A/N: Reasons for hiatus (a.k.a. Author's lame real-life excuses) included A-level exams, a summer holiday and pivoting life-moment, fresher's week, hectic first term, hectic second term, far too many essays than compatible with basic human happiness, and very little spare time, during which fanfiction has lessened as an inclination. And since that last sentence was written: hectic third term, prelim exams, a blissful summer and now Second Year. I'll keep writing when I can, but updates will be few and far between. Enjoy the (what is becoming) literary sadism.
Note: in the space between this chapter and the previous, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows was published, released, read and then forgotten.
Chapter 7: The Grim Adventures of Snuffles and Angua
What's this? Sirius woke, one long-lashed eye peeling itself open. His face was pressed against dirt ground. His body was cushioned against something soft. Then, gradually, sensation came over him, as he did a tentative stretch along his spine, and felt the reactive twitch that informed him of the shape of his body. Yes, still furry. And also sleeping in a pile of garbage. Curious. He opened both eyes, and remembered how tired he was.
Oh, feck, my wand…
It mattered little now. The hungry exhausted Human adult wizard inside was delegating bodily operations. And thus:
Snuffles got up. Snuffles was in charge. Snuffles scratched his ear with a paw. Then Snuffles raised one hind leg against the wall and performed the simple, most recognisably doggy of deeds. That particular bodily function out of the way, now it was time to satisfy other priorities for the Wizard upstairs. Snuffles was no longer hungry, and the gratuitous saliva produced by that puking pastille of a sausage had cured a little his dry thirst. Now he had some free rein to indulge his curiosity. Oh, and the wand, of course. We'll find that somewhere on the way. The audience will observe, now, how he continues, like a true dog, to follow his nose.
Trotting at a happy pace down the street he had woken up in, Snuffles realised he had been sleeping in a back alleyway – the noisy furore up ahead told him that was a high street, and he could smell the distinctly unwashed fragrance of People. It was pervasive. He observed the myriad movements of peoples legs walking here-there-everywhere, shoes of various colours and conditions swinging on the ends of those two pin-like legs, and felt a little smugness at his double, ah no, quadrupedal advantage in that department. The scent of magic led him on, gravitating him closer to where his wand lay, like a ticklish sense in his nose. It led his feet onwards.
Here another alleyway, to the eye, indistinct to every other alleyway that he had passed. His ear detected no sound and Snuffles was about to pass by without regard, but then he sniffed. Ah! There was something here, he could smell it, and it was this curious flavour that lured him in, despite the twitterings of misgivings, he was drawn in by the aroma of...
Not magic, no. Not even food. The stimulated glands here were very different: for one, they were situated in very different areas of his anatomy. He padded carefully through the shadowed alley, hearing in the corners soft, rhythmic steps that indicated another four-footed presence. A clatter of bins. His ears perked. Other areas also stood to attention.
Oh my. Oh me oh my. Oh me oh my oh my. His hair was standing on end out of some primal instinct, and he felt his muscles tense suddenly from the sheer forces of machismo. For standing in front of him was the most magnificent sight that he had rarely, no, never seen.
She stepped forward, out from the shadow, and the sunlight burst in a golden blaze off her coat, momentarily stunning him. And lord, he could smell her.
It did not occur to him, the strangeness of this situation – he was a human after all – but the very canine elements of his mind were now fully dominant. Not just this, but the certain parts of his anatomy, which he thought had lain dormant these past years in the face of greater issues, had suddenly woken up and become a lot more… lively. Still, even in this state, he could tell a few things.
The creature he was seeing – smelling- before him was no dog, but a full Wolf. A magnificent animal, one that no smart dog (or human) would want to offend. And had he been rational, and thought it through, and seen the watch badge that hung from her collar, he would have backed out of the alley immediately. But as it was, other, baser needs had him in grip.
Angua braced, and sprang to meet him. Fur flew. For young readers at home, let us give a PG-13 warning at least, simply for the charged tension in this encounter. Amidst the tussle of her limbs, the black hound managed to pin the gold coated flank of her with the weight of his forelegs and front, but she dove, biting hard his neck without drawing blood. He reeled and recoiled. She growled, pounding him back into the wall. He withdrew again, taking a moment to shake off the impact, but then leapt again. Again, she battered him off easily, staring him down as he got back onto his feet. Her coat glistened; her eyes glowed.
Leave it, wannabe-Alpha! You're following me back to Pseudopolis Yard.
Sirius blinked, and noticed finally the tag on the dog collar, the brass embossed symbol of the City Watch. The Wizard hurried resumed executive control of the vehicle, and processed the situation before him. Wolf. Female Wolf. Gorgeous female Wolf. Gorgeous female wolf who was a member of the Watch? The Watch employed animals? Something wasn't right. This wolf could speak, but it was in a very different manner to the little terrier on the street. Her mode of communication was… it struck him, rather similar to his own. And thus he was: a human, an animagus, who'd just performed, to put it gracefully, attempted assault on a she-Wolf who was, no less, a Watch member. There were only a few conclusions one could come to in this light.
She was looking at him. He could picture the mentally raised eyebrow. Whatever she was, it was more than just a simple, lowercase 'w' wolf.
I am deep in shit.
She was coming towards him. She spoke, wordlessly. But he could hear that her voice was low and melodic.
So deep in shit, my friend.
Very carefully, Sirius bent his legs, as if kneeling in submission. The high street was up ahead, and he could sense that the presence of the wand was near. As she came closer, he bent his head forward. She, sensing his submission, paced close. And then, before she was close enough to subdue him, he pounced – high – leaping over her, over her head in a languorous vault. And as soon as his feet hit earth, scraping the dirt from the ground, he began to run.
He heard the howling bark behind him, and promptly accelerated.
A growl echoed through the back alleys, then punctured with a few howls.
"Captain! Hear that?!" yelled Nobby.
"It's Angua. That's the signal." Carrot replied, "She's found him. Remember, we don't know what he looks like right now. Her nose is the best bet we've got."
They ran in the direction of the barks.
Some distance down the street, Gaspode was watchin the day pass by with increasing bemusement.
"Ooh, and now Cap'n Carrot 'n' Corp'ral Nobby 've run orf after the talking dog, following the 'owling, fink Angua must've bin chasin' 'im as well…" he looked up, but the other beggars were crowded over a newly discovered bin. He continued airily to himself, "Yeah, the high street is the place to be if ya wanna see interestin' fings 'appening."
Four seconds passed after these words were spoken in which there was no untoward incidence (during which foul ol' Ron chanced opportunely upon a –vaguely- fresh slice of lemon). Then, immediately after this, there was a boom. And, amidst the ordinary hubbub of the people and the market stalls, there came a small travelling sandstorm. The crowd of people parted to reveal a heavy wooden trunk sprinting down the road, propelled by a caterpillar of legs underneath its body. It speeded past in a frantic barefoot gallop along the high street, in the same direction of the Watchmen, towards the sound of barks, leaving behind a cloud of dust in its wake and some rather confused pedestrians. Gaspode's matted fur went whoosh for a second and then all was still again.
He chewed air for a moment, staring ahead. Then he said, "I think I need a better view of all this."
Why am I always running nowadays?
Sirius was, once again, running away. On four legs, which was faster and a lot more efficient than two, but he was also being chased by something equally equipped as he, and she was not backing down, no sirree. He thought back to the previous encounter with his huntress – she was a wolf, and yet she wasn't, in the same way he wasn't. You assumed all characteristics of an animal as an animagus, and yet, the way she wore that form was so different to his existence as a hound. She fitted, she flowed perfectly. Like she was born with half of it in her nature…
God, if only Remus could have met her…
The scent of the wand was getting stronger, and strangely, seemed to be coming from above him. Skidding around the corner of the nearest building, he could feel the scent grow stronger. Where the hell was he?
He looked up. There was a crude handpainted sign swinging above his head: 'Haarga's House of Ribs'. If it hadn't been the aroma of the magic clogging his sinuses, he would have been salivating over other things.
The rhythm of his heart did not slow down, though he had stopped. He could sense the quiet drumming of feet and paws chasing him – some distance behind, but growing louder, soon they would catch up.
Around the back of the building there was something leaning against the wall that looked like a ladder – wooden and looking somewhat rickety, in any case, it led to the roof. Bracing his nerves and nimble paws, Sirius leapt and bounded up its length, before gravity encumbered him, and he fell, landing and skidding onto all fours. Ladders were not designed for four legs.
Fretful now, he had no choice but to return to the form that would give him opposable thumbs. And climbing quickly, praying that he wouldn't be seen, he ascended as a naked barefoot man, rung by rung, and hoisted himself onto the roof of Haarga's proud establishment.
The rooftop was flat, with a little ridge around the borders about knee height that he crouched low behind. The drastically diminished sense of smell as a human made him feel very vulnerable, and he had not planned to turn back at so quickly a time – there was a slight feeling of disorientation, along with the adrenaline. But he could still sense the wand – it had landed here, he was sure. He peeped over the ledge: the street below was busy with milling, oblivious people, but he spied the running figures of watchmen coming closer, led by the gleaming shape of her – oh, my, what a magnificent animal, even in human form he still felt a lingering appreciation – and then the careful, hunking form of Carrot, easing his way through the crowd. They came to the shop front, and the golden wolf sniffed the perimeter of the building where Sirius had stopped. He remembered nervously that he hadn't moved the ladder, and hoped she did not have the agility to climb it.
Sirius looked around. The next rooftop was maybe four or five feet away in a leap. He assumed four-legged form again, and began to sniff and probe. The wand was close, amongst the boxes and barrels and stores that had been left out here. In his peripheral hearing, he could tell that the Watchmen had now entered the building, and he could still smell the distant presence of the Wolf, circling him persistently, and then he heard the tap of her paws upon a wooden rung…
He stiffened. The tap turned to a scraping sound, and a thump upon the ground. She fell, and he felt her move further away. He relaxed, again.
His luck turned finally: in a pile of old, rotten rope. It was sticking out of the coils, the long trajectory cushioned by the fibre, and in his current state, it glowed with the scented aura of Magic.
His wand. Relief poured over in a happy wave, and with hearty joy he clamped down firmly on the wooden wand with his teeth. And now, to prepare to run again. But at least, with this, he had some useful power. He wanted to laugh.
Just as he was about to turn and jump, however, there was a muffled bang from beneath him. He froze, and the bang came again, before a previously unnoticed trapdoor leading from the shop below burst open, revealing the grave face of Captain Carrot, emerging onto the roof. He was carrying a leash and a muzzle.
Before Sirius could react or move, another smaller golden form rose from the trapdoor, and had slinked to the other side of him. She was baring her teeth, not aggressively, but he got the meaning of the warning quite well.
Right. Where to now then?
And he read the answer in the Wolf's jaw.
You're coming with us, Mr. Wizard. We'd appreciate it if you stayed in one shape.
Oh-ho no. No. Not that easily. Sirius felt a welling sense of smugness within him. They thought they'd cornered him. Little mediaeval policemen in armour with their trained wolf, thinking they could pin him down when the entire Wizarding World had been baffled for years and even the Dementors of Azkaban had failed! All they had were crude weapons. He could stun them all and be gone in the space of four seconds, if it came to it. He had a wand. He needed to be human to use it, however, but that could be easily remedied…
Carrot and Nobby, now positioned around the dog, nearly tripped a step backward to see their quarry did next. The black hound gave a rippling shudder, and suddenly seemed to expand, the black fur spilling off its dark form as it grew, lengthening in a sickly, blurred motion. Front paws rose off the ground; the spine arched and straightened vertically; the face, hands, sculpting, shifting. Nobby's mouth was open and he gasped when the process was complete; he had forgotten to breathe. Even Carrot was stunned motionless. And as Sirius, nearing completion to homo sapiens, prepared to wave his wand, mouthing the charm that would ensure his escape, he suddenly realised it wouldn't work, because he was still holding his wand in his mouth.
In this momentary blip, Angua, least confounded of the three, seized her opportunity and lunged, pounding down on his bare human torso with all of her weight. She knocked the wind out of him, and the wand went flying, high above them in a graceful curved arc, and he could see, in the subsequent gelatinised slowdown of time, that it was going to fall off the edge of the building, into the street below.
In a liquid instant, he had forced his body back into dog form, and in a writhing motion, cast off the snarling wolf. In deep gasps, he scrambled onto his feet and sprinted for the edge of the roof, preparing his hind legs to dive for it, and leave the heights of the building. The sun lit its varnished length as it span. He bared his muzzle and teeth, ready to snatch it in his dive.
And then in the stagnant matrix-frozen jelly-mix of slow-motion, Carrot said:
"Can anyone hear that...? The sound of… feet."
And in the backwater of his senses, Sirius felt the thunder of feet coming closer, over the rooftops, something impossibly faster than he was, but he was so close - his neck muscled tensed, as he prepared to catch the wand.
And then with the force of a fourteen stone bludger, he was hammered aside, back towards the floor of the roof, his ribs crunching in the impact as over the edge of the rooftop ascended… a wooden trunk.
Sirius hit the ground hard, rolling, knocked instinctively again to human form. His eyes widened as he saw, above him, the wand sailing leisurely towards the flying chest and bounce gently off its lid and spin in mid-air. And then in the muddy paralysis of slow-motion, he watched the box as it reached the peak of its suspended parabolic arc, watched it yawn slowly, and the heavy lid open and enclose around his fragile wand like a chomp of a mouth, and then snap tightly shut.
Time rushed back in an accelerated flood. In an eye's blink, the box fell, leaving the edge of the roof and diving out of view. Clambering to the edge, Sirius watched in stunned amazement, bewilderment, as the Luggage landed on its feet in a dustpool upon the street below, and scamper off in the direction of the main road, leaving only dust, and one rather confused coughing grey terrier, in its wake.
Numbed, naked and bruised, he turned around, devoid of anything to say. The two Watchmen and Watch-she-wolf were still staring at him, not with a little pity in their eyes. All of a sudden his limbs felt weak, and he could only look on blankly, impotently, as cuffs were hooked onto his wrists by the maliceless face of Carrot, and a leather lead and collar, very gently, placed about his neck.
"Will you come with us, Mr. Black?" asked Carrot, still with the full tones of courtesy.
Sirius nodded, and got up.