"And my favorite class is definitely Herbology. Professor Longbottom is brilliant."
Draco stared incredulously at the casual line amidst numerous other tidings of his son's first week at Hogwarts. More shocking than discovering he had developed a friendship with Albus Potter, even more starling than being sorted into Gryffindor, was that he thought Longbottom was brilliant. Draco had always accepted that Granger was rather brilliant, especially for a muggleborn, and that Potter was fairly smart, at least in a few subjects. Even Weasley wasn't completely hopeless. But, as far as Draco was concerned, Longbottom lacked the proper intelligence for a respectable wizard.
He had been shocked when he had discovered that Longbottom had been made the Herbology professor after Sprout's retirement, but he had always considered Herbology one of the softer subjects. Besides, McGonagall viewed Neville as a war hero, as did so many.
Hero. That was not a term he would apply to Neville. Sure, he had led the rebellion against the Carrows in their seventh year. Draco had even been a little impressed with how well Longbottom could cope with the pain inflicted on him. But a hero implied extraordinary skill. And Longbottom was nothing if not completely ordinary. Perhaps, after spending so much time trailing after Potter, he had finally picked up some foolish Gryffindor bravery but bravery did not demand skill.
However, Longbottom had survived despite being in the thick of the fighting. And he had stood up to the Dark Lord, which was something Draco had certainly never even considered doing. And as his thoughts turned to the battle, a hot wave of shame engulfed him. That Longbottom had fought while he had cowered, attempting to avoid death, was not something of which he could be proud. He had always prided himself on his Slytherin principles of valuing his own life before others but surely Salazar Slytherin had never sunk to the shameful level that he had reached. Surely he had never intended for the students of his house to become cowards.
He justified his cowardice by claiming that he did not have his own wand, having been seized by Potter, and that his mother's wand did not channel his magic as well as his own. But, in truth, he had not been prepared for the frank brutality of an actual war, no matter how much he had bragged to the contrary. When a Death Eater had confronted him, he should have been able to hex him, or at least disarm him, but all he did was plead and was only saved when someone whose identity was still unknown to him cursed the death eater, only to have punched Draco a moment later, shouting something he had not been able to discern.
Draco sighed as these disgraceful memories took hold of his mind; he sank further into his leather chair, allowing the glass of wine he had reflexively retrieved after his first reading of the letter swish dangerously close to the edges. However, it did not spill over, despite the slight tremor in its owner's hand. Draco sighed and turned back to the paper work he had been delving over before the arrival of the mind-shattering letter, but he found that visions of his son's childish handwriting kept surfacing in his mind, the small loopy 'L' of Longbottom particularly and cruelly prominent.
Finally, after realizing that he had been staring at the same line for countless minutes without reading it, Draco came to an impetuous decision. He placed down his untouched wine glass, pushed the document to the floor and swung his high-necked cloak around his shoulders and called to Astoria that he was going out for a drink, ignoring her reminder that he could just as easily have a drink in his study.
A split second before he disapparated, he briefly considered telling his wife what he was planning to do but, in truth, even he was not entirely sure. He ended up on the dark, cobbled street of the village of Hogsmeade. Once there, he hesitated. He had initially planned on going to Hogwarts, but once that reality faced him, he was not so sure that was the wisest move. Speaking to Longbottom at Hogwarts would mean having to ask permission of Professor McGonagall and, as she knew very much about his history with Longbottom, he was sure she would want to know why it was so urgent for him to speak to her Herbology professor at ten on Thursday night. And he was not sure how he would answer her.
Instead, he decided to carryout the excuse he had given Astoria and ambled to the Three Broomsticks, the regular haunt for students and townspeople alike. As expected, it was crowded with wizards and a variety of other creatures with which Draco was not sure he wanted to become too intimate. He ordered a firewhiskey despite his usual flippant remarks that it was the brew of the dregs of the wizarding world and sat in a dark corner, trying to plan his next move. However, to his luck, or perhaps misfortune, Longbottom planned it for him, entering the bar a mere fifteen minutes later.
He watched the man walk – or rather bounce – on the balls of his feet, making his way slowly to the bar and the barkeeper, Hannah Abbott. Despite the fact the he was still brooding in the inner turmoil he had created for himself, he could not help but snort at the awkward manner in which Longbottom hailed Hannah and delved into conversation, which portrayed to Draco, even from across the room, his intentions in a painfully obvious manner. He smirked as Longbottom accidently dug his elbow into her hand and then stuttered hasty apologies as Hannah massaged the now tender area.
Despite how awkwardly he had begun, Hannah leaned in eagerly, so that their faces were almost touching, and tilt her head slightly, clearly enquiring something. They remained in that manner for a long time and it was apparent to Draco that this was a regular occurrence and he found himself wanting to hear how Longbottom went about wooing a girl, which was the sort of situation in which Draco had never pictured him. Then Draco wondered when he had started thinking so much about Longbottom. Was this really all because his son approved of him? What exactly was he planning to do? Intimidate him until he promised to verbally abuse Scorpius and drive him away? Invite him to dinner in order to get to know his son's favorite teacher? Both options were highly unlikely and he doubted Longbottom would go along with either of them.
Suddenly he felt the unpleasant sensation of regret and wished strongly that he had not come. Since when did he behave in such a rash manner, even when he son was involved? He almost got up to leave but something made him stay. Somehow he knew he had to carry this out. Just to give him something to do, he picked up his untouched firewhiskey and took a sip but immediately spit out the vile tasting liquid a moment later, wondering how something so disgusting had ever become so popular. To diminish the temptation, he pulled out his wand and vanished to rest of the concoction, thinking for the first time that being sober might be the best way to approach this situation.
Countless minutes passed and Draco wondered how Longbottom and Hannah could keep the conversation going until, finally, he heaved himself off the stool, bid Hannah goodbye and moved slowly towards the door. It was now or never.
"Hey, Longbottom!" he shouted, and then winced as he saw the other man visibly tense before turning tentatively towards him.
"Hi, Mal…Draco." His name sounded odd on his old punching bag's lips and he wondered what had sparked that decision. "What are you doing here?"
"I, well," Draco started, wondering what exactly he was doing here. He decided to be honest. "I just wanted to talk to you, I guess." He hated how unsure he sounded.
"Look, if you want to rag on me, I'm not in the mood and we're not at school anymore so just grow up."
Longbottom had his hand on the door before Draco found his voice. "No!" he shouted, causing several people to turn curiously before burying their heads back in their drinks. "I mean I just want to talk." He paused "Please." It came out brusquely, almost like an order, but it was enough to cause Longbottom to sit cautiously across from him and stare expectantly at him.
"So…how are you?"
If Longbottom had been shocked when he had said please, it was nothing compared to the expression that crossed his face now. "Have you been drinking?" he asked, eyeing Draco's empty mug.
"No," Draco snapped, "I just thought we could catch up or…you know what, I can't do this," he added quickly. "I'm just going to be blunt, ok?" Longbottom did not answer but knit his eyebrows, clearly trying – and failing – to follow Draco's jumbled thought process. "I received a letter from my son today and he seems to think your brilliant."
"And now you're wondering how I managed to manipulate him." Longbottom raised his eyebrows long enough to roll his eye before knitting them back together.
"I was merely wondering how my son his adjusting and if you are…helping him adjust," Draco said, placing his face in an emotionless mask that was far more common to him.
"Meaning, you are wondering if I am giving him a hard time owing to our history." Draco was actually slightly impressed at Neville's ability to read between the lines. "Well, the answer is no. I actually like Scorpius, he is rather open-minded and eager to learn, which are qualities I am sure he inherited from his mother."
Draco sighed; he had actually been wondering how long it would take Longbottom to throw in a sharp yet predictable slight. "It wasn't worth it."
"What wasn't worth it?" his companion asked in confusion, "Coming down here or giving birth to a son only to have him corrupted by me?"
"Stealing your Remembrall," Draco clarified, smirking slightly at the shock on Longbottom's face. "Through an unpredictable course of events, it led to Potter being made seeker and the pleasure of making you miserable was not worth six years of lost Quidditch games.
It was the closest Draco was going to get to an apology, and Neville appreciated it for what it was. "I suppose I'll see you around, Draco," he said with a tone of finality, standing and holding out his hand.
"Hopefully not too soon…Neville." Draco took his nemesis' hand and shook it once before striding past Longbottom and out the door. After all, he had lingered long enough.
Neville hesitated slightly prior to knocking on the familiar oak door in front of him before shaking his head, as though trying to rid himself of his constant doubts, and bringing his fist down three times.
"Enter," said a crisp voice and he pushed the door open gently and stepped into the circular room. "Ah, Neville, what can I do for you?" asked the reigning Headmistress, looking up from a document, her square glasses flashing sternly at him.
Though she had called him Neville ever since she had appointed him to the vacant teaching post, he was still not used to hearing the appellate from his old professor turned boss. "Do you ever have trouble separating students from their parents?" he winced slightly at how blunt the question sounded as it hung heavily in the air between them.
"I assume this is in relation to Scorpius Malfoy." He looked up quickly to find kind eyes staring out of the lined face. "He told me how much he enjoys your class," McGonagall said in response to his unvoiced question.
"I like him," Neville said quickly, not wishing to give the wrong impression, "It's just that he looks so much like his dad and I don't want to see him that way."
"Well, then, you are asking for something that is impossible." Neville opened his mouth in protest, but McGonagall held up a hand to silence him. "In a community as closely connected as that of the British Wizarding community, each of us carries the burden of our forbearers on our shoulders. For example, when did you ever look at Teddy Lupin without seeing Remus? Or are you ever going to really be able to separate Albus Potter from his father? No, of course not, and that isn't an issue because you hold their parents in high esteem."
"So, basically, you're saying that I'll never be able to look at Scorpius without seeing Draco tormenting me?" Neville asked, unable to keep the irritation out of his voice.
"Or maybe," McGonagall began sharply before softening her tone slightly, "You can see what a wonderful person Scorpius is and appreciate that his father clearly went to great lengths to give him a different childhood than he had received and that he is trying to correct at least some of the wrongs he has committed in his life."
That quieted Neville as he sank back in his chair to ponder the newly created mystery that was Draco Malfoy.
"Hi, dad," Scorpius bubbled excitedly as he hurried off the train and was immediately embraced by his mother. "I heard a funny story about you."
"Oh?" Draco asked guardedly as he gave his son a hug with one arm and picked up his trunk with the other.
"Yeah," Scorpius continued, falling into step with his nearly identical father, "from Professor Longbottom." Draco stiffened slightly, knowing that any anecdote Longbottom would share about him could only be harmful towards his son's perception of him. However, the excited eleven-year-old clearly had no idea the anxiety his words had caused. "He said that once, at a dueling club, you accidentally caused a snake to come out of your wand. He said it was a pretty cool bit of magic."
Draco remembered that only too well. The circumstances of the incident were not what he would refer to as 'funny' but, clearly, they had been relayed out of context in order to appear that way to his son.
"That is certainly something I've never been told before," Astoria remarked, smiling at her husband.
Yes, Draco thought, as he smiled at his wife and son, Neville Longbottom was not the worst role model Scorpius could have picked.
A/N: This is something I've been mulling over for awhile. Sorry if it seems out of character but I thought Neville deserved a little closure. I actually wasn't going to add the last scene, but it felt like it needed something else.
Lots of love, Miiamya