"What time is it?"
The sound of Sirius' voice made his two companions utter stereo groans of irritation. Peter threw a rolled up piece of parchment at him, James a cushion.
"It's two minutes later than the last time you asked," snapped James, apprehension making him sound more aggravated than he actually felt. Peter lay back down and resumed beating a rapid tattoo on his thighs. Sirius found a use for James' cushion.
"Oy, Mickey Finn. Pack it in with the bongos!" he ordered, hurling the cushion in Peter's direction.
Silence settled over the dorm again for about a minute.
"So, what time's moonrise again?"
"Fuck this!" James sat back up abruptly as Peter prepared to redeliver the cushion to Sirius. The sudden distraction caused Peter to change his aim and and much-abused headrest struck James squarely in the face. He glared at Peter, straightening his glasses as he did so. Peter shrugged apologetically.
"Come on," instructed James, making the decision for them all. "We've waited long enough."
Sirius was at the door before the sentence was finished, and Peter wasn't far behind him. Exchanging nervous grins, they left the dorm.
They made their way down to the Common Room, heads turning to watch their silent, almost funereal, procession.
"What's up with them?" hissed a second year to nobody in particular. Sirius vaguely heard an answering comment about Remus being ill, but made no remark. Truth to tell, it was unusual to say the least for any of the quartet to be so quiet. Well, maybe not Remus, but these three always seemed to doing or saying or grinning at something, so they drew more attention to themselves with their silence. James, realising this on some subconscious level, turned just as he was about to leave the room, winked, grinned and tapped the side of his nose. The relief in the room was palpable. Then, he followed the other two through the portrait hole.
They stood for a long moment in the corridor, torn between excitement, concern for Remus and a fear of anything that could go wrong, which latter none of them would voice since it seemed almost treasonable somehow.
"Okay..." Peter finally started, when he was interrupted.
"Going anywhere nice, boys?" They turned to see the Fat Lady grinning at them.
Peter winked at her. "It wouldn't be us if we weren't now, would it? Don't wait up, sweetheart. Have to get your sleep, look after that peaches and cream complexion now, don't you?"
She giggled and blushed, waving them away with a simpering "Oh, get on with the lot of you."
They took off down the corridor, James with a wave, Peter with a wink and Sirius with a dramatic blown kiss and a sweeping bow in her direction. They could still hear her delighted giggles as they turned the corner. They stopped again, briefly, behind a nearby tapestry which hung, conveniently, over a recess in the wall where a large sconce had once been situated.
"Right," hissed Sirius. "If that's the only hold up, we're laughing. No good skulking in shadows. We don't do that. We walk down the main staircase and out of the door like we own the place. Which, of course, we do."
James nodded. "Then we head for Greenhouse Four. Pete, you change first, make sure the coast's clear. Let us know. Then we change and..."
"Make straight for the outskirts of the Forest while I take the quicker route across the grass, meeting up at the point nearest the Willow, I know," Peter finished. "We've gone over this dozens of times. I can remember some of the important things, you know."
The other two clapped him on the back.
"Course you can, Wormy," reassured Sirius, ignoring the raised eyebrow at the shortened nickname. "We're just making sure we've all got it. No probs."
With a final glance around and a quick nod, the three left their hiding place and strolled regally down the staircase to the main entrance, cracking jokes, jostling each other and generally looking as though they hadn't a care in the world. Each one felt at at least a small measure of apprehension, concern that they might possibly have taken that last step over the line, and nausea. But in the long run, this was for Remus. Besides which, if it all went according to plan which, of course, it would, it'd be the best night any of them had had in years without sex being involved.
They reached Greenhouse Four with absolutely no problems whatsover. Which, while it pleased them immensely, also surprised them. There was usually somebody out and about. But then, as Sirius pointed out, it was Saturday evening and the ones who weren't bunking off on illicit trips to Hogsmeade were either bathing, bonking or jerking off.
"Okay, Pete. Go for it. And see you at the Willow. You know the codes for later?" James amended his question when Peter rolled his eyes in irritation. "I mean, do we ALL know the codes for later?"
"Yes. Again, we've gone through that one more times than I can remember," retorted Peter. "One grunt, yap or squeak for 'Is that okay?' Two for 'No', Three for 'Yes'. If you go too fast or I think I'm falling off or any other emergency, I chitter. You on the other hand Jim, bark if there's something wrong. And Sirius barks like fuck. That means we get out of there sharpish. Have I forgotten anything?"
"Don't think so," James grinned. "Oh, except for..."
"No grooming," put in Sirius. "You know how sensitive poor ickle Prongsy can be." He smirked as James aimed a punch at him in the approaching gloom.
"DEFINITELY no grooming!" emphasised James. "Not on my head. Not on any part of me. But all I meant was, if Moony acts like, well...like Moony...you just hang on because I won't have time to set you down. Okay. I'll have to move."
Peter nodded and grinned. "I love Roller Coasters." Then he was gone and all the other two could see was the movement in the grass as Wormtail made his way to the vantage point he'd found a few days earlier. There was silence for a minute that seemed far longer than it was, then James and Sirius heard three distinct squeaks, then a break, then three more. It was time to go.
With one last grin at each other, and a muttered "Thank fuck for action" from Sirius, both swiftly transformed. Then, out of the shadows of the Greenhouse, a large black dog and a tall stag moved silently towards the Forest. A close observer would have noticed that the stag appeared to have trouble remembering the span of his antlers, since he seemed to catch them on occasional outcrops of stone on the old walls, and also that, whenever this happened, the dog would turn back and almost look as though he were laughing. However, they reached the trees without mishap and melted away into the shadows.
Wormtail reached the Whomping Willow first and waited nervously, looking over towards the nearby tree cover. He resisted the urge to groom himself, not wanting to miss the first sign of the two larger animals' arrival. They had debated just stolling down towards the Willow together, but they'd promised Remus that they would transform before they got anywhere too close. Also, by doing it this way, they wouldn't run into any classmates, or worse, professors and have to Answer Questions. And, by transforming before entering the trees, it was unlikely that Prongs and Padfoot would draw the same attention from the denizens of the Forest as would be garnered by James and Sirius. Still, Wormtail was nervous, chittering quietly to himself until he saw a flash of movement as Prongs came into view. He couldn't see anything of Padfoot in the darkness of the trees, but he knew he'd be there.
Squeaking in relief, Wormtail ran over to to the other two, standing up on his hind legs to give a single squeak of enquiry. Receiving the required response from the larger animals, he and Padfoot then moved back towards the Willow, Prongs remaining where he was. It would be dark by the time Padfoot and Moony emerged, but for now there was just enough light for the stag to be seen if he'd crossed the short distance from the main body of the trees to the Willow which, sensing approaching creatures, began sending its branches on a wild, whipping dance in the air.
Padfoot hung back just beyond reach of the flailing branches while Wormtail scurried easily between them until he reached the main trunk of the tree itself. He hunted around for a short while, but just as he was about to panic that he couldn't find the right place, he recognised the knot in the bark just to his right. Growling in triumph, he stood and pushed his body weight against it.
The result wasn't quite instantaneous, but it was as near as made no distance. The tree froze as though somebody had hit it with Petrificus Totalis, the only movement of the brances now being that caused by the wind. And even that was abated in this sheltered part of the grounds. Padfoot only hesitated for a microsecond to be sure the tree wouldn't garotte him as he approached, then he made his way swiftly towards the now-visible entrance hole. Grunting thanks and approval to Wormtail, and recieving a squeak which he couldn't understand but chose to interpret as 'Good Luck' in return, he disappeared.
Wormtail watched until the large black tail disappeared from view, then squeaked again, in the direction of the forest, which was getting darker and harder to see by the minute as night closed in. Judging it might now be safe to break his cover, Prongs approached warily, all his senses switched to 'Flight' until he calmed himself down. Taking up position to the side of the tree that would shelter him from the school and enquiring eyes, he waited. Wormtail stood sentinal at the knot in the tree for a little while until he was satisfied it wouldn't just swing back into action, then he crossed the ground to where Prongs stood. Growling to get the stag's attention, Wormtail then waited.
Prongs lowered his head, reaching down until he felt one of the antlers touch the ground. Wormtail instantly scampered onto it, wrapping his tail loosely around it for support and anchorage as he made his way over and along until he finally felt the soft fur of Prongs' head beneath his paws. Prongs raised his head and Wormtail had a brief impression of flying until finally, he levelled out and stopped. Making himself comfortable beneath the twin outcrops, he wrapped his tail, firmly this time, around the nearest part of the antler and the two waited in almost silence, the only sound being slight grunts or squeaks of reassurance.
Wormtail remembered not to groom and felt, if nothing else, rather accomplished that this part of the plan seemed to be going well. His nerves seemed to tranfer themselves onto Prongs as the stag took tiny to and fro movements, his breath coming in short, stacatto bursts. Just when he felt he simply had to run or die, he heard them.
The unmistakably canine noises of growls and snarls issued from down the tunnel and Prongs gave an involuntary snicker of mild alarm, moving back slightly. Then, two forms both seemed to erupt from the entrance simultaneously, fighting for first egress. Moony was slightly in front and as he burst out into the open air he gave a howl of triumph. But Padfoot was hot on his tail and growled to grab the wolf's attention and let him know that his escape was only temporary.
Moony whirled, snarling, on the black dog, his lips drawn back to let Padfoot know just who was boss. Padfoot handled him beautifully with a return snarl and a playful bite to the rump which seemed to bring the liberated wolf up short with indignation. That was when he saw the stag.
~ Ohfuck! ~
James knew that he was safe. He knew with every fibre of his being that Moony would NOT attack him. Not wolf - werewolf. He knew that werewolves did not take non-human prey. But his instincts were far from human, and Prongs was transfixed with terror, the dichotomy of his natures at war with each other, and he could only stand and tremble as the werewolf approached, Padfoot shadowing him closely, ready to defend James and Peter if necessary.
His mouth as dry as sand, Prongs stood, trembling, as Moony inspected him, sniffing excitedly along his flank. A small squeak from atop his head reminded Prongs that Moony needed to make the acquaintance of a third, and he lowered his face towards the wolf's enquiring nose and jaws.
For the longest moment, time seemed to stand still as Moony carried out his examination of the two animals, Padfoot never taking his eyes from the tableau for an instant. The wolf huffed and snuffed, and Prongs was reminded, bizarrely, of a Muggle fairy tale Lily had told him about once. Well...neither he, Wormtail, nor Padfoot could ever be mistaken for pigs, so that was surely a Good Thing.
Eventually, Mooney moved back, obviously satisfied. He sat back on his haunches and raised his head to the sky in a low howl of recognition and greeting. That was the moment when Prongs realised he'd been holding his breath for longer than he should have been able, and the gentle growling from above his forehead reassured him that he hadn't been the only one.
He closed his eyes for a moment, giving another sigh of relief when a combination of growls, barks and excited squeaks and chittering roused him in an alarm which was more than well-founded. The wolf was gone and Padfoot was tearing off after him, barking in panic.
Moony had seen the school.
With a roar of terror, Prongs began to chase, his brain aware of the insanity of the scene of a wolf and a dog being chased by a stag. On top of his head, Wormtail hung on grimly, chittering excitedly as he urged the stag on. Luckily for them, Moony hadn't managed to get much of a head start on Padfoot who had been poised for some sort of action anyway, and Prongs soon caught up with the two of them. Padfoot was trying desperately to get on the side of Moony between the Forest and the school, barging his shoulder and biting at his neck in an attempt to get the werewolf to change direction. He didn't seem to be having much effect, but he WAS slowing Moony's flight, and Prongs took advantage of this by overtaking them in a wide arc, turning as he skidded to a halt and lowering his antlers menacingly. Wormtail gave a startled squeak of surprise as his world seemed to fall away from underneath him, then he recovered himself and balanced on the bit of antler nearest Prongs' head, trying to look as threatening as he could manage in the circumstances.
Faced with the choice of changing direction or ending up as wolf kebab, Moony veered off with a snarled howl of frustration, Padfoot still keeping up with him. Prongs kept his position between the dog, the wolf and the school, half ready to try and deflect Moony again. But there was no need. Other scents caught Moony's nose as he approached the now dark Forest, and with an excited howl, he concentrated on seeking them out and investigating them. Instead of trying to evade Padfoot, he now yipped at him, urging him on in his new adventure. With a delighted bark, Padfoot took up the challenge and followed willingly, leaving Prongs and Wormtail to recover their equilibrium and follow on behind.