At first, he felt no pain. He sensed the earth give way under his feet, understood that his body had crashed to the ground. He smelled the acrid scent of rotting leaves and stagnant water and something else—something baser than the mud that oozed between his groping fingers—something primal and feral and bestial. Something his six-year-old mind could not completely comprehend.
He felt the heavy weight of the beast on his back as it thrust him into the ground. Its forepaws dug into his shoulders. It bent its head and brushed its cold nose against the throbbing vein in his neck. Its growl vibrated against his bones.
The monster's breath burned a path down his spine as it moved along the length of his body.
Its claws tore through his pants and he wondered where his mother was. His breath hitched when its fangs grazed his hip. He opened his mouth but all that escaped was a strangled gurgle as the indecent mud clogged his throat.
He gasped when he felt the beast grasp his shoulder. His eyes flew open, but an inky blackness obscured his sight; not even the moon's bright beam could penetrate its shadowy depths.
"Get . . . get away . . ." The words choked in his throat. His feet scrambled to escape; his trembling hands flailed in the darkness, but the thing only pulled him closer.
"Don't," he moaned. "It hurts . . ." He felt the tears burn in his eyes as its grip on his shoulder tightened and it drew even closer.
Suddenly, awareness awoke and shifted in his mind. Something was different.
There were hands on him—hands, not paws. No claws dug into his flesh. No bright blood spilled over his hip like a river, lapping at the dirt. No threatening fangs punctured his thigh. No rabid growl disturbed the silence.
The warm breath he felt on his face was not impregnated with the rude stench of rusty blood. It smelled strangely familiar—of whisky and chocolate and something else he could not name but knew as if it were a part of his very self.
"Sirius," he breathed, and something inside him unlocked and freed the fear buried in his bones.
He felt Sirius's forehead rest against his temple, felt his hand trace tender circles over his chest, rubbing away the pain as the tears washed over his face.
"You're safe," Sirius whispered. "You're safe."