The moth-eaten sofa that was placed in the corner of the office was more there for cursory measures, than for any particular comfort purposes. The fabric covered pillows had frays in their casing, the springs poked through the seats and the tassels that reached to the floor looked as though they could fall off at any moment. It was by no means a luxury office, with the old, weak writing desk shoved into the corner, a stack of disorderly files gathering dust on a creaky wooden chair, and a window that let in less light than blackened curtains.
"Looks homely," the tall man murmured, taking in the small room quickly. "I'll take it."
The older man, wrapped in a cloak that shrouded his face from view, held out his hand and beckoned for money. "Twenty galleons and it's yours my friend." It was clear from his speed that he did not want to be seen, and so the taller man handed over a bag that jangled with the promise of money.
"Thank you," he said sincerely, placing a hand on the mans shoulder, the other resting above his heart. "You don't know what this could do for me..."
The other could only nod, before he fled the room without another glance at his companion.
The taller man lowered his dark hood and smiled gently at the small room, as though it truly were luxury. He had not slept on a sofa of any kind in over sixteen years, and the mere prospect, whether it be with spring poking him in the back or otherwise, was delightful. His dark hair fell to his shoulders, fiercely matted with dirt and grease, as though it had not been brushed for an eternity- in truth, it hadn't. The nose and mouth were of an aristocratic quality, handsome and strong, and the epitome of good breeding. Grey eyes flickered dully from his sockets, as though there was no emotion left to be portrayed, and yet still the good looks and handsomeness could not be missed.
Twelve years of imprisonment and four years of fleeing from the law had taken its toll on his body; what had once been finely toned muscle was now non-existent, and the skeletal frame that remained had clothes hanging from it like an under-sized mannequin sporting plus-sized clothing. His skin was of a white colour, tinged slightly with grey, showing illness and malnutrition at first glance.
Despite it all, despite his horrific appearance, horrible hair and haunted past, the room brought to him a sense of relief he had not felt in a very long time. The sofa looked more comfortable than anything he had ever seen, and he sank onto it weakly, sighing and breathing in deeply. He knew as he sat that he could have made it more comfortable still, but his time on the run had taught him to avoid magic at all possible oppurtunities; so he had learnt to live on scraps found in bins, sleep on grass and run long distances. On the few occasions that he had used magic, he had been traced almost instantly, and so his wand remained in the inner pocket of his jacket, safely kept for emergencies only. He closed his eyes, sleep overpowering him, and he could not think any longer.
In the months that followed, the man achieved a tremendous weight gain, somehow managing to get again his youthful physique of slim, well muscled body. Whilst his arms were by no means as his large, and his abs were not as toned as they might once have been, he held a certain aesthetic quality that he had not possessed for too long. He used a pair of scissors to cut his hair short, so short that the rest of his head felt cold whenever he stepped outside. His diet had improved dramatically, with his unnamed landlord bringing him baskets of food each week that bulged with food he hadn't even dared dream of in years. Each week, he left a gold coin outside his door, and the next morning a basket of food was in its place. The arrangement suited him perfectly, as it required no interaction with the outside world, and filled his stomach more than satisfactorily. The only part of his old life that seemed to be missing was his friends, his womanizing, and his less than healthy drinking habits. Though it had been many long years since his last firewhiskey, he could still often feel the burning in his throat, and longed for a slight taste of liquor to calm his shot nerves. It was more than forbidden, he knew; if he were to venture out to purchase a bottle of firewhiskey, he would risk capture and return to prison, and he was not yet so comfortable with his new appearance that he was fooled into thinking that he could trick people into believing otherwise. Instead, he concentrated his days on rigorous workouts of the like he had not experienced in years, placing his feet on the desk as he pressed his entire body weight up and down, repeating abdominal crunches so many times that he was reduced to a gasping wreck when he allowed his legs to fall limply to the ground. He ran as a dog into the countryside, but never dared to venture into human form, despite the tantalizing smells that drifted from Inns and Pubs, as though attempting to trick him. He never dared. In time, he learnt to avoid such places, ducking instead behind bins that were so heavily loaded with garbage and rotting vegetables that the smell remained in his nostrils for hours on end afterwards. For months it remained as such; for months he was a stray dog, who some pensioners came to like, feeding him crusts and bits of ham that were nowhere near as delectable as his feast back in his own room, but if he were to ignore, he was certain he would have caused suspicion.
It was after six months of aimless roaming through the town and ducking behind bins that he caught a scent he recognized, one that he never expected to smell again, and one that brought a strange pang of anguish to his heart. He dashed out onto the street, sniffing eagerly at the ground, running at such a pace that he almost ran into numerous elderly gentlemen, and might have knocked them off their feet if they had not all had the sense to move quickly out of his way. He followed it desperately, the flowery, vanilla like scent tingling up his dog's nostrils and taunting him. It had been four years since that very same smell had been in his nostrils as he hugged a young girl hastily goodbye, after having his life saved from an unthinkably horrific fate, worse than death. Four years, and he had not forgotten it. Four years, and he could place that smell to a face instantly. He did not know or care why, all he knew was that Hermione Granger had found herself mere minutes away from his hiding place, and he could not begin to explain the sense of relief that tore through him at her familiarity. He had found someone he recognized, and hell be damned if he could not contact her.
Every day, he tracked her scent to a large Inn named the Drooping Dragon and waited outside for her to emerge. The first time he had seen her, even his dog self had gasped at the change in her appearance that had taken its toll in the last four years. The bushy hair had tamed slightly, now more wavy than bushy; her buck teeth had disappeared and were suddenly perfectly straight, and her figure, whilst definitely not thin, was pleasantly curvy, and more than aesthetically pleasing. He briefly reprimanded himself for such thoughts, but after a while, he reasoned that while such thoughts might well be considered unethically proper, nobody but him was going to discover such thoughts.
After one week of watching silently from the shadows, he barked softly and emerged from the corner, bounding up to her and jumping up to place his large paws on her shoulder, licking her face quickly before jumping down and sitting innocently before her, his tail wagging admirably as she looked at him in absolute shock.
"What on earth?" She spluttered, wiping dogs saliva from her face in what might have been disgust. "You strange dog! I've never even..." she trailed off, cocking her head slightly to one side. He imitated her, one ear flopping slightly. The small, reluctant smile on her face was reassuring, and he edged slightly closer, butting her leg lightly with his nose.
"You look like someone I know," she said, a dawning recognition in her voice as she knelt to stroke his head, scratching behind his black ears. "You could very easily be him," she whispered, taking his head in both hands and rubbing her nose on his lightly. "Yes you could, couldn't you?"
He shook free of her hands and licked her face happily, jumping away and yapping excitedly. She laughed, standing up and shaking her head. "You're more happy than him though." She said loudly. "And much better looking." She smiled as he cocked his head again, but then shook and pawed at her leg, whining slightly.
"Oh, go away you silly dog!" She said playfully, pushing him away with her hands. He shook his head. Hermione Granger smiled, shaking her head and walking down the street with a smile on her lips. She heard the light padding of paws coming up behind her and sighed, turning around to look at him.
"Go..." she said, pointing in the vague direction of another street. "Go and do doggy things..."
If he were not in dog form, he would have winked at her, as it was, he cocked his head in amusement, certain his eyes were showing how very funny he found her insinuations.
"Go!" She said more forcibly.
Tail hanging between his legs, he turned, walking slowly down the street in a thoroughly dejected manner. She groaned. "Oh fine! Go and... fetch me a stick!"
Almost immediately, he leapt into action, bounding down the street with his tongue hanging out of his mouth, ducking behind a bin, where he found a large stick, which he took firmly between his teeth, before returning to her, wagging his tail vigorously. She stared at him, utterly shocked. "You... I..." she shook her head. "You're a silly thing..."
He ran onto the streets to meet her more than once in the next few weeks. Each time, he bounded around her ankles like an insanely hyperactive child, butting her in the back of the knees and watching happily as she laughed hopelessly. She had come to call him Snuffles, the name he had given to her best friend so that he could contact him without having to use his real name. He responded to it without consideration; it fitted, and it felt good to be involved again. As he ran next to her, or lay beside her on the grass of the open fields nearby, he found himself feeling as though he belonged, feeling included and treasured, the likes of which he had not experienced in years. Sometimes, she walked him down through grassy fields that went on for miles, whilst other times she settled herself beside a gently flowing river and read a book contentedly, occasionally reaching out to stroked his head as she did so. More than once, she ventured to cross the knee-deep river, shrieking and complaining as Snuffles splashed her repeatedly and waited for her to clamber on to dry land before shaking his dripping wet fur at him. Each time, she would complain and moan at him, but he found himself uncaring as to what she was saying, listening only to its tone; he had developed an acute value for her voice, and whether it be low and soft, like when she whispered into his dogs ears, or loud and uncontrolled as it was when he splashed her, he had come to appreciate every spoken sound. Though he didn't dare ask why this was, he found himself dreaming of her voice when he returned to his solitary room, remembering certain phrases that had embedded themselves in his memory. When she read quietly, he studied her through big, dark eyes, taking in every line of her face, from the curve of her lips, to the slight hook of her eyebrow where she had missed a few stray hairs, to the dimple of her cheeks and the flick of her eyelashes. He dreamt of her voice and her face, and nothing else was needed but this brilliant young witch. He couldn't comprehend how he fell so easily into a life of being her pet, and yet he realised too that she could not have come at a better time. He couldn't admit to himself what he was feeling, though he was silently certain, in the depths of his heart, where he had locked away memories of pain and torture that he longed to forget, that he was falling for her.
The river was clear, the light from the sun bouncing off the ripples and dazzling his eyes as he looked at it. Stones glittered and shone from the bottom, and Hermione's hand found the back of his head as she said softly, "fetch me a stone Snuffles."
He did so, diving into the water in an un-doglike way, which made her laugh ridiculously. His head ducked under the surface, teeth clenching around a stone that was small enough to fit in her palm, before leaping back out, spraying her with a copious amount of water before he dropped the stone at her feet, his tale wagging incredibly quickly, tongue hanging out of one side of his mouth. He was somewhat surprised when he look up to find, not that she was smiling and kneeling down to stroke his head, but that she was wiping two streaming eyes with her fingers, whispering words that, if not for his acutely aware sense of hearing as a dog, he would not have been able to hear him. "You're just like Remus said Sirius was... you're such a goofball."
He walked forwards, butting her gently with his nose and whining softly for reasons he didn't know himself. What could he do to make her feel better? He couldn't well turn into a human, open his arms and say 'here I am, Hermione!', and yet he could not bare to see her eyes so wet, her pretty face tainted with tears. He stood on his hind legs, front paws resting on her shoulder as he licked her nose wetly. She giggled through her tears, then shook her head. "You're just a dog," she whispered softly, putting her hands on his paws and wrinkling her nose as he continued to lick her cheeks. "But sometimes, I think you could be him..." she blinked away more tears, looking away from the dogs doleful eyes and whispering even more quietly, so quietly it might simply have been a thought he could read through such proximity with her, "I wish you were.."
But before he could respond, before he could nuzzle her reassuringly like a good dog, he was pushed away from her, and she was running tearily up the hill, towards her Inn. He considered following; he even barked and waited for her to turn around. She didn't. He whined for her repeatedly, then when she had disappeared from sight, returned hopelessly and dejectedly to his room, scratching at the door handle for it to open, and plonking himself heavily on the sofa, falling asleep in dog form, his own heart heavy and sad. The only question that he could think of, the only thing running through his mind, was why did she care what he was like in human form, when she had never met him?
Days of sitting outside her Inn ended fruitlessly. She did not emerge, and he wondered sometimes whether she had left for home, returned to where she had come from, or moved on to other places. He wished he knew why she had been here in the first place, why she had left Harry and Ron behind, and wondered if he should have shown himself to her... His only reason, his only hope, for waiting so patiently day after day, was that he could not smell her fruity scent on the ground heading in any other direction than to the Inn itself.
He waited a week before she showed again, her hair tied up with stray ringlets falling out of the loose bun she had pulled it into. She saw him, just as he scrambled to his feet and ran up to her, tail wagging, sitting himself patiently at her feet. She sighed as she looked at him, kneeling down and placing her lips beside his dog's ear. "Fetch me a stick; Fetch me a stone; Fetch me a man I can call my own." He looked at her, one ear cocked. She smiled. "Maybe you're not such a clever dog after all," she whispered, though there was no mistaking the regret in her voice. He watched her for several moments, then walked forwards and bit lightly at the hem of her skirt, tugging her gently. She frowned. "What is it Snuffles?" She sighed.
Without a glance, without hesitation, he turned around and jogged up the street, looking back only to bark at her, as though to tell her to follow. She did so, rubbing her tired eyes. "Alright..." she said, following him as he lead her through winding streets and back alleys, to a small, seemingly deserted barn, where he leapt over the rotting gate and darted through a small door that was left slightly ajar. Hermione followed, opening the gate slowly and ducking into the barn, following the sound of Snuffles' scuffling feet. There were several doors, all shut, three of which had small baskets set outside them, covered in simple white cloth. Uneasily, Hermione watched as Snuffles opened a door with his paws and ran in. She followed, feeling intrigued, yet terrified- she felt in her pocket for her wand, and drew it, hand aloft, as she entered the room.
There was no sign of Snuffles. He might well have disappeared. In front of a rotting desk, stood a man whose hair was cut just above his ears, a small fringe falling over his eyes, which shone grey in the dimly lit room. He was in his late thirties, though his body was lean and muscular, and extremely well kept. Though she recognised him, she found it incredible, astounding, that this was the same man whom she had hugged goodbye four years ago on top of the astronomy tower at Hogwarts school. He looked, in all honesty, like a male model that should have been plastered over a Muggle magazine cover. He seemed to have lost years off his age, though admittedly their last meeting had been after he ran into a hundred Dementors, his skin had been pale and he had been running for the best part of a year.
"Sirius?" She gasped; it was not believable. One year ago, the Ministry of Magic had announced Sirius Black dead, and the whole of the wizarding population, bar the few who knew of his innocence, had rejoiced at this news. To be standing in the same room as him was terrifying, exciting and dizzying all at once.
"Hello Hermione." He said softly.
His voice was slightly hoarse, as though unused for a great deal of time, and yet it held promise and truth in it; he could not be dead, nor could he be imaginary, if he were speaking. In less than a second, she had thrown herself into his arms and begun weeping into his shoulder, an alien relief and warmth rushing through her body. "We... we were told you were dead... the Ministry said you'd been found..."
Sirius chuckled. "Did my little clone fool them? I must have done it better than I first thought then."
"You... you did it deliberately?"
"Hermione, I've been running for four years. I think they should have a little rest..." he stroked her cheek without thinking. "I'm happier here than on the run. And while nobody's seen me except you, I can't be recognized as alive."
"Shh..." Sirius said softly. "What are you doing this far from Harry and Ron?"
Hermione blinked at him. "I... I don't know what you mean..."
"Well, they're not with you or I'd have seen them too. What's happened?"
She hesitated, then sighed, hugging him and pressing her cheek against the filthy fabric of his clothes. "Ron and I were... dating... and we broke up... and needless to say, I felt it would be best to take a break from wizards."
"So you came to Loping Hill, the second most dangerous wizarding area in England?" Sirius' amusement was not missed on her, but she didn't mind.
"I wanted to get away from anyone who knew me... and I heard that some of the hills were rather lovely here. I haven't been out late at night, so it's not as though I'm going to get mugged." Her voice was indignant, and he chuckled.
"You wouldn't be mugged. Not with Snuffles to look out for you..."
She met his grey eyes with her golden ones, and whispered quietly to him. "Why didn't you tell me before? I've been wishing it was you for weeks and weeks... I just didn't believe it would be."
"Why were you wishing for me Hermione?" He asked, avoiding her question.
Hermione's eyes filled with tears. "Because I felt like I needed someone who knew what it was like to be left out... to be on the run from the past and feel like you have nobody to turn to without insulting someone else."
Sirius laughed. "There was an old dog thinking you missed me."
"Never met me?" Sirius supplied helpfully. She smiled and nodded. "Well," he whispered softly. "You've met me now." He cupped her face lightly. "You've changed from that buck toothed little girl into something quite incredible," he informed her adoringly.
She blushed. "Why did Snuffles bring me here?"
"Because he was doing what you told him to." Sirius whispered, leaning forward and pressing his lips to her face; her eyelids, her forehead, her cheeks and her jaw were peppered with gentle kisses as she spoke again.
"What do you mean?" She whispered breathlessly.
He pulled away from her face to whisper into her ear. "I fetched you a stick. I fetched you a stone. Let me be the man you can call your own."
Hermione twisted her head to look at him again, taking in the vulnerability newly placed in his eyes. "Why would you want to be mine?"
He shrugged. "I don't know. I've watched you for weeks asking the same question, and had no idea... all I know is that when you whispered in Snuffles' ears, I was one jealous bastard."
She giggled helplessly and wrapped her arms around his neck. "Bad dog." She whispered.
"Punish me..." he muttered, capturing her lips softly and steering her towards the sofa.
He watched her sleeping on his bumpy, uncomfortable sofa, smiling sleepily himself as he felt her heart beating underneath his hand. Sirius Black pressed a swift kiss to her lips, feeling her stir beside him.
"Good dog..." she whispered.
He was a good dog, he reasoned. He did just as he was told.