Beth remained on her branch, clutching the Potions book without even thinking about it. Adrenaline of the worst kind had frozen her there, unable to move, stricken with terror. She watched, helpless, as Severus continued on towards the tree.
“Beth!” James’s voice, and the fear in it, shook her to action. He was already halfway down the tree, and was looking up at her insistently. She shook herself slightly and hurriedly stuffed her book back in the bag before following James as quickly as she could. He was waiting for her at the bottom; there was no mistaking the fear in his face. If something happened to Severus – if they didn’t get to him in time – the consequences were dire for all five of them.
Before her feet had even touched the ground, James had already transformed and was running flat out towards the Whomping Willow. Beth felt as though her heart was going to beat out of her chest, and she found herself whispering, over and over, as though it might calm her down. “Please be all right… please be all right…” The branches scratched her arms and legs in her hasty descent, but she barely felt them.
She hit the ground hard; looking up, she saw James still running, but the Whomping Willow was still quite far from where he was. Beth cursed herself for picking a tree so far from the shack, but took off running after James, fear lodged quite firmly in her throat. She prepared herself to transform into a falcon.
And it didn’t work.
The fear gripped her more strongly – it had never failed to work before, not once she’d been able to master the transformation. She tried again, but there was nothing, no wind beneath her, no sense of weightlessness. She suddenly felt oddly confined and trapped on the ground.
“James!” she screamed, panic-stricken; she knew he was much too far away to hear her, but she was too scared to think logically at the moment. Crossing a small rise and now gasping for air, she saw James still pounding towards the tree, which was waving its branches menacingly, daring him to come any closer. There was no sign of Severus. She let out a small moan and kept running, her lungs straining for air, not daring to stop for even a needed moment.
She screamed James’s name again, not caring if anyone up at the castle could hear her – she was beyond trying to keep a secret at the moment - and finally the Whomping Willow came into view. James was cantering around the edge of it just at the edge of the waving branches, looking for a way in. With a shock Beth realized that there was no one to press the knot on the trunk.
He looked around wildly as she sprinted toward him, begging her silently to help him. Beth could see he was just as scared as she herself was. “I can’t do it – something’s wrong –“ she said, now near hysterics, trying not to faint from lack of breath. “James, I can’t!”
He seemed to think something over for only a minute, and then just as quickly changed into himself. “Stay here!” he roared and, bracing himself, lunged forward. The tree’s branches changed their path immediately, moving from idle wavering to targeting James directly. She felt stupid and useless, only standing, watching as he wove among them, trying to avoid getting hit.
By some stroke of sheer luck, she watched him dive to the left, roll, and his hands caught the edge of the entrance to the Shrieking Shack passage. With a tremendous amount of effort, he heaved himself through head-first, and disappeared. Their threat eliminated, the branches stopped thrashing madly and resumed their old, gentle swaying.
A deep silence fell outside, so loud in its absence of sound that it pressed heavily on Beth’s ears. She paced back and forth, back and forth, across the grounds, never straying far from the tree. Her heart was still beating swiftly, more so than it ever had before, wondering what was taking the two boys so long. Again and again she tried to transform into a falcon, but every time she failed. Her breath caught in her throat; if she had to stand through this prolonged waiting any longer, she might scream at the top of her lungs.
It had to have been Sirius and his stupid pranks – Beth could have hexed him into oblivion without a second thought at that moment. This was far beyond anything else he’d ever done, and it had nearly gotten someone killed. How could he have been so thick, so stupid, as to even go so far as deluding himself that this was a good idea?
James and Severus still hadn’t reappeared, and the only thing that gave Beth hope was the fact that no sounds had come from the shack yet, either. She debated the wisdom of running back to Gryffindor Tower to wake Sirius and Peter, but knew that it would take too long to get there and back – and they’d have to dodge teachers on the way, not to mention Peeves.
Finally – finally – James emerged at the mouth of the tunnel. Beth heaved a dry sob and sank down onto the grass, shaking hands rising to cover her mouth lest he or Severus should see. It would not do to lose her cool now. But the scene before her began to unfold, and she realized that James seemed to be dragging Severus backwards, for an inexplicable reason. Panic clutched her heart anew – was he actually hurt, then?
Severus’s voice, loud and indignant, reached her waiting ears. “Let go of me!” he was snarling; he appeared to be struggling against James, who reached out with one hand to prop a stick against the knot, not listening to Severus. The branches froze, and Beth found her legs again. She quickly climbed to her feet and ran over to where the pair had stopped.
Severus wrenched himself from James’s grip just as Beth reached them, and, turning around, his eyes found hers. She opened her mouth, but no words came out. “You!” he said venomously, turning a cold eye on her; without her quite meaning it to, Beth felt her heart sink into the pit of her stomach at the hatred in his voice.
“Are you all right?” she blurted, not knowing what else to say. A fleeting look of confusion crossed Severus’s face, but he masked it immediately.
“I should have known this was another one of your immature and idiotic pranks,” Severus snapped. “You’ve sunk to their level, Beth. How sad.” Beth’s eyes darted away from the knowing sneer on his face, and despite herself she felt hot tears sting her eyes. She swiped them away furtively.
“Cut it out,” James said coldly, coming over to them. “She’s done you a favor, Snivelly –“
“Don’t call me that!”
“ – and one you can only hope to repay in your lifetime,” James finished, crossing his arms stubbornly in front of his chest. Severus looked between the two, obviously unsure as to how to take that. Clearly he chose not to believe them, because his lip curled still further.
“You’re not making sense, Potter,” he said.
“You could have died,” James said sourly, gritting his teeth. “Look, I don’t know why I’m still talking about this with you – you’re obviously going to be a prat about it, as usual.”
Severus had gone oddly quiet. “What do you mean?” he said, slowly, his tone much less venomous than normal. James shot Beth a quick, panicked look, which Beth returned. Severus had obviously known nothing; they’d just revealed to him too much about their secret. Childishly, Beth wished the words were tangible, so she could take them back without Severus seeing.
She stepped forward tentatively. “We’ll tell you, but… Severus, please,” she implored, gazing at him levelly, “you cannot tell anyone else.”
“Beth!” James hissed angrily, but she ignored him. Severus looked down at her for a long moment, and then slowly nodded. Beth drew a deep breath, wondering at the wisdom of what she was about to do, and hoping that her heart wasn’t leading her brain.
“Every month on the full moon, we come out here,” she said in a rush, swallowing hard and closing her eyes so she wouldn’t have to look at Severus. “Two of us, and Remus – always Remus.” Her heart quickened, and she willed herself to stay calm. Her eyes fluttered open in time to catch the look of dawning comprehension on Severus’s face. He had quite clearly understood her implications.
As though on cue, a high-pitched and eerie howl suddenly sounded from the village down the path, causing all three of them to jump simultaneously. Severus’s head swiveled in that direction, and then he turned back to Beth, gaping in shock.
“Werewolf,” he said dully, and she closed her eyes again and nodded, a lump welling in her chest. Behind her she could hear James swearing under his breath, but determinedly ignored him. No one said anything for a very long time.
“Severus, you can’t –“ Beth began to repeat finally, for a lack of something else to say.
“I won’t tell!” he snapped. There was a tension-fraught pause. “I won’t,” he repeated, his voice softer than Beth could ever remember hearing it. Her eyes swiveled back to him; he was looking at her intently, and she believed him without even really knowing why she did. A slight flush crept up her neck and stained her cheeks, and she was grateful for the cover night afforded.
“But I do have a question,” he continued, turning back to James. “What makes you think you are any more likely to handle a werewolf than I am?” His smug and superior attitude towards James had returned, and Beth almost smiled to see the latter bristle under the question. James’s eyes flicked over to her, wondering how far he should answer that question. She shrugged, although this next part of their secret was going to be a lot harder to have to share, she knew.
“Well, the four of us – that is, we’ve done something –“ James broke off, rubbing the back of his neck. Severus quirked an eyebrow at him, but said nothing, merely waiting for him to continue.
“We’ve figured out how to do something,” he began again, choosing his words carefully. “The four of us – Beth and Sirius and Peter and I – we’re Animagi.”
The shock and disbelief were etched plainly on Severus’s face; it looked very much as though he half-thought this was just an extension of a big practical joke. Beth clasped her hands behind her back, nails digging into her sweaty palms. Being thought of as a freak was the last thing she wanted – and especially by Severus, of all people.
“Show me,” he said, revealing nothing in his voice. He still hadn’t looked at Beth since his promise not to reveal Remus’s secret. James instantly transformed into a stag, and then quickly back again, looking not a little embarrassed.
After this, an awkward and rather uncomfortable silence encircled the three. None of them knew what to say, or where to go from here. Beth’s eyes darted towards the eastern horizon. Although the sky overhead was still dark, it was definitely growing lighter by the second; the sun was beginning to rise.
"James,” she whispered, “we’ve got to get Remus soon.” The sentence caused Severus to look distinctly uncomfortable and out of place, as though he knew that he was intruding on what had formerly been a private conversation. He could sense he did not belong there, but his insatiable curiosity was preventing him from stalking away and leaving the pair of them to their own devices.
James checked the watch he wore on his wrist; his mouth drew into a thin line, apparently not pleased at the time he saw, but he nodded anyway. “Can’t imagine what he’ll say when he sees you here,” he said ruefully to Severus. The latter opened his mouth to issue a retort, but apparently thought better of it, and swallowed it back, nevertheless shooting James a rather vindictive look.
James slunk for the third time down the passage, and Beth realized too late that now it was only her and Severus left waiting. “You can go back to the castle,” she suggested, wanting to bite her tongue for how stupid she sounded. Apparently Severus thought this as well, for he merely rolled his eyes.
“So you can laugh at me behind my back? No thanks. You still haven’t convinced me this isn’t one of your childish pranks. I know your lot and how much you despise me.” He scowled and crossed his arms, studying a leaf on the ground with great intensity. It seemed to take a lot out of him to say this.
Beth looked at him, a mixture of surprise and hurt conflicting in her expression. “I wouldn’t laugh at you,” she said softly. “And I wouldn’t have come to save you if this was a joke.” His eyes darted over to her, and his expression became less harsh – fleetingly so. She wondered why he always had to be prompted to look at her, as though otherwise she’d only hurt him.
She had to stop thinking things like that; it wasn’t doing her any amount of good.
Finally, after what seemed like several hours had passed, James reemerged from the tunnel, bending slightly under the near-dead weight of his friend. Remus looked both utterly exhausted and though he was about to become violently ill at any moment; this was a normal reaction after full moons, and one that couldn’t be much helped. To the relief of all three of them, he didn’t even cast an eye in Severus’s direction, and they walked up to the castle in total, thick silence.
Feeble early morning sunshine had just begun to tint the windows gold when James, Remus, and Beth reached the corridor of the Fat Lady’s portrait. Severus had left them in the entrance hall, turning right to descend into the dungeons where the Slytherin common room was apparently located. He said no words in parting, which caused Beth mixed emotions. But she determinedly suppressed these; her emotions were unstable enough as it was due to everything that had occurred.
The Fat Lady was snoring in a most unbecoming fashion when they arrived back. Beth and James each tried yelling the password several times before James resorted to giving her a good kick where her painted skirts met the frame. She started awake and glared down at them all; if she hadn’t been oil on canvas, Beth supposed that look would have frightened her.
“And what –“ she began, but Beth cut her off, too tired to want to hear a lecture.
The painting’s occupant looked affronted; she wasn’t used to being cut off. The Fat Lady liked to think of herself as a sort of honorary Head of Gryffindor and treated the students as such. Nevertheless, she swung inward, frowning disapprovingly down at the three of them, and they climbed through.
James had said nothing the entire way back to the dormitory, but now a determined sort of look overcame his features. He unceremoniously sat Remus down on one of the couches in front of the fireplace; the fire had long since gone out, and was only cold ash now. Beth glanced at him, but was more concentrated on James, who was now moving purposefully towards the boys’ dormitory staircase. Not stopping to think it through, she followed him.
It was still dark in the dormitory, much too early for Sirius and Peter to have already been awake. Jaw set, James snapped on the lights and marched over to Sirius’s bed. Sirius was blinking blearily in the sudden light, his tousled hair falling every which way except the right way.
“Everything all right?” he yawned, rubbing a hand tiredly over his face. “I’m up, I’m up –“ His eyes focused on Beth, and he started back. “What are you doing here?” he said. “You didn’t even knock, I’m in my pajamas and everything.”
“You think you’re funny, don’t you?” James said coldly, hands clenching into fists at his sides. Sirius looked confused. He untangled himself from the sheets, sweeping his hair out of his eyes. “Don’t you ever pull something like that again.”
“What did – what are you talking about?” Sirius said defensively, his eyebrows knitting together. “I didn’t do anything!”
“You know bloody well what I’m talking about!” James said, his voice rising to a shout. He took another step closer to Sirius. Beth had never seen him this mad before; although she felt his anger was justified, it was a little frightening to watch. Peter was sitting up in bed now, too, watching the scene unfold through confused and still-sleepy eyes.
A small amount of comprehension seemed to dawn on Sirius. “Are you talking about that thing with Snivelly?” he said, snickering slightly. James said nothing, continuing to look at Sirius stonily. “How did that go, by the way?” he continued eagerly.
“You nearly got him killed, that’s how it bloody went!” James said, and suddenly he stepped over and shoved Sirius square in the chest. “Are you that stupid, Sirius? I wouldn’t have thought it, but I cannot believe how far you took this."
Sirius regained his footing, fumbling for his wand in his pajama pocket, eyes blazing. “It was a joke!” he roared. “You know I was only messing with him!”
“He – nearly – died!” James was screaming at the top of his lungs now, making sure every word was clearly emphasized, and Beth knew that he was going to wake half the castle any minute. He had withdrawn his own wand now, and pointed it at Sirius, who did likewise. Beth sank to the floor, covering her ears with her hands.
She didn’t want to hear this – it wasn’t only the yelling that disturbed her so much, but all the emotions she’d been pushing down were floating rapidly to the surface. The fear she had felt, watching Severus crossing the lawn, and the sense of panic and paralysis that had gripped her when she hadn’t been able to transform to help him; the tension now permeating the room, and the anxiety about seeing Severus later on in the day. It all came back to hit her square in the chest at that very moment, and tears clogged her throat before she could become aware of them. She pressed her hands so tightly to her ears that it hurt, but she didn’t dare remove them.
She eventually became aware that the room had gone silent, except for the deep breaths she didn’t realize she’d been drawing, breaths that were half sobs and half to help her calm down. She chanced to open her eyes and saw that the boys were staring at her, looking concerned. She tried to speak, to explain herself, but nothing came out except a sort of choked, garbled sound.
“Bethy?” Sirius said hesitantly; she realized in a sudden and rather odd fit of clarity that none of the boys had ever seen her cry, and despite herself she was embarrassed. She didn’t even know why she was crying, other than the fact that she’d been so scared earlier – but that had been over an hour ago, at this point.
James lowered his wand and crossed over to her on the floor. He knelt beside her and wrapped a brotherly arm about her shoulders, and she hid her face in her hands, shame now definitely the prevalent emotion in her stomach. “S-sorry,” she stammered out, wiping her eyes fruitlessly with the back of her hand.
“It’s okay,” piped up Peter from the bed where he still sat. Beth gave a shaky laugh and sniffed, looking up at them and smiling shakily. Only a slight tremor was left in her hands to hide the fear that she still somewhat felt, remembering thinking she’d been too late; the moment had passed.
Still sniffing, she climbed unsteadily to her feet, aided by James. He gave her shoulders a squeeze and then left the room, not looking back at Sirius, who had evidently hoped for an apology.
“Blimey – I’ve never seen him that angry,” said Sirius wonderingly, staring after his friend. “I mean – you know it was a joke, Bethy.” He sounded a bit like he was pleading, wanting her to tell him everything was all right and that they would all laugh about it in the morning.
“Just please don’t ever do anything like that again,” she said seriously, looking him firmly in the eyes, now laced with guilt and remorse. He nodded solemnly, swallowing hard. Beth nodded almost imperceptibly, and then turned and followed James out the door. She wasn’t angry with Sirius so much as she was scared of what might have happened had James been too late.
A/N: Ah, Sirius. I loved this bit from canon, with James saving Snape's life - I always have - and I loved being able to incorporate it into the larger storyline even more. It was pure fun to write, and it moved the plot forward substantially, which is always good. This story is a part of me, and it's very rewarding, getting to share it all with you. Thanks so much for the reads and reviews and favorites, they mean a lot to me. Much more than I can tell you here.
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