Dumbledore's eyes had lost their customary twinkle as he contemplated the three boys in front of him. Sirius Black sat rigidly, ramrod straight, holding on to the arms of the chair with white-knuckled hands, looking everywhere but into the eyes of the Headmaster. Next to him, his best friend James sat dejectedly, head in hands.
"Mr. Potter, would you please tell me precisely what happened tonight?" the white-haired old wizard asked calmly. An obviously upset Minerva McGonagall had hauled the three into his office, given him a raw outline of events, and then left him to deal with the aftermath. Well, actually he had sent her away until he could get to the bottom of this. The presence of an incensed Minerva was not conducive to a quiet investigation.
"Well, I...you see..." James Potter stuttered. He opened his mouth, then closed it again and looked at his friend. The plain fact was that Sirius was in deep, deep trouble, and anything James would have to say on the matter could only make things worse.
The third boy spoke up, his voice shrill and high. "They tried to kill me. They tried to feed me to that...werewolf." His voice cracked, still shaking from the fright he had experienced. Whatever he had expected beyond the Willow, that hadn't been it.
"Yes. I see." Dumbledore leaned far back into the squashy-soft armchair he was occupying, and folded his hands on his lap.
"I gather you all are aware of Remus'... condition, then?" The werewolf was still in the Shrieking Shack, prowling, snapping, howling, unaware that anything had happened.
Sirius and James furtively looked at each other and nodded.
"Please explain to me, Mr. Black, how Mr. Snape ended up in the passage under the Whomping Willow, if you would?" Dumbledore said sternly.
Sirius Black swallowed hard, his usually haughty face looking strained and worried.
He had been in the library, studying, for once. James had been slouched down in the seat next to him, both of them engrossed in a volume of Magical Fungi and Lichens of the British Isles - some last minute research for the foot-long essay on the properties of Amanita Muscaria that Professor Vidalius, the Potions master, had assigned for tomorrow.
They needed to finish it up before they would be free to run with Remus tonight. That lucky dog Peter had much fewer classes to worry about since he hadn't passed the Potions O.W.L.
Content to leave the hunt for relevant information to James, Sirius leaned back in his chair, hands clasped behind his neck, and looked around.
Greasy, slimy Snivellus Snape stood at the window of the library, half hidden behind the heavy drapery. With unconcealed interest, his beetle-black eyes were fixed on something going on outside; something obviously of notice.
Sirius got up and quietly stepped behind the Slytherin, curious as to what had captured his attention so completely. In the early evening twilight, they could just barely see Madam Pomfrey disappear into the roots of the Whomping Willow, leading a bundled-up figure behind her.
So Severus was snooping around after Remus, was he, the skunk? Always trying to dig up dirt, was he? He had been trying to find out about Remus for months now...
"Wouldn't you just like to know..." he hissed into the lanky, pallid boy's ear.
Severus flinched, and turned around with a look of undisguised disdain on his face.
"There is nothing you could know that would be of any possible interest to me, Black," he sneered.
An idea hatched in Sirius' mind and was put into action without further thought. Wouldn't it be fun if...
"You know, it isn't hard to get past the Whomping Willow," he said nonchalantly. "You just wait until it is dark, and then you go out, find yourself a nice long stick, and poke the big knot on the bottom right. Tames the thing in no time at all."
"And why exactly are you telling me this?" Snape hissed, a distrustful look on his face.
"Because you don't know squat. You don't know even one interesting thing about this place. The things I could tell you...Well, suit yourself. I am not telling you anything else, Snivelly; I am not telling you what's down there."
He had returned to his seat, quietly laughing to himself. James had asked him what was so funny, and he had just shaken his head. "Later. Let's get this essay finished."
"I told him how to get past the Whomping Willow." Sirius Black's voice was barely audible. "But honestly, I just didn't think..." His voice died down. Well, that much should be obvious. The same thoughts kept running around his head. I am going to be expelled. Kicked out of Hogwarts. What am I going to do? He almost wished James hadn't interfered. Almost.
"You knew what was at the other end of the passage?" Albus Dumbledore's voice was grave as he leaned forward in his chair and intently looked over the rim of his glasses at the shrinking form of his student. There was no compassion or understanding in the Headmaster's blue eyes this time.
"Yes," Sirius whispered. For once, the legendary Black bravado had completely deserted him.
"So you sent a fellow student down the passage, knowing full well that at the other end a fully transformed werewolf waited, and that Mr. Snape would be at dire risk of being killed or bitten?"
"Yes," Sirius whispered again, casting a quick glance in the Slytherin's direction. Even now there was still a touch of dagger in the look.
An odd mix of expressions played across Severus Snape's face as he scowled back at his enemy – the remainder of mortal fear, traces of bitter hate, and a strange glitter in his eyes that hinted at suppressed exultation.
The Headmaster sighed and turned to James Potter. "At one point Mr. Black informed you of what he had done?"
The Gryffindor nodded once, quietly.
James had put down his quill after finishing the last sentence of the essay. "There, that's that." He gave Sirius a playful punch in the arm. "Well, Padfoot, ready to join Moony?"
Sirius looked out the window. The last rays of the sun had disappeared behind the horizon quite a while ago. The moon would be up over the mountains in just a few minutes.
"Wonder if Snivellus is on his way yet," he said with a laugh.
James furrowed his eyebrows. "What do you mean? On his way where?"
"To the Willow. The nosy git will get what he deserves. Can't you just see the sniveling little idiot getting the surprise of his life, sticking his overlarge nose where it doesn't belong?" He was howling with laughter, which earned him a 'shh' and an icily disapproving stare from Madam Pince, the librarian.
"Are you out of your bloody mind? What did you tell him? Oh Merlin –" James was already running out of the library.
A/N: There will be one more chapter. This is basically an exercise for me to think through a scene that is really sketchy in the book. I am sure it has been done before, but it's still fun for me. The next chapter will focus more on Snape and Dumbledore's points of view. Any reviews are much appreciated!
Disclaimer: Everything belongs to JKR, and no lucre is involved.