The four made their way through the trap door and slid down a long chute. They landed on something soft and spongy.
"Good thing this was here to block our fall!" Ron exclaimed. Then the 'thing' started to choke them all and no one could reply. Harry and Ron struggled, trying to pull it off to no avail. Hermione had lost her wand during the drop, and couldn't have cast a spell anyway because a thick vine curled nastily around her throat.
It was Neville who managed to cast a quick spell that caught the plant on fire, and the tendrils of the monster flinched away from the heat. They all dropped safely down.
Ron looked blankly at Neville for an explanation.
"Devil's Snare, Ron. We learned all about it in Herbology." Ron smiled and patted his friend on the back.
"Then I'm glad you actually listen in Herbology, mate!" Hermione lit the tip of her wand and revealed a dark passageway looming ahead of them.
"That's the only way out it seems."
"Listen, before we go down there, I need to tell you all a few things."
"What is it, Harry?" Hermione asked, a little fear creeping into her voice. Harry took a deep, calming breath.
"I just thought you ought to know…we're not going to face Severus down here. McNair, maybe, but not Severus."
"Oh, Harry, I know you love him but…"
Harry was struck by Hermione's innocent protest. With a small smile, he realized the truth of it.
"Yes, I do. Very much. Which is why I understood his actions when you didn't. I'm not saying Severus is innocent. I think he did serve Voldemort once…and he did terrible things under his service, but he's not evil now."
"Then how do you explain everything, Harry?" Neville asked disbelievingly.
"We're going to face a werewolf. Though it's not the full moon, so I doubt he'll be transformed."
Very slowly, so there could be no misunderstanding, Harry explained.
"I figured it out the second you told me the evidence you thought you had against Severus. Professor Lupin is a werewolf. It's his scent…Severus could tell by his scent. I know you don't take much stock in visions, Hermione, but to become an adult, I had to fast for a long time until Reiki gave me a vision. It was a very, very powerful vision. In the vision, I was blind and helpless, and I was attacked by a werewolf. I didn't realize it was a werewolf at the time. I thought it was an ordinary wolf, because I thought it was wolves that killed my parents and I've always been afraid of them. But not long after coming here, I figured out another piece to the puzzle. In my vision, and after waking up back in the cave, I smelled monkshood and it made me sick."
"Monkshood is linked to lycanthropes. They say it could be one day used to cure them. We learned that in potions," Hermione informed.
"Yes, and Severus mentioned it to me. It was no coincidence that I smelled it in my vision. Since I was blinded, that was how Reiki let me know it was a werewolf and not an ordinary wolf."
"Okay, but what does this vision have to do with anything?" Ron asked a bit frustrated.
"It has everything to do with this, Ron. Reiki was warning me that I would soon encounter a dark werewolf. I come to this school and there's a werewolf teaching here. It's not a coincidence. Then, you tell me that Severus was bullying Lupin in the hallway. Severus was probably telling Lupin what he'd do to him if he tried to retrieve the stone for Voldemort. What made me certain was when you started talking about Severus cursing Neville. Severus couldn't have cursed Neville. It's true that centaurs have a magic of our own, but it just allows us to work with plants and understand the stars. We can't curse people like wizards can. Severus saw what was happening to Neville and he was chanting a prayer to Reiki. It's the strongest protection a centaur can give to someone. He didn't kill those fairies. He was probably trying to revive them. On the night of the troll, Lupin was missing, too. I did have some doubt still at that point, so I asked him what had happened. If he'd lied about it, I would have suspected him, but he didn't lie."
"What did he say?"
"He said he was hunting and a wolf snuck up on him."
"Then he did lie!" Ron said heatedly. Harry just shook his head and continued to smile.
"No, Ron, he was cryptic. It's a good thing I'm not used to getting straight answers. Lupin was the prey he was a hunting and he didn't lie. Lupin snuck up on him and hit him with some kind of spell. A wolf hurt his leg – not Fluffy. They probably had some kind of confrontation in the forbidden corridor. Centaurs don't have much of a defense against a fully trained wizard, you know."
"That…makes sense, I suppose," Hermione admitted, slowly starting to see his side. Just then, a shadowy figure emerged from the hallway.
"So you did trust me. At first I thought you did…I thought you understood…but in the hospital wing…"
"Severus!" Harry exclaimed happily. Then his expression dimmed. "But if you're out here…"
"Yes. Lupin went on ahead. There are flying keys in the next room and quite obviously, I can't ride a broom. I was heading out to find Minerva when I overheard your explanation."
"There's no need to get Professor McGonagall. We can't waste time. I'm a pretty good flier. We can get the key. Come on," Ron said quickly.
Much to their surprise, Snape didn't protest. He led them into the next chamber, where hundreds of flying keys flew chaotically. Ron and Hermione fetched the brooms and readied to kick off. Neville sheepishly explained he couldn't fly to save his own life.
"It's that one – the big, silver one with blue wings. You can see that Lupin already grabbed it, as its wing is crushed." Ron nodded and kicked off, followed closely by Hermione.
Despite Neville's presence, Severus felt like he couldn't let Harry continue to think he'd done something so terrible.
"Harry, I never served Voldemort."
"No. I was accused of murdering your parents, but it was another centaur in my herd. His name was Pettigrew. I have no proof of this, as he disappeared years ago, but I promise you that I never killed anyone. I felt guilty for their deaths, because I was already working with Dumbledore just like they were at the time, and I should have known Pettigrew was a traitor. Their deaths were a result of my own stupidity, but I would have never…"
Harry interrupted him by throwing his arms around his torso and nearly hugging the breath out of him.
A hesitant voice interrupted the touching moment.
"You've explained everything except McNair. Hermione found some old records that said he was once a Deatheater, and you're always talking with him. I overheard the two of you after my detention, and you were promising him that you'd deliver 'it' to him," Neville accused unsurely. Severus flashed him a fierce scowl.
"You shouldn't eavesdrop, and you certainly don't deserve any kind of explanation from me…but Harry does. I was befriending McNair in the hopes that he would defend you at your trial. He is the Care of Magical Creatures professor, after all. I told him about centaur customs and asked him to testify on your behalf in exchange for the horn from the unicorn Quirrel killed. McNair is a collector of animal hides and such, and I knew where she was buried because I was the one who returned to the forest to give her a proper burial. Unfortunately, I had to dig her back up, and I know that was a terrible thing to do…but if it helped your case, I would have done anything. It was hard to find the time to fetch the horn. When I wasn't spending time with you or teaching, I was trying to keep an eye on Lupin. Dumbledore trusted him, but I did not. I was the only one keeping him in line."
"You did care about the unicorn then…if you returned to bury her. It seemed like, even to me, that you weren't upset by it."
"I've had a great deal more practice hiding my emotions than you have, Harry. Sometimes I don't even realize I'm doing it."
Harry reached for his hand and squeezed it, relieved beyond words that everything was out in the open between them. Ron and Hermione landed, out of breath, but Ron had the key clutched in his hand. The gentle voice Severus had used to explain things to him was gone, and his strict, classroom voice returned.
"You have served your purpose. I want all of you to return to the safety of the school now. You can send Professor McGonagall, though."
"Severus, wait. Neville needs to come, too. It's his destiny to defeat Voldemort. My mother's prophecy said so."
Severus grimaced. "I know. I am hoping Voldemort is not here. With any luck it will just be Lupin."
"But he could be here, and in that case you can't defeat him. Only Neville could. I agree Ron and Hermione should go back for help, but Neville has to come with us."
"Us? You are going to safety, Harry. Don't even try arguing with me."
Harry met Severus's fierce glare for a moment and then nodded.
"Alright. We'll go get help. I'm trusting you to take care of Neville."
"But Harry!" Ron interjected. Hermione looked terribly worried.
Much to all of their surprise, Neville commanded them to listen.
"Harry's right. Mr. Snape can be trusted. I don't know why you don't like me, but I understand that you've been trying to protect me. I don't want my friends getting hurt either. If I'm the only one that has to go, then I want you three to go back for help."
Ron hesitated, but Hermione eventually tugged on his arm.
"Come on, Ron. There's an adult here to take care of things. He won't let Neville get hurt. Let's go get the other teachers."
They started to part quickly, as they'd wasted enough time as it was, but Harry couldn't resist turning back one last time to pull Severus down for a heated kiss.
"I'm sorry, and I love you. I just wanted you to know that." Severus smiled and nodded.
Harry understood. "Be strong, Neville!" he called out before giving Severus his unneeded silver tipped arrows. Severus smirked.
"You thought ahead. These will damage a werewolf, and they're well made. Thank you, Harry."
"I know. Go on. Hurry."
And with that, the two groups parted.
Harry, Ron, and Hermione did not find McGonagall, but they did run straight into Dumbledore. He had realized what had happened and was rushing towards the forbidden floor, though he seemed to relax a great deal when Harry told him Severus was with Neville.
Harry thought about going with Dumbledore, but not five seconds after Dumbledore had disappeared into the room holding Fluffy, McGonagall appeared in the corridor.
"Harry…I've looked everywhere for you. Your herd is here."
And though Harry wanted to rush to see them, he was very surprised when he didn't budge so much as an inch.
"I have to wait here for Severus. Tell them I'll come see them when I can, or that they can come speak to me here." McGonagall looked confused.
"Why is Severus in there? For that matter, what are you three doing here?"
So Hermione gave her the full story, and Harry filled in the bits Hermione and Ron had missed while they'd been retrieving the key.
When they were done, McGonagall shook her head slowly.
"That is quite…"
They didn't find out what McGonagall thought of it all because at just that moment, the door opened and harp music spilled out. A bit bloodied but otherwise looking fine, Severus emerged first. Neville was draped over his back, unconscious. Dumbledore followed them out, looking no worse for wear.
"It is done. Young Neville defeated the Dark Lord, Minerva. Unfortunately, it seems my trust in Lupin was ill placed."
"Imagine that," Severus muttered in irritation. Harry smiled, assuming Neville was not seriously hurt or else they would have been rushing him to the hospital wing. He quickly found himself at Severus's side, not consciously aware that he'd moved, their hands twined together.
"Neville?" Hermione asked, obviously upset.
"He's fine, Miss Granger. Just unconscious," Dumbledore informed cheerily. "So let's get him to the hospital wing. As for you Harry, I believe you have some visitors. I saw them on my way back."
"Visitors?" Severus inquired.
"Apparently, someone from my old herd."
"I'm not surprised. I mailed your letter, along with one of my own. I knew it would not be long before that idiot Sirius showed up to defend your honor."
"You know Sirius? And you told him about us?" Harry asked, deeply touched that Severus had not been ashamed of their relationship.
Severus smirked. "Purely for selfish reasons, I assure you. I wish I could have seen the look on his face when he realized you were with me."
Harry started to look irritated by Severus's tone. "I don't like how this is sounding. You know Sirius means a great deal to me, don't you?"
Severus sighed, his dark amusement gone. "I know. I don't mean to upset you. The two of us have an unpleasant past. I'm sure he'll tell you all about it."
After they'd taken Neville to the hospital, Harry and Severus made their way to the Forbidden Forest alone. They were almost there when Harry said, "Thank you for sending my letter. Especially if you didn't like Sirius."
"I must be going crazy. You know, living for so long without a herd," Severus said with a sneer. Harry flashed him a loving grin.
"It's a good thing that I'm your herd now. You know, so you don't get any crazier than you already are." Severus rolled his eyes, but he gripped Harry's hand just a little tighter.
They continued on until Harry saw two familiar looking centaurs and a strange lump on the ground, just inside the Forbidden Forrest.
A/N: I hope I'm making up for not updating in such a long time. This is the third chapter today, right? As much as I'd love to continue, I think I'm going to have to stop. The screen is getting blurry and my wrist hurts, lol.
But yeah. You thought I'd make Harry betray Severus. Psh! Of course not! Oh, and I realize some of you might like to know what happened with Lupin, Neville, Snape and Dumbledore in the chamber, and I'll probably go over that later. I just wanted to show that Harry isn't the hero – Neville is, and that he really did trust Severus to send Neville off alone with him. Oh, and Snape's dislike for Neville will also be explained later. Cheers.