"What's that?" Harry asked as Hermione untied a piece of parchment from the foot of a school owl.
She unfurled it and read what it said. "It's a note from Hagrid."
Harry, Hermione, Ron and Draco,
Meet me at the Forbidden Forest at dusk. It's important.
Harry's brow furrowed. "Doesn't Hagrid realize that we aren't allowed out after dark?" he said, a bit annoyed.
"Maybe we should just tell him we can't come," Ron said. "I don't fancy going into the forest after dark anyway."
"Snape will murder you if you go, Harry," Draco pointed out.
Hermione frowned. "But it says it's important."
Draco looked out the window. "It's almost dusk now. Why don't we go down early and ask Hagrid what it's about. We could still make it back by dark."
"Good idea," Harry said, pushing off the ledge on which he sat. "Let's go."
They rose and headed for the door. Harry impulsively patted his pocket, checking to make sure that both his wand and the silver button that he could use to contact Severus were on his person. His punishment would be even worse if he was caught after dark without those.
Having eaten dinner early, the group meandered down to Hagrid's without running into anybody as they were all in the Great Hall. Harry rubbed the back of his neck, feeling strange about this for a reason he could not place. Dismissing it, Harry assured himself with the knowledge that Hagrid would never intentionally hurt them. However, Hagrid's standards of caution were far different from everyone else's. Harry shook off his doubt and kept walking. Hopefully, it was nothing major and nothing dangerous.
Blaise fidgeted and pushed the food on his plate around with his fork. He glanced over at the Gryffindor table and saw none of the people for which he was looking. He frowned. There were no windows in the Great Hall so he could not see whether the sun had started to sink yet. If his timing was off and they talked to Hagrid before he could lure them into the forest, the plan will have failed miserably.
He rose suddenly. "I have to go," he said, feeling the need to justify himself.
"Where are you going?" Pansy asked, pouting slightly.
"None of your business," he snapped and turned to stalk away. He could feel Professor Snape's eyes on him as he walked away from the Slytherin table. Blaise kept his back straight, head high as he exited the room. If this worked, he would not only get Harry and company in trouble with Snape for being out of the castle after dark but he also might get Hagrid in trouble for supposedly asking them to come. Naturally, he would deny it but Blaise was prepared to lie and claim that Hagrid gave him a note to have an owl deliver to one of the four Gryffindors. He grinned wickedly as he stepped out onto the grounds. He merely hoped that his note had looked close enough to Hagrid's sloppy scrawl that it was believable.
Blaise's heart dropped when he saw four figures moving towards Hagrid's hut. They were early and he was late. Cursing, Blaise ran towards the forest. Luckily, they were walking slowly. Light on his feet, Blaise slipped behind them and into the dense woods. They were only about ten feet away. Acting fast, Blaise cast the practiced charm on his throat.
"Harry," he said loudly, under the cover of the trees. His voice came out low and gruff, much like Hagrid's.
Harry turned. "Hagrid?" he asked, eyes searching the trees.
"Over here," he said, then shook a few branches for emphasis. Crouching, Blaise saw Harry motion for his friends to follow him to the edge of the forest. Blaise retreated. "In here," he said again.
Blaise watched them venture forth with a wicked grin on his face. Then, several things happened at once. Blaise shifted his weight to his back heel on which he crouched. As if triggered by the snap of the twig beneath his foot, a growl sounded behind him. Blaise's head whipped around and he came face to face with a snarling black dog. It growled deeper, lower and more menacingly. In one fluid movement, it sprung straight at Blaise. He let out a short yell as the dog soared right over his head and came crashing down in the brush behind him. Momentum carrying it forward, it continued on to the Gryffindors whom Blaise had unknowingly led into a trap. He felt sick to his stomach. He had only wanted them to lose house points, not their lives. Blaise's face was white as a sheet when the dog sank its fangs into Weasley's calf. He scrambled to get up but in the process slipped on a pile of leaves. He fell, head cracking against a rock and the world went black.
Severus stepped into his office carrying a goblet of smoking Wolfsbane. He was headed off to deliver it to Lupin, tonight being the full moon. As he stepped past his desk, something odd caught his eye. The Marauder's Map was activated and lay spread out on his desk. The odd part was the large number of dots on the edge of the Forbidden Forest. He glanced out the window. It was near dark and either way, the forest was off limits. He looked closer. When he made out Harry's name, his stomach dropped. If it were possible, it dropped further when he saw the name next to it: Sirius Black.
For the first time in a long time, Severus fumbled clumsily with the goblet in his hand. Hands usually deft and sure were suddenly shaky. He knew that he had to get the potion to Lupin or else he wouldn't transform safely but with every moment he wasted, he put his son in danger. Going for a compromise, he grabbed the nearest bottle, duped the potion sloppily inside, corked it and shoved it into his pocket. Severus scooped up the map and sprinted down the corridor, ignoring the looks from students and teachers alike. He had no idea when he would get the potion to Lupin but at the moment, it did not matter one bit to him. Harry was in danger.
"Ron!" Harry cried, as his friend was dragged towards the Whomping Willow by the Grim that haunted his dreams.
Ron screamed. His rat tried to jump out of his pocket but, searching for something to cling to, he grabbed it and held on tight. Harry saw Ron's wand fall from his pocket into the dark grass.
"Come on!" Harry said to his friends, sprinting after him. The dog was fast, however. In moments, they were at the Whomping Willow. The dog was low enough to clear the swinging branches as he drew the screaming Ron into a hole at the base of the tree. Harry went to follow when a huge spiked branch hit into his back, knocking Harry forward. The air rushed from his lungs as Harry was launched into the base of the tree. He groaned and rolled onto his elbow. Through fuzzy vision, he saw Hermione and Draco trying to leap through the branches to join him. Harry pushed himself up on his elbow which dug painfully into a knot on the base of the tree trunk. As he did so, the branches stilled. Hermione and Draco paused in athletic stances, wondering if it was some sort of trick. When it turned out not to be, they rushed over to Harry.
"Are you okay?" Hermione asked, crouching with her back pressed against the trunk for good measure.
"Yeah," he managed. "Let's go."
Ignoring the spikes of pain in his back, Harry pushed himself up and off the tree's root. When he did, the branches again became animate. He quickly lowered himself into the hole that the dog had taken Ron into. He heard the other two follow.
"Where are we?" Draco whispered from close behind Harry.
"The Shrieking Shack, I think," Harry said. "It was on the map."
He moved with caution, noting the disturbances in the stagnant dust as the tunnel opened into the rickety house. He followed the trail of blood and dust up the stairs and to the first room on the left. He was careful to step on the edge of the stairs so that they would not squeak and reveal their presence. He peered into the room whose door was ajar.
"Ron!" he said in an urgent whisper to his friend who lay slumped on the floor, leg straight out. Harry rushed in blindly, without thinking.
"Harry!" Ron whispered back, eyes wide. "Get out of here! He's.. he's an animagus!" With a shaky hand, Ron pointed to the grim who snarled at the four. They backed up against the wall as the dog morphed smoothly into the deranged criminal Sirius Black.
Lupin knocked on the doorframe of Severus's office.
"Snape?" he asked. There was no one inside. He needed his Wolfsbane potion and he needed it soon. The sun had almost sunk beneath the horizon and it was only safe to be in the Forbidden Forest if he had taken the potion beforehand. If not, he would have to transform in his old haunt, the Shrieking Shack. Though he did not relish going back to the place he had spent so many painful nights, it seemed that he had no choice. At this point, he could not waste any more time trying to track Snape down. He would simply have to head to the shack and endure.