This story is an early Christmas present to Cecelle. Without her friendship, support, and patient proofreading, this story would have been a gigantic mess. I also thank Vaughn for urging me to go ahead with this story idea.
I purposely have waited to speak to the boys. If I am honest with myself, I also needed the time to cool the fire of anger burning within me.
Children can be overwhelmingly simple; they think they are invulnerable to death and injury.
It is my own fault. I underestimated the vehemence of dislike these boys have for one another. I thought I could broker some understanding between them, but I failed miserably. I thought it was just boys being boys. Now I am reaping what I have sown.
It's not to say the fact that something could go wrong wasn't always in the back of my mind. It was there, that niggling itch that wanted to be scratched.
Filius Flitwick and I had been enjoying a lively and sometimes heated debate about the relative merits of teaching Charms for a year prior to beginning Transfiguration lessons as we slowly walked the grounds after supper. Filius had some very convincing arguments; I had too few good rebuttals to back my side of the debate. We were about to re-enter the main doors when I noticed a red glow shining off the highly polished doorknockers.
Turning around, both of us saw red sparks, the colour Professor Flitwick had instructed the students to create in the event of an emergency, shooting into the sky from the direction of the Whomping Willow.
As I and Filius ran across the lawn, I saw James Potter drag a highly emotional Severus Snape out of the gap in the tree, just before the snout of a werewolf emerged from the opening. Its mouth drooled and its jaws snapped as it eagerly anticipated an easy kill.
A werewolf hunts by scent until it is within striking distance; this creature whiffed air deeply into its lungs before it opened its mouth to bring more scent to its olfactory glands.
Finding the scent again, the trapped werewolf grew frantic to escape the confining Willow as it smelled the intense fear radiating from the two boys. The creature's eyes finally caught the motion of the two students as they fled.
James and Severus, taking no notice of the writhing tree limbs, tripped over the tree's roots as they scrambled to escape and fell hard to the packed dirt. The werewolf, sensing their weakness, pushed its broad shoulders through the narrow opening and leapt free of the tree. My stomach lurched; the wards hadn't given way; the creature's desire to gain its prey had overcome them.
Horrified, I found myself in the unenviable position of having to stun a student. The tree knocked both boys ten feet into the air; they fell hard onto the bumpy roots. Both of the young wizards lay motionless – I had no choice but to act when the creature coiled to leap at its chosen prey's throat. My wand dropped into my hand without a conscious thought.
"Stupefy Bestia!" The werewolf fell heavily to the ground, nearly on top of the two boys.
"Incarcerous! Arboris Immobilius!" I called out the two spells in what must have been a shaking voice. The werewolf's mouth was muzzled and its legs were bound by magic, and the branches of the Willow stopped moving.
I heard the heavy footfall of the Keeper of the Keys and Grounds as he rushed up from behind to help us. A lighter, yet no less urgent, footfall followed Hagrid's.
"What's happened?" Minerva asked breathlessly.
I didn't reply; my own shock kept coherent words from forming. She seemed puzzled by my raised wand; then her eyes followed the direction it was pointed.
"Oh, my God!" she inhaled sharply, her face losing all colour.
"He won't be moving for some time," I said, more to myself than the others.
Flitwick pointed his wand at the unconscious and bound werewolf. With a minimum of wand movement, he had lifted the creature and was directing it to the opening of the Whomping Willow.
Minerva blinked madly as she stared down at the two still forms at the foot of the tree. "How did this happen, Albus?"
Steeling myself, I approached the boys lying across the bumpy tree roots, dreading the thought that either might have been bitten by the enraged werewolf. James was partially covering the other boy. Kneeling beside them, I saw the reassuring slow rise and fall of James' chest.
"Are they…?" Minerva asked tentatively as she knelt beside her students.
My wand ran over James' back. "James is fine, Minerva. I think he's just had the wind knocked out of him."
"And the other boy?" she asked worriedly.
Rolling James to the side, I saw the back of a bloody robe and felt my stomach clench.
"Hagrid, will you carry James over there?" I asked, motioning off to my right.
There was no movement from the other child; I hurriedly turned him over onto his back. My eyes hungrily took in the sight of the pasty face as my fingers searched frantically for a neck pulse. The heart beat at a maddeningly rapid pace. His skin looked luminous under the full moon.
Minerva cried out as she recognized Severus Snape.
"Find Madam Pomfrey and tell her she is needed," I said.
She hesitated and reached to touch Severus.
"Go!" I ordered as I stroked the boy's hand.
She changed into her Animagus form and sprinted across the lawn, leaping over treacherous rocks on her way to the castle.
James moaned softly.
"Madam Pomfrey will be here directly; just remain where you are, James."
"H-Hagrid?" he asked thickly. James tried to sit up.
"Yeh jus' be still."
"Is Snape hurt?" James asked in a weak, frightened voice.
Biting my lip, I couldn't speak.
"He wasn't bit, was he?" The fear in Potter's weak voice was palpable.
Minerva must have run like a cheetah because a moment later I saw Madam Pomfrey bent aerodynamically low over a broomstick; there was the silhouetted outline of a cat on the broom's bristles. Poppy and the cat leapt off the broomstick while it was still five feet from the ground.
Minerva regained her human form and stroked her robe into place with a feline grace.
The school matron glanced down at James as he struggled to sit up. She held up three fingers. "How many do you see?"
"Th-three," he replied, still in his daze. "I can't find my glasses. Do you know where my glasses are? Mum will kill me if I can't find them."
"Will you…?" Madam Pomfrey asked sharply, motioning Minerva to watch over James. The deputy headmistress dropped to the young wizard's side. I could hear the murmur of her voice as she spoke reassuringly to him.
Poppy's moved to the other teenager who was lying across the twisted tree roots. Removing her wand from her sleeve, the matron moved it down the length of Severus' body. Several times she paused and cast a low incantation before continuing her perusal.
"There are no broken bones. I'm going to move him somewhere less—" she gestured to the twisted roots, "—uncomfortable. Mobilicorpus!"
Stepping cautiously over the tree roots, Madam Pomfrey lifted Severus to softer ground. Hagrid shrugged off his greatcoat and folded it to place beneath the unconscious teenager. She lowered Severus and knelt beside him, then began peeling back his robe. The Whomping Willow shivered and then settled, the magic holding it having dissipated.
"Headmaster, would you light the area for me?" she asked in a brusque, no nonsense manner.
"Lumos!" A light shone from the tip of my wand, bathing the witch and her patient in a warm, golden glow.
The witch moved her hands over his limbs and torso with great urgency.
"I see no evidence that Mr. Snape was infected by—" she spared a glance at the tunnel, "—Mr. Lupin. He has no bite marks but some rather nasty cuts, probably caused by the werewolf's claws. He has a severe contusion on the back of his head, and some rather horrible ones on his torso and limbs."
I fretted about Severus' lack of consciousness, though a weight lifted from my shoulders upon learning he hadn't been bitten.
"Why hasn't he….?" The words faltered on my lips. Hagrid placed a reassuring hand on my shoulder.
"Shock and pain, plain and simple, Headmaster," the school matron replied. "Let's get these two boys back to the castle. James looks a bit peaky, and Severus will require close observation."
"Minerva, escort James to one of the guest rooms; he is not to leave or have visitors," I stated firmly to the witch.
If anything untoward had happened, I didn't want any hint of complicity between the boys.
My deputy headmistress directed James forward; he walked without real steadiness, tripping over his own feet as he moved. Madam Pomfrey had lifted Severus into the air and guided his body toward the castle. Her feet were sure as a mountain goat's, moving lightly over the uneven ground.
Picking up the hem of my robes, I returned to the Whomping Willow. The dew lay heavy on the grass; hoarfrost would form during the night as the air temperature fell. Looking up at the pale yellow orb hanging innocently in the sky, I couldn't help but reflect upon how quiet the night air was.
Professor Flitwick's head emerged from the hole in the tree trunk. As the tree sensed his presence, it began to flail.
"Immobilis Arbor!" I called out. The great tree stilled again.
The silence was only broken by the rapidly fading sound of James' voice, speaking to his Head of House.
"..why'd he keep going on about having to get her out?"
There was still the suggestion of childhood in his voice, though he rapidly was approaching manhood. Professor McGonagall responded to him in a hushed murmur. My attention returned to the unconscious lad being moved up the hill by Madam Pomfrey.
Severus Snape was a boy who'd often frustrated and confounded me over the past five—no, almost six years. He was a bright child, eager to learn and more than eager to apply just what he'd learned. The child had a deep interest in the Dark Arts; he'd come to Hogwarts knowing more Dark hexes than most of the seventh years.
At the same time I suspect he had to fight for a position within Slytherin; the House doesn't take kindly to those with even a hint of Muggle blood. Most especially those who came from a financially depressed half-blood family.
Professor Flitwick, having climbed out from under the Willow, interrupted my introspective thoughts.
"I've placed young Mr. Lupin under an Iratus Fera Charm on the upper floor; he is aware but unable to move."
The professor looked in the direction of the Shrieking Shack before he turned back to the tree.
"Upon reflection, I think that there are additional Charms that we might consider to increase the security of the Shrieking Shack. Perhaps by extending the Arborus Vitatio to the very edges of the root system, and adding Inhibiting Charms to the ceilings, floorboards, walls, and fireplace we can seal any weak areas. Also, we can't go wrong bolstering the wards on the tunnel itself," Flitwick said as he ticked off ideas on his fingers.
"Poppy still needs to enter the premises after moonset," I reminded the professor.
"What about Charming her watch so the wards recognize her?"
"Poppy always has it pinned to her robe; I wouldn't doubt she pins it to her pink nightdress."
I found it difficult not to chuckle at the idea that Filius knew the colour of the school matron's sleepwear.
"True, I've never seen Madam Pomfrey without that timepiece," I agreed. "I will ask if I may add a Charm to it when I visit Severus."
"Was Mr. Snape badly injured?" Flitwick asked with rush of concern.
"Poppy doesn't believe that Mr. Lupin managed to inflict any bites on him, only claw marks. She believes he will recover."
"Still, the claws could cause a serious infection," Filius stated emphatically.
"Yes, that concerns me as well. She'll be able to look Severus over more closely now that she has him in the infirmary."
"What about Mr. Potter?"
"James? Our school matron said he is mostly unharmed. He had a bruise beginning to form where the tree struck him, but he is fine otherwise."
"Glad to hear he at least wasn't hurt seriously." His breath puffed white clouds in the night air as he drew his wand and gave it a small twirl. Royal blue sparks escaped from its tip.
Both of us moved in opposite directions about the Whomping Willow. Simultaneously, we raised our wands and began to chant. The tree shivered as the additional magic was absorbed into its living being.
Moving as one, Filius and I walked to the approximate edge of the tree crown. Understanding that the root system of a tree is as large as the crown, we cast a charm that would distract people from approaching the Willow.
Then our task turned to reinforcing the wards on the Shrieking Shack itself. Professor Flitwick dropped easily through the hole in the tree trunk. As I dropped more heavily into the tunnel, I was grateful for my spry companion's consideration; he illuminated the tunnel.
I cast the necessary charms to keep a transformed werewolf from escaping the long, earthen corridor. The Whomping Willow's roots poking through the walls still shivered from our reenforced magic.
Filius, being lower to the ground than I, suddenly dropped to a knee. His hand closed about a ten and a quarter inch hemlock wand; tooth marks marred the spell casting end of the slender instrument. The Charms professor held it out to me; I accepted Severus' wand and stowed it carefully within one of my pockets.
That hemlock wand meant a great deal to Severus Snape, of that I was quite certain. The many times he'd been sent to my office to retrieve his confiscated wand, I'd seen his keen eyes fixed on that magical conduit as it lay upon my desk. When I turned it over to him, his cold black eyes would soften and his hand would reverentially roam over the wood for any sign of damage. Imagination may have toyed with my mind, but I thought the wand warmed in my pocket, grateful to have been recovered.
The two of us approached the steps leading up into the Shrieking Shack. We didn't cast any charms on the stairs to contain a werewolf, as one could easily leap the distance to the packed earth of the tunnel without using them.
The hatch barring our way into the structure was shut. Flitwick kept his wand aimed at the wooden structure as I silently cast an Alohomora Charm and the lid lifted open. The quiet was deafening as we cautiously moved into the lower level.
Filius and I exchanged a glance and silently agreed to first weave additional charms on the level that held the werewolf.
Using our years of experience, we moved as stealthily as panthers up the creaky flight of stairs. The small landing had several doors opening off of it. With great care we pushed open the one door that hung from its hinges. With a finger to his lips, Filius crouched low and entered the room, his wand swinging in a constant search pattern.
Motioning me in, the small wizard had his wand trained on the still bound werewolf. This caution was what had won Filius many duelling championships—he never let his guard down. The creature's eyes were open and aware of our presence. The werewolf's nostrils flared out as it smelled the air. A whine emanated deep within its throat, frustrated to be contained when an easy meal was at hand.
The whine turned to a deep growl as the two of us cast more wards on the walls and windows. Aiming higher, Professor Flitwick creatively wove charms over the ceiling; the shimmer of his magic roiled down to meet those wards already on the walls.
Leaving the werewolf where he lay, we returned to the ground level to place stronger wards upon the structure. Filius Disapparated to the building's exterior to weave a charm of such a great sophistication that only the most skilled of wizard's could have created it.
Apparating back into the structure, Professor Flitwick looked up at me. "Will you keep him bound until moonset?"
Rubbing my nose, I allowed myself some moments before responding. "He might do himself great physical harm if he was released from the bonds. Yes, Remus shall remain as he is until the sun has risen in the morning."
My petite companion shifted slightly; he obviously had something he wished to say.
"I don't think Severus Snape would've recklessly entered the Whomping Willow if he'd known what he'd encounter," Professor Flitwick said with some hesitation.
"As a matter of fact, I suspect he knew what was here," I replied.
"You think he knew?
"Severus Snape is, if nothing else, a boy who likes to solve mysteries. The reason why Remus Lupin was ill or away approximately every four weeks wouldn't have failed to catch his attention. The real question is why James Potter was there with him?"
"Yes, why was Potter here with Snape? They hate each other!"
"True," I said.
"Yet he pushed Severus out from the Whomping Willow."
"I know," I responded pensively. "He was quite frantic about whether Snape had been bitten by the werewolf…"
Why had Severus entered and James followed? I asked myself. Both boys were highly suspicious of the other; I couldn't imagine James willingly following Severus without Sirius to back him up. Sirius!
"Filius, would you go to the Gryffindor common room and take Sirius Black to the guest quarters in Ravenclaw? I don't wish for him to have visitors or leave until I ask for him."
Professor Flitwick nodded his agreement and then looked at me speculatively. "Do you think we've secured this place enough?" he asked.
"It should do. I appreciate your clever wand-work," I said, feeling suddenly very tired.
"It was my pleasure, Headmaster."
I crouched as we walked back down the tunnel to the opening of the tree. Filius scrabbled up the roots and out into the moonlit night. Following him, I paused at the gap and looked across the countryside. The hillsides were sharp; bare granite poked through the scraggly groundcover. Further up, pine trees dotted the landscape. They were sentinels guarding the valley floors from the cold, harsh winter winds.
We walked slowly back toward the castle. The hem of my robe dragged across the ground; I was too tired to lift it.
The sight of the entry doors gave me a great feeling of comfort. They swung open as we approached, revealing the deputy headmistress. Concern and exhaustion coloured her movements as she walked out to greet us.
"It is done, Minerva. The wards have been strengthened."
Professor Flitwick left us to retrieve Sirius Black.
"Poppy has Severus in a private room," she informed me.
"And James?" I asked.
"Is in the Gryffindor guest quarters," she replied. "Do you want to see him now?"
"No. I've asked Filius to take Sirius to the Ravenclaw guest quarters."
The witch looked at me perplexed. "Sirius?"
"I should go to the infirmary and speak with Madam Pomfrey," I replied evasively, excusing myself.
Poppy walked over to meet me as I entered her domain. Her apron was spotless and very crisp; it crackled as she moved. Madam Pomfrey was always a sea of calm while those about her were in chaos.
"Severus is beginning to regain consciousness, Headmaster. He began crying out about five minutes ago."
My eyebrows rose on their own accord. "Could you understand anything?"
Walking beside me, the witch shook her head. "It was mostly gibberish—words strung together—not really anything definite."
We stood outside the room where Madam Pomfrey had placed the teenager. Looking in, it was obvious, to even the untrained eye, that something powerfully emotional was playing through the young mind.
"Have you attempted to wake him?"
"I thought it was best to wait until you'd arrived," she answered. The matron's posture was oddly defensive.
Slowly I crossed to the bed; Severus was moving about as though he was fevered.
The teenager's body thrashed restlessly.
"Severus!" I called more firmly. His motions slowed and his eyes cracked opened.
"Come on now." Poppy stepped in. "The Headmaster is here to see you. Can you wake up?"
Obedient to an adult voice, Severus struggled to rise. The matron pushed him back into the pillows she'd magicked behind him. The young wizard was very groggy and not fully in control of his limbs.
I realized this would work to my advantage; Severus wouldn't be defensive or wary of trapping himself with his words.
"How are you feeling, Severus?" I asked with genuine concern.
"S-sore," he managed to stutter out. I noted that the punctilious boy had dropped his usual chilly politeness. Normally, no matter how angry or upset Severus was with me or the staff, he was always unfailingly proper in addressing us.
"Did y-you get her out?" the Slytherin asked. He moved to stand, but winced and inhaled sharply. Both Madam Pomfrey and I eased him back to the pillows.
"Get whom out, Severus?" At that moment James' question popped back into my mind.
Iratus Fera Charm: Angry Animal
Arboris Immobilius: Immobilize Tree