Thanks for the feedback, everybody! A note: I never publish something until its fully written, so expect the last part of this in the next few days. Hope I dont dissapoint! -- Seri
Part 2: Evening
Remus went up to the hospital wing before dinner. None of the remaining three were much inclined to talk.
James and Sirius both kept glancing over at the Slytherin table. James was pressing his tongue between his teeth to help him think. This had to be no ordinary prank. It had to be something like what Severus had done to their friend -- something that made him feel veunerable, helpless, desperate.
By the end of dinner, James thought he had a plan that qualified.
Sirius was sure that he did.
He was smiling faintly as the plates were cleared away. Anger was still smoldering behind his black eyes, but it was now combined with anticipation. He had an image of his mind of Severus Snape on his knees, whimpering in terror, and a plan of how to bring it about. He was brilliant.
In the bustle of getting out of the Great Hall, he saw James dart through the crowd to bump Severus hard with his shoulder. The two exchanged fierce glances and parted without a word. James folded his arms inside the sleeves of his robes and headed up towards Gryffindor Tower, Peter close on his heels.
Instead of following, Sirius turned and followed the Slytherins down toward the dungeons.
"Snivellus," he snapped quietly, as soon as Snape was in hearing range. "A word."
Snape stepped out of the lane of traffic and glared at Sirius, his arms crossed over his chest. He hated Sirius, he didn't trust Sirius, but Sirius was a Black and there was still something to be said for the honor of the ancient families, so he was listening.
"I'm going to give you a piece of information. You do with it what you will. You've seen Remus with Madam Pomfrey on the lawn late at night. They go into a tunnel under the Whomping Willow. There's a knot on the south side of the trunk. All you have to do is poke it, and the tree will freeze up and let you down into the tunnel."
Snape narrowed his eyes and glared at his rival. He recognized a trick when he saw one, but Sirius directness made him believe there was more to this than met the eye. "Why would you tell me this?"
Sirius shrugged. "To see what you'll do. I'm offering you knowledge about Remus Lupin that he doesnt want you to have -- you saw what it did to him in Potions today. If you find out where he goes and why, you'll have him at your mercy."
"But you won't let that happen," said Snape, an obvious statement of fact despite the misleading conversation they were having. "What's in that tunnel to stop me?"
"Does it matter all that much?"
The two parted company and went to their own houses.
James and Peter were already up in the dormitory. They were playing a hand of Exploding Snap on James' bed by the window, where they had a clear view of the grounds.
"They already went in," James supplied as Sirius dumped his bag on his night stand. "I'd give it ten more minutes and then we can go down."
"Give it more," said Sirius. He swept his elegant black hair out of his eyes, always a gesture of being pleased with himself.
"Because that'll be enough time to put Snivellus Snape back in his place."
James put his cards down. "What did you do?"
"Just watch out the window. You'll see."
Cards forgotten, James and Peter climbed up into the window to have a better view of the grounds below. Sirius lay back sideways on his bed, his hands behind his head, waiting to be congratulated.
After several tense minutes, the Whomping Willow froze, and Madam Pomfrey climbed out of it. Brushing dirt off her robes, she walked back across the lawn and into the castle.
"Pomfrey's gone inside," said Peter.
"Wait for it," said Sirius.
They didn't have to wait long. A hunched, shadowy figure, moving with alarming speed, scurried across the lawn towards the Willow.
"That's Snape," James breathed, almost as though he was afraid he'd be overheard. "But he can't get past the tree --"
"He just did," said Peter. Delight was tingeing his voice. Snape had picked up a long branch from the ground, reached the trunk, and prodded the secret knot. The tree froze.
James sat up straight, and turned to look at Sirius. Again, but in a much sterner voice, he demanded, "What did you do, Sirius?"
"He's going to get the scare of his life," said Sirius, grinning from ear to ear. "Five Galleons says he wets himself when he sees Moony in all his rabid snarling glory."
"Remus'll kill him," said James. His heart had stopped. His head was pounding. The severity of the situation was dawning on him far too fast for his liking. "Sirius, he's going to DIE!"
"Or get bit," Peter added. "He'll be a werewolf too. He'll see how Moony likes it. Serves him right."
"He won't get bit," said Sirius carelessly. "He's better at Defense Against the Dark Arts than anyone in the year. He can take care of himself. More's the pity."
"Except," shouted James, grabbing his bag off the floor, "for the fact that I STOLE HIS WAND at dinner!"
He dumped the contents of the bag onto his coverlet. Amid the books, quills, and parchments, were two wands.
For a long moment everyone stared at them.
"James, old man," said Sirius at last, "You've got to tell me before you do these things."
James didn't reply. He grabbed the two wands in one hand, and with the other grabbed the window and heaved it open.
"You're not going out the . . ." Peter began, but that was exactly where James was going.
"Accio broom!" The Nimbus Twenty-Three Gold flew across the room into his hand. Without any thought or warning, James pitched it through the window, leapt out on top of it, and zoomed almost straight down the face of the tower. The angle was so steep that for a moment he thought he was going to flip forward off the handle and run himself over. Flying one-handed, the two wands held tight against his chest, he pulled up out of the dive and zoomed towards the Whomping Willow.
Flying level, the Nimbus didn't want to cooperate. Its Accelerator was still strained, and its speed lagged as momentum from the eight-story dive wore off. James urged every bit of speed out of it that he could get, but it slowed and sank and nothing he did could get it to move any faster.
James jumped off it and ran. He was trying frantically to figure out how far along the tunnel Severus would be, how long it had been since sunset, trying to convince himself that his rival wasn't already dead -- or, worse, infected. It wasn't easy, with the severity of the situation staring him in the face. Remus would smell Severus coming a mile away. Without a wand, he was defenseless.
The stick Severus had used was still lying on the ground. James paused just long enough to snatch it up and use it, then dove headfirst down into the tunnel.
"Snape!" he shouted, coughing on the dirt and dust around him. "Where are you?"
There was no answer. There wasn't even his own voice echoing back. He got to his feet and started running again, not bothering to light his wand, bent double to keep himself from striking his head against the tunnel roof, using his hands when he began to fall forward. He felt like a clumsy, panicked monkey scrambling through the dark.
Suppose he wasn't in time. They'd be expelled, all four of them. Sirius would end up in Azkaban for murder -- and he, James, would probably be right alongside him. Why did Sirius never think about things before he did them? Why didn't either of them?
The tunnel was too small for James to transform. That meant Remus could smell him, too, and there was no way to hide. If he turned back now, he could still get out of this with his own life -- but end up in prison. Or he could run away. An unregistered Animagus was impossible to find once he decided to hide: the Ministry would never catch him.
James thought all these things while still moving forward as fast as he could go. Appealing as all that was, he was going to try to save Snape. He had no idea why. There wasnt time to think of a reason. Hed work out one later, if there was a later.
He wondered if Lily would cry at his funeral. It would serve her right for laughing at him that morning.
The tunnel had always been a long hike, but it had never seemed so impossibly long as this. He felt like he'd crawled past Hogsmeade and was now under the rocky countryside beyond. There was still no sign of Severus, or Remus.
The tunnel finally started rising. James was now on all fours, climbing more than running. At long last, he heard noise: scrambling noises like his own, of hands and shoes trying to find hold on the loose floor of the tunnel.
"Severus!" he said again. "Don't move!"
"Potter!" came the snarled, arrogant response.
The tunnel twisted. James new from memory that it went about ten feet on from there and then a hole opened into Remus' shack. At last, he remembered the wands in his hand. He grabbed his own and hissed, "Lumos!" Then he froze.
In the pale light the wand afforded, he could see Snape, his face streaked with dirt, twisted uncomfortably around in the narrow passage, glaring at him with murder in his eyes. But it wasn't those eyes that frightened him. Over Severus' shoulder, looking through the hole at the end of the tunnel, were two great, glistening, yellow eyes. Below was a mouthful of teeth, exposed in a silent snarl, ready to disease and to curse anyone they sank into.
"Severus," said James quietly, "Come to me. Nice and slow. Come on." The tunnel opening was, in theory, big enough for a person but too small for a werewolf, but that had never been tested. James knew from experience how terrifically strong Remus was, as well as his ability to dig and his speed in small, low spaces.
"What game are you playing, Potter?" Severus sneered. "Come to frighten me off? Doing a marvelously bad job."
"Severus, please," said James, "Please, just come. I am begging."
Severus scoffed and felt in his pocket for his wand, only to have his expression change to one of infuriated surprise.
"I have it," said James, holding it forward. "I took it, I'm sorry . . . can we just get out of here now?"
"Give it to me," Severus snarled.
Remus snarled back.
James' heart leapt into his throat. He wanted to transform, to get out of his human body and hide from Remus' bloodlust. Of course, there was no space. He'd never felt more trapped in his life -- skinny, helpless, sixteen, and without hope of escape.
Severus was holding perfectly still. The eyes of the two boys met, and each for the first time saw the other terrified.
He slowly turned back to face the tunnel opening. Remus looked like he was grinning, panting slightly.
After one breathless second, Remus lunged, snapping like mad. He had one paw through the opening. Severus jumped back, smashed his head on the tunnel roof, and tumbled backward onto James, who flew back like a domino to hit the wall.
Gasping to get his breath back, he pointed both wands under Severus' arm at the snapping jaws of the werewolf. "Immobulus! Waddiwasi! Connorvium! Ennervae! Reducto! Anything, darn it!"
Each spell that hit its mark made Remus yip in irritation, but the magic seemed to slide right off him and he dug his vicious claws harder into the hole.
Severus yanked his own wand from James' hand and leveled it at the yellow eyes. "Crucio!"
That one took. Remus yelped, whined, and retreated back into the room, pawing at his head.
"The Ministry'll have me for that one," said Severus regretfully.
"Yeah, you can join the club. Get moving!" James tried to shove him to his feet in the correct direction, but the cramped space meant that Severus barely tumbled forward, tripping over James and kicking him in the side of his head. James grabbed for his slipping glasses and tried to get Severus legs off him, but the more he tried the worse the tangle seemed to get.
With a growl that was almost a roar, Remus came charging back into the hole. Both his front legs were through, and his hind feet were scrabbling wildly to get clear. His snapping jaws were inches from James' ankle. He jerked it out of range, kneeing Severus in the stomach in the process, and got kicked by the terrified Slytherin in return. Remus lunged again and got his teeth into the hem of James' robes.
Just then, something else scrambled over the two boys. "Run!" barked Sirius, pushing and pulling them both around the bend in the passage. "The prefects will eat you alive if they catch you out here!"
"You think you're funny," said James, shoving his shoulder into Severus' back to get him moving, "But you're not!"
Severus was around the corner of the tunnel. Sirius shook himself and was there no longer a young man there, but a huge, unkempt dog, almost the size of Remus, with its hackles raised and teeth bared, snapping viciously at the wolf and driving it back. James didn't wait any longer. He headed back to Hogwarts as fast as he could scramble.
About halfway through, Sirius caught up with them. James could hear him panting and scrambling, first as dog, then as human as he came into the light of their wands.
"Is he okay?" James demanded without looking back.
"Yeah," was all Sirius had breath for.
One by one, they climbed out of the gap between the roots of the Whomping Willow and walked back across the lawn. James Summoned his broom, still hovering exhaustedly on the lawn, and lay it over his shoulder. He felt very sorry for it and for himself.
As soon as Severus could talk again, the first words out of his mouth were, "Lupin is a werewolf?"
"It's more polite to say he has lycanthropy," said Sirius dryly.
"And the three of you thought it would be funny --"
"It was funny!" Sirius snapped at him. "You took the bait, just like I knew you would! You're a moron, Snape!"
"At least I'm not an attempted murderer. I'll see all of you expelled for this."
"You do and I'll see you in Azkaban for that Cruciatus," James shot back.
They had reached the front doors of the castle. Heaving it open, they slipped inside, covered with dirt and trembling with fury and adrenaline letdown.
Albus Dumbledore was standing at the bottom of the stairs.