Two little girls turned slowly in a circle, arms out, staring up into a long vast nothingness. The damp musty smell of the castle was beginning to seep into their clothes and hair. An ancient chill emitting from the cement walls was held back by floor to ceiling tapestries. The once beautiful pictures, painstakingly stitched into place centuries before, were now faded and threadbare. Beneath the girls’ pink high-top tennis shoes (covered in rhinestones), a long red path led from the front doors, through the vestibule and into unknown areas. The carpet runner had been beat down by years of use and had become one with the old stone floors.
“I’m getting dizzy.” The statement was followed by a peal of laughter as three-year-old Ella dropped to the ground, arms spread wide. Her large, chocolate brown eyes were blinking rapidly to try to keep the spiraling world from making her sick.
Next to her, seven-year-old Sarah kneeled down, laughing too. Her denim blue eyes, a stark contrast to Ella’s, were dancing merrily. ”Let’s do it again.”
Their brother, Nathan, an older, male version of Ella, was standing off to one side running his hands over a glass case containing an ancient sword. His fingers itched to touch the cool metal blade lying atop a black velvet pillow. The drop of his shoulders was a slight indication of his mood.
“Come on, kids.” Near the ticket booth, their mother was motioning for them to join her and their dad. They were standing with a small group of people, a few of them, like their dad, had cameras strung around their necks.
“Wait for me, Mamma!” Ella scrambled to her feet and took off running, her long brown pigtails dancing crazily around her head.
“Nathan, Mom said to come on!” Sarah kept glancing over her shoulder to see if he was following, her blond bob in complete disarray due to the spinning episode.
Rolling his blue eyes (the only feature he shared with Sarah) at the mere fact that she was talking to him, he punched her in the arm as he ran past her.
“Ow, that hurt! I’m telling.” Sarah rubbed her arm as she ran to catch up.
When the older two arrived, Ella was already holding her momma’s hand while jumping up and down. The tour guide frowned at Nathan, having seen what he had done.
“Daddy, Nathan hit me!” Sarah made sure to add a pout and a tear to get some sympathy. Their dad glanced back at Nathan who was shaking his head and rolling his eyes. Their dad took Sarah by the hand and told her to stay away from Nathan because he was grumpy.
Nathan just glared at her when she looked back and smirked. As far as he was concerned, she was a complete waste of space.
"The original fortress of the eleventh century was destroyed in the fourteen hundreds. It was rebuilt and expanded in the sixteen hundreds in somewhat its current footprint, but fell to disuse when the family moved to the more easily reached castle palace in nearby Sigmaringen. In the early eighteen hundreds, the castle became a reconstruction project for a family history enthusiast, Crown Prince Frederick. He recreated it in a neo-gothic style, and it was completed in 1867.”
The tour guide’s monotonous voice droned on as the tourist group moved further into Hohenzollern Castle. The footsteps of the small group echoed through the halls and made the woman’s voice sound muffled.
“This is stupid. I thought you said we were going to go hiking.” Nathan dragged the toes of his shoes along the floor and was rewarded with a look from his mother for his comment.
His mom draped her arm around his shoulders and bent to whisper in his ear so as not to disturb the other tourists. “You need to change your attitude, little boy. This is not your vacation; it’s everyone’s. Your father wanted to see this castle and you are going to stop moaning about it and enjoy yourself. We will go hiking tomorrow if you can shape up. If you don’t, I’ll take your Gameboy away for the rest of the trip.”
“Wha..? That’s not fair!” Nathan’s voice shot up an octave and he jerked free speeding up to pass his dad. The tour group had entered the Great Hall, where one wall was completely occupied by a fireplace. He walked over to it and began to examine the years of black soot covering the inside. There was an ornate arch over the fireplace and the mosaic that once covered it was partially restored.
He was warned of the approach of his sisters by their chattering. “What is it, Nathan?”
He just looked at Sarah for a moment, and then answered her like she was hard of hearing, dragging out each letter. “It’s a f...i…r...e...p...l...a...c...e, stupid.”
“You’re not supposed to say that word!” Sarah shot at him.
“Yeah, Nathan.” Ella stood with her hands on her hips, glaring at her brother. Unlike most three-year-olds, every word she said could be understood and she spoke far above her age. Many people had commented on it and how it was a complete contrast to her diminutive size.
Shrugging his shoulders, he turned away from them and ducked under the red velvet rope being held in place by tall brass stands. He easily stepped into the fireplace and looked up the flue that led out of the castle. There was still a faint burnt smell trapped within the bricks. The girls scrambled in next to him, staring up at the small rectangle of blue sky far above them.
“This is cool.” For the first time that day, Nathan actually sounded like he was enjoying something.
“Really cool.” Ella’s small voice echoed around the cavernous opening.
“Yeah. This is neat.” Sarah was touching the cold stone and smearing the soot.
“You children should not be in there.” The deep male voice of a caretaker startled them and they scrambled out. Before they could run off he asked them a question. “Do you want to know a secret?”
The old man looked around, checking to see if anyone was listening. When the kids nodded their heads he continued. “There are hidden tunnels here that lead into the magic forest.”
Ella and Sarah stared at the man, eyes wide in wonder. They turned towards Nathan, expecting him to have known this.
“Really? Where?” Nathan began looking around, hoping to see a secret passage hidden in the wall.
“When you visit the kitchens, look in the pantry. There is a small handle on the left side of the shelf. Pull it and a small section of the wall opens; you can follow the tunnels all through the castle.” The man winked at the kids as if they were co-conspirators, and walked off. He knew they would be okay in the tunnels since it was actually part of the tour their parents had paid for. Seeing the three kids squabble had made him ask the parents if he could tell them the secret.
“Ella, don’t say anything, okay? It’s just a game we can play, you know hide and seek.”
“I won’t, Nathan. I like hide and seek.” Nathan took Ella’s hand and Sarah took the other as they followed their parents into another room. They kept glancing at each other; giddy with the knowledge the old man had given them. When they entered the kitchens, a grin spread across Sarah’s face. “Nathan, look, it’s the pantry.”
“Shut up, Sarah.” Nathan glanced around to see if anyone heard her. His heart sped up in anticipation when the guide opened the door to the pantry for everyone to look in. The old wooden hinges cried out in protest, but eventually opened, as they always did. When the adults moved on to the old stoves, the kids slipped back into the pantry. On the other side of the room, their dad turned and caught their secret escape on tape. He smiled and nudged their mother. They were glad that Nathan was no longer being grumpy and was including Sarah in the adventure.
Nathan quickly searched the wall and found the handle. His fingers closed over the old wood, smooth with years of use. When he pulled it a small section of the wooden wall popped open. It was just tall enough that Nathan, at five feet already, didn’t have to duck into the tunnel.
Sarah looked back over her shoulder towards their parents, who were now examining some old crockery. She bit her lower lip then looked back towards her brother. “I don’t think we should go in there.”
Apprehension overwhelmed her as she looked into the dark passage. Ella too was looking a bit scared as the scent of dirt and dampness drifted out of the opening.
“There might be bugs.” Ella’s eyes seemed to grow larger at the thought of the dreaded bugs crawling in the tunnels.
“Or a ghost.” Sarah took a step further away from the opening.
“Sarah, don’t be such a baby. Come on. Ella, its not scary -look, I can see light through there. We will just come out in the next room, like a short cut.” Nathan held out his hand and Ella took it, fully trusting her big brother. When the two disappeared into the tunnel, Sarah hurried after them.
He walked briskly through the forest debris, kicking up little dust clouds and scattering mice. He was happy to have finally found some food after three days in the Black Forest. Being on the run and hiding out had several disadvantages, but it was better than being in Azkaban. He stopped when he heard the overly active chatter of the hamadryads. He had heard about the existence of the creatures who were one with the trees and protected them, but had never before seen them until now. In his present state, as Padfoot, his keen sense of hearing allowed him to hear their high-pitched voices. He had been trying to ignore them, but something he heard made him stop and listen.
Their chattering voices were overrunning one another, but he managed to hear ‘children’ and ‘lost’ and ‘non-magical’. He wanted to ask the wood nymphs where they had seen these children, but the forest was vast and they could be anywhere within its grasp. He would also have to Transform in order to speak, and he didn’t want to take the chance of someone seeing him. The deep recesses of the forest were no place for humans, much less children. However, he was bored and finding the children would give him something to do. The thought of an adventure made his blood tingle, causing him to take off at a run.
With his nose to the wind, he headed towards a high spot in the distance. If he concentrated, he might be able to find them. He wasn’t sure what he was going to do when he found them, but it was still something to do. Perhaps he had been a dog for too long and his need for companionship was driving him on. Even if he couldn’t talk to them, just being around the kids would be nice.
The sun was just starting to creep towards the tree tops when he finally picked up their scent. It was strong so he knew they were close. He was running full out when he crashed through the small clearing and spotted them. He skidded to a halt, his back legs tried to keep going and he ended up sliding down and rolling over in the dirt. He jumped up quickly and found himself staring into the large, dark brown eyes of a little girl. Her hair was filled with small twigs and there were scratches across her forehead and cheek. There were tear tracks on her face and her arms were wrapped around the neck of a young boy who was holding her.
“Come on, Sarah. We need to keep going,” the boy spoke out and then another young girl ran out from behind a low bush. She was snapping the button of her pants and paused when she saw Sirius.
“Aww, look a dog.” There was genuine happiness in her blue eyes. Sirius stepped forward, and the boy stepped back, pulling the girl with him.
It was that movement that made Sirius realise they were probably frightened of him. It had been several weeks since he had bathed, and he had been a dog for most of them. His hair was most likely matted and dirty. The older boy, obviously wiser, probably thought he was rabid or something.
Sirius had to think through his next move. He knew that his pride would suffer if anyone ever found out what he was going to do. He dropped to the ground and belly crawled towards the children. When they only looked at each other, and didn’t move, he felt he was making progress.
Mortified at himself, he continued the ‘dog’ tricks to lure the kids to him. He sat up and began to paw at the air, as if asking for something. In the back of his mind, he could hear James roaring with laughter. At last, the smallest one giggled. She pushed away from the boy and stepped closer to Sirius. The other girl also came closer. Sirius moved very slowly, and at last was nose to nose with the little girl. Though she was obviously not a baby, she had the same innocent smell about her. He had a flash of memory from when he first held Harry.
Buoyed by his success, he licked the little girl behind the ear. She shrugged her shoulder and began to giggle even louder. The older girl held her hand out to him and he began to lick it too. She giggled and turned towards the boy.
“Look Nathan, she’s friendly.”
Sirius’s cocked his head to the side, stepped back and sat down, his masculinity had taken a serious blow being called a girl. He thought about running off at that point, but then he noticed the shadows of the forest growing longer around them, so he decided to stay. This forest was no place for children at night; he felt he should at least get them to a cave.
Nathan came over to him and began to scratch Sirius behind the ear. It felt so good, he couldn’t stop his eyes from closing. He didn’t realise he was leaning his head further into the boy’s hand until the two of them fell over. The two girls and even the boy began to laugh.
Sirius could hear the tree nymphs laughing with them, but it was a distant noise that caused his ears to perk up. He jumped to his feet when he realised what he had done. The children’s laughter had been heard by the worse possible creature. He had to act quickly. He started to run, hoping the kids would follow him, but they didn’t.
He could hear the Erklings’ feet crashing through the leaves and bushes. It was far off, but it was coming fast. Sirius lept back and snagged the little girl’s shirtsleeve with his teeth. He started to tug her forward, causing her to scream.
In the distance the Erkling sped up, Sirius could just make out its cackling being carried by the wind.
The two other children were hitting him and yelling for him to let go. Trying desperately to get them to move, he let go of her and started to run circles around the kids. He was herding them towards a rocky section, hoping to find a cave. If he could get them into a shelter, he could keep the Erkling away from them.
As he shoved the kids from behind, they finally caught on. “She’s playing with us. Try to keep away, run that way and don’t let her touch you.” The older girl gave instructions and the three of them started darting around Sirius.
If the situation were not so dire, Sirius would be concerned about the fact that these children, though lost in the woods, were not afraid of him. He had managed to get them close to the rocks when the Erkling’s cackle caught the attention of the older girl. Unable to resist the sound, she stopped and turned towards the forest. A small smile played at the corners of her lips. “Do you hear that?”
Sirius wanted to scream at her to cover her ears and had to fight hard to keep from Transforming so he could grab the kids and run. He started barking hysterically, trying to cover the sound of the creature. It was too late; the horrid little thing came rushing through the trees. The hackles across Sirius’ back rose high and a growl began rolling through his throat.
When the older girl saw the little demon, all colour drained from her face. A terrified cry and scream erupted from her. Paralyzed by her fear, the Erkling was able to grab her arm and started to run off with her. The sudden movement pulled her to the ground and he began dragging her through the brush.
“SARAH!” The boy shot off at the same time as Sirius. Behind them, the younger girl was screaming in terror at what was happening.
Nathan gave a desperate chase, but was no match for the smaller creature’s swift feet. However, it could not outrun Sirius. With a ferocious growl, he launched himself at the beast. He landed square on, knocking it to the ground and freeing Sarah.
Not about to give up his find, the Erkling was able to scramble out from under Sirius by digging a deep gouge into his chest. It dashed around Sirius and took off for the smaller one.
“Run, Ella!” Nathan raced for his terror stricken sister as Sirius struggled to his feet. Nathan had grabbed a stick as he ran and was trying to head off the beast.
Ella’s little legs had barely moved when the savage creature grabbed her by the foot. Not wanting this one to get away, he sank his teeth into her leg. A hard blow to the head sent it sprawling into the rocks before it could bite all the way through.
The Erkling scrabbled to get back to the child. Tears were streaming down her face as her heart wrenching screams echoed through the trees.
Nathan kicked the creature hard just as Sirius shot forward and grabbed it by the arm. It fought hard to get away; its only thought was the meal it was not getting. Sirius could hear its bones crunching as it twisted and turned its arm. He ran towards the edge of the trees, dragging the Erkling away from the kids.
Nathan scooped his baby sister off the forest floor and screamed at Sarah, “Get up, get up and run!”
Sarah sat sobbing in the grass, a deep abrasion running down her arm and side. Nathan tugged on her uninjured arm, pulling her to her feet. The adrenaline coursing through his body giving him more strength than he possessed. He half dragged, half carried Sarah back towards the rocks, Ella lying limply across his chest. Blood was seeping through her jeans and staining her pink tennis shoes a dark red.
In the trees, Sirius was ripping the Erkling apart. The years of built up frustration and rage werespurring him on. When his fury was spent he stopped, the bitter taste of the demon creature’s blood burning his throat. He looked back at the kids, helpless and innocent, huddled against the rocks. The carnage of what he had done sickened him, but knowing that he had lured the beast to the children justified his actions.
He limped back towards the kids and smelled the blood before he saw it. A large amount of it was puddling on the ground by Ella. Her face was chalk white beneath the grime and her eyelids were fluttering. Nathan was trying to wipe it away, tears streaming down his face. Next to him, Sarah was cradling Ella’s head in her lap and sobbing.
“Do something, Nathan!” Her words caught in her throat as she struggled to get them out.
“I’m trying! I don’t know what to do!” Nathan screamed at her, making her cry harder.
Sirius knew it was bad long before he saw it. He was surprised to see Ella’s leg still attached. He nudged his way in to examine it. He also noticed the blood on Sarah’s shirt and across Nathan’s forehead. Though he didn’t know him at all, Sirius was extremely proud of the boy.
He knew he had to get help. Not sure if he could do it or not, Sirius raced off into the woods and found a large tree. He hoped it would have an older and wiser dryad. Making sure to not be seen by the kids, he Transformed into a man. He lay his trembling hands against the tree, hoping what he did would work.
“Please, tell me how to get them out of here. Is there anyone nearby who can help them?”
He quickly Transformed back and could hear the low murmurs of the other dryads and hamadryads. They were praising his actions and vowing to help get the children to safety.
An elder nymph emerged slowly from the tree. Her age lined face was still beautiful. A lone tear made its way down her cheek. “Those poor children. We have already sent word to the Bone Mother and she will help you. She lives deep in the woods, but she will arrive quickly. Do not fear her.The stories told of her cruelty are only passed on by those who deserved punishment. You have done no wrong in this forest and the innocence of their hearts will keep them safe. Go, be with them; she comes now.”
Sirius raced back and lay down next to the children, hoping they would not be frightened. An instinct in him caused him to start licking at the tiny girl’s wound, though it did not stop the blood from flowing. The sun had gone completely and the forest was lit only by a bright moon. A wild wind began to blow and the trees around them began to creak loudly. The temperature dropped and the leaves began to whirl through the air.
Sarah screamed when she saw the old hag appear, causing Nathan to jump to his feet. Sirius stood and placed himself between the woman and the children. He began licking Nathan’s hand to calm him.
The Baba Yaga came closer. “Do not be afraid. I can get you home to your parents. They have been searching for you since you disappeared.” She turned her attention to Sirius, “You, my wise friend, have done very good here. There is a stream around this corner. We must move quickly, her time is running out.” The old lady turned and began to shuffle away.
Nathan did not hesitate. He picked up Ella and followed Sirius towards the water. His concern for his sister was so great that he did not even question what was going on or who the woman was. Behind them, Sarah followed at a slower pace.
When they reached the stream Nathan and Sirius looked to the old woman. “Spread the thick mud from under the water onto her wound. The magic of the water sprites will heal her.”
Nathan began scooping handfuls of mud from the bottom. “Help me, Sarah.”
Exhausted, she dropped to her knees and pulled away the leg of Ella’s pants. Nathan began patting the mud into the wound, and the three of them waited. Thought the witch had called him wise, Sirius felt far from it. If not for him, the Erkling might not have found them. He lowered his head to his paws and willed the mud to work.
Sarah moved closer to the water and bent to cup some into her hand. As her head rose, she saw the faint outline of something in front of her. The little water sprite had a somber look on her face and just watched as Sarah held her hand out.
“Look,” Sarah whispered so as not to scare her off.
Sirius and Nathan turned towards her, but saw nothing.
“I see her too. She is afraid for your sister.” The old lady’s voice was soothing. Sarah smiled at the sprite and watched as it flitted about her hand, touching it gently.
“Momma…” Ella’s faint voice whispered and Sarah jumped up to return to her.
“Mommy’s not here, Ella, but you’re okay. We’ll get you out of here.” Sarah ran her hand over her sister’s hair and looked up into Nathan’s face. The two smiled at each other as tears slipped down their faces.
Greatful that Ella was awake, Sirius then began to sniff at Sarah’s side where she had been scraped. Ella sitting up and drinking water from her brother’s hand. When she could drink no more, Nathan smeared the mud on Sarah’s side causing her to laugh. “That’s cold and it tickles.”
When he was finished, Sarah gathered some of the thick goo and spread it on Sirius’ wound. He had forgotten that the creature had scrached him. Sarah’s gentleness made him want to protect them even more.
“I’m glad your okay, Sarah.” Nathan looked straight at his little sister, then smiled at her.
“Thank you for coming after me, Nathan. I love you.”
“I love you too, Sarah.”
“What about me?” Ella was now sitting next Sirius, leaning against his side and rubbing his head.
“I love you too, Ella.”
“Me too. I’m really glad that thing got dead. What is it?”
The Baba Yaga turned towards the children, concern etched in her face. “It is an Erkling, a most horrible creature. It would have eaten you if it had been able to.”
Nathan gasped and Sarah grabbed his hand, moving closer to him for safety. Ella’s arms tightened around Sirius’neck. He nudged her with his nose to loosen her grip. He had to get the children into a safe place for the night. He looked to the witch for help.
She pointed towards the rocks, “Up there is a cave. You will be safe for the night.” She began to step away but was stopped by the kids.
“Who are you?” Sarah had stepped closer, no longer afraid of the woman.
The children watched in wonder as her skin began to smooth and her shoulders straightened. Before them now stood a younger, and prettier lady.
“I am the Bone Mother. I rule over the elements and I help those that I choose to help.” The woman turned and disappeared. A strong wind followed her departure, as if an unseen companion was leaving too.
The kids stood in awe until Sirius barked at them than began to climb the rocks. Sarah was slowly making her way toward him and Nathan was guiding Ella over the harder parts. When they were all safely inside the small space, Sirius lay down in front of the opening.
He was just settling in to keep watch when he felt someone snuggle up against him. He glanced down and saw Sarah’s back curved against his side. Her arm was draped around Ella, who was already asleep. Sirius looked for Nathan and saw him sitting against a wall, losing his fight to stay awake.
Sirus awoke to a shriek. He jumped to his feet, ready to fight off whatever was attacking this time. A whimper behind him caused him to spin around. In the dark corner of the cave,he saw Nathan thrashing about, a tiny creature sitting on his chest. The girls were huddled together against the opposite wall, their eyes glistening with fright. Sirius’ eyes narrowed at the sight of the elf that was causing the boy to relive their ordeal in his nightmare.
He lowered himself to the ground and stalked towards the nasty little thing. When he got close, Nathan’s arms swung out and he smacked Sirius hard on the side. A grunt escaped him as the wind was knocked out. Not wanting to see Nathan suffering, he forced himself past the boy’s flailing arms. He grabbed the elf with his teeth and slung it from the cave. Using his considerable size, he lay against Nathan, draping one arm across the boys’ chest. It took several minutes for Nathan to calm down. When he did, Sirius felt the girls once again curl up against him.
At dawn, the bright welcoming sun streamed in through the mouth of their small shelter. Ella, always one to rise early, stood and made her way to the edge. She could see the tail of an animal swishing as it drank from the stream with the magical mud. The reminder caused her small hand to seek out the wound on her leg. She sat down and began to pull up her pants leg. The wound was oozing and it burned when she touched it. Being the big girl that she thought she was, she decided to climb down to the stream by herself.
Five feet from the ground, she slipped. The scream died in her throat when something caught her around the waist. She was lowered to the ground and turned to find herself staring at the legs of a horse.
“You need to be more careful, little one.” The voice was coming from the animal and Ella looked up to a man, attached to the horse. He had curly redish hair and a smooth face. He had the appearance of a very young man.
Above them, Sirius stood watching anxiously. The centaurs that lived around Hogwarts were not known to help humans, and Sirius was leery of what this one was going to do.
“How did you do that?” Ella’s head was tipped back as far as it would go as she looked up at the horse-man.
“Get stuck on your horse like that?”
A deep belly laugh erupted from him and his back legs danced. “The Gods made me this way. I am a centaur, and my name is Thibius.”
Ella’s brow furrowed as she concentrated on what he said. “God did this to you.” It was a statement, not a question.
“Not the God of man, but my Gods, yes.”
“I’m not a man. I’m a big girl.”
Thibius laughed again, amused by the human offspring. “That you are. What is your name?”
“I’m Ella. My brother and sister are up there.” She pointed towards the cave and Thibius’ eyes followed her finger.
He nodded to Sirius, sensing what he really was. “It is good to see that you are not alone. How do you come to be in the forest?”
“We got lost. Wewereplayinginthetunnelsand and and wewentthroughabigdoor and and and …. we got lost.” Ella’s story ran together as she rushed to get it out.
Thibius listened carefully. He was able to discern that they had been playing in some tunnels. The only tunnels he knew of led to the ancient stone building a few leagues from where they were at now. He looked to Sirius when replying. “These tunnels are not far from here and if you walk towards the sun, after it has been high in the sky, you will find your tunnels again. I must be on my way now. I am glad I drank here, your wisdom will carry me through my day. “
Ella put her tiny arms around his leg and squeezed. “Thank you for catching me. I already have one boo boo.” She lifted her pants leg showing him the bite.
“Hmm, that would be the Erkling I saw at the edge of the woods?” He looked to Sirius again, now knowing what had killed the creature.
“Yeah, the dog we found killed it.” Ella smiled up towards Sirius.
“Be safe, little Ella.” Thibius bade her goodbye and trotted off into the woods.
Sirius climb down the rock face, confused by the centaurs actions. It had helped Ella and had acknowledged him. The beings in this forest were far different than what he was accustomed to. He was quickly followed by Nathan and Sarah.
“I talked to a horse,” Ella piped up as soon as she saw her brother and sister.
Nathan gave her an odd look, then replied in a sarcastic manner. “Yeah right, Ella. You talked to a horse. Did it talk back?”
“Yup. It told me God made it and then it told me to walk to the sun and we would find the tunnels.” She beamed at them, proud of herself for remembering what it had told her.
“Okay, Ella, whatever you say.” Nathan pulled her towards the stream and packed her bite with mud again. He added some to Sarah’s side and then they all got a drink.
“I’m hungry.” Sarah spoke up, looking around for some sign of food.
“Me too.” Nathan’s stomach growled in agreement.
Sirius looked towards the sun to figure out which way they were facing. He was miffed at Nathan for not believing Ella, but there was nothing he could do about it. Turning the opposite direction from the sun, he looked back and barked at the kids.
They followed behind him silently for a while.
“Oh, the dog is a boy, Sarah, not a girl. I think we should call him Rex.” Nathan was now walking next to Sirius with his hand on his back.
Rex? Sirius wondered where the name had come from.
“How do you know?” Sarah was holding Ella’s hand and walking on the other side of Sirius.
“Well, it has, you know…boy parts.” Nathan restrained himself from using the word that he and his friends used.
Sirius could feel himself blush under the layers of dirty fur. He was glad they no longer thought he was a she, but the fact that the children were discussing his manhood was extremely embarrassing.
They had walked for more than an hour when Sirius spotted a vine covered with black berries. He led the kids over to it and began to pull them off to show the kids that they could eat them. By the time they had finished, there were no berries left on the vines and all three kids had scratches on their hands and purple teeth. It took him a few moments to get them moving again. He barked at them several times and then pulled on Nathan’s shirt.
“Come on, Sarah.” Nathan picked up Ella when she refused to get up. She had been limping all day due to her injury and she was showing signs of tiring again.
Sirius was afraid for the kids. He knew he had to get them out of the forest before nightfall, but their pace was very slow. He wondered how they had managed to get so far into the forest the day before. As they walked, he continued to listen to the chatter of the dryads and hamadryads. They mostly inquired as to why the kids were in the forest and the story of the Erkling was spreading amongst them. Sirius was humbled by them calling him a hero.
The day wore on and at noon they came to a stream. The kids had ceased speaking hours before, but Sarah suddenly spoke out.
“I remember this stream. There were funny bugs here.”
Sirius was looking at the funny bugs that were flitting about - pixies. They could be a nuisance, but would not harm them. However, the kids must have had a bad run in, because they refused to get closer to the water. Sirius edged closer and let out a deep bark. The pixies, startled by him, scattered into the trees.
“Thanks, Rex.” Nathan patted Sirius on the head then led the girls across the water. They stopped on the other side and got a drink.
Sirius let them rest for a while in the shade of a large tree. He wanted to ask the tree nymphs if they were close, but knew the kids would follow him if he ran off. After thirty minutes or so, Sirius urged the kids on. They groaned so he barked continuously at them until they got up.
Nathan had been carrying Ella before they stopped and she was trying to get him to hold her again. “Ella, you’re getting heavy. You can walk for a while.”
She turned to Sarah and held up her arms. “You’re way too heavy for me.” Sarah held her hands up in front of her, as if defending herself.
Ella began crying and stomping her feet. Sirius stared in amazement at the child’s fit. He had not seen her throw a tantrum up until then and wasn’t sure what to do. He finally decided, after considering her small size, that he might be able to carry her. His Animangus form was a cross between a Newfoundland and a Mastiff. He had chosen to mix the breeds because of their size, skills and strength. They never knew what they were going to be up against with Remus, so he chose to have size and muscle.
He lowered himself in front of Ella and nudged her with his head.
“Hey, I think he wants you to get on.” Sarah helped Ella climb on and held her hand as Sirius stood.
She scooted back and buried her head in the fur on his neck. Her feet were nowhere near the ground and Sirius was surprised at how light she was. She wrapped her arms around his neck and he smiled when she whispered, “Thank you”.
Nathan stood on one side and Sarah on the other as they continued on. Ella’s weight became slightly more when she fell asleep, but she was still not a burden to Sirius. He was ashamed for not thinking of it sooner.
He was continuously aware of eyes watching them from behind trees and rocks. He wasn’t sure if it intended harm or was merely curious; he was just glad that whatever it was, it did not approach.
The sun was just starting to sink when Sirius stopped and his ears perked up. He could hear voices off to his left. Nathan slid Ella down and waited for Sirius to move again. When he did, his pace was much quicker. At last they broke through the woods and before them was the majestic castle. People in uniforms were swarming the area. There were dogs tied off that were barking hysterically at Sirius. Flashing red and blue lights were casting strange shadows on the ground.
The kids stood and looked over the scene. Silence suddenly surrounded them and two figures began racing down the hill towards them.
“Momma!” Ella yelled for her mother.
Sarah saw them and started yelling too, “Mommy, Daddy!”
“Dad!” The relief in Nathan’s voice was overwhelming.
The kids took off running towards their parents. Nathan’s long legs ate up the ground and he and his dad collided. They fell to the ground in a hug. Their mother continued on, sweeping Sarah into her arms. Ella’s little legs carried her as fast as they could and at last her mother scooped her up too.
Sirius watched from the woods, a tightness forming his chest as the kids were reunited with their parents. His eyes were watering but a grin played at the corners of his mouth, causing his tongue to lull out. He could not believe that he had gotten the kids out of the forest alive. He could only imagine what they would tell their parents, and how much of it they would believe.
When total darkness finally claimed the area, Sirius moved back into the forest. He could hear the kids calling ‘Rex’ over and over, but he could not show himself. There were too many people and he could not risk exposing himself. Harry and Hermione had gone to great lengths to help him escape and he could not repay them by getting caught. He sped up until he was running, wondering if Buckbeak would still be in the deep crevice where they had been hiding out.
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