The Sugar Quill
Author: Helen H (Professors' Bookshelf)  Story: The Beast of Exmoor  Chapter: New Friends, And Old
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The distribution of this story is for personal use only. Any other form of distribution is prohibited without the consent of the author.

The Beast of Exmoor

 

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 the wonderful JK Rowling. I thank her for permitting me to borrow her werewolf (and her magical world) to write this story.

 

Chapter 3 New Friends, And Old

 

Remus wrapped the towel around his waist and bent to inspect the pile of clothes that Holly had left him.  A pair of cotton shortspants.  Oh yes, it felt good to be in pants again. And socks. Thank Merlin for socks.  What else had this ex of hers left behind?  He extracted a pair of jeans and a wine-red T-shirt emblazoned with a bold yellow logo for ‘Idaho State University’.  Was Holly’s ex American? He supposed it was possible.  The T-shirt fitted comfortably loose on him, he thought, but the jeans were definitely too large and seemed determined to slide off his skinny hips. If he only had a wand, he could have Shrunk them to fit. Fortunately, Holly had helpfully supplied a leather belt amongst the things, and this he used to secure the jeans, though they still looked unflatteringly voluminous.   

 

            He paused to take a look at himself in the mirror above the sink.  The bath had refreshed his senses, but not, apparently, his skin: he still looked tired and pale, the hollow, grey shadows under his eyes illuminated in stark contrast.  Feeling dispirited, he huffed a puff of air through his nostrils and glared at his reflection.  Old, he thought, peering at the wrinkles which lined his brow.  He swept a hand through his damp hair and tugged a few pieces down over his eyes.  He could have used a Drying Charm too. He had given his hair a cursory rub with a towel, but though this had removed some of the water, it had also, he suspected, created a knotty mess at the back. A wand would have sorted that too, he thought with a sigh. At least he still had a full head of thick hair, even if it was streaked with grey.  At his age, his dad had been almost completely bald, barely a hair left on his head.  A lop-sided smile creased his features. Well, there had to be some compensation for being a werewolf.

           

            As soon as he opened the bathroom door, he was hit by the heady, mouth-watering aroma of frying bacon wafting up the stairs from the kitchen below.  She was feeding him, too? Suddenly aware of how hungry he was, he padded down the stairs in his sock-feet, careful not to slip, struggling to contain the feelings of hopeful anticipation.  As he approached the kitchen door, he bit his lip to hide the excited, boyish grin which lit his face. 

 

            “Hello,” said Holly brightly, as he came into the room. “I figured you’d be hungry. Sit down, it’s nearly ready.”

 

            He took a seat at the table, which Holly had laid out with mugs, milk, fruit juice, a rack of buttered toast and a large pot of tea, brewing under what looked like a funny, knitted hat.  Remus gratefully helped himself.  Propping his elbows on the table, he hugged the warm mug with both hands and sipped slowly at his tea, taking a moment to reflect on the good luck – or whatever it was – that had brought him here.  He was pleased to notice through the open back door that Snuffles, still banished to the garden, was enjoying his own breakfast too, chomping contentedly on a huge bone.  Several clamorous bangs and clatters from the direction of the stove announced that breakfast was indeed ready and Holly plonked a plate down in front of him filled with the full English spread – bacon, eggs, sausages, mushrooms and tomatoes – all deliciously glistening with grease. 

 

            “Wow! Thank you,” he gasped, eyes widening in ravenous delight, before seizing his knife and fork and tucking in. Holly was still darting about the kitchen, opening and slamming cupboard doors in an effort to locate the ketchup.  Finally rewarded, she pulled out a chair opposite Remus and sat down to her egg-and-bacon buttie.  They munched in appreciative silence for a while, exchanging the occasional smile between bites.  The bacon tasted even better than his starving mind had imagined it would. For a whole week he’d been without meat, since eating flesh had the effect of strengthening the wolf’s mind, both during the transformation and also during the nights leading up to it.    

 

Sensible to the fact that people don’t normally like to be watched while they eat, Remus resisted the urge to stare at the pretty girl opposite him, but couldn’t stop himself casting frequent, furtive glances in her direction.  Her hair was tumbling out of the hastily-knotted band and now made an attractive spray of chocolaty strands about her neck and shoulders. She had a pretty-shaped face, he thought, with a delicate but unmistakeable point to her chin which suggested to him she might be rather strong-willed by nature.  Her complexion was creamy white, though her arms, her slender arms, were a warm, golden colour.  On her long fingers she wore only one ring: a silver band set with a large, uncut moonstone. Perhaps it had been a gift from her ex.  Her fingernails, tellingly, were bitten short; he couldn’t help wondering what it was that worried her to nibble at them so.  Teaching adolescents perhaps, he thought wryly. But it was her eyes that exerted the strongest pull on his: large, expressive eyes framed by long, dark lashes and neatly arched brows, the irises that extraordinary hazelly-yellow colour.

 

 Feeling a little embarrassed that he might have given himself away with the surreptitious staring, he turned his head to gaze out of the window instead. On the river bank opposite stood a gnarled and knobbly old oak tree, its trunk entwined with ivy, its green leaves displaying the first golden daubs of Autumn; beside it, a weeping willow bowed its pale, trembling head over the fast-flowing water, its leaves shimmering in the splashes of reflected sunlight.  He could hear the river rushing and gushing past the walls of the house, just a few feet from where they were sitting. This really was a beautiful place.

 

Holly had finished eating now and was pouring a cup of tea.

 

“How long have you lived here?” he asked her, as he reached for another slice of toast.

 

“I moved to this place three years ago,” she answered. “Got it at auction, very cheap. Needed a lot of work though, most of which I did myself.”

 

He looked around the kitchen admiringly.  Muggles, after all, had no magic to clean and paint and install cupboards. They had to do it the hard way, lifting heavy things with their arms and banging nails into walls with hammers.  He was impressed.  She was obviously tougher than her small size suggested.

 

She nodded in the direction of the back door. “Tom, my ex, did the garden though. Before he came it was just a mass of brambles and bracken out the back, and the front drive became a quagmire every time it rained.”

 

He glanced towards the garden. At the mention of her ex, he had felt a little pang of disappointment, which unsettled him slightly.  He had only just met her, after all, and though he could not deny that he was attracted to her, to hope for anything more would be foolish.  She might be kind and pretty and charming but she was also a Muggle, and there was where it ended. Staring glumly at his empty plate, he found himself idly swiping his piece of toast over it, mopping up the splodges of egg yolk and brown sauce.  Holly watched him over the top of her mug of tea.  

 

“You really were hungry, weren’t you?” she said as he polished off the last bite of soggy toast, an expression of amused indulgence on her face.

 

            He blushed. “It was great, just what I needed. Thank you.”

 

            “You’re welcome,” she replied, standing to remove his plate.  She gathered up the dirty breakfast things and carried them over to the sink to wash up.  He offered to help but she cheerily rebuffed him with an order to stay where he was and drink up his tea. 

 

As he listened to the hiss of the taps filling the sink with water and Holly pottering about as she cleared up, he allowed his mind to stray to the cut on his head he had discovered in the bath. Reflexively, his hand twitched to the back of his head and he slid his fingers through his hair to the place where he had felt the cut. Once again, the size of the swelling around the cut alarmed him and it must have showed on his face.

 

“Is something wrong?” Holly asked, concern evident in her tone.

 

Snapped out of his thoughts by her question, he quickly dropped his arm to the table. “No, no. Nothing, sorry. Just--” he broke off uncertainly. Her patient, questioning gaze crumbled his reserve.  “I hurt my head last night,” he admitted, and he was embarrassed to hear a note of hurt confusion in his voice.  He reached to the cut on his scalp again and began to worry it with his fingers.

 

 She was at his side. “Let me see.”  She gently tilted his head so she could inspect the wound. Her hands on his neck, her fingers in his hair…. How long since he had felt a woman’s fingers in his hair? His eyelids suddenly felt very heavy.  And as she leaned over him, her body so close to his, he breathed in her scent: she smelt of fresh air, gorse and heather, but also of tea and ketchup….and perhaps a little of dog…..

 

She inhaled sharply.  “Ooh! Yes.  This must have hurt.”

 

“I don’t remember,” he murmured.

 

“Hmm…I didn’t notice it before, but then your hair is rather long and-- well, it could do with a comb, couldn’t it?”

 

Holly began to gently tease apart the tangles in his hair around the cut, her fingers lightly tugging at the knots.  A deep, drowsy contentment overwhelmed his senses.  He inhaled deeply, allowing his eyes to flicker closed. She seemed to lose herself in her task for a few blissful moments, carelessly twisting strands of his hair around her fingers and triggering a lovely, sensuous warmth to flood across his scalp, down his neck, his spine, across his chest. He didn’t want her to stop. Abruptly, she released his head and crossed to a cupboard, rummaged for a few seconds and then returned to his side carrying several items which she placed on the table in front of him. He watched her, feeling slightly dazed, as she unscrewed the lid off a small brown bottle and tipped a little of the clear yellow liquid it contained onto a piece of cotton padding.

 

“This is going to sting,” she warned.

 

He braced himself, gritting his teeth bravely as she applied the padding to his cut. 

 

“There,” she said, with a final dab of the padding. “That ought to have cleaned it, anyway. I don’t think you need stitches.”  This assessment was reassuring, at least.  Remus remembered only too well Arthur Weasley’s experiment with Muggle stitches.  

 

A soft press on his shoulders indicated that she was done.   He allowed himself a few extra moments to wallow in the memory of her touch, then, shaking his head to dispel the sweet muzziness, he pulled himself up in his chair and tried to take charge of his wits again.  The dull thunk of submerged crockery from somewhere behind him told him that Holly had returned to the washing up.   He gazed unseeingly out of the window, lost in thought.  This place, this girl….

 

As Holly returned to the table and began to pour them both another cup of tea, he gave into his curiosity.

 

 “Were you and – Tom - together long?” he asked tentatively.

 

 She replaced the teapot on the table and sat down again, her gaze levelled steadily away from his. “No….not really…but--” She was playing with the silver ring on her left hand, sliding it up and down her finger distractedly. “Well, Tom and I, we’ve known each other a long time….we were old friends. We met at university.”

 

            “At Idaho State?”

 

            “At where?” She looked puzzled by his question. 

 

He tugged at the logo on the T-shirt he was wearing in explanation.  

 

“Oh! No. No, at Bristol.”  A smile was playing on her lips.  “That’s just a stupid slogan. What’s it say in the label?” She stood up and reached over the table to him, grasping the back of his T-shirt and pulling it towards her. “TopMan.  Yeah, that’d be right.” She flumped into her seat again with a sulky pout on her face.

 

            He watched her, waiting, silently questioning her with his gaze.

 

She sighed heavily and leaned back in her chair, spreading her hands out on the table in front of her. “Oh, it’s fine, really.” She shook her head dismissively. “It wasn’t like I ever thought it was going anywhere. Tom’s a ‘free spirit’. He travels. He surfs and he travels.” She let out a snort of laughter. “He got back from Laos last year – he was teaching orphans and building hospitals there – and he needed somewhere to stay.  He only meant to stop a few weeks, but….” a mischievous smile spread across her face.  “Least he stayed long enough to fix the garden. Did a good job.” She flashed him a cheeky grin.

 

Had he really been prepared for her answer? He digested the information.  So Tom was an old friend….someone special, but not serious …a lover, but not for keeps….. Some parts of her explanation had baffled him slightly, but he had got the gist. And there it is again. He chided himself for his foolishness, for his wanton disregard of common sense.

 

“So – these mates of yours, won’t they be worrying about you?  Looking for you maybe?” she asked.

 

He averted his eyes as the lies tripped off his tongue.  “No, I very much doubt it.  They probably just imagined I’d be able to make my own way home from the moor.”

 

            “Can you get in touch with them? You can use my phone if you want.”

 

            If only it was that easy. “No – er – thank you, but I’ll be fine. I just need to check a map, find the best route home.”

 

            “Oh! Yes - a map!  I’m sure I have one somewhere….. Come with me.” She jumped up from her chair, still holding her mug of tea, and led him from the kitchen, into the gloomy hallway again, past the staircase and through a door to his left. 

 

He entered a sunny lounge, furnished with a large red sofa and an old, leather-upholstered library chair. A tall, carved oak bookcase and a roll-topped bureau stood either side of the chimney piece.  Holly had crossed to the bureau and was busily digging about in one of the drawers. The shelves of the bookcase were bulging with books of all sorts: novels and reference, slender and hefty, fraying old tomes and ragged, well-thumbed paperbacks.  In here, the fireplace had not been filled in, but it was tiny compared to those in wizard homes, not even big enough for a small child to Floo by.  Facing the wide bay window, looking out onto the front garden, was a sturdy looking desk, over which were arranged several tottering stacks of student schoolbooks around what he believed must be a computer.

 

As he looked about the room, Remus’s attention was caught by some framed photos propped up on the mantelpiece above the fireplace.  One of them showed a bare-chested young man with a mop of thick curly black hair, posing for the camera holding a long, brightly painted plank of wood.  The man was not particularly handsome, he thought – his face was long and his nose disproportionately large, giving his features quite a harsh appearance – but, Remus would admit, there was an ingenuous warmth behind his smile.  He turned the frame over and found a note on the back: Tom and “Bella” ‘92. Bella? Bella was the plank of wood? At that moment, Holly interrupted his thoughts with a little cry of triumph and he looked up to see her inspecting the cover of a slim pamphlet.

 

“Here it is.  This one covers Exmoor, Dartmoor and the Quantocks.  What have you got there?”

 

He shifted his feet awkwardly, embarrassed at being caught nosing at her photos.

 

She looked unconcerned though. “Oh, yes.  That’s Tom.  And Bella, his favourite surfboard and prized possession. I think that was Thailand.  He entered a surfing competition there.” She gazed fondly at the photo a moment, then turned away quickly and began shifting the piles of schoolbooks from the desk to the carpet to clear a space for the map. 

 

 Remus realised with some amusement that he did have a notion of surfboards and surfing, and suddenly their earlier conversation about Tom made more sense.  Surfing. It was a sport, wasn’t it?  Where Muggles rode over the white surf of waves on a wooden board.  He supposed it provided much the same thrill for Muggles that broomstick flying did for wizards.  Remus replaced the photo on the mantelpiece and joined Holly as she spread the map across the desk.

 

 “Let’s see--” She traced her finger over the map. “We are…here.” She pointed at a spot marked on the map as Miller’s Dell.  There was the river, and next to it a tiny white oblong which must be Holly’s house. A thin road-track lead from the house through the valley, meeting the main road to Simonsbath. “Where do you need to get to?”

 

He scanned the map. Would it even show his cottage? His parents had never gone to the trouble of making it Unplottable, but simple Muggle-repelling charms had kept prying eyes away for many years. Of course, those sort of charms needed casting at regular intervals to maintain their effect, and Remus had been quite neglectful of the cottage over the last few years, so perhaps….Ah. There it was.  No name, just a little white square, but no mistaking it nonetheless: there was the woodland to the south of the cottage, which shielded it from the view of motorists travelling along the road; there to the north was the tall hill crowned with the (disappointing) remains of a Celtic fort and to the east, a cluster of barrows where, presumably, the Celtic chieftains had been laid to rest, although his mother had always claimed they were fairy forts. 

 

“Do you see your house?” asked Holly.

 

He frowned at the map, stalling a moment to consider his answer: would it do any harm to point out his house to her?  Who or what was he still protecting with his silence? His finger hovered over the village of Nettleton….Perhaps one of these anonymous white oblongs instead….But before he had a chance to decide one way or the other, a sudden loud creaking noise from behind them made both Holly and Remus swing round in surprise.

 

A black nose could be seen, just the tip of it, peeping round the door.  A snuffling noise as it sniffed the air hopefully. Holly said nothing but folded her arms slowly and leant back against the desktop with an air of confident authority. Eyes fixed on the black nose, she wore an expression of amused astonishment, as if she couldn’t quite believe Snuffles was daring to defy her in this way, as if he really should know better than to try. Remus felt the corners of his mouth twitching into a smile.  He recognised that look.  How many times had he seen Lily greet James with that look?  How many times had he watched James crumple under its power?  Especially during Seventh Year, when James had been trying so hard to win her over with his new-found Head Boy sensibleness, yet always managing to foul it up somehow.

 

Emboldened by the silence from the other side of the door, Snuffles nudged it a little wider and shoved first muzzle, then whole head and ears through the gap, turning doleful, suppliant eyes to his mistress. Holly kept up her challenging stare for a moment, before yielding with a laugh, shaking her head indulgently. Game, Snuffles!  The power of cute puppy dog eyes, recalled Remus with a knowing smile, should never be underestimated. 

 

She stood up from the desk and crossed to the door, then took Snuffles’s broad, velvety head into her hands and spoke to him fondly. “I suppose I ought to give you that bath, huh?  Can’t have you shut outside all day, can I? Come on.” She gently pushed his head back through the doorway and turned to Remus.  “I’d better go see to Snuffles.  You’ll be okay down here, won’t you?”

 

“Oh, yes.  I’ll be fine.”

 

“Good. I won’t be long, anyway.” She smiled. “Well, you have the map, so …..  And you know where the tea is if you want to make another brew.  And, er--” she glanced at his sock-feet “—there are some old shoes in the kitchen, by the back door.  I think Tom left some boots and a pair of trainers.  You might find a pair of wellies there, too - have a look.  I can’t remember his shoe size, but with any luck, you’ll find a pair to fit.  And the telly’s in the kitchen if you get bored.” And with a slightly shy smile she slid through the door after her dog.

 

Left alone, Remus gathered up the map from the desk and dropped into the comfy cushions of the sofa, preparing to examine the map more closely. He listened to the muffled thumps of girl and dog climbing the stairs and then, a few moments later, the groan and rattle of the water pipes as the bath filled.  The map, he mused, would have been a lot easier to read if the hills and valleys had been shown as they were on wizard maps, in three dimensions, and not a series of confusing loops and whirls, like strange fingerprints of hills.  And there were some interesting omissions, he noticed: the Quidditch pitch by Sturloe’s Hill he had expected, of course, but also the stone circle by Roosthitchen, the Cudlips’ house, the Tremletts’ place, Gil Honeyfoot’s Pumpkin Farm and the whole of the Muxworth estate. 

 

He sighed and pushed himself further down into the sofa cushions.  He was used to maps, of course, but this one was just a muddle of criss-crossing roads and curling loops and splotches of green and little white polygons and tiny, tiny writing-- He rubbed his eyes wearily and yawned. A dull pain across one side of his forehead was beginning to nag him.  He kneaded his temple abstractedly.  Ten miles seemed a very long way to walk.  But as he examined the map more closely, it became obvious that, even following the most direct route to his home from Holly’s, the journey would be nearer to thirteen miles, not ten. He threw his head back against the cushions with a groan. What he’d give for a broomstick right now! Deciding he’d had enough of the map, he folded it up and cast it aside carelessly.

 

He could hear some kind of commotion going on upstairs: some thuds and crashes, the occasional high-pitched shriek from Holly, which suggested that Snuffles was not altogether co-operating with her bathing scheme. He grinned to himself at the thought of the wet dog – and the wet girl.  Yes, that would’ve tickled Sirius too. For some reason, he found this thought comforting. 

 

Perhaps it was the big breakfast he’d just consumed, or maybe it was staring at the map with all its confusing squiggles, or the annoying throb at his temple, or perhaps it was just that he hadn’t slept for most of the night and it was finally catching up with him, but he became aware that he was in fact very tired.  He had made himself quite snug amongst the sofa cushions; they were very kind to his poor old bones.  Folding his hands over his chest, he felt it rising and falling, rising and falling; he allowed his breathing to slow and deepen, his eyelids to droop, to close a moment.  Thirteen miles and no broomstick…..

 

*          *          *

 

It is night…the darkness envelops the trees, shrouds their gloomy branches… no moonlight penetrates their dense canopy….He is running, feet pounding, skimming the perilous tree roots which snake across his path.  His mouth is dry, heart racing furiously - fit to burst from his chest.  Tree trunks loom from the shadows, flash past him….four feet - four paws - nimble limbs, weaving swiftly amongst the trees…. He is casting frequent, anguished glances behind him. They are on his heels. He is their quarry. Fear courses through his veins. A bright flash of green light shoots over his head.  He veers off in a different direction.  Another flash of green illuminates the trees ahead of him.  The blood is pounding in his ears.  He is running for his life. Jets of red and green light explode against the tree trunks near him.  He risks a fleeting glance behind him, but the darkness hides his pursuers from sight.  He can smell them though: humans, but cloaked in the unmistakable scent of death. He plunges onwards, tearing through the trees to dodge their spells. 

 

And then suddenly a different smell fills his nostrils – a powerful animal scent, at once dreadful and comforting in its familiarity. His pack-mate. He lets his instincts carry him now. The scent is growing stronger.  He lets out a desperate whine, a plea to the darkness.  And then-- the startling vision of a large creature soaring with silent grace over his head. He skids to a halt and turns to see it land behind him, shielding him from his pursuers with its huge, monstrous body and its savage, snarling jaws. A ripple flows across its sleek, black fur as a curse glances off its back.  The massive cat lashes its tail furiously, warningly. Another flash of green light rebounds off the creature’s back but it does not flinch - and it does not die.  By the light from their wands, he sees them now.  They emerge from between the trees– two cloaked figures, aiming their spells with determined precision. He watches awestruck as the animal’s coat repels every curse they throw at it - it seems impervious to their magic.  The wizards are confused, unnerved.  They begin to retreat. And then the creature draws back, preparing to pounce. The wizards turn to flee. The cat lunges forward, hissing fiercely - but the wizards are gone. 

 

The cat stalks back to where he cowers on the ground.  Her tail flicks warily, her ears are flattened against her head.  Yellow eyes glint in the forest gloom.  She stops beside him, her body gently swaying with her steady panting.  He rises with a whimper, edges up to her, nuzzles her head with his. She responds with a low, rumbling purr which resonates in the still night air. They set off through the trees at a gentle trot, side by side.  They break into a run….

 

*          *          *

 

            Remus woke with a start.  He was lying across the sofa, his feet pulled up onto the cushions. A blanket had been placed over him. He was shaking – shivering – though.  His heart was pounding. The dream…Had he encountered The Beast again on the moor last night? Had it saved him from – who had he been running from? Was it even real?  These dreams – the wolf dreams – they were just a projection of his wolf consciousness, the part of his psyche even the Wolfsbane Potion could not completely suppress. They were not memories; they were older, more primitive, an expression of his latent animal drive, and a reminder  - as if he needed one - of the moon’s steely grip on his body and on his soul, dragging him with inexorable regularity towards the terrible moment of transformation once again.  And yet-- he had been on the moors last night….

 

With a sudden movement he sat up and saw Holly sitting at her desk, her back to him and her face lit by an eerie, blue glow. He blinked. She didn’t appear to have noticed he had woken. The light seemed to be coming from her computer screen, which she was peering at, quite engrossed.  Snuffles lay stretched out at her feet, his fur now dry and fluffy, ears pricked up and head cocked interestedly at Remus.  As Remus met his eyes, Snuffles thumped his tail against Holly’s feet in friendly greeting.

 

“How long have I been asleep?” he asked.

 

Holly spun round in her chair. “Oh, hello again,” she said, smiling. “Not long.  No more than an hour. I didn’t want to wake you – I’m sure you needed it. Though I did wonder if I should let you sleep, what with your head injury, but I figured that as long as you were snoring there was nothing to worry about.”

 

“I was snoring?” he asked, mortified.

 

“Well, if you’d rather, you were ‘breathing loudly.’” She grinned mischievously.  Suddenly, the blue light vanished and Holly uttered a cross word under her breath. “That’s twice it’s crashed on me in the last quarter of an hour. I don’t understand it.” She scowled perplexedly at her computer screen.

 

Remus scratched his chin as he pondered this.  He supposed it might be down to him.  He had heard from someone, maybe Hermione Granger now he came to think of it, that Muggle computers were peculiarly sensitive to magical energy and just the presence of a witch or wizard nearby would play havoc with their delicate systems.  Or it could just be chizpurfles. 

 

Holly was tapping away at her computer bad-temperedly.  “Did you work out a route back to your house?” she called to him over her shoulder.

 

“Yes, thank you.  I need to head for Nettleton along the Lynton Road.”

 

“Oh, right,” she answered distractedly, then, “Damn! Stupid thing! Right - I’ve had enough of you.” For an awful moment Remus thought she was talking to him, but quickly realised, to his relief, that she was in fact addressing her computer. “How far is it?” she asked him, pushing back her chair to face him and give him her full attention again. 

 

"Er, thirteen miles," Remus answered. "Roughly," he added, seeing her expression of dismay.

 

“You can’t walk thirteen miles!” she gasped. 

 

“Oh, it’s not so bad.  The weather’s--”

 

“No, no!” she interrupted.  “You’ll be walking all day.  And you don’t look as if--” she floundered and a blush rose in her cheeks.  

 

But she needn’t have worried.  It was the day after a full moon - he was well aware how dreadful he must look to her.  And he couldn’t argue with her assessment: a thirteen mile hike across country would probably finish him off. It’d be lunacy to attempt it.

 

“I’ll drive you,” she said, jumping from her chair. “Just give me a minute to find my keys,” and she started towards the door.

 

“No, really, Holly,” he protested.  “I don’t want to put you to any trouble.  It’s fine.  I can walk it.”

 

“It’s no trouble, Remus,” she assured him.  “Besides, I need to head over that way.  I can pop into Lynton and get a paper, fetch some groceries. I’m nearly out of Snuffles’s food tins.”

 

Snuffles clearly understood the reference to his food and let out a plaintive “ruff” in response.

 

“Well, if you’re sure…” he said reluctantly.  He didn’t want to put her out but, after all, it would save him a lot of time and exhaustion.

 

“Yes, I’m sure. It’s fine,” she answered.  Now – those keys….”

 

Remus picked up the map from the sofa, tucked it in the back pocket of his jeans and, with Snuffles trotting at his side, followed Holly out of the lounge and back to the kitchen.  As he watched her hunting through the pockets of the coats hanging by back door, he realised that allowing her to drive him to his house would also mean that she would see his house, perhaps even expect to be invited in….what would he do, then?  What incriminating wizardy-stuff did he have lying about his lounge or his kitchen? Would she wonder at the absence of a stove? A fridge? A kettle?  How would he be able to offer her a cup of tea – it would be impolite not to, wouldn’t it? – if he couldn’t do magic in front of her?  Best to keep her out of the kitchen, he decided.  But what about the books of magic on the bookshelves in his lounge? Or perhaps he could persuade her to drop him at the end of the lane…?

 

“Got them!” Holly announced.  Snuffles let out an excited yelp.  She looked at Remus’s feet, and frowned.  “Do you want to just see if any of Tom’s shoes fit you? Or…well, I suppose it doesn’t matter since I’m driving you…” She made a pensive moue and Remus took this to mean that she wasn’t entirely sure she liked the idea of him going shoeless.

 

“I’ll just see if any of them fit,” he offered, and set about sifting through the pile of muddy boots and shoes heaped up beside the door.  He found a pair of battered old trainers in a largish size, but quickly discovered that there was no way they were going to be made to fit his great big feet.  The Wellington boots looked more promising but were equally as hopeless.  An Engorgement Charm would have fixed them, he thought. Life was so complicated without a wand – how did Muggles stand it? He looked up at Holly from where he was sitting on the kitchen floor and gave a shrug.

 

“Oh well,” she said with a sigh. “I’ll just have to drop you at your door.” As she turned to get a jacket down from the peg by the door, she missed the stricken look which fell across Remus’s face at this last remark.

 

Remus climbed to his feet.  Holly was pulling on her jacket and heading for the hallway and the front door.  “Come on, Snuffles!” she called, jangling her keys impatiently.

 

But Snuffles did not come.  He was behaving rather oddly, staring intently at the back door, his ears raised and alert, his back rigid with vigilance.  Holly, stepping back through the doorway to the kitchen, watched her dog with a puzzled frown.  Snuffles darted to the door and began pacing back and forth, back and forth, flicking anxious glances back at Holly.  He gave a whine and then another, which changed its mind halfway through and turned into a fretful yelp.  Something was disturbing him.  Now he was whining and yelping and shooting them urgent, pleading glances – what did he sense out there? What had he heard?    

 

Suddenly Remus was filled with a dreadful sense of foreboding.  Unbidden, flashes of images from his dream returned– someone had been pursuing him last night.  Had they tracked him to this place? Could that be what Snuffles had scented out there?

 

Instinctively, Remus stepped to the back door, took Snuffles by his collar and drew him back, stationing himself and the dog protectively in front of Holly.  The dog’s attention remained fixed on the door.  Remus crouched beside him, felt him bristle with hungry anticipation.

 

Suddenly, with a terrifying crash, the back door was blasted open.  Holly screamed and ducked. Remus let go of Snuffles’s collar to fling his body across hers and shield her from the shards of splintered wood which showered them.  He peered through the dust and debris to see a tall, robed figure standing in the doorway, its arm extended towards where he and Holly crouched on the kitchen floor.

 

“Well, hello there, Professor Lupin,” a coarse male voice sneered contemptuously.

 

And Remus realised with horror that the man was holding a wand – and pointing it directly at his head.

 

*          *          *

 

A/N Thanks, once again, to my beta, Silver Phoenix, and to my mum, Angela, whose own tales of fairy forts delighted me as a child, and still do.

Also, thanks to Seriana Ritani, who permitted me to steal the idea of Lupin’s meat deprivation during the week before the full moon from her wonderful story ‘By the Pricking of My Thumbs’, which can also be found on SQ.

//
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