"The one with the power to vanquish the Dark Lord approaches...born to those who have thrice defied him, born as the seventh month dies...and the Dark Lord will mark him as his equal, but he will have power the Dark Lord knows not…and either must die at the hand of the other for neither can live while the other survives...the one with the power to vanquish the Dark Lord will be born as the seventh month dies..."
Sybill Trelawney's eyes flew wide open. She clutched arms of the chair from which she had been falling.
"Cup of tea, headmaster?" she asked in her usual, dreamy voice.
A man, clad in black, sweeping robes, stood in front of a closed door. His eyes were shut as if in concentration and his mouth formed silent words as he stood. Bits and pieces of a conversation beyond that door made their way to his ears. He seemed to be waiting for something, some kind of signal. When that signal came, his eyes flew open, revealing dark, bottomless pupils and an expressionless visage.
The dark, greasy hair that flopped over his forehead swung about as he walked down the corridor, away from the door. No emotion escaped his carefully protected mind. The young Severus Snape had made a discovery of the utmost importance.
The door creaked open, as if nervous to reveal the contents of the room it protected from the outside world. An old man with a beard reaching to his waist stepped out, his face contorted with confusion and uncertainty. He did not wave goodbye to the other occupant of the room, merely closing the door, and, following in Snape's footsteps just moments before, proceeded down the hallway. Albus Dumbledore had just been the sole witness—or so he thought—to a prophecy that had the capability of changing the course of events in his troubled world, if only it came to light.
He was barely a month old, and yet already he had assembled a group of devoted followers, each as willing to do his bidding as the next. Uncle Algie was not a young man, but when in the company of the infant, proceeded to perform the wild and immature tricks of his youth—five airborne flips in a row the least impressive among them. Grandma Augusta showered the baby boy with gifts, from a newly hatched toad (dubbed quickly by the boy to be Trevor) to a toy broomstick, on which he flew in circles for hours, sometimes crashing into vases and antiques—all quickly forgotten in the face of his charm.
For the infant Neville Longbottom was the epitome of all that was adorable, and lovable in a child. His parents loved him very much, he lived in a large house with a large garden, and he was overwhelmed with presents on a daily basis. The spoiled boy, however, remained his sweet, unassuming self—delighted by plant life, especially the pus-filled cacti and carnivorous flowers that decorated his window sills, which was replenished yearly. Surprisingly, he showed an aptitude for taking care of them, and by Christmas only a few pots needed to be refilled.
It was in this environment that Neville grew up. Spoiled, adored, and doted on, by his half birthday he had become somewhat of a living legend among his relatives as being the first in their family to show signs of magical development. He'd thrown a pot at the window after its plant had died, only to find that, after it shattered on the wall, it reassembled itself, the soil regrouped into it, and a plant began to grow—grow so fast, actually, that his father was forced to rush it outside and place it in the wide expanse of green in front of their house.
They lived, not in a closely packed English suburb, but in the Lake District, up north, next to a medium-sized body of uncharacteristically warm water (did the fact that the family to which it belonged was wizards make it a difference?), referred to affectionately as "Neville's Pond," because the little boy did really love it. The front lawn was wide, expansive, and very vegetated, due to Neville's growing passion for flora. Projects that had grown too large for the old English manor were instead transplanted to a sunny portion of the yard, reserved for the great successes of his herbology career.
At least once a week, however, the peaceful family was broken up as Frank and Alice Longbottom, Neville's loving parents, joined the ranks of the Order of the Phoenix, to participate in weekly meetings and updates. Sometimes, however, they were called to action and left their quiet home to rejoin the efforts to battle and defeat He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named and his army of ferocious Death Eaters. Every so often they were faced with hordes of Inferi, groups of bloodthirsty giants, blundering and dangerous ogres, and flocks of hungry dementors.
Each time Frank and Alice left, a depressing hush fell about the otherwise lively house. The many relatives who inhabited the sprawling estate, whether in its remote cottages or as permanent guests in the manor, tended to converge upon the young Neville, seeking to comfort him, although he never seemed to understand why. The absence of his parents was punctuated with periods of intense anxiety, followed by gaps of silence that stretched uncertainly into dawn.
When the pair returned, often early the next morning, bedraggled and tired, a fierce sort of pride and cheer returned to the home. Hugs and kisses were exchanged, and Neville regrouped with his parents as if it had only been a minute since their departure. Although Frank and Alice seemed quite at peace amongst the grandparents, uncles, second-cousins, and great-aunts, their faces were marred with the memories of those who had fallen, for each time, there were some. They played with Neville, eager to show them his flourishing banana tree. But when he was lain to rest at night, the stories of the last battle were told.
"Benjy Fenwick," murmured Alice. "Blasted to pieces by the Death Eaters—they only found bits and pieces of him," she added sadly, tears dripping from her eyes. "He was the best damn Metamorphagus we had!" At these words she burst into tears. Frank held her close, waiting for the sobbing to subside into heavy, broken breathing.
"They killed Marlene, too. Marlene McKinnon," he added.
"I went to school with her father," offered Grandma Augusta. "Nice fellow. Greengrocer, right? Yes, I know the family." Her eyes flicked downwards, as if in mourning. She and the rest of the family waited respectfully until the pair found themselves able to continue.
Finally, Alice said, "It was awful. Usually we can take care of the Death Eaters fairly quickly. Except for the inner circle, they're a band of untrained, idiotic, blundering—" Frank patted her gently on the shoulder. "In any case, we had a harder time. They sent in multitudes of reinforcements. They overwhelmed us—that's why Benjy and Marlene are gone." Her shoulders shook and she buried her face in her hands. "I just wish this war would end."
Murmurs of assent were emitted around the room.
"It's a bloody nasty fight," agreed Uncle Algie.
"The worst in history," said Great-Aunt Roxanne, moving to comfort Alice.
"It's a brave, honorable thing you two are doing. I'm proud to be in your family," whispered another voice,
"We're proud," was the general assent. Then the family, protective, loving, and as sometimes dysfunctional as it was, lifted itself from its weary haunches and congregated around the couple, trying to calm the growing panic that chilled their souls.
Severus Snape marched purposefully towards the exit of the Hog's Head Inn. The owner, standing behind the barcounter, stared after him, his face collapsing into a knowing frown. Setting down the glass he was polishing (albeit with a dirty washcloth), he called after him.
"Where've you been, Snape?" he asked, spitting out the name as if it left an unpleasant, nasty taste in his mouth.
Slowly, the cloaked figure of Severus Snape turned to face his confronter. He plastered a forced, weak smile across his face.
"Merely checking that my room was locked," he replied slowly, forming the words carefully, as though each phrase he finished pained him deeply. "It was."
"Oh?" grunted the owner, leaning against the counter. "Is that really what you were up to?"
"Yes," spat Snape. "If you'll excuse me…"
"Don't go sneaking about my inn, you hear? There's consequences to prying, you know? I don't fancy your type hanging about my establishment."
"I don't intend to for very much longer. You needn't worry."
"Hey—wait, Snape! How's your left arm been feeling recently?" Aberforth yelled.
Again, Snape turned slowly. His eyes met those of his aggressor—his black ones boring into sharp, blue, curious ones.
"Quite alright, thank you. I'll be on my way, now."
Throwing the door open, Snape left the Hog's Head, a growing feeling of—what was that? Guilt?—rising in the pit of his stomach. With a loud crack, he was gone, the spot where his body had been, just moments before, empty and cold.
Aberforth and Albus Dumbledore were, admittedly, brothers, but they rarely saw each other or spoke to one another on business other than that of the Order of the Phoenix—and if they did, their speech was stunted and awkward, from lack of practice.
When Albus reached the bottom of the stairs, he found the front room of the inn empty, save for the figure of his brother, working tirelessly and carefully, behind the counter.
"Hello, Aberforth," he said softly. "Fancy seeing you here."
"Albus," acknowledged his brother gruffly. "Listen, I'll expect you'd like to know that Snape just waltzed downstairs a few minutes ago. Fed me some crap about checking to see that his door was locked—but tell me, were you and…Sybill, was it?—discussing something of any importance? Because quite honestly…"
"Snape? Severus Snape?" questioned Albus calmly.
"Yes, the Death Eater one."
"We really don't know, Aberforth, it's merely speculation…"
"But since when have you ever been wrong, eh? Answer me that? All our lives you've been on top, you've followed your instincts and beliefs and it's all been…right. If you think this Snape bloke is a Death Eater, it's probably because he is. Though why, if you know that, you advised me to let him stay here is beyond my reach." Aberforth took a long, straggling breath.
"I must impress upon you that these are, in fact, only my thoughts. My theories have been wrong, they've been mistakes—trust me. Dear brother, I don't think that we can judge potentially innocent people based off of speculation. That is why I requested you give him the benefit of the doubt—I was ever so pleased when I found you'd obliged me."
"It's no problem for me," replied Aberforth gruffly. "But keep your secrets safe. He's probably aching to lend some valuable information to that master of his—and this is just the place to find it." He set the glass and soapy rag on the cracked, worn counter. "Listen, Albus. You know as well as I that this war's not a fluke. Diplomacy is useless. Lives will be lost. We've got to keep our heads, trust our instincts. And if your instincts are telling you that Snape's not a man to be trusted, then we shouldn't trust him."
A faint smile playing across his lips, Albus said,
"Oh, Aberforth, I never did say he was untrustworthy. I merely implied that he might be a Death Eater."