Hermione loped through the park-like forests, the scent of the pine needles under her massive paws pricking her sensitive nostrils. Minerva was running next to her, sticking closer to the trunks of the enormous trees, slinking throughout the almost nonexistent shadows in her usual feline manner.
"You are such a kitty-cat," Hermione said mind to mind, turning a doggy grin on the serious, tufted face.
"You say that as if it were a bad thing," the huge cat grouched. Hermione yipped a canine laugh.
"We're like 35 stone between us, dear Tabby, there's no where to hide in this particular part of the forest, and every single centaur and unicorn that lives here already knows we're having a jaunt."
"It's the principle of the thing, puppy," Minerva insisted, playfully shouldering the wolf aside. Hermione let out another canine laugh, chuffing merrily, comfortable in this form now that it wasn't a complete mystery.
There were evenly matched, size wise, in these shapes; though Minerva might have possessed the advantage in a fight, what with her jutting upper fangs and retractable claws. It would be interesting to see what they could do hunting, or in a tussle, but Hermione didn't know if she had the stomach for the former, and surely Minerva with her decades of experience, would triumph in the latter.
"Where are we going, anyway," Hermione asked, curious and overstimulated by the magical woods' myriad sensual delights - learning to process the information picked up by finely tuned animal senses was something she was still learning.
"The unicorn herd occupies the far part of the woods, with the centaur herds between them and the school and the mountains sheltering them from the outside world. The centaurs, and Hagrid and myself do for them what they cannot. Today we shall inspect their winter shelters and determine placement and delivery schedule for the fodder that will soon be required."
Minerva's mind-tone was sort of distant, and Hermione could tell she was ruminating, probably upon all the other things that needed to be done to prepare the castle and its environs for the brutal Scottish winter.
"And if there are mares in foal, we may need to arrange alternate accommodation for them. Perhaps with the centaurs, but maybe closer to the castle."
"Oh?" Hermione knew that unicorns were sentient animals; they understood language and had a herd-based cultures that gave rise to their magics. She hadn't thought that they would require obstetric help from anyone.
"Every unicorn pregnancy is precious. The European unicorn exists only in three other sanctuaries on the continent. The presence of a human or centaur healer to assist with complication or reassure new mothers is very much appreciated by the herd. They are quite adept at many things, but they do not possess hands, and cannot easily turn a breech birth or ease the passage of multiple foals."
"Huh," was all Hermione could manage. Unicorn husbandry wasn't a huge part of Care of Magical Creatures, largely because unicorns were so endangered that some degree of secrecy was employed as a protective measure.
"I have a few books on the unicorns and the history of the herds that you can read."
"Yes, Professor McGonagall," chirped Hermione, chuffing another doggy laugh. They'd had other moments where Minerva regressed back in to her professional persona - if she were in human form, she'd be blushing at Hermione's teasing, but Hermione wasn't rebuking her; their old patterns of behavior were familiar to both of them, and reacting like a snot and pouting at missteps was much less constructive than reacting with humor.
They kept loping through the still afternoon, the shadow of the occasional forest bird crossing their path. Hermione could hear the sound of moving water at some distance; she thought she could smell it too, but it was hard to distinguish its scent from the plethora of fragrances in this new environment.
All of a sudden, there was a large, vaguely horse-shaped creature in their way; a creature that Hermione had neither scented nor heard. It was a unicorn, of course, of a burnished steely grey. Hermione stood next to Minerva as she exchanged greetings with it, trying to look as docile and non-threatening as one could as a massive, prehistoric wolf.
After touching noses with Minerva, the unicorn turned its attention to Hermione, scrutinizing her. She met its large, dark eyes with hopeful confidence. This unicorn wasn't anything like the ones her muggle primary school classmates used to squeal over - it was delicately built, true, but its features were more angular than those of a horse, with a wide forehead to accommodate a brain capable of working complex magics and understanding multiple languages. Broad, cloven hooves would be as useful in ice or snow or on treacherous ground as they were in this particularly parklike expanse of the forest. Its color, though, was glorious; the nearly metallic sheen of highly polished steel set off the pearlescent perfection of the horn that rose from its forehead.
It extended its nose to her like it had to Minerva, and Hermione stretched out to meet it, wagging her tail gently with excitement she was trying to keep contained.
It smelled like horse, and like magic - a nice combination of fragrances, unlike Hermione's own current combination of wet dog and predator and girl. The difference between the scent of grass eaters and carnivores like the wolf form and Minerva's leggy, slope-shouldered cat form was immense, especially intermixed with human; it was a wonder the unicorn hadn't run from the hills on the basis of smell alone.
The unicorn snorted, sending a puff of sweet, grassy breath across Hermione's nose, then turned, swishing its tail once, rather imperiously, as if beckoning them to follow. Follow they did, Hermione falling in to step next to Minerva as they proceeded further in to the forest.
"Glory," she said mind to mind, glad for their silent form of communication.
"Wait till you see the whole herd."
The whole herd was clustered in a large, grassy clearing that appeared almost out of no where in front of them. About 35 or 40 unicorns in shades of metallic - silver, steel, pearl, bronze, and at least one of shocking gold.
They were watching the new arrivals, dozens of dark eyes calmly watching as a pair of predators paced into their midst.
From within the still, larger animals, a smaller shape emerged from the group. It was a soft bronze, the color made diffuse by its slightly fuzzy baby coat. It pranced right up to Minerva and nudged her on the shoulder. It's horn was a tiny little nub, nearly hidden by a jaunty tuft of forelock.
"Oh, the baby!" Hermione exclaimed. Minerva had not known it was possible to coo through telepathic communication, but Hermione managed it.
The cat gave the gave the youngster a fond swipe across the muzzle with her large, rough tongue. "There is endless wonder in the world, 'Mione. Sometimes, it does us some good to experience that."