It was a good evening for a walk around the castle grounds of Hogwarts. The sky was bleeding brilliant shades of auburn and orange, illuminating the twilight sky around the forbidden forest as brightly as the fire that raged inside his quivering heart. A gentle spring wind rustled the budding leaves of the whomping willow and disrupted the black lake just enough to cause small ripples in its glass-like surface.
Neville Longbottom was tied to a rickety chair on the fourth floor, inside Amycus Carrow’s spacious office. His feet and wrists were bound together and his muddy brown hair was plastered to his forehead. With his eyes squinted painfully shut, he endured the last screams of a girl whose name he did not know. She was short with curly dark blonde hair, tears leaking freely from the corners of her green eyes as Amycus ripped the Hufflepuff badge from her chest and incinerated it in front of her. She made no sound during her horrific ordeal, opting instead to hang her head in complete and utter defeat.
“What are you staring at, you little Gryffindor shit?” Alecto hissed, catching Neville’s longing gaze out the window.
Neville turned his head slowly and stared defiantly at her, opting not to breathe a word. Her cold stare attempted to pierce through his carefully crafted façade, but he did not give her the satisfaction of seeing him crack. Mercifully, she did not touch him, but instead ambled authoritatively back to her brother, who had finished inflicting his punishment on the poor girl who could be no more than a fourth year.
“And you,” Amycus snarled, turning to face Neville with conviction, “you are the worst of the lot of them. Do you really think you can get away with turning up unprepared for my lesson?”
Neville did not dignify his Professor’s unsubstantiated claims with an answer. He raised his chin in the air and set his eyes on a focal point just above the death eater’s head.
“Arrogant, worthless, entitled. Just like your parents. And where are they now, Longbottom? Where are Mummy and Daddy now?” Alecto cried with glee, dancing around in an almost Bellatrix Lestrange-like fashion.
He kept a clear head, continuing to focus on the wall behind the two criminals. He did not speak, but concentrated on breathing evenly, calmly.
“You speak when you are spoken to, Longbottom!” Amycus barked. “Crucio!” He felt it everywhere, like a burst of fire crawling through his veins. His nerves were aflame, hot, sweltering heat that burned every inch of feeling in his body. His breath escaped in halted gasps, perspiration running into his eyes as he burned from the inside out.
Amycus laughed as he lifted the unforgivable curse from the 7th year’s body. Panting, exhausted from the pain that had encompassed his entire being, he lifted his head and met Amycus Carrow’s narrow gray eyes.
“My parents are living their lives in St. Mungo’s,” he forced himself to speak loudly with some aberrant sense of authority. “And the two of them have lead more honorable lives in the years they had sense than you have in your whole lives.”
He felt the waves of pain again and endured them as the room spun in vicious circles around him. When the agony subsided, Neville was instantly aware of another person in the room. Headmaster Snape was staring at Neville impassively. Dark greasy hair pooled around his angular shoulders and his mouth was pressed in a thin line. The three professors conversed in hushed tones as Neville regained his bearings. Snape made eye contact with Neville once again but showed no form of acknowledgement or recognition of his plight. After a minute or so, Snape swept from the room, his disgusting black robes swishing dramatically behind him.
As soon as the door clicked signaling his exit, the pain was back, more intense this time. Waves after agonizing wave of burning, stabbing pain.
Neville gasped loudly, sitting upright in bed. Disoriented, he felt the warm fingers of morning August sun caress his moist skin. He was drenched in perspiration, and seemingly more tired than he had been when he went to bed the night before. He was alone and safe, back in his own bedroom at his Gran’s house. The brilliant red and gold of Gryffindor decorated his walls, and pictures of his friends smiled and waved invitingly at him. Neville’s hands felt unsteady and shaky as he attempted to calm his frazzled nerves.
Taking a deep breath, he swung his legs out of bed. Going to sleep had once been a peaceful, serene activity, but since the final battle had transpired a month ago, it had become a horrible, vicious trap filled with violence, fear, and pain.
Neville showered quickly and changed, attempting to thoroughly cleanse himself after the truth-singed nightmare. Once he was finished, he ambled lazily downstairs, vaguely aware that it was around 10 o’clock in the morning. His Gran was already out and about running errands around the small town, her nose without a doubt stuck pointedly in all the town politics and gossip. The house they had shared since his parents had been tortured at the hands of the now deceased Bellatrix Lestrange was quaint but spacious, and he took a seat in the living room on one of the well worn mauve sofas. The Daily Prophet was spread out on the coffee table in front of him. A panoramic photo of Harry Potter and Ginny Weasley waving from a giant stage followed the headline “Memorial Service Attracts Thousands: Potter Expresses Gratitude, Sorrow For the Departed.”
Neville regarded its contents carefully before gently folding the pages and sticking them in his back pocket. Suddenly the house was too stifling for him, and he felt the need to escape somewhere else. In the past few days he’d been spending a few hours every day at a small coffee shop, tucked away from the prying eyes of the curious onlookers and well wishers.
Neville nodded absently to himself and decided that today was definitely another day for a warm cup of coffee with some rich coffee cake. He walked lackadaisically to the front garden after muttering alohomora to firmly secure the front door. Several seconds later he was standing in front of the quaint muggle coffee shop. The dilapidated shutters and bowing roof added to the charm of the establishment. The wooden floors creaked under the weight of his shoes as he found a place at the back of the short queue.
The girl at the counter eyed him with cool uninterest, chomping on her gum as though she desperately needed the five calories the stick provided. She was dressed in a pink apron, and her limp brown hair was pulled away from her face, but Neville figured she would probably be pretty if she wiped the smirk off her face.
“The regular, then?” she asked. Neville nodded once, not caring to engage in pointless, dull small talk. She handed him a small plate with the coffee cake on it, and he awkwardly handed over two and a half British pounds for the order. He wasn’t completely proficient with using muggle money, but he had memorized how much his order was and didn’t care to deviate outside the norm.
He took his regular table, in the corner next to one of the windows, and pulled the Daily Prophet from his back pocket. The coffee cake was like butter in his mouth, but the coffee was stale and tasted like it had been sitting for an hour. There was Harry’s face, waving out at him once again. Neville swallowed and took a sip of coffee before beginning the article.
“‘We can live our lives at last.’
The main message at the celebration of the defeat of He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named and his followers was simple: remember those that gave their lives for our freedom, and move forward. The evening started with several remarks from newly instated Minister of Magic Kingsley Shacklebolt. His speech focused on the future, restoring the homeostasis, daily routines, and business of witches and wizards everywhere. The audience remained energetic throughout evening, with musical entertainment from the Weird Sisters and up and coming wizard pop artist Callum Anders. Following an announcement regarding the overall repair and restoration of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, Mr. Potter took to the stage to the delight of the 7800 wizards and witches in attendance. His speech was a testament that honored those who had fallen, and looked forward to the future of the wizarding community, one free of fear and persecution.
‘I’ve spent most of my life fighting this, and I’m looking forward to spending some time with my girlfriend Ginny Weasley and learning to relax,” Mr. Potter told the prophet following his presentation.
Of the remarks he made, the most controversial and revealing of the evening concerned Severus Snape and his rumored allegiance to the order of the phoenix throughout the second wizarding war.
‘In the final moments of his life, Severus Snape revealed his innermost thoughts and struggles to me through his memories. What I saw in those minutes during the final battle was astounding, and the information contained in them saved the entire wizarding race from tyrannical rule by Lord Voldemort and it, ultimately, saved my life.
To disclose exactly what I saw would betray the privacy and sanctity of his personal turmoil. But I can tell you this much-Severus Snape was always Dumbledore’s man. The sacrifices that he made for the order of the phoenix, for Hogwarts, for me personally, were paramount to our success. Snape was always fighting for us. When he was headmaster at Hogwarts and things seemed bleak, he was fighting a war he knew that he may not survive, fighting for a side who believed his allegiance to be to the Death Eaters. Against all the persecution, the lying, the supposed betrayal, he was always fighting for me. I owe him my life. Severus Snape is a hero, and quite possibly the biggest hero of this war.
His legacy should not be shrouded in infamy but instead lifted in celebration, for without him I would not be standing here today.’”
Neville threw the paper aside, feeling sick to his stomach. He had been at the gathering the previous night, and had heard the speech from Harry’s mouth himself, but there was something disturbing about processing the written words.
”Severus Snape is a hero, and quite possibly the biggest hero of this war.”
Memories flooded his mind, twisting his thoughts so quickly he could barely focus. A scene flashed before him involuntarily, as though it was playing in real time before him. He remembered the icy onyx pupils, the marble glare that bored into him as he sat in the great hall during mealtimes. He had endured physical and mental torture consistently on a weekly basis as he tried to complete his seventh year at Hogwarts, while daily praying for some contact with Harry, Ron or Hermione. Neville curled his fingers into a painfully tight fist as a cold chill washed over his body. He could feel his breathing accelerate steadily, the subtle rise and fall of his chest becoming more noticeable.
What had Severus Snape ever done to protect the school? He’d spent the entirety of Neville’s earlier years bullying him, scaring him into submission, and generally making his life a living hell. But after the seventh year Neville had experienced, he no longer felt the familiar tugs of fear. No, now his feelings encompassed a much darker, complicated realm.
During the last year, Snape had taken solace in the cavernous wasteland of his office, and was rarely seen in the halls except for meal times. He turned a blind eye to the conspicuous injustices that occurred during the year, including harsh punishments and the inappropriate material being taught to the students. Depending on their blood status, students were tortured and mocked for fun, especially by the Carrows, who Snape had allowed to run amok without restraint or accountability. Neville had watched his favorite professors shrink in fear at the sight of the demonic siblings. The morale of the students was low and only a few even attempted resistance or rebellion.
Neville felt his heart race and heard the crescendo of the hard pulse in his ears. He tried to bite back the bitter anger and resentment he felt toward Harry’s ignorant words. No matter how much he could ever hope to convince his school mate and friend of the environment that had infected Hogwarts, Neville would never successfully sway Harry’s opinion of his newest hero.
Sure, Harry had endured a hardship that Neville could never fully understand. Neville had already heard the soon-to-be legendary story of Harry entering the forbidden forest to meet certain death, and could not even begin to imagine the terror and fear that must have coursed through him at that moment. But Harry had survived; he had prevailed, and he, along with the help of Neville and the rest of the Order of the Phoenix, had clenched historic victory on the bleeding, ulcerated grounds of Hogwarts.
A small bead of perspiration ran down the bridge of his nose, which was still healing from the blows of the final battle. Reading the article in public had been a disastrous idea, Neville knew that now. Panic clawed hotly through his veins, mixed with anger and adrenaline. Harry would never know the things he had seen, the students that would cry out at night at school just as he had, the weekly feeling of fire singing every shred of dignity left in his exhausted body.
And Severus Snape had facilitated all of it by his indifference and blatant disregard of the violence and terror in the school that he had sworn to protect and manage. It was his fault that Neville was plagued by nightmares, his fault that Voldemort had put his cronies into the school halls, his fault that Neville had been a prisoner of war under the guise of diligent student.
Neville blinked and glanced down at his barely touched coffee. It was too much; his stomach was so contorted, the thought of food or drink was simply ridiculous. He folded the paper up, shielding the photographs from prying muggle eyes, and left his full cup and partially eaten cake on the table. Shoving the paper back in his pocket, he exited the shop, feeling stifled and hungry for fresh air.
The atmosphere that greeted him was obnoxiously warm, and it did little to calm his frayed nerves. The thought of going home was repugnant, but he didn’t want to stay here either. The narrow, cobblestoned street was lined with small shops, and the sidewalks were dotted with smiling faces, each one more jovial than the next. Dipping his head to stare at his shoes, he walked toward the center of town in an attempt to decrease his anxiety. He no longer cared to delve into the deep psychological scars that plagued him daily; he wanted to escape the suffocating, unwelcome reveries.
He skirted the curb of the sidewalk as he made his way through the quaint village. If he focused his mind, maybe he could become invisible and no one would see him falter. No one would see his tears.
The harsh rays of the sun beat down on his weathered skin, but he forged on, escaping his past, focusing on the future. That was what Neville desperately craved—his future—an adequate distraction from the horror of the past. He was a war hero in his own right, a chivalrous Gryffindor swordsman, true and brave at heart, a victor. Children would grow up hearing tales of his bravery, one of the most important accessories to the victorious campaign at Hogwarts. Not as important as Severus Snape, of course, but still a hero.
His blood boiled.
“Neville? Neville Longbottom? Is that you?” The sound of a sweet voice broke his toxic thoughts and his head snapped up. Glossy brown, straight hair, full strawberry lips and wide blue eyes greeted him.
“”Hannah Abbott,” he said aloud, forcing a smile.
“Are you alright? You were just walking, looking down…you nearly ran into that pole! I haven’t seen you since…last month. How are you?”
“Fine,” Neville lied convincingly, “I’m fine. What have you been up to?”
“Not much. I…I just came into town to escape my house, to think. Wow it’s…it’s good to see you, Neville.”
Neville realized quickly that he was inherently glad to see her as well. Her sudden appearance had distracted him from his train of thought, saving him from another afternoon of pain.
“It’s good to see you too, Hannah. I was just, walking along, thinking. Didn’t really have a destination in mind.” Neville suddenly felt shy and exposed, even though the last of his tears had dried. “Do you…maybe want to sit and talk for a while? To…you know, catch up?”
Hannah smiled widely. “I’d love to.”
The two ventured to a nearby grassy patch of land, a thick canopy of leaves overhead to protect them from the harsh summer sun. Neville leaned up again one of trees and drew his knees to his chest.
“How have you been?” Hannah asked as she sat down in front of Neville, cross legged.
“Ok I guess. Lazing about mostly. Trying to decide what I’m going to be doing next month. I’ve been summoned to the ministry but I’m not sure why yet. What about you?”
“Pretty much the same. Were you at the remembrance ceremony yesterday?”
“Yeah I was there,” Neville said quietly. “It was nice.”
“No it bloody well was not.” Neville’s eyes widened at her forceful tone.
“You’re right. It wasn’t. It was awful. I’m sure it was pleasant for everyone else in the world, but for those of us that lived through it, those of us that had to endure…Hogwarts…it wasn’t easy to hear Harry talk about Snape in that way.”
Hannah’s face lit up, despite the negativity in his words. “I’m so glad to hear you say that. I thought I was the only one who felt that way, and it made me feel really bad. But the truth is, I don’t think I can ever call Severus Snape a hero when he sat in the headmaster’s chair at breakfast and watched Amycus Carrow lift me straight up into the air and perform the cruciatus curse on me so everyone could see because I refused to kiss his feet on command. Or any of the other times they tortured me.”
“They were trying to kill me,” Neville recalled somberly. “I know you came to live in the room of requirement with the order, but I left first to hide because I was afraid they were going to murder me. I have no doubt that they would have. I thank God every day that I had the strength not to give them the satisfaction.”
Hannah looked at her hands. “After they killed my…my mum, 6th year…it’s been hard. I have nightmares.” Neville really noticed Hannah then, for the first time in his life. She had very fine lines at the corners of her eyes, and her cheeks had sunken in slightly so she looked almost skeletal. Her faded attire hung off her limply, and though there was light in her eyes, the weary shadows of tragedy blocked its brilliance.
“I do too,” Neville admitted. “I think I will for a while. I think everyone will. But you know what? There was one thing about last night that was true. We all have to learn how to move on, to go onto the next period of our life, unthreatened by these people. No matter what Snape did, whether or not he was evil or on our side the whole time…he won’t ever be a hero in my eyes.”
“Well, I think that’s something that we can agree on.”
The two wayward souls smiled at each other bashfully, and Hannah took to pulling stray blades of grass absently from the earth. It was there that Neville finally allowed calm and serenity to wash over him for the first time in over a year. He would never be alone in his experiences, not truly. They had all been there for each other through the terror, and they would all be there for each other through the healing process.
Neville Longbottom would heal eventually, the way all battle scars did—a brutal mark of the past that would one day grow into a cherished reminder of the strides, triumphs and happiness of a full and meaningful life. That would be good enough for him, it had to be.
Neville smiled, feeling placid. “I’m famished. Let’s get some lunch, my treat.” Hannah returned his enthusiasm.
“I’d like that.”
First and foremost, I have to thank the incomparable Levana for her hard work on my banner and for being the first person to read the entirety of the story. She was a great help.
Also to Mihali1432 for reading my story and helping me along! And to Debra20 for issuing the challenge! It really made me think about the way that Neville might have felt, since I am always partial to Snape :) This was a great insight into his mind.