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The sun was bright and hot, which suited Sirius perfectly. After his long years in Azkaban, the decision to head south into warmth and light had been an easy one. Exiled by circumstance, unable to be close to the only people he cared about, he had come to this isolated magical resort to rest, renew his strength, and soak up as much light and heat as the tropical sun had to give.
The Flying Umbrella resort struck him as a bit more festive than was appropriate to his state of mind, but being summer, it was off season, so the crowd was thin. The logo for the Flying Umbrella featured the frilly, gaudily painted sort of ornamental umbrella typically found floating atop frilly, and gaudy drinks. It was stylized, suggesting a broomstick at its base. An attractive witch and wizard clasped hands as they held on, suggesting a gay flight through a cheery blue sky. Sirius had heard of these all magical tourist destinations, but had never visited one. He had always imagined doing so with a group of rowdy friends. Now, sitting alone at a small metal table cooking in the afternoon sun, he thought that, in his present state, he wouldn’t know what to do with rowdy companions, friends or otherwise.
On the table before him lay a pair of scissors, and three glasses. He was at the quietest of the several patios, and had decided to stock up on drinks so that he wouldn’t have to talk to anyone for a good long while. He stared morosely at the magical ice cubes which danced tiny minuets in each glass. Moving daintily through his beverage, they had been enchanted to stay frozen till the glass was empty, chilling his drinks without diluting them.
Bored, and unable to make himself pick up the scissors, he began idly to send the glasses in smooth circles around one another on the table’s surface without touching them, trying to make a moving fractal that reflected the dance of the ice cubes. Such was his level of engagement with the world.
A faint movement in his peripheral vision caused him to look up, and he was startled to see a woman standing some metres away watching him. She was an arresting sight. Of medium height, he thought she looked middle-eastern, with long dark hair, and ageless, beautiful eyes. The warmth of her skin tone, and her rounded, active figure appealed to him after years of seeing only pale and emaciated fellow prisoners. She was regarding him closely, with the faintest curve to her lips, suggesting a smile which, on another woman’s face might have seemed mocking, but didn’t. When she spoke, her voice was feminine and clear, but with a distinctly Arabesque softening to the consonants.
“You’re not planning to stab yourself with those scissors are you? That would be a waste of three very nice looking drinks, or are you trying to work up your courage first by drinking them?”
He looked at her for a moment before answering. Twelve years in Azkaban had eroded manners and small talk. Her gaze was direct and uncommonly warm without being flirtatious. She wasn’t being coy, but there was no doubt that she was a very female woman.
“No,” he said finally. “Ending it all doesn’t require courage, especially not that kind.” He gestured toward the glasses, now motionless on the table. “It’s living that takes guts.” He picked up a glass and drained it in one.
She approached, pulled out the chair across from him and sat down. Somehow her unapologetic intrusion on his solitude didn’t offend him. She had a quiet self-possession that seemed to demand nothing from him, which was good, because he felt he had absolutely nothing to give.
“So what are the scissors for?”
He reached up and tugged on his long, matted hair. “For a long time it hasn’t mattered how I look, but being out in the world again, I figured I should try to tidy myself up a bit, but somehow now that it comes down to it I can’t seem to bring myself to do it.”
His answer raised more questions than it settled, but she didn’t ask any of them. Instead, she reached out to touch one of the glasses. “They’re all different. Do you have trouble choosing drinks also?”
He shrugged. “It doesn’t matter much, and it’s been a while since I was able to choose anything, so I just thought I’d try one of everything. This green one was pretty good. The bloke at the bar said that red one’s kind of sweet, but I’m not sure about the blue one.”
He waved a dismissive hand, and she picked up the glass filled with blue liquid and dancing ice cubes. After a cautious taste she put it back on the table. “Passible, a bit adolescent perhaps.”
He gave a short bark of laughter. He studied her face, trying to figure out how old she was. Her face was unlined, but not particularly youthful. Her body and movements were those of an active woman, but her eyes were…, he realized he’d been staring, and let his gaze drop to the scissors on the table. There was a long silence, which was not at all awkward.
Finally she asked, “Would you like me to do it for you?”
He was startled. “Do what?”
“Cut your hair.”
Her whole aspect exuded such an easy warmth, kind with no trace of pity, that he found it simple to say, “All right.”
She rose in a relaxed way, came around the table and picked up the scissors. Her nearness was startling but not alarming. She opened and closed the scissors a few times, studying him dispassionately. Then she moved to his side, and with calm competence, began cutting away the long matted strands. Of necessity she had to eventually cut close to the scalp, and he sat motionless while she worked. Inside he could feel something unsettling stirring, an incomprehensible mix of emotions that surged up sometimes, and that he always fought to control. She said nothing as she worked, for which he was grateful. When she had finished, as though sensing his inner struggle, she laid a hand briefly on his shoulder.
“It is done,” she said softly.
He sat still under her hand. Finally she said, “Look.”
“No, I don’t think I will.”
He pushed back his chair and rose slowly to his feet. Reluctantly, he turned, and surveyed the mass of his own hair in a rough semicircle around the chair. He stared and stared. He felt something treacherous rise in the back of his throat and turned away. He drained the glass with the blue drink, then reached for the red drink and gulped it.
“Sweet and strong,” he said, banging the empty glass back onto the table. “Feel like a stroll?”
She smiled. “We should clean that up,” she said, gesturing to the hair. “They’ll think some animal died here.”
He gave another bark of laughter. “You do it.”
“I don’t have my wand with me.” She stood watching him, patient but expectant.
Reluctantly, he drew out his wand and pointed it at the heap on the ground. He noted with disgust that his hand was shaking. He knew she could see, but she made no comment. He glanced at the table; all the glasses were empty. “Evanesco,” he muttered, and the hair vanished. He inhaled a long slow breath.
“There’s a shaded path this way,” she said easily, and put a light hand on his arm, directing him between tall trees, away from the patio.
After that, they walked every day. Still pallid and weak from his years in Azkaban, Sirius was eager to regain his strength and vitality. The Flying Umbrella was a mountain resort, and offered many rigorous trails that involved lots of clambering over boulders, and climbing precipitous slopes.
His companion, who told him to call her Dewawn, was energetic, and happy to accompany him. He found her presence relaxing. She asked few questions, was at ease with silence, and had a calm manner that soothed his often agitated mind. When pressed, she told him she was from Mesopotamia, and that she was a healer. She volunteered little about herself, but was able to converse easily on a wide range of subjects.
One morning, their hike took them to the bottom of a steep incline that daunted her. They were on a trail that looped back to the resort, and turning back would mean covering a lot of ground they’d already hiked. As she stood surveying the slope dubiously, one foot poised on a root, she barely registered a faint popping sound at her side, then felt something cold and wet touch her hand.
She jumped and cried out, nearly losing her footing. Where Sirius had been, there now stood a large, black, shaggy dog. It wagged its tail vigorously once, stuck out its tongue at her, then bounded easily up the slope. At the top it turned and faced her. Her face broke into a wide smile, and she clapped with child-like delight. He turned back into a man, and reached his hands down to help her balance as she climbed to join him.
She was entranced. She asked many enthusiastic technical questions about the magic involved, then said, “And what is it like being a dog?”
He thought for a long moment. “It’s relaxing: simpler. Your thoughts are less complex, impulses are simpler and easier to follow, harder to resist really. Emotions are less complex too. It’s not that you don’t feel things, in fact you feel them more in a way, but they’re more direct. You don’t waste energy fighting them or trying to understand; you just feel and act. It’s how I escaped Azkaban.”
Being from Mesopotamia, Dewawn had never heard of Azkaban, and somewhat to his own surprise, he found himself telling her about it, how he had wound up there, what it was like, how and why he had escaped. Being a woman of perception, she didn’t need him to tell her what twelve years there had done to him.
After that she would often ask him to transform on their hikes. She told him she liked dogs and enjoyed their company. Sometimes when the trail was wide and flat, she would walk beside him, resting a light hand on the scruff of his neck, or petting him fondly. She was well versed in the ways of dogs, and during their rests in shady corners, she would scratch behind his ears, or massage the spot just above his tail, something every dog likes. Sometimes she would tell him stories, not children’s stories, but very old stories, and told in a way one might tell stories to a child, to divert or to soothe.
The Flying Umbrella catered to its guests by offering magical leisure activities. In the evenings, Sirius and Dewawn sat together sampling the rainbow array of frilly drinks, and listening to the musicians. There was a drummer whose skin was so black that he was nearly invisible in the darkness till he smiled. He would sit beating complex and expert rhythms on a large goatskin drum held between his knees. Several gourd shakers revolved in mid-air around him, and gyrated in perfect sink, making a one man magical percussion group.
One afternoon they tried the under-water restaurant for lunch. Situated at the bottom of the lake, you reached it by portkey. Dewawn enjoyed watching the blue-green water and the bright flashes of passing fish, but Sirius said it made him feel claustrophobic, so after that they stuck to the patio restaurants.
Dewawn was delighted to discover a fleet of magic carpets. Sirius had never ridden one, but Dewawn was entirely confident, and convinced him to accompany her. It was clear she knew what she was doing, and for an essentially calm woman, she seemed to have a well-honed liking for risk. She took them high into the mountain air, executing swoops, dives and sharp banking turns that sent the new-found colour draining from his face. He tried not to show fear, but it had been a long time since he’d had the luxury of thrill-seeking for recreation, and it took some getting used to.
The next day he took her into the broom shed where, to his delight, they found two Firebolts. As unfamiliar with brooms as he had been with magic carpets, she examined the sleek broomsticks dubiously. He was exhilarated.
“Come on!” He exhorted her energetically, “I risked my neck on that bit of floating fluff yesterday. Come on and I’ll show you what real flying is!”
“Flying fluff indeed,” she muttered, but agreed.
She was a quick student, and although he could see she was often frightened, and although she cried out many times as she dived and banked, she was game to try everything he suggested. Both experiences left him exhausted in a way he had forgotten. The thrill of flying was something he’d always loved, and it pulled him out of his unhappy introspection as nothing else had.
One morning he came down to the lobby in search of post birds to send letters, and found her in conventional clothing, a suitcase at her feet.
“You’re not leaving?”
“Well, there’s been a doxy infestation in many of the rooms, mine included. Much of the resort is closed off because it’s the off season. They offered me another room, but all they have left are rooms no larger than a cave, and I’d rather take the credit and come back another time.”
He didn’t want her to leave. Without stopping to analyze why, or to consider his words, he said, “I’ve got a room far larger than I need. Stay with me, there’s plenty of room.” Suddenly conscious of propriety, he added, “No strings.”
She looked at him closely, then smiled. “All right, thank you, I’d really like to stay.” She was such an undeniably physical and feminine woman, but seemed entirely without coquetry; so that he felt neither encouraged nor put off by her.
They went to his room, and she unpacked some of her belongings. He tried not to stare, was in fact on the point of leaving her to her own devices, when he couldn’t help noticing that she was taking something very peculiar indeed from her luggage. It was a small stone basin. She saw him looking at it, and set it down on the table.
“It’s a Pensieve. Do you know what that is?”
“Yeah, Dumbledore has one. I’ve never used one, never really thought of it, but I know what it is. Pretty odd thing to travel with. Got something on your mind?”
“Not especially. As a healer, you get in the habit of being prepared. That funny looking wizard at the front desk told me about a waterfall a few kilometres from here. I thought we could go find it this morning; he gave me a map. Feel up to it?”
It proved as simple as he’d expected to share his quarters with her. He’d deliberately chosen the most spacious and luxurious accommodation the Flying Umbrella offered, and they didn’t get in each others’ way. One thing he hadn’t considered beforehand however was the nightmares.
Since leaving the confines of Azkaban, he was often troubled by memories and dreams that woke him in the middle of the night, sweating and shaking, and apparently calling out, which he hadn’t known, as he’d been sleeping alone. He tried to apologize the first time this happened. Wordlessly, she guided him to the table, handed him his wand, and indicated the Pensieve. He was unsure at first, but found that it helped. Sometimes afterwards she would sing softly to him, or lie with him till he slept.
Over breakfast one morning, he said abruptly, “A healer is it? What does that mean? Cuts? Bruises? Dragon pocks?”
“Yes, when circumstances call for that. I have been a healer for a very long time, and I know there are many kinds of wounds…, illnesses…, remedies. Perhaps in the modern West these things are…, are called other things, or understood differently. In my tradition, healing has many…, many faces. Do you understand?” Her eyes looked unflinchingly into his.
“As much as I need to maybe,” he answered, and they didn’t speak of it again.
During the hot afternoons, Sirius sat on the shaded balcony and wrote long letters to Harry, Lupin and Dumbledore. Each morning he studied his reflection in the bathroom mirror. He saw how his face had filled out, losing its skeletal look. Plenty of tasty food, exercise, sun and companionable company had restored the good looks he had taken for granted in his youth. Dewawn noticed these changes too, but still saw something in his eyes that reminded her of unquiet ghosts.
It was clear that many of the staff at the Flying Umbrella had found their niche. Laughter was one of the many things about himself with which Sirius was becoming reacquainted, and Dewawn helped him in this by doing spirited imitations of the more eccentric of them when they were alone. One afternoon she distracted him completely from his letter writing by returning to their room partly transfigured into a flashy tropical bird.
Without naming names, she had engaged one of the hospitality witches in conversation about transfiguration and animagi, and the result stood before Sirius in wild and feathery improbability. Wings spread out gracefully from her shoulders, and he had a job to take his eyes off her tail feathers.
“Look!” She exclaimed with the delight of a child. She came out on to the balcony, and bending her knees, took a small leap into the air. Flapping her wings madly, she actually succeeded in lifting herself a metre or two before teetering back down. She looked so peculiar, transformed not only by the feathers, but by the look of childish glee on her face, that he laughed and laughed till his sides ached with it. It took two days to vanish all the feathers from the linens.
It was she who chose the most treacherous trail of all for them to climb. It wound its way up the side of the mountain, and had some nasty drop—offs at the trail-side. They didn’t talk much, needing all their concentration to find their footing. She was several metres ahead of him when she lost her balance. He didn’t see how it happened, but before he knew it her right foot had gone out from under her, and she was sliding inexorably down a steep slope, crying out in fear as she scrabbled to grab hold of anything on the way down.
Without thinking, he transformed, and followed her. Digging strong claws into the dirt, able to find purchase with four feet where her two feet could not, he sank his teeth into her backpack and pulled. Between her frantic flailing of feet and hands, and the desperate hauling on her backpack, Sirius scrabbled fiercely with his four feet, and together they made their way back up to the trail. Exhausted but desperate to feel secure, they made their way unsteadily to where the trail widened out, and flung themselves down flat on the ground between large tree roots. They lay gasping for breath.
She was shaking, and nearly crying with shock and reaction. Still in his dog form, Sirius nuzzled her. She put her arms around him and buried her face in his fur. He was shaking too, quivering from head to toe the way a dog will when it is badly frightened. Unlike her trembling however, his got worse. As her breathing began to level off and her shaking to subside, his grew more intense. He was panting, quivering, and making a thready dog whine that wrung her heart. They lay there together while she ran strong fingers up and down his spine, and spoke low soothing words in a language he didn’t know. It was more than their near fall down the cliff side, and she knew it. They lay there for a long time, woman and dog, until at last, a kind of peace came to them both.
Being an exile gives one an indefinable but uncomfortable dislocation. As the summer wore on, and Sirius’s health improved, he was conscious of a lost restlessness. Dewawn invited him to come home to Mesopotamia with her. His adventurous spirit was tempted, and he was considering it, until Harry’s letter came. It was the final confirmation of suspicions that had been growing in him, and decided him on returning home, risk notwithstanding.
Dewawn didn’t argue with him. She feared for his safety, but understood and approved of his need to protect his godson.
“You’re a remarkable woman,” he said to her on their last day together. “Maybe there’s a word in your language to describe you, but I don’t think there’s one in mine. Healer doesn’t describe what you are.”
She smiled, a more enigmatic smile than he was used to from her. “There are many words in my language to describe what I am, but I don’t think you would understand them. I’ve watched the clouds, and other signs. I know trouble is coming. I hope that you have peace and strength to meet it.” Her eyes slid away.
“When I know Harry is safe, may I still come to you?”
“Of course, but now, come for one last ride with me on the carpet. I hear they’re banned in Britain, and this may be your last chance for a while, unless you’re too nervous of course, we could just go for a swim in the lake.”
He stood up. “Swimming?” He gave a bark of laughter and a dismissive wave. “Let’s go find the fastest carpet they have, and this time I’ll drive.”