The Hunt

A not-so-innocent game of cat and mouse, as Tonks plays hide and seek with the werewolf.

The white moon burned overhead as he ran through the dense, shadowed forest. The ground was damp beneath his paws, and the air was sweet with Spring as he sucked it in greedily. The Pink Moon; that was the name given to the full moon at this time of year, a time of planting and fertility. He could feel it above him, could pinpoint it without needing to turn his gaze to the blackened sky. It was his lodestone, the force that directed him, and it shone dispassionately overhead as he raced through its beams among the dark trees.

Minute sounds reached his sensitive ears as he loped steadily down the game trail, but he paid no mind to the small stirrings of night creatures. The scent that drew him was far too tantalizing for him to concern himself with play. That tang, wafting lazily on a barely perceptible breeze, summoned him with a call that was second only to that of his cold mistress in the sky. He couldn't have ignored it, had he even desired to do so.

He stopped in a small clearing, nostrils flaring as he sucked in the air. There was a hint of furtiveness to her aroma; she was hiding. Tongue lolling, the wolf seemed to grin as his golden eyes flicked across the undergrowth. Somewhere, she was out there. And he would find her.

He snuffled in her teasing aroma again, whining very softly in his desire. It was a bouquet of emotions and pheromones, laced with the sour scent of sweat and the bitter musk of the dragonhide she so often wore. He was very close to her, he was sure, but he had no fears that she would spot him first. Humans were nose-blind, and in the dark his eyes were far keener than hers.

A twig snapped; he whirled to face the direction from which the sound had originated. The noise was repeated, and he trotted forward lightly with his nose to the wind. Yes, this way. She had no penchant for woodscraft; he should find her easily now.

He crept stealthily along, his padded feet making no sound at all as he nosed through the brush. He could smell her all around him; her scent saturated the cool air. Still he could not see her, though her presence could nearly be tasted, and he quartered restlessly back and forth across the territory in which he had marked her. Frustrated, he growled softly, and a rustling came from above.

There she was! He could see her now, almost a silhouette against the spangled night sky, sitting in a fork of the branches of a spreading elm and scanning the dark ground beneath her. He bared his teeth slightly in anticipation as she shifted above him, leaning precariously out into space as she strained to see the base of her tree. In his eagerness, he took an involuntary step forward and leaves crunched beneath his paw. Instantly her head swung in his direction and he froze; he could see her wide eyes searching the darkness for him. A thread of fear laced her scent now, reeking slyly amidst her more pleasant aromas. His sharp ears could hear the rasp of her uneven breaths, and the tiny sounds that accompanied movement she tried to conceal as she shifted her weight closer to the thick trunk.

She spoke; to him no doubt, but he was unable to understand the garble of human speech. Her eyes had settled on a clump of weeds to his left, which she obviously thought shrouded him and once again his tongue lolled in amusement as he watched her climb higher into the branches, a rain of bark cascading down from under a booted foot. Her voice drifted down to him as she moved, and he relished the subtle tones ringing in it that were inaudible to any human ear.

She was nearly out of sight amid the leafy boughs, but he could pinpoint her easily with sound and scent. Circling the tree trunk, he finally saw a clearing among the limbs and placing his forepaws on the rough trunk he stood up to nearly the height of a man to better see her. Finally certain of her location, he dropped back down to a crouch and then exploded upward in a mighty leap, his teeth snapping together less than a foot from her boot. She yelped, the soft murmur of her voice suddenly shrilling in anxiety as she drew her leg up and further out of his reach.

He sat back on his haunches, raised his head to the sky and let out a mournful, chilling call. Despite that it was not his hunting cry, the fear in her scent thickened; a spiky smell that tickled his nostrils. He howled again, melancholy and yearning, singing his soul to her without reservation. But the fear scent endured, clouding his senses until he finally ceased his song to paw roughly at his nose.

Whining in frustration, he again gathered himself and sprang upward, higher than before. As he dropped heavily back to the ground, she began speaking to him once more in a voice that he found oddly soothing and compelling. She swayed perilously as she again sought him in the gloom below, and he could see the planes of her face appearing strangely fluid in the moonlight. Finding him at last, her delighted laugh tinkled down to him, like water chuckling over river stones. The sound rippled pleasantly over his ears and he yelped back sharply in response. He was tensing to leap again when she muttered something, and then a loud 'crack' assaulted his ears as she abruptly vanished.

Sides quivering, he spun in the clearing, straining for sounds that were out of place in the night, any clue as to where she had gone. She had disappeared in this manner twice already tonight, each time as he was nearly upon her. At first his frustration at missing her had been keen, but gradually his mind likened it to playing with sunbeams and shadows: ultimately elusive, yet still a completely consuming task.

Hearing nothing, he loped off down a twisting deer path as he resumed his hunt. He had gotten much closer this time and his near success spurred him onward, down the green paths of darkness and through thorn and bracken, drinking in all the crisp tastes of the night as he sought her scent. Briars snagged in his dense coat as he passed beneath a nearly overgrown gorse bush and he snarled as he tugged painfully free, but stopped as a light tinkling came to his ears. For a moment he thought that he had found her again, but then the flat smell of a stream came to his seeking nose, and his tail drooped in disappointment. Still, the hunt had tired him, and he licked his muzzle thoughtfully before trotting in the direction of the watercourse.

As he approached the little rivulet of water, instinct took over and he crept up almost soundlessly, body slung low while he tested the air for other presences besides his own. Sensing no one, he allowed himself to step out onto the bank of the stream cautiously, still prepared for attack. The clear water played merrily over a pebbled bed, splashing at his legs as he waded out into the gentle current. He lapped the water up eagerly, tasting hints of rich red soil and sharp minerals as it slid over his tongue. Satisfied and dripping, he climbed back up the embankment and shook vigorously, sending droplets flying everywhere. Rich, liquid sounds came to him again, from opposite the brook, and he snarled as he flung himself back into the cover of the bushes. Downwind! How had she managed to get downwind of him? Heedless of stealth he hurtled through the undergrowth toward her voice, crashing over bracken and knocking over small saplings. Another 'crack' resounded, and he pulled up short, knowing that she was gone once more.

The huge wolf stood very still, only his ears flicking back and forth. This was becoming too predictable. He turned back to the moonlit forest and deliberately found a spot in the shadows of a stunted oak that was carpeted in moss. There he curled up and lay down with his head on his forepaws, eyes glowing eerily in the dark as he waited. He was a hunter, with centuries of hunters before him providing him sure instincts, and all hunters knew that sometimes tactics must change. Pursuit was not working; therefore he would draw her to him. So he waited patiently, not so much as lifting his head even when a rabbit lollopped by him on some rabbity business, unaware of his presence.

The wind lifted, causing the branches above him to sway and creak, and still no retort heralded her approach. But the wolf was patient and canny, aware that she soon would be unable to resist the silence of the bright night. He knew that she would wait, then wonder, and at last come out to find him. The prey, turned hunter, who would discover at last that she was only prey after all. He licked his jaws.

At last, after a long interval, he heard a distant chuffing coming up the game trail. Ears erect, he listened closely, at last discerning the rhythmic pace that all beasts learn early on to identify with man. It was irregular as she stopped and started carefully, obviously trying very hard to obscure her movements. The playful breeze shifted, carrying her scent to him now, and he fought down a whine that rose in his throat. She was coming closer…she was coming to him. The anticipation was delicious.

The crunching of leaves stopped as she paused, and he ever-so-slowly lifted his head to peer into the shadows of the treetrunks. He could see her, a dim shade further down the trail and while her scent still bore the irritating scent of fear, now it was tempered with something else as well. It reminded him somewhat of she-wolves with cubs, or an alpha female's bond to her pack leader, and it was so wolfish in nature that he was baying a pack-call before he could stifle it. At the sound she turned and sprinted toward the creek, taking the long strides of a track runner through the tangled wood; he shot from his concealment, a dappled blur of moving fur as he pursued her hotly. He passed through a fog of her terror, his paws rapidly devouring the distance between them.

She broke suddenly and noisily from the treeline and overbalanced as she crested the little bank. Waving her arms wildly, she almost caught herself, only to tumble into the water as a large stick rolled underneath her foot. He heard her shriek as he launched himself, overshooting her as she ducked frantically, scrabbling to get back to her feet. He landed in an enormous splash, nearly blinding himself with water, and spun back to her; she was still on her knees, and her face was chalk-white and terrified as he howled his triumph. But he cut off his song abruptly, staring to the east.

The moon was setting. With a painful feeling of contraction beginning in his chest he swung his head back to her, whimpering slightly. The fear on her face faded, although the stink of it remained; she extended a hand to him, speaking in the voice he was coming to prize, the one she only used with him. Another pain coursed through him, and he half-lay in the cool stream, panting. She was standing now, walking toward him cautiously. As the Change wracked his body, causing him to contort agonizingly, she approached, and heedless of the deadly jaws only inches away she began gently stroking his neck and ears. The pleasant sensation, contrasting with the agony of his transformation made him whine once more, the waning wolfish impulses being conquered as the moon slipped down below the horizon. One last glimmer and it was gone, and with it the huge beast that had been beneath her hand.

Remus Lupin shivered and then sneezed loudly, and Tonks laughed as she toyed with a strand of his graying brown hair. He glared at her and pulled back as she tried to tweak his earlobe.

"What kind of idiocy were you playing at? Nymphadora." he asked angrily, emphatically adding the name she hated for good measure.

She grinned, ignoring his jab. "Tag," she said cheerily.

He goggled at her. "Excuse me?"


He stared.

She stood up and dried herself off with a whisk of her wand. Glancing down at the naked, shivering werewolf she gave him another grin that reminded him ominously of the infamous Weasley twins at their worst. With a decidedly wicked gleam in her eyes, she repeated loudly. "Yes, tag. And you're still it!" And on the last word she tore off into the woods, crunching and crashing noisily through the greenery and cackling madly as he stared after her, dumbfounded. What the bloody hell? He had nearly eaten her, and she was laughing at him and playing games? But then her voice floated back to him, distantly.

"And I've got your clothes!"

He forgot about logic, and hurried to chase after her.