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
“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.
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.
was now trying to fend off Snuffles’s tongue again, his face contorted by a
mixture of disgust and amusement.
giggled. “Clearly, you’re not.”
returned her smile bashfully.
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?”
had to bury his head in the dog’s shaggy neck to hide the broad grin that slid
across his face at this question.
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!”
dog person – you like dogs.”
- yes!” he agreed, nodding. “I like dogs.” Padfoot.
was a pause as they watched Snuffles take off again, disappearing into the
trees that bordered the moor.
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.
uttered a sad little, “Oh,” in response.
Then, gently, “What was he called?”
sighed heavily. “Sirius.”
like the Dog Star? How
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.
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.
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.
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.”
nodded abstractedly. When he risked a
glance at her again, she was gazing through the trees, somewhere far ahead of
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
– 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.
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.”
A teacher!” She raised her eyebrows and let out a
short laugh. “In a boarding school? State sector not
good enough for you, then?”
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
turned to him again, her eyes gleaming animatedly. “Hey, if you grew up round
here, you must know some stories about 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
of Exmoor,” she repeated, adopting a misty, spectral voice, her eyes
widened in feigned terror. “Surely you’ve heard of it?”
shook his head warily.
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.”
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
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.
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.
never,” he answered calmly. Seeing her disappointment, he added an apologetic
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
“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.
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
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.
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.
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,
She took a breath.
“Would you like a bath too? You’re all muddy….your feet…”
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,
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.
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
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.
Holly called urgently through the door.
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
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.
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.
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
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
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
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