Padfoot shuffled quickly through the tunnel to the Shrieking Shack, anxious to be free of its claustrophobic damp. His moment of relief when he came to the opening was short-lived, because it wasn't as though the inside of the Shack was much better. He stepped out and dropped the bundle of James' Invisibility Cloak out of his jaws, pawing it aside a bit so that the wolf wouldn't stumble into it when they left the Shack.
The moon wasn't up yet, so the inside of the room was pitch dark, but Padfoot had no trouble locating the scent he wanted and padding over to its source. He nudged a trembling shoulder with his nose and gave a low whine.
"Cold!" Remus yelped, pushing Padfoot's nose away. Padfoot huffed a laugh and nudged Remus' skin again, not stopping until Remus snorted with reluctant amusement and skritched the dog's neck ruff. A minute passed, and Remus' hand stilled suddenly.
"Moon's almost up, Sirius," he said, voice tight. "You'd better back up. Go on, get, you stupid mutt." Remus gave Padfoot a little shove when he didn't move right away. Padfoot gave the back of Remus' hand a lick before trotting a dozen or so steps away. He barked once to let Remus know that he wasn't too far.
Sirius hated listening to Remus transform. He was sure it wasn't pretty to watch either, but in the dark and with Padfoot's ears picking up every gasp for air and scrape of reforming bone, Sirius figured that the images his mind conjured up just had to be worse than the reality.
When all the sounds faded except for harsh canine gasps for air, Padfoot took a cautious step forward, whining softly to let Moony know that he was there. He heard Moony climb to his feet and sniff the air, then walk towards him, claws clicking on the wood floor.
Padfoot waited meekly, head low, because he was fairly sure that the wolf could see better in the dark than he could, and he still remembered the slashes he'd got on the shoulder from Moony last time.
Moony came right up to Padfoot, and Padfoot felt hot breath snuffling his neck ruff. There was a pause, and then another snuffle, and Sirius wondered wryly if Moony could smell Remus where he'd touched the fur, and if the wolf even knew what Remus smelled like.
Apparently satisfied, Moony took a step back and barked once before zipping off suddenly. Sirius realized with a start that Moony must have remembered where the tunnel was this time, because he sounded like he was headed right for it.
He was already in the tunnel and moving fast by the time Padfoot reached the entrance, and Sirius swallowed his distaste for the passage before following. He didn't have much trouble catching up since the tunnel wasn't quite large enough to permit a large wolf's full run, but he steeled himself to take control of the situation quickly if Moony headed towards the school again.
Fresh air hit his nose and Padfoot yipped his relief, and saw welcome glimpses of the starry sky over Moony's shoulder. Finally they burst free of the tunnel with a triumphant howl that could've come from either of them.
Prongs seemed to have been prepared this time, and was standing between the tunnel and the school, antlers lowered and ready, Wormtail perched on his shoulder, out of the way. He gave a menacing snort and Moony stopped short in startlement, and Padfoot rammed right into his rear, nearly tumbling them both to the ground. Moony whirled around and snapped at the dog, who was tangled up in his feet yet, and barely missed giving him a pierced ear.
Wanting to stop that in its tracks, Prong lunged forward a step and poked Moony in the side with an antler to show him that he meant business. Moony snarled and looked as though he might snap again, but another poke with an antlertip made him change his mind. After a dismissive snort at both stag and dog, Moony tore towards the wood suddenly, leaving a startled Padfoot frozen with his hind leg halfway up to scratch his ear.
He leapt to his feet to follow immediately; Prongs took a moment to make sure Wormtail was ready, doing his best to avoid low branches as they raced into the trees.
Moony seemed to calm down as he led them deeper into the forest and slowed from the breakneck pace to his normal loping run, which Padfoot was very grateful for. The Padfeet were fast, but didn’t have the endless stamina a werewolf had, and the start of spring rains had turned much of the forest floor into a slick mess of leaves and mud.
Daring a glance over his shoulder, Padfoot saw a similar look of relief on Prong’s face. He couldn’t really see Wormtail from several yards away, but the rat was pressed flat against Prong’s head and Padfoot could imagine his queasy expression. Riding a stag didn’t look like a smooth ride, so far as Padfoot could tell, especially when one was clinging to the top of his head and waving like a windsock.
Turning back around before he brained himself on a tree, Padfoot barked an “all right?” at Moony and received a gruff bark in return, but it was a lot better than the snarls he’d been giving earlier and Padfoot closed the distance he’d been leaving between by about half.
Padfoot began to recognize trees as they passed them, and some doggy sense he couldn’t quite put his paw on informed him that they were going in the direction of the lake. A dozen yards further and he caught the definite scent of water in the air, and undertone of fish settling on his tongue in a not-quite-unpleasant way.
Moony slowed again, this time to an easy trot, and Padfoot took the opportunity to pause for a moment and catch his breath while he waited for Prongs. The stag stepped up to him a moment later and Padfoot huffed an “are you okay?” around his lolling tongue.
Prongs dipped his head a little and snorted the required three times. He was catching his breath too, flanks rippling as he took several deep breaths. Stags were made for distance, though, and Padfoot grumbled as Prongs nudged him to follow Moony almost immediately. He glanced up at Wormtail as he padded along; the rat was standing on his hind legs, one paw on an antler for support, sniffing the air. An approving sneeze told Padfoot that Wormtail had caught the scent of the lake as well.
The three Animagi caught up with Moony who was waiting for them at the edge of the lake clearing, tail waving impatiently. With a sharp sigh that sounded very much like “finally!” Moony trotted down to the lake with the others right behind.
Moony and Padfoot waded in immediately, Padfoot stopping in the shallows to gulp some water and to roll around in an attempt to wash the mud out of his coat. Prongs, mindful of romping canines and his crap legs, only stepped out far enough to bend his head and lap at the water delicately. A soft ‘plop!’ in the water beside his head reminded Prongs that he had forgot to let Wormtail off again.
Prongs lifted his head a little to see Wormtail paddling happily about in little circles, so Prongs assumed he was fine and returned to drinking. He could feel the tiny fish zipping about right underneath the surface of the water, some even coming right up to his tongue to investigate. Prongs snorted softly to himself as he contemplated the stupidity of an animal that all but tosses itself in your mouth. Good thing for them that sushi was not on the menu for a stag.
Moony didn’t wade out much farther than Padfoot, and once he had splashed most of the dirt out of his fur, he paddled back to the shallows where Padfoot was still flopping around like an idiot. Noticing Moony’s approach, Padfoot righted himself with a grin and pounced on a spot several feet to the side of Moony, sending a cascade of water raining down on both of them.
Moony barked and took several menacing steps towards Padfoot, clearly meaning to retaliate, when suddenly he froze, ears flattening against his head. Still playing, Padfoot shouldered into Moony roughly, knocking him a step to the side, but Moony snapped at him impatiently and lifted his nose to scent the air. Sniffing loudly, Moony cocked his head to the side and barked to ask Padfoot if he smelled it too.
Obligingly, Padfoot took a sniff of the air, but could only smell lake and fish. Moony was insistent though, so Padfoot scrunched his eyes shut and drew a huge breath through his nose, concentrating on separating out the smells.
Water, fish, trees, wet dog, wet deer…just as Padfoot was about to give up, he did smell something else. Something…good. Padfoot couldn’t put any name to the smell other than just good, and slightly earthy. An exchanged glance with Moony said that Padfoot had caught the smell too, and the two canines trotted towards shore, Padfoot following Moony, who was clearly picking up the scent more easily.
Prongs had noticed Moony’s strange behavior and froze when the wolf did, flicking his ears back and forth for any sign of danger. Watching carefully, Prongs relaxed a little when it became obvious that Moony and Padfoot were smelling something interesting but not dangerous. He did see them start towards the shore, however, and he snorted softly to get Wormtail’s attention and bent his head so the rat could clamber back on.
Once on shore, Moony had snuffled around on the ground and in the air for a moment before starting to follow the trail, following the curve of the lake-edge. He paused for a second to glance over his shoulder and make sure Padfoot was following, then put his nose to the sandy soil and began tracking in earnest. Padfoot barked at Prongs to ask if he was coming, but didn’t wait for an answer before following Moony around the curve of the lakeshore.
Prongs snorted in disgust, wondering just what sort of trouble Padfoot and Moony were about to get themselves into, and followed at a safe distance, blinking water out of his eyes as it ran off Wormtail and down his face.
Padfoot was picking up the smell easier now, whether because it was closer or because he knew what he was looking for. It got stronger as they came around the far side of the lake, to the spot where a stream fed into it. Moony sniffed briefly on the far side of the stream and then followed the bank upstream away from the lake. The smell was getting stronger, and more good by the minute, and Padfoot and Moony broke into a trot by wordless agreement.
Finally they came to a tree which the scent seemed to be emanating from. Puzzled, Padfoot and Moony snuffled the ground a bit and realized that the smell was coming from a weird flower growing in patches at the base of the tree. Padfoot stuck his nose deep into a patch and inhaled; it smelled like bellyrubs and sleeping in a patch of sunlight and someone saying “good dog”, even though Sirius recognized through Padfoot’s fogged senses that it couldn’t possibly smell like any of those things.
Glancing over, Padfoot saw Moony doing the same thing, snout buried in the plants, eyes glazed. Suddenly, Moony withdrew his nose and snapped at the plant, getting a good mouthful. Sirius had enough presence of mind to know that this was not normal wolf behavior, but then Padfoot’s instinct overrode him with sudden ferocity, and Padfoot had decided that if the plant smelled that good, it must taste even better.
It didn’t really at first, it just tasted like chewing on grass, but then the second mouthful tasted rather better, and the third, until the fourth was nearly the best thing he’d ever eaten. Beside him, Moony sneezed suddenly, sending leaves and petals flying through the air. Both canines looked up at the greenery drifting back down over them in fascination.
Whoa, Sirius thought, sitting down with a thump, pretty…
Prongs finally caught up, having got behind while picking his way through the undergrowth and being careful of his antlers on low branches. The sight that greeted him was bizarre to say the least.
Moony and Padfoot were both on their backs, paws in the air, batting at small bits of leaves that were floating in the air above them. They were making soft whuffing noises that sounded suspiciously like giggling. Prongs took a hesitant step forward and barked the ‘are you all right?”
Padfoot, noticing him suddenly, gave three fast yips and, wriggling on his back like he was itching himself on the ground, tossed a nose carelessly at the tree behind him. Moony, meanwhile, had rolled over onto his stomach and slapped a paw against the ground to get Padfoot’s attention, but then had stopped to stare at his paw, flexing in the leaves.
Prongs heard Wormtail give a worried chitter on his head, and privately agreed. He walked over to the tree Padfoot had waved at and squinted at the patch of plants that bore the unmistakable signs of doggy nibbling. With a snort to warn Wormtail, Prongs lowered his head to get a closer look, and Wormtail hopped off onto the ground to get a better look as well.
The plant didn’t look or smell too dangerous. It had thick, rounded leaves, and flowers that were light on the outside and dark in the center, although Prongs couldn’t tell what color they were while in Deervision. He glanced at Wormtail, who gave a rat sort of shrug, and then took a tiny nibble of one of the plants.
Nothing happened. He felt the same as he had before. Prongs lifted his head to see Moony now staring at the other paw with fascination, and Padfoot chasing his tail in frantic circles. Prongs took a larger bite of the plant, but still nothing happened.
Wormtail was unaffected by the plant as well, but he did chew off a flowered stem and took it with him when he climbed back onto Prongs. Prongs supposed he wanted to find out what it was later. Probably wise, he reasoned, even though the effects didn’t seem negative. Sort of.
While turning in his little circles, Padfoot had tripped over Moony and sprawled them into a tangle of limbs, but instead of being angry, Moony was ‘giggling’ even louder. Padfoot and Moony struggled to their feet, leaning on each other and nearly toppling over more than once. Padfoot leaned over and nudged Moony’s shoulder, then nuzzled it harder, until the tickle of fur in his nose made him sneeze. He gave a puzzled yip, as though surprised that the wolf was covered in fur, and snuffled Moony again. The tickle of Padfoot’s snuffles was too much and Moony gave a vicious shake, causing Padfoot to tumble over in surprise, and since he had been leaning on the dog, Moony went down too, face first in the leaves.
Still confused, but noting that these symptoms were suspiciously like that time in Third Year when a Sixth Year had talked them into smoking some Muggle thing that had definitely not turned out to be a cigarette, Prongs approached the whuffing pair cautiously and nudged them to their feet. Figuring that if this stuff didn’t wear off before dawn, they were in for a long struggle back to the Shack, Prongs alternately pushed and tugged Padfoot and Moony back the way they had come.
It was something of a struggle. Both canines seemed incapable of walking in a straight line, wobbling back an forth, and every time they ran into tree, they would have to stop and rub against it, itching their sides with expressions of utter bliss, tongues hanging out and eyes glassy. A mud puddle meant splashing and rolling, bushes meant stops to gnaw on them, and not infrequently one of them would discover some part of their body, an ear or a knee, and stop to stare at it as though they had never seen it before, prompting the other to join in and poke a paw at it with fascination.
Thankfully, the effects seemed to lessen eventually so that Padfoot and Moony were a bit less distracted, complying with Prong’s nudges with a reasonable amount of cheerful cooperation. The wobbling walk was getting more pronounced, however, slowing things down, and both were starting to yawn when Prongs noticed the sky starting to lighten ever so slightly.
He urged the others into a shambling but decent pace, getting rather frustrated with the way Padfoot seemed to be bumping into Moony constantly, even though Moony himself didn’t seem to mind, and on the contrary, nipped playfully at Padfoot’s ruff everybody he blundered near enough to do so.
They were nowhere near as close to the edge of the forest as Prongs wanted when Moony sagged heavily against Padfoot. He managed several more steps with Padfoot’s help before going down for good, taking Padfoot down with him. Moony curled on his side, pressed against Padfoot’s flank, as the whuffs turned to pants for air.
James remembered the scene from last time very clearly, and Prongs barked sternly, ordering Sirius away from the shifting wolf. When that had no effect, he stepped close enough to poke Padfoot with an antler. Padfoot gave an irritated snuffle but refused to move. He hunched a shoulder against Prongs' poking and went on nosing Moony's shoulder, giving it a lick when the fur receded into skin.
The stuff had apparently made Moony a bit less dangerous while he changed back to Remus, but didn't do anything for discomfort if the cries of pain were any indication. Prongs stopped poking Padfoot with a grumble, and James made a mental note that he and Sirius were going to have a long talk about this business if this was going to happen every moon.
To James' surprise, Remus didn't pass out right away after the changeback. Still moaning softly, he tried to sit up and only managed to collapse against Padfoot's back. His fingers clenched into Padfoot's fur, and the dog thumped his tail and wriggled happily, evidently still under the effects of the weird plant and mistaking the grip for a stroking.
"Head…" Remus croaked, "Oh hell…"
James changed back immediately and winced as a very startled Wormtail dug claws into his scalp.
"Remus?" he asked, dropping to his knees next to Padfoot and helping Remus sit up. "Remus, you're usually out cold by now, are you okay?" He felt Wormtail scramble down to his shoulder and hop off to the ground, and a moment later, Peter was standing beside him, leaning over in concern.
"Wish I was out," Remus moaned, leaning heavily against James and pressing a hand ineffectually to his head. "The hell happened?" He peered at James blearily. "The fuck've you got fl'wers in your hair?"
"There's no time for that." James clambered awkwardly to his feet. "We've got to get you back to the Shack. Pete, help me."
With Peter's help they dragged Remus to his feet, ignoring his slurred protests that he felt like he was going to be sick at any moment. While they were sorting out arms around shoulders and waists, James aimed a kick at Padfoot, who had rolled onto his back and was watching the whole scene with obvious amusement.
"Get up, idiot!" he snapped. Padfoot grabbed ahold of James' shoe with his teeth and tugged playfully, setting James off into a colorful string of curses. "Sirius Black, when you've got lips again I'm going to hex them to Filtch's arse! UP NOW!"
Padfoot sorted himself onto his feet and grinned up at James, Remus, and Peter as thought he'd done something amazing and was waiting for a treat and a pat on the head.
"Bloody fuck!" James shouted. "Human, you fuckwit! Get rid of that fur and help us!"
Padfoot swayed on his feet for a moment before it was Sirius crouched in front of the other three boys. He straightened up after a moment, and blinked at them several times before suddenly pouncing on James and throwing an arm around his shoulders, nearly overbalancing all of them.
"Prongsy!" Sirius called joyfully, his head lolling onto James' shoulder. "You know you’re my best mate? Best mate, best mate, mest bate…" Sirius trailed off into giggles.
"Brilliant job, Jim," Peter said sourly. "What the fuck did you have him change back for?"
"How was I supposed to know it wouldn't wear off?" James demanded, trying frantically to juggle both Remus' and Sirius' weight. "Remus's did!"
"Remus!" Sirius exclaimed with delight. "You're back! And not so hairy!"
"Hate. You." Remus closed his eyes and moaned again.
Peter and James convinced Sirius that helping James carry Remus back out of the forest was a game, a very fun one, a race in fact, and they got it sorted so that Peter was free to run back and stop the Willow. Remus lapsed into a state of semi-consciousness partway through the trip, not so much helping as hanging limply onto James and Sirius.
They barely made it back in time, having lost a lot of time in the tunnel with Sirius constantly running into James and the walls. They were just laying Remus down when Wormtail came tearing out of the tunnel, squeaking his head off. James had just enough time to drag Sirius into the far corner with the Invisibility Cloak and clamp a hand over his mouth before Madam Pomfrey emerged from the tunnel.
Fortunately, Sirius became fascinated with the texture of the Cloak, and was so absorbed by running his fingers over it that he didn't make any noise. James thought he might die of sheer nerves while Pomfrey took her time examining Remus and coaxing him into robes for the trip back to the Infirmary. When Pomfrey finally left with Remus, James nearly fainted with relief.
Later, gathered around Remus' bed in the Infirmary, the only person more enthused about the smuggled food than James was Sirius.
"Ooh! Ginger nuts! Man, I was starving! Mm, that's so good…"
Sirius degenerated into mumbling once his mouth was full, and James turned to Peter, who had retrieved his Herbology text and was leafing through the index. He began to snicker suddenly, and James asked what he'd found. Peter held out the book, showing a large photo that matched exactly the flowers they'd pulled out of James' hair earlier. James started snickering as well when he read the title "WOLFNIP" at the top of the page. The text reported that although wolves felt the effects most severely, all canines were affected by the plant, which induced a mild euphoria, sensitivity to touch, and hunger cravings.
They looked over the edge of the book to find Sirius leaning heavily on the edge of Remus' bed and yawning.
"I love you guys," he said, grinning. "You're my best mates…and you're furry too sometimes! Being furry is fucking aces…fur's pretty, isn't it? You know what else is pretty?" James and Peter bit their lips to keep from laughing and shook their heads. "Moony's pretty. Pretty Moony…"
Sirius reached over to pat Remus on the head clumsily, then flopped over with his head on the blankets and promptly began to snore. James and Peter let go and laughed themselves nearly sick.
"Do you think we should tell them?" Peter asked, wiping tears from the corners of his eyes.
"Sure," James nodded, taking the book from Peter and closing it. He winked. "Eventually…"