"Padfoot Meets the Dogcatcher"
A Day in the Life of an Animagus
Author's Note: This is just an amusing story that came to mind when I was discussing the idea of Animagi with a friend. In the case of Padfoot, aka Sirius Black, the scenario that came to mind was especially amusing-wanted by Muggles and wizards alike, how would he deal when he was captured, not by Dementors, or Muggle "please-men," but by the RSPCA? And I apologize if I don't get the exact procedure for finding and retrieving a lost animal in England right-I'm only familiar with county animal control and the ASPCA.
Setting: Between books 6 and 7
Disclaimer: Moria's mine, Sirius isn't, and neither is the wizarding world. Scholastic, AOLTimeWarner, and Jo Rowling, I'm just taking them out on loan.
Dogs do not think exactly in same manner as humans do. Padfoot, however, was not an ordinary dog, either in size (he was not quite the height of St. Bernard, nor the build, but he was still tall at the shoulder) nor in breed (a clever breeder might have guessed a mix of Wolfhound, for the long, lean limbs, and Newfoundland for the bulk of the body and the black coat) nor certainly in thought. For starters, the dogs around him didn't seem overly concerned with anything but the immediate future: when was the next time the humans would come with the food (which was dry and disgusting, nothing like the fried chicken or roast ham he could have been eating) or whether they'd be allowed out into the dog runs some time today.
Padfoot's concerns were somewhat more esoteric. Dogs, he had discovered, did not think very much about consequences. They also did not spend much time analyzing past actions. He, on the other hand, was thinking very hard about his own recent actions, and the potential unpleasant consequences. Of course, much of his trouble stemmed from the fact that Padfoot was not, in fact, a dog. He was a wizard, an Animagus named Sirius Black, and therein was the crux of the issue.
Sirius was not a registered Animagus-the Ministry of Magic did not realize that he could turn himself into a dog, and that was to his advantage. The change of shape had enabled him to escape the wizard prison, Azkaban, where he had been held for twelve years for the murder of thirteen Muggles and the wizard Peter Pettigrew. The truth was that it had been Pettigrew, not Sirius, who had actually committed the murders-after having betrayed their friends, James and Lily Potter, to the Dark Lord Voldemort, another crime for which Sirius had been framed. Even now, only Lily and James's son Harry, Harry's friends Ron and Hermione, Hogwarts Headmaster Albus Dumbledore, and the few select members of Dumbledore's Order of the Phoenix, knew the truth. And Moira. But Moira Lemure, recently ex-Auror, presented too complex a problem for him to dwell on, especially when he had much more pressing issues to worry him.
He should have just left the Muggle dustbins alone. That had been his first mistake. But the bins behind the fish and chips shop had smelled especially good to canine senses and it was certainly, if not as emotionally satisfying, much more tasteful than a diet of rats. The second mistake had been coming back more than once. Still, it had seemed so easy, and it wasn't as if he didn't have business in town-tracking the Death Eaters sometimes meant looking in non-wizarding places. And the chip shop had been seemed like a perfect out-of-the-way stop for meals. That was, until the day he had trotted into the alley, put his paws up to tip the dustbin, and found himself collared by a rope on a pole, being shoved toward the RSPCA van waiting around the corner.
He stood up in the small shelter kennel, turned around a few times, and laid back down. Even after spending a great percentage of his time as a dog he hadn't quite figured out why the turning around was necessary, but even on the occasion when he could sleep in his human form he found himself turning several times before he really felt comfortable. Not that he felt at all comfortable here. He should have paid more attention-maybe if he'd transformed quickly enough a Confundus charm would have been enough to alter their memories-but without a wand it was risky, and any use of magic might tip off Ministry wizards to his location. A brief trip to the shelter seemed preferable to a long, long stint back in Azkaban.
After two days, he was starting to reconsider that position. The cheap dry food was decidedly unappetizing, the kennels reeked of old dog hair and urine, and the staff were friendly but distant. Somewhere, in the back of his mind, he knew that unwanted pets who ended up in Muggle shelters did not always come to happy ends, but he couldn't remember exactly what happened to them. Those who came in with collars and tags were claimed by their owners, but those without, like him, were eventually . . . something. Talking to the other dogs didn't help, either. Their concerns were limited to who could bark the loudest, when the next bowl of food was coming, and whether they were going out for "walkies." It was enough to drive an Animagus out of his mind.
Still, changing back into a human seemed to be out of the question. If the Confundus charm didn't work, not only would he have the problem of explaining how the dog had vanished and he'd appeared in its place, there was a very real possibility that he would be recognized. The Muggle papers were still occasionally circulating that photograph of him from Azkaban, and still describing him as "armed and dangerous." He wished he felt as dangerous as they made him out to be-he might be able to intimidate them a little more. Getting up again, he pressed his muzzle against the wire mesh of the kennel and pushed. It didn't budge. He whined and pushed harder, wishing that a dog's vocal cords were up to cursing. Those fish and chips leftovers weren't helping, either-if he'd eaten this well in Azkaban he'd never had fit through the bars, even as a dog. Knowing it was futile, he clawed at the cement floor. If he dug all day, every day, for a year, maybe he'd make a deep enough depression to squeeze out.
The door at the far end of the hall opened, and Padfoot disgusted himself by joining in the raucous barking as their keeper made his way down the row of kennels. "Quiet, you!" the man shouted over the din. He was an elderly Muggle, reasonably good-tempered, with a scruffy gray beard and gaudily mismatched yellow vest and red trousers. He had a collar and lead in hand as he walked down the line, and the dogs grew even more excited. Someone was going for a walk. Padfoot, however, was starting to wonder. Sometimes the walk lead, not out the door where the humans came in every day, but to a white door at the opposite end of the hallway. Those dogs did not come back. His tail drooped at the thought.
"Keep it down, you lot, or it's off to the back room with ye!" The threat sounded more like good-natured teasing, but it still made Padfoot's stomach lurch. The twisting sensation increased when their jailer stopped in front of his kennel.
What's in the back room? he asked the hound in the next pen.
Who cares? Do you think we get to go for walkies? The hound was bouncing on all four feet and baying loudly. The sound echoed off the walls on painfully sensitive canine ears.
Why do I even bother? Padfoot settled down with his head on his paws and sighed.
"Well, hello there, big fellow." Padfoot cringed. "And how are we doing this fine morning?" The appropriate response wouldn't fit around a dog's mouth, so he kept his own council. He wondered if he could make a break for it when the old man opened the door. "It looks as if today's your lucky day, boy. Your owner's showed up."
Owner? He cocked his head and flattened his ears. A brief surge of paranoia gripped him-had someone from the Ministry figured him out and were using this as a ruse to recapture him? He whined and pressed farther back into the kennel. "Come on now, she seems like a nice enough lady, even if she's dressing a bit odd." He unlocked the cage and reached inside. "And imagine not knowing about a collar and tag!"
That was when he caught a faintly familiar scent, sweet and feminine and very human, yet with the dry, musty overtones of feathers, and cold icy scent of thin winter air, a unique aroma he'd have recognized anywhere. Moira. Since he'd begun changing into a dog he'd discovered that, even after taking human form, most Animagi maintained a faint scent of their alternate shape. Moira did so more than most-but then she was not an ordinary Animagus. He'd decided the scent that floated about her wherever she went most strongly recalled her favorite form, a white gyrfalcon. In any case even wafting down the hall and past the kennels full of yapping strays, the familiar smell was unmistakably hers.
He stopped protesting and lowered his head, letting the old man subject him to the ignominy of collar and lead. Moira would probably take him someplace where he could at least get a brief meal in his usual form, but he tugged away and gulped the last of the dry food in his dish anyway. It was a very canine thing to do, and in any case it wouldn't do to have food going to waste. . . . the old man jerked on the lead, and Padfoot went along with him, making a moue of reluctance. He could hear the other dogs yelping as he went past, half in empathy and half in envy. Doing his best to look appropriately like a guilty dog caught at misbehavior, he tucked his tail, lowered his head, and followed the old man out the door.
The first thing he saw was her high-button shoes, and the hem of the green skirts she always seemed to wear. She'd at least had the sense to leave off her robes, which Muggles seemed to find odd. Given their rather bizarre sense of dress, he never understood their objections to wizard clothes. Robes had always seemed eminently practical to him, but Muggles apparently didn't think they were something people ought to be wearing out in public. He risked a glance up and saw that she was wearing a rather plain blouse and a hooded blue cape. Her auburn hair was slightly disheveled, and he could have sworn he saw a twig or two trapped in the tied-back waves. If the old man thought she dressed strangely, he'd probably find her travel habits even more unusual.
"There you are, Padfoot, you naughty beast!" Her hands, covered by her ubiquitous grey suede gloves, were resting on her hips. The tone was stern, probably the same as she'd use with students, but he could see a twitching at the corner of her mouth. He forced his eyes to the floor and his tail between his legs. "I've been looking everywhere for you!"
"If you had a collar and tag on him, Miss, it might help us to find you next time." He handed her the leash, and while she took it, she held it awkwardly between thumb and forefinger. "I'll just need you to be signing this last form. You're sure you won't consider-"
"Very sure. I'll see about the tags, but I don't think we really need to worry about the other bit." Awkwardly she scribbled her signature with her free hand, the . . . . what was it called? Ball-point, whatever that meant, slipping across the paper without any of the grace of a quill. "There you go. Now, if you don't mind, we'll be going."
He bend down and gave Padfoot what he probably thought was a manly scratch behind the ears. "You behave yourself now, laddie. I don't want to be seeing you again!" He looked up with an attempt at a charming smile that might have worked were he twenty years younger. "You will call for a surgery recommendation if you change your mind."
"I'm quite sure I won't." She handed back the pen, but not before studying it with a sort of amused curiosity. The old man looked puzzled, and somewhat amused himself, as if he thought Moira was just the tiniest bit daft. She smiled prettily, and started towards the door, giving the leash only a very gentle jerk. Padfoot trotted amiably alongside. When they reached the door she stopped and turned around, the pretty smile never wavering, and reached up her sleeve. "Just one more thing, if you don't mind?" The old man opened his mouth but never got to reply. Moira pulled her wand out, pointed it directly at his forehead, and said, "Obliviate!" The old man blinked, and a dreamy look of unconcern came over his features. Moria's smile became distinctly self-satisfied, and she pushed open the door.
The smile vanished the moment they were out on the street. "I hope you realize the trouble you've caused." She spoke through gritted teeth. "When you didn't report on schedule we thought the Death Eaters had gotten you! Dumbledore was beside himself and I was worried sick, Remus wanted to drop everything and go looking, I only thank whatever powers watch over fools and dogs, whichever category you belong in, that Harry didn't find out. You know what he and that Ron Weasley are like, they'd have been off to rescue you and then we'd have had three of you to find instead of just one." Her pace was increasing and soon he found himself trotting to keep up. "Honestly, sometimes I think you haven't learned a thing since the day you left Hogwarts, you're still a Marauder at heart. And stop looking up at me with those soppy eyes, I can't bear it and you know it!"
She had turned down an alley, rather reminiscent of the one behind the chip shop, and stopped. "Human. Move."
He hesitated, then sat and changed before she forced him. It was an odd feeling, a sense of sliding or flowing from one shape to the other. His knees and back protested a little as he went from a crouch to standing upright. As a human he was a good head taller than Moira, and she took an involuntary step back. He saw that familiar little flicker in her eyes as she looked at his human face, but he forced himself to think about something else right now. "Was there something else you wanted to say, Moira?" He gave her his best disarming smile, which he knew was somewhat affected by disheveled hair and a probably very dirty face.
He kept the grin under control as he watched her struggle desperately to maintain the annoyed expression and failed. Finally she stamped a foot and balled her hands into fists. "Sirius Black! One of these days I'm going to wipe that smug, self-satisfied grin off your face!"
"Promises, promises." He crossed his arms. "I'm sorry, all right? I didn't exactly ask to get captured by the-what are they called?"
"Don't play dumb," she said, but the pout twisting her mouth was rather fetching. "The RSPCA-Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. Being a Mudblood is good for something, anyway-I did suspect the dogcatcher, so Dumbledore had me flying up and down the whole bloody island looking in windows until I found you. I hit a nasty current over East Anglia and nearly got blown clear across to the Continent, lost a few flight feathers, and then I ran into of a horrid flock of bird-watchers-bloody voyeurs, with all those field glasses glinting up at me! I'll probably be in every birder's journal for miles around. And never mind those foul seagulls on the Channel coast. Reeking of fish, I thought I'd never get the smell out of my feathers!" She was working herself up to a nice set of histrionics, which she'd probably been rehearsing since she fought those currents over East Anglia. "You have no idea how worried we were-I was starting to wonder if you'd been run over by a lorry or were dead in a ditch somewhere. And you owe me the fifty pounds it cost to get you out of there!"
"Fifty pounds of what?"
"You can't be that dense a pure-blood!" And then she noticed how hard he was trying not to laugh and she threw up her hands. "You're absolutely impossible!"
"I've worked hard to become so." He reached out to grab her around the waist but she danced out of reach. "Now, Moira-"
"We're for Hogwarts now, the both of us. Dumbledore wants a word. I'll be flying right over your head the whole way there, so no side trips! Oh, before you change back-" She dug into the pocket of her skirt and produced a bright red collar, with a bone-shaped brass tag hanging from the buckle. "Put this on. Oh, hold on a bit." She drew her wand again, tapped the tag, and said, "Inscribere!" Moira's name and an address wrote themselves neatly on the badge, and she smiled in satisfaction and handed it over. "Here. Make sure you wear this. Next time they can use the telephone-the speaking thing, what Muggles use in place of the fire. We'll know exactly where you are."
Sirius held the tag between thumb and forefinger. "Do I have to?"
"Next time I might not find you in time. You have no idea how fast I had to talk and the papers I had to conjure to get you out of a nasty series of injections and-well, never mind." She shook out her cape, in a gesture he recognized as a prelude to her Transfiguring.
"Never mind what? Was that the business about surgery?" He was still eyeing the collar with thinly veiled distaste. "Was I supposed to see a . . . what are they?"
To his surprise, she blushed an odd shade of rose. "Veterinary, and yes, something like that. Shall we go?"
"Moira . . . ." He used his most persuasive tone, one guaranteed to make her crumble. "What exactly are we talking about?"
Her face turned from rose to crimson. "Oh, nothing really. A trifle. He was just saying how the RSPCA encourages. . . well, they like to advise . . . ." He raised an eyebrow and she took a deep breath. When she next spoke, it was in the light, girlish tone she seemed to resort to around him which would have been absurd in anyone else her age, and her face was positively flaming. "He was just suggesting that I think about having you fixed. See you at Hogwarts!" And abruptly there was a white falcon fluttering at about the height where her head had been. She settled down and perched on a dustbin lid, head cocked, yellow eyes glittering as she watched him.
"Fix . . . ." And then he realized exactly what she'd been talking about. "Oh. Fixed." He could almost feel his face wavering between a blush and a blanche. He stared at the collar again, and resolutely fastened it around his neck. Even in his canine form, all the way up to the castle, he kept checking to make sure it was still there.