preoccupied during the days that followed, and he remembered interrupting several frantic, hushed conversations between his parents. 

 

And after the new moon, the tension in the house had grown until the air had felt thick with it. When he could ignore it no longer, he had confronted his mother and demanded to know what was going on. She had told him then of the bloody trail of sheep carcasses strewn across the moor which was spreading alarm and outrage among the local Muggles, and also of the rumours that were flying between the wizarding families who lived in the West Country.  He learned how he had come under the suspicion of the Ministry; how officials from the Werewolf Registry had contacted his parents to check on his status and the arrangements for his containment during the next full moon; how a team of investigators from the Beast Division of The Department for the Control of Magical Creatures were scouring Exmoor in search of clues to the creature and how the Werewolf Capture Unit were on standby, ready to arrest him at the coming full moon should there be even the faintest whiff of werewolf involvement.  It was all ridiculous, of course; you didn’t need a NEWT in Defence Against the Dark Arts to know that dead sheep were not the work of a werewolf, especially when the killings were occurring throughout the month.  But since when had the Ministry ever listened to sense or reason?  He had been in no doubt that their investigation was just another example of Ministry prejudice and persecution and that they would scapegoat him if they could.

 

Perhaps this would have been the moment to admit to his parents what he knew of the creature on the moor, but he could not have done so without betraying one of his oldest, darkest secrets.  Even as a child, he had understood that it was his responsibility - his duty - to shield his parents from some of the more grisly, terrifying aspects of his lycanthropy. They were his burden. He knew how his parents blamed themselves for The Bite.  So, he had never shared with them that though he could remember nothing of the wolf’s experiences of the full moon, he was often haunted by strange dreams as the full moon approached and as it waned, dreams in which he felt the wolf ensnaring his consciousness like a malevolent demon, steering him on a journey of wild and frightening rapacity. Disturbing images would flash through his mind; disturbing emotions would sear through his heart; and he would jerk awake to find himself drenched in sweat, his whole body shaking with-- was it fear? Hunger?  Or just the adrenaline of the chase?  That spring, since his return to Exmoor, the wolf had visited him in his dreams many times, but it had been joined by another creature, Darker and more deadly; one which at first he had not recognised, but now ran alongside the wolf as friend, pack-mate: a huge panther, black as night and as savage and as merciless as a manticore. 

 

Oh yes, there had been something out there, of that he could be certain.  But he had not wanted to stick around and find out what. All the fuss and furore, and all the Ministry scrutiny, precipitated his decision to leave Exmoor – and his family – for Europe, where he acquired his first teaching position at a rather dubious institution in the Black Forest.  A strange place for strange times and a strange young man……it had suited him well.

 

The path had gradually become steeper and narrower and now Remus found that he had to choose his footholds carefully, reaching for overhanging branches to keep his balance.  Holly, much surer of her way, skipped ahead of him, Snuffles scampering at her heels. He watched her trim figure as she nimbly dodged the low branches, tossing him encouraging smiles every now and then.  And then they were picking their way down a series of shallow, rough-hewn steps cut into the hillside and shored by wooden planks.  He could hear the gushing of running water, getting louder as he descended.  Through the trees below him, he caught a glimpse of slate roof and then, quite suddenly, the steps dropped away, and he found himself skidding clumsily down a steep earthy bank and stumbling onto a neat lawn.

 

He was in the back garden of a small stone house which stood on the banks of a rather treacherous looking stream, just a few feet from where he had landed.  Holly was sitting on the path by the back door, Snuffles waiting expectantly at her side as she tugged off her trainers and chatted to him unselfconsciously.  Remus smiled.

 

 “You made it, then?” she called to Remus, grinning, as she jumped to her feet and brushed her jeans down.  Then, scooping up her shoes with one hand and grasping Snuffles’s collar tightly with the other, she jammed her shoulder against the back door and pushed it open. Remus edged behind her as she slung her shoes through the open door into a spacious, homely kitchen.

 

            “No!” she told Snuffles firmly, hauling him back from the doorway and wagging her finger at his nose. “Stay here! Sit. Sit.  Snuffles obeyed with a pathetic little whine.  She sighed.  “You’ll have to stay out here ‘til I’ve got a bath ready for you, you dirty boy,” she said grimly, hands on hips. 

 

She turned to look at Remus and suddenly stiffened and coloured. “Er-- if you-- er-- wait here, too?” Her face appeared stricken as she nervously tucked and re-tucked a loose strand of hair behind her ear. “Hold Snuffles-- I’ll get you-- um-- I’ll get you the clothes.” She gestured awkwardly towards the house. Had it only just occurred to her that she had brought a strange, naked man to her home?

           

“Okay. Yes, sorry. I’ll-- I’ll wait here,” he mumbled, dodging her eyes and flushing.  He took hold of Snuffles’s leash and gave her a nod.

 

            She dived into the house and disappeared through the kitchen door opposite.  He could hear loud footsteps clomping up the stairs, doors being flung open, and then, from somewhere on the upper floor, a bath running.  While he waited, Remus took the opportunity to poke his head through the doorway and take a better look at Holly’s home.  The kitchen stretched the entire width of the house, with a cooking area on one side of the room and a dining area on the other in front of a large, mullioned window overlooking the river. To the left of the door, there was a heap of muddy boots and shoes and next to that, Snuffles’s basket and a few scattered, well-chewed doggy-toys. Behind the kitchen table, he noticed, there had once been a fireplace, but it had been filled in leaving only a decorative alcove, above which hung a clock: a quarter to eight. Still early.

 

Beside him, Snuffles gave him a doleful look and thumped his tail forlornly. “It’s no use looking at me like that,” Remus told him.  “You have to stay out here, with me.  You’re too smelly and dirty and I’m-- well, I’m too.…” He gave the dog a commiserative shrug.  Best left unsaid.

 

Holly entered the kitchen again carrying a bundle of clothing.  As she caught sight of him there, framed in the doorway, Snuffles sitting placidly at his side, she halted, contemplating him with a frown.  He looked down at himself uneasily – the jacket was still in place – then back at her again, enquiringly.

 

            She took a breath.  “Would you like a bath too? You’re all muddy….your feet…”

 

He considered his feet.  They were fairly caked in mud all the way up to his ankles, so that it looked like he was wearing mud socks.  It went against his better instinct to put a dirty body into clean clothes. A bath could do no harm after all, he reasoned, and it might even do him some good. “Er, yes. Yes, thank you,” he answered.

 

            “Let me show you the way - come in!” she said quickly, moving aside.

 

Remus stepped into the kitchen and as he did so, Snuffles made a bid to dart past him.  Holly was too quick for her dog though; in one swift movement, she dumped the bundle of clothes on the kitchen table and grabbed Snuffles’s collar, hoisting him back outside with a fresh scolding. Then she gathered up the clothes again and lead Remus out of the kitchen into a narrow, gloomy hallway.  He followed her up a flight of stairs, then along the length of the landing corridor. She opened a door ahead of them and ushered him into a pristine but very compact bathroom.  There was barely room for the two of them in there.  Holly had to close the bathroom door behind her so that she could squeeze past the sink.  He folded his arms nervously across his body.

 

Laying the bundle of clothes down on the wooden floor, she leaned past him to turn off the taps and dip a hand in the water. “Needs more hot,” she said, perching on the side of the bath and fiddling with the taps again.  He waited awkwardly as the bath filled. Holly was stirring the water idly with her hand, swirling and sloshing it round and round, steadily, in a hypnotic rhythm. The room began to feel oppressively hot as the steam rose from the bath and saturated the air.  She had her back turned to him.  The tight T-shirt she was wearing had risen up a little from the waistband of her jeans revealing an intriguing peek of her slender back.  His eyes traced her curves.  Suddenly disconcerted, he forced himself to remove his gaze from her and focused his attention instead on the curious array of potion bottles clustered upon the windowsill. Did one Muggle woman really need so many beauty products?

 

Finally, she stopped the water and drew back, shaking her hand dry. She blew a puff of air upwards over her face as she stood up. “Phew! Should be hot enough. Is it deep enough for you?” He noticed the strands of hair around her face had curled slightly with the moisture. 

 

            “Er-- yes, yes, it’s fine, thank you,” he stammered, peering into the bathtub, his embarrassment returning full force as he felt her proximity amidst the steamy heat. He hugged his sides more tightly.

            “Um, well, towels are just here--” she flicked her hand in the direction of a cupboard door behind Remus, brushing his shoulder accidentally. “Oops! Sorry.  And, er, soap and shampoo are here--” she indicated the windowsill “--and if you need anything else, just shout.” She clasped her hands anxiously and he wondered if the pinkness in her cheeks was entirely due to the heat in the room. She gave him a timid smile and then excused herself hurriedly before ducking out the door, closing it behind her with a light ‘snick’.

            He was just loosening the jacket from his hips when there was a knock on the door.  Startled, he quickly gripped the jacket to him. 

 

“Remus!” Holly called urgently through the door.

 

“Yes?”

 

“Remus, if you find a razor in there, please do not use it, ‘cos it’s for my legs, not for-- not for men.  And I haven’t any spare blades.”

 

 A razor? For her legs?  He knew what razors were for (he had got an ‘O’ for his Muggle Studies OWL, after all) but this was new – did Muggle women have hairy legs? Or maybe witches--? His eyes widened with dawning comprehension. “Okay,” he called back distractedly.

 

Hearing her footsteps recede down the stairs, he relaxed and let the jacket slump to the floor.  He climbed into the bath and immersed his tired limbs, allowing the water’s soothing warmth to seep through his skin and ease the tension in his muscles.  With an unrestrained moan of contentment, he closed his eyes and leaned back. But as his head touched the tub, he started and jolted upright again.  A bruise, on the back of his head.  Blindly, he felt about his scalp and located a big, egg-sized lump.  Around it, his hair felt crusty and matted and when he withdrew his hands, there were flakes of dried blood on his fingertips.  Alarmed, he ran his fingers over the bruise again and determined that, despite the size of the swelling, the cut was not deep, and only half an inch in length.  There was no fresh blood.  It was not serious, just a little cut.  And he had not even noticed it hurting, not until he had pressed it against the bathtub. 

 

It worried him though, and as he lay back in the water again, he chewed it over in his mind.  He could not remember how it might have happened. Before Wolfsbane, before The Marauders - and after them - his monthly transformations would leave his body covered in painful bites, bruises and lacerations which the wolf inflicted upon itself as it raged in furious frustration at its prison walls.  He had grown used to that. But now, with the Wolfsbane to retain his human consciousness, the wolf had been tamed and he had grown used to a different kind of transformation, almost peaceful.  This wound to the back of his head - surely this was not the wolf’s doing? What could have happened that might have left him injured in this way?  Did it perhaps explain why he could recall nothing of the last night’s events – had he suffered a concussion? Or was it the Potion? The wolf had travelled over ten miles last night. Where had it been running to?  Was it running after someone?  Or from someone?

 

He sighed resolutely.  He must get home. He might find some answers there. He must get in touch with Dumbledore.  And with Snape too.  Severus would have kept a sample of the Potion from this month’s batch; he would be able to test it and establish if there had been anything wrong with it, anything that might have diminished its effectiveness. 

 

He slid his shoulders down the sides of the tub, submerging his head, and felt the cut sting.  It would be best to clean the wound, he thought, reaching to the windowsill and selecting one of the bottles labelled ‘shampoo’.  For Normal Hair.  As he lathered it into his scalp, he smirked at the thought that any part of him might be considered normal.

 

 

*          *          *

 

A/N Thanks, once again, to my lovely beta Silver Phoenix, and to Seren and Angela, whose comments and advice have been invaluable.

 

Holly’s explanation of the story of the Beast of Exmoor contains some inaccuracies in the details, but is basically correct.  I believe – at least, I remember –that there was actually some video footage of The Beast, filmed in broad daylight and clearly showing it to be a large black panther. The Beast of Bodmin, however, is believed by most experts to be a puma.  In both cases, they are believed to be animals which have escaped from private zoos.  Sadly, Holly’s estimation that there were ‘more journalists on Exmoor than ponies’ is probably not far wrong, as Exmoor Ponies are now listed as an endangered breed.

//
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