Chapter Seven: Foolish Maneuver

Everyone was waiting when Neville arrived back in the Gryffindor common room. He answered their questions, assuring them that he'd come to no more harm in Snape's clutches, then pulled the box of potions from his pocket and unshrunk it. "Here. We'd better get these sorted and hidden right fast, before anyone comes."

Lee Jordan's eyes were wide, and Seamus was staring. Finally, the young Irish wizard got his voice back. "Bloody hell. No wonder Snape looked so ruddy mad. How'd you do it mate?" There was admiration, and a touch of envy in his voice.

Neville shrugged. "He forgot to take my wand this evening. I nicked them while he was making me clean out the dungeons, then tripped the alarm to distract him while I sorted everything out." The lie felt flimsy, unreasonable even to him, but no one called him on it. He hoped they would put the restless tension he felt down to nerves.

Lee Jordan grinned. "Incredible! That was brilliant, Neville."

Neville shrugged again. "Wasn't that much really, but we'd better get them all sorted and hidden away before Snape, or the Carrows and their Discipline Squad, do another check." Neville gestured. "I reckon everyone should take one or two. We'll hide the rest, maybe in one of those passages Harry told us about." Before he'd gone, Harry had given them all a list of the hidden passages on the school grounds, and how to get into and out of them They were mostly blocked off and guarded, but with a suitable diversion, hiding something there wasn't impossible. "Maybe behind the one-eyed witch, or that destroyed passage behind the mirror."

"We could put them in the Room of Requirement." Ginny spoke up softly.

Neville nodded. "That would be brilliant too." He studied the potions assembled in the box, then pulled out a muscle relaxer and a potion to ease pain. "Listen, I'm going to see Madam Pomfrey tomorrow. If you get caught with a potion on you, tell them she gave it to you. I'll ask her to back us up."

Ginny frowned. "Are you going to tell her that you stole the potions? Is that really wise?"

Neville shrugged. "Dunno. But I don't reckon she'll turn me over to the Carrows. She hates them as much as we do. And if she goes along with it, then we've got a story to cover our tracks."

Seamus grinned. "That's wicked good thinking, mate." He looked into the box, then pulled out three vials and tucked them into his pockets. At his movement, everyone else came forward and selected two or three potions to hide with them.

Even after they'd all taken their share, the box was still half full. Neville swallowed, rather surprised by how thoroughly Snape had provided for them. Then he shook the thought away. "Ginny, think you and Seamus or Lee can get the rest of these hidden away? I'd do it myself, but I've an early detention tomorrow with Snape."

Lee scowled. "Bloody nasty git, that one, giving you detention for two whole months. I think he just likes to pick on you."

Neville shrugged. He couldn't tell them the truth. On the other idea formed in his mind. "Reckon so, now that Harry's not here. He even told me today that I've got to pay partial damages for a couple exploding cauldrons. Said he was charging me three whole Galleons."

"Oi! That's unfair!" Seamus looked outraged. "That's not your fault. You aren't even in Potions any more."

Ginny was frowning as well. "He probably blew them up himself, or messed with someone elses potion to make them explode."

"Yeah." It wasn't hard to find a scowl. After all, Snape had been the one to blow up the cauldrons. "But I reckon if I don't pay up, he'll turn my pockets out himself. He might do it anyway, the git." He frowned. "Speaking of galleons...Ginny, do you think you could give me one of the spares? I'd like to have it, just in case Snape confiscates my other one or something. I'll leave it here unless I need it."

Ginny bounced to her feet, then darted up the stairs to the girls dormitory, to return a few seconds later with one of the charmed coins. "I'll get another from Luna. But be careful." She met his eyes. "You do know how to cancel the charm on the coin, if you get caught, right?"

Neville nodded. "Hermione showed me." Unlike the complex mix of spells that had been placed on the coin, the canceling spell was a simple variation on 'Finite Incantantem'. They'd all practiced it until they could do it wordlessly and wandlessly, if necessary.

Neville caught himself yawning as the tension of the evening drained out of him. A glance at the clock told him it was nearly midnight. "Reckon I'd better turn in, seeing as I've early detention again." There were murmurs of agreement all around the room, and Seamus and Lee followed him up to the dorms. Neville shucked his robes, set his alarm for 6am, and toppled into bed.

He managed to make his way to the Infirmary before his detention the next morning. Madam Pomfrey gave him a sharp look when he told her what he really needed, and a sharper lecture on the foolishness of his actions. However, the Matron did agree to support their ruse. A few minutes later, McGonagall found him, and escorted him to his detention.

As soon as she'd left the office, Neville moved to the desk and dropped four Galleons, including the charmed one, onto the surface. "For the cauldrons...sir."

Snape took the coins with a bored look on his face. "Well. It seems, despite your insistence on wasting my time, and dawdling on your assignments, you are at least capable of making monetary amendments in a timely manner. Perhaps...I ought to simply charge you an appropriate financial recompense. Though I doubt there's enough gold in Gringotts to cover the amount of potion ingredients and cauldrons you've cost me." He sneered, and Neville flushed. Then Snape rose from his seat and pocketed the coins. "Now then, Longbottom, I believe you have work to do."

He spent the day cleaning the dungeons, and the main potions storeroom, helping Snape re-organize and stock his potions, and the ingredients for them. It was dull labor, but he saw where everything was, and recognized what Snape was doing, showing him where to find things in case of an emergency. When they finally finished, his back and shoulders were aching from the hours of bending over to put things away, climbing ladders for other things, and hauling things around the room. However, he wasn't too tired to catch the warding incantation Snape spoke, and make a note of it. He had no doubt Snape had spoken it aloud so he'd be able to research the counter-spell. Well, he thought he might get Luna to do it.

Another thought hit him. He reached into his pocket and gripped the charmed coin. It was harder forming words on the coin than symbols, but they all knew how. He formed the words of the incantation in his mind, and a question mark, then sent it to one specific Galleon.

He saw Snape hesitate, the black eyes turning to him. Then the Headmaster pulled the coins out of his pocket. "Thought you'd be funny, did you, Longbottom? Handing in a fake coin. need another lesson, in respect?"

"No sir. It was an accident. I never meant to give you that. It must have gotten mixed up with my other change, sir." It wasn't hard to get the necessary tone of uncertainty, fear and sullenness into his voice. All he had to do was think of his friend's reactions that morning, to the thought of Snape having a coin, and his own thoughts about the Carrows ever getting hold of one.

"I see. Well, since I have it, I see no reason to return it. Perhaps in the future, you'll learn to be more careful with your toys, and your money." One eyebrow rose above the sneer.

Neville stiffened. "Sir...that's my property. You can't just..."

"I believe you'll find that I can. Now then, unless you'd like me to add to your detention, I suggest you rethink whatever you're about to say."

Neville flushed angrily. "Never mind...sir."

The eyebrow quirked just a fraction higher. "Hmm. Perhaps you're actually not a complete waste of my time, after all. Though I shan't hold out too much hope for another such miracle of self-restraint." Snape flicked his wand. "It appears, however, that we have plenty of time to get on to your next task. I do believe there are some more classrooms awaiting your touch, Mr. Longbottom."

Neville scowled, but fell in behind Snape. It wasn't until they'd gone halfway down the corridor that he felt his own pocket heat. He blinked at the Headmasters back, then slipped his hand into his pocket and withdrew the coin. The words of the warding spell blazed back at him. He fought a grin, and re-directed the message to Luna, then stuck the coin back in his pocket before Snape could see.

The rest of the weekend passed in more of the grinding, exhausting labor, including a trip into the Forbidden Forest for ingredients. Snape did the collecting, but Neville had to carry almost everything, and between the load and how careful he had to be with some of the plants and all, it was one of the hardest tasks Snape had set him yet. He felt like he'd never get the knots of strain out of his arms and fingers. A glance at the clock in Snape's office told him that there were still about four hours till curfew, plenty of time for Snape to set another task to him. He grimaced. He was tired, aching, they'd missed lunch and would probably skip dinner except for Snape's usual sandwich and water service, and he had a bit of a sunburn from being out all day, plus scratches and scrapes from plants and tripping over things in the forest.

Snape put everything away, and he concentrated on trying to ease the ache, waiting until the Headmaster turned back to him. "So, what am I to do now, sir?" The last word came out sharply and Snape raised a warning eyebrow.

"I have a great number of things you could do, such as preparing things for Professor Slughorn's classes, or perhaps a few more chambers that might need cleaning, as slow and incapable as you are." A sneer touched Snape's face. "However, as your professors have recently noted that your already abysmal grades have begun slipping into even further decline...and as I do not wish to develop the reputation as the Headmaster who allowed such a failure to graduate, you will return to your dormitory, and complete your assignments. In addition, since you seem incapable of managing proficient grades without supervision, I shall be insuring that the quality of your work is raised to an acceptable standard."

Neville felt himself flush hard, his hands balling into fists. He'd never been good at Potions, and he knew it, but he was excellent at Herbology, he'd been getting good at Defense, before it had turned into Dark Arts, and he was no slouch at either Charms or Transfiguration. Nor was he at all bad with Care of Magical Creatures. Not perfect, maybe, but not bad either. "You'll what, sir?" It was the only response he could make without exploding.

Snape's sneer deepened, one eyebrow going up. "I believe you understood me. And if you did not...then you will see on Monday precisely what I mean." He gestured, and the door of the room swung open. "Now, unless you wish me to remove points and start you on your next assignment in detention...get out."

Neville didn't trust himself to say anything. He just gave a quick jerk of his head, then turned and walked out of the room. He would have slammed the door, if he didn't know that Snape would take points, and likely add to his detentions. Even so, he was fuming as he strode back to his dorm.

He knew Snape had said they had to be visible enemies. He knew they had to hate each other, more or less. But still...why did the bastard have to say stuff like that? Sneering at him was one thing, and he understood. But at least when they weren't surrounded by people, he'd thought the man would loosen up more. Not be nice, of course. That would have been way too strange. But maybe cut back a little on the taunting. He wouldn't have minded so much if Snape had insulted his Potion's skills or some such, or implied that the Carrows thought he was a failure. He rather hoped he'd be considered a failure by those two. But implying that he was bad at everything...that was overboard.

He stalked into Gryffindor common room, still angry. Seamus looked up from where he was sitting at a table, working on something. "Hey Neville." He saw Neville's expression, and the smile of greeting dropped off his face. "Hell, you look mad enough to curse someone. Carrows get at you?"

"No. Just Snape, the rotten bastard." He managed a deep breath. "Hey, look, I'm tired, and I think I've a bit of a headache coming on. I'm going up to the common room to take a quick kip and knock it out. I'll join you later."

"Fair enough." Seamus grimaced. "I'm kind of surprised you don't have a headache every day, dealing with that greasy git. Though the way he rides you, I'd say you just hurt too much everywhere else to notice. I'll keep everyone out of your hair for a while, tell the others you aren't feeling well."

Neville nodded, then strode up to his dorm and threw himself onto the bed. He spent a few minutes simply lying there breathing, relaxing and letting his aching shoulders and arms settle. Then, when he was calm, he began to go over his conversation with Snape again. He still felt annoyed, but the man was one of the subtlest, paranoid and twisty people he'd ever met.

Snape had let him out in time to do his homework and get a decent nights sleep for a change. Sure, he'd been insulting, but that was Snape, and anyway, they'd been in a public place and he hadn't seen Snape ward the room. What he didn't understand was the comments about bringing him up to standard. Aside from Dark Arts and Muggle studies, he was hardly close to failing anything, even with all the pressure he was under. He turned the words over in his mind again. He said he was going to raise my work 'to an acceptable standard'. But it is already. McGonnagall's not exactly easy on us, nor is Flitwick. Unless he means the Dark Arts, but it's not like I want to be good at those. And what did he mean, he was going to see to it personally? Some new form of punishment? It's not like he can bloody well tutor me or anything. If I even wanted him to do something like that. He shuddered. Having Snape as his Defense teacher last year had been bad enough.

He wasn't going to be able to figure it out here, that was for certain. He sighed, took a few more deep breaths to clear his head and relax his shoulders, then sat up, collected his books, and went down to the common room. He had no idea if Snape was going to do anything like this again or not, and it was stupid not to take any chance he could to get ahead.

The evening passed fairly quietly. It wasn't a scheduled meeting for the DA, so they didn't have visitors, or any place to go. Neville got a fair amount of his reading done, and a decent start on a couple of essays he had to turn in. He was just considering turning in for the evening when Ginny came to sit beside him. "Can I talk with you a moment?"

Neville nodded and set his pen aside. "Sure. Homework or other?"

"Other." Ginny hesitated a moment, then spoke quietly. "It''s about your detentions with Snape, really."

Neville tensed. "What about them? Man's a rotten bastard, but I don't think there's any way to get out of them, and if I try, he'll only load me with more, or let the Carrows at me." His mouth twisted in a grimace.

"I know. And...well, I know it's risky but..." Ginny paused. "The other night, when you took those said he took you to the Headmaster's office and tied you up and left you there, right?" Neville nodded. "And you sometimes serve detention there too, don't you?"

"Not bloody often. It's usually down in the dungeons, or anywhere in the castle, really." Neville shifted a sore shoulder again. "Man's a ruddy slave driver."

Ginny nodded. "I know, and I'm sorry to ask, but..." She trailed off again.

"Go on then. What are you thinking?" Neville was curious. He was always interested in new ideas to harass the Carrows, and he knew he couldn't pretend less interest in Snape. Not that he wanted to at the moment anyway, not the way the man had gone at him earlier.

"It's about the Sword of Gryffindor. Dumbledore left it to Harry, probably to help him in defeating You-Know-Who. But Snape kept it here. But Harry probably really, really needs the sword."

Neville nodded. He remembered hearing about that whole altercation. "What about it?"

Ginny took a deep breath. "Luna and I were thinking...and we've suggested this to the others...if we could create a big enough mess to make Snape come investigate it, then you'd probably be locked up there again. Then, while he's occupied with that, you could let us in, and Luna and I could snitch the sword and hide it, then send it to Harry, some way or the other."

Neville felt his stomach lurch. He took a deep breath. "It's pretty risky. Snape's bound to notice it gone, you know."

"Well, yes, but if he doesn't know who stole it, then it'll be fine. Luna and I will make sure to have alibis, you know."

Neville nodded. "What about the wards? He guards his stuff pretty tight."

Ginny frowned. "Well, if you were in the office, he'd have to have some wards down for you to be there, wouldn't he? And if you let us in, then it won't tell them someone's trying to break into his office, because technically no one is. Luna told me you heard Snape's warding incantation for his Potions stores, so it shouldn't be too hard to hear the ones on his office, right?"

Neville took another breath, thinking about it. "Maybe. I dunno though. It's a risk. And anyway, what if he locks me in the dungeon instead? Then you'll have gotten everyone involved in your diversion into trouble, and it'll be for nothing."

"Well, that is a risk. But we're all risking ourselves anyway. And if there's a chance...Harry needs that sword. If he can use it to stop You-Know-Who, then that'll take the Carrows and Snape out of power too. I've asked some of the others, and they think it's worth it." She met his eyes. "All we need is for you to agree." She frowned. "If you aren't locked in the office, send a message with the coin, and we'll break it off."

Neville nodded slowly. She was right, that they were all at risk anyway. And she had a point. Harry did probably need the sword. If her plan worked, it would be a serious blow at the Death Eaters and the Dark Lord. "What were you thinking, for the diversion?"

"Starting a fight with the Discipline Squad. You know they're always ragging Seamus and some of the others, like Colin, for being part-blood or muggle-born. We thought we'd give them a chance to do it again, then fight back this time. It wouldn't even be all that staged. We've all been itching to take them down a peg or two, and we know that they've all been looking to have their version of fun." She spat the last word in disgust.

Neville had to agree. It was the best diversion he could think of. Of course all the teachers, including the Headmaster, would have to step in to stop a full-blown fight. "All right. But wait till I give you the go-ahead, okay? It might take me a few days to find out Snape's warding spells and the counters. Especially if the rotten git keeps taking my wand away." Snape hadn't for the past two days, but he didn't tell her that.

Ginny nodded. "That's fine. Luna and I will need a couple of days to finish planning anyway, and the others have to do some preparation so no one gets too badly hurt in the fighting, or afterward, since we probably won't all get away unscathed." Another grimace twisted her features. Then she sighed. "Well, if we're going to do this, then we'd best get plenty of sleep."

Neville inclined his head in agreement, then packed away the rest of his books and headed up to his dorms. But as he got into bed, he was turning over Ginny's plan in his head. Despite how correct she was, it was a dangerous plan. And if they got caught, there'd be hell to pay. Snape probably would throw them to the mercy of the Carrows. Of course, he might not, if Neville told him first. But even though he'd given Snape one of their coins, it was a bit different from telling the man what they were planning. After all, he hadn't given him the codes for it, and they hadn't planned a meeting since he'd done so. He was still pondering it as he fell asleep.

The next day passed in a bit of a blur. Neville did his best to pay attention and stay out of trouble, but he was still pondering Snape's behavior and Ginny's plan, and slipped up twice, losing focus in class. Fortunately, his teachers were Sprout and Flitwick, and they just gave him sympathetic smiles, no doubt attributing it to his continuous detentions with Snape, and lack of sleep.

Finally, classes were over, and he made his way up to Snape's office. His heart was pounding, and he felt jittery with anxiety. It had been one thing to offer to help, late at night, after hearing the truth about Snape and watching him deal with the after-effects of torture. It was another thing entirely to voluntarily expose his fellow DA members by revealing their plans. It felt like betrayal, never mind that he and Snape were supposedly working together.

Finally, he made it to the office, and knocked on the heavy door. Snape's voice called for him to enter, and he stepped inside. "Headmaster."

"In. And put your things there." Snape gestured impatiently. Neville did, while Snape threw a spell down the stairway, shut the door, and cast several more spells. "There. We shall not be disturbed, nor overheard, not without warning." He threw another spell at the fireplace, presumably to block floo calls.

Neville nodded. "It's safe to talk normally then?"

"For the moment." Snape scowled at him, though he didn't look particularly angry.

Neville studied him a moment, then spoke quickly. "Last night...what you said...what did you mean, anyway? About bringing me up to standard? I'm not failing anything. Not even close, unless you want to count with the Carrows and I'd rather not be passing with those two."

Snape's scowl deepened. "Nevertheless, unless you wish to be hunted, further than you already are, then it would well behoove you to watch your steps around them. As for what I meant..." His scowl deepened. "You are, perhaps, passing your classes, but the strictures currently in place will not permit you to learn what you must to survive. And as for the past six years of schooling..." A sneer touched his face. "Between Quirell, Lockhart and Umbridge, and the various...distractions, you have come to war ill-prepared. And as you have only the barest minimal sense of preservation, it falls to me to correct that, little as I wish to do any such thing."

Neville could see his point. Quirell had been useless, Lockhart a joke. Lupin had been all right, and Moody, and Snape's teaching had been dead useful, even if he'd been terrified out of his mind. Umbridge had been even worse than Lockhart, both useless and sadistic. "Reckon you're right. Although...we did learn some dead useful stuff in DA, fifth year, and on our own."

"Not enough to protect you, or any of those other idiot who persist in antagonizing the Carrows." Snape sneered again.

For a moment, Neville felt anger rising in him. Then he remembered the Carrows nearly cursing him to death, and the rage faded. Snape was right. They'd been lucky so far, but only because the Dark Lord had given orders for purebloods to be unharmed, and because Snape and the other teachers were running interference. "So what do you plan to do? With me, I mean."

"Teach you. Make no mistake, Longbottom." Snape's face was grim. "I will not be gentle. If you fail to measure up, you will pay the price." Neville saw Snape's hand clench slightly tighter around his wand. "You are quite likely to hate me before the first hour is out, and it will get worse. But everything I teach is what may save your life."

Neville swallowed hard. "Can I ask you what you do plan to teach me, sir?"

"Spells for combat. Some of them are classed as Dark Magic. Some of them are not, but should be. Applications of spells you know, to render them combat spells. And, the part you will hate me for the most, I will teach you how to endure such things, how to judge to a fine line what you can and cannot handle, and how to push that line further still." Neville felt the blood draining from his face. Snape noticed, and the sneer slipped into a grim, stony expression. "Yes, that means precisely what it sounds like. I will push you, exhaust you, torture you if I must, because enduring and standing back up is sometimes the only thing that saves you. Likewise, knowing your limit and when not to stand up."

"You're going to torture me and use Dark Magic? Make me learn Dark Magic? Sounds a lot like the Carrows." Neville felt his heart pounding even louder, and he had a definite urge to run from the room, run to McGonnagall or Pomfrey, even if they could do nothing. Or curse Snape as a bloody lying traitorous bastard.

"There is very little difference, save in intent. And that I shall do what I can to limit what you endure. You have my word that I will be as careful as I can, and do no damage I cannot heal before I release you." Snape's expression was as grim as he'd ever seen it, darker and harder even than when Neville had spied on him.

Neville swallowed hard. He understood what Snape was saying, and it made an awful sort of sense. But he didn't like it. "I don't see why you want me to learn Dark Magic sir."

Snape regarded him unblinkingly, then spoke slowly, softly, in a tone that made Neville's blood run cold. "Tell me, you get angry? Do you hate the Carrows, the Death Eaters, the Dark Lord? Me, perhaps?"

Neville nodded. Snape regarded him coldly. "That anger is a weapon, or a weakness. It can be channeled to make you reckless, or make you strong. So far, you have erred to the side of foolishness. While I doubt any amount of training can undo that Gryffindor idiocy of yours, it can be better managed."

"And the Dark magic?"

Snape's glare chilled even further. "If your classmates were in danger, and the only spell you could think of was lethal one, would you use it?"

Neville bit his lip. "Maybe. If I couldn't find another way."

"If the only way to stop a Death Eater about to kill, Mr. Finnegan perhaps, was to utter the killing Curse? Or the Cruciatus? Would you cast it?" Snape's gaze held him in place.

"I dunno." He felt his hands shaking, his stomach clenching. He was suddenly glad he hadn't eaten since lunch.

"That hesitancy will kill you, or those you profess to care about. On the battlefield, or in any confrontation. You must know what you can do, that you can cast anything, even an Unforgivable, or even a split second will end in disaster. Understood?" Snape's eyes bored into him.

Neville swallowed again, then nodded. "Yes sir." He didn't like it, but he did understand, and there was something ugly and dark in Snape's gaze that made him think the Headmaster knew exactly what he was talking about. "Sir, isn't it dangerous for you to teach me this?"

Snape snorted. "Quite. However, I fully intend to define it as part of my detention. There have been rumors lately that I am too lenient with you. These little...lessons, will hopefully counter them. That I heal you will only be interpreted as obedience to the Dark Lord's orders to leave you relatively unharmed." He frowned again. "I shall of course, also look over your homework, and mark it viciously. I would advise you to re-copy it with much anger and defiance, and later incorporate the notes into what you do with your little group."

Neville nodded. Snape stared at him, then turned away. A flick of his wand produced some food. "Eat."

Neville settled down to the sandwich, his mind turning over what Snape had told him. He didn't much like it, and he was dreading it, definitely, but it made a terrible sort of sense. He glanced up at the thin back of his professor, wondering how Snape had learned it all. It sounded uncomfortably like he'd gotten first hand experience with the whole process, and if just thinking about it made Neville's stomach turn, he didn't like to think about living through it. He had the ugly feeling that no one had been around to explain things or patch Snape up. He shoved that thought away quickly.

There was a part of his mind whispering that Snape was going to enjoy this, that it was a sort of vengeance for annoying the man all those years. But another part of him was remembering Snape's words and the grim expression on his face. He didn't look like he was going to enjoy it. He looked like he'd rather not be doing it.

Neville grimaced and set aside the remainder of his sandwich. If Snape could do things he didn't wish to do, so could Neville. "Sir, there's something I need to tell you."

Snape turned and gave him one of his disconcerting stares. Neville swallowed hard, and resolutely shoved away the butterflies in his stomach. "Ginny and Luna sir, they're planning to steal the sword of Gryffindor. They want me to help them." Snape's eyebrow rose. Neville swallowed hard again, feeling wretchedly like a traitor. "They want me to steal the passwords to your office, then the DA is going to stage a fight with the Discipline Squad to distract you, while they sneak up here and nick it."

Snape's face paled a fraction, and he abruptly turned away with a curse. "Little idiotic fools. You honestly think I ward only the doors to my office, or that I do not have ways of monitoring anything and everything that happens in here?"

Neville felt slightly queasy. "No sir. I tried to tell her it was too risky. But she's dead set on it. Says Harry needs the sword, so she's determined to give it to him."

Snape bit off another curse word. "While I agree with her assessment that Potter does indeed require the sword of Gryffindor for his work, this is not the time. Furthermore, there are specific conditions which must be met to retain the sword, and none of them will be fulfilled by having it stolen." One hand clenched on the back of the Headmaster's chair, the lean knuckles turning white with the pressure.

Neville shrugged. "I dunno how I can stop her, sir. I got her to wait a bit, telling her it might take me some time to get the passwords and all. But she's pretty stubborn."

"Like every other Weasley idiot and Potter obsessed moron to set foot in this school." The words were all but snarled over Snape's shoulder. "Be silent."

Neville snapped his mouth shut. His insides were churning uncomfortably. He wished he'd kept his mouth shut. But still...there was no telling what would have happened if he hadn't told Snape. Maybe they'd have pulled it off, but he doubted it. Whatever else was true of him, the man was paranoid. Hell, he'd cast at least six warding and locking spells just to hold this conversation. Neville just hoped the man would have a solution to their dilemma.

Snape stood still for a long moment, the only movement his fingers shifting restlessly on the chair back. Finally, he turned, took his seat, and gestured roughly for Neville to take another chair near his desk. "In regards to this foolish plan your cohorts have will do as they ask."

Neville blinked. "What?"

"Do as they ask." Snape folded his hands, then met Neville's gaze over top of them. "You will, after a suitable delay of some days, inform them that you have overheard my wards, and overheard the passwords I use to counter them. You will then report yourself for detention in my office, and alert your compatriots to begin their little distraction, while you, Miss Weasley, and Miss Lovegood make a rather lamentable and foolhardy attempt to steal the sword."

Neville stared at him. "You're going to let us steal it?"

Snape snorted and scowled at him. "Of course not. My reputation, both here and within the Dark Lord's circle, would fall dangerously should such an amateur attempt at burglary succeed. No. I fully intend to catch you at your misdeed. Of course, my fury at your intrusion and attempt at thievery shall quite distract me from the matter of students brawling in the corridors." He took a deep breath. "I trust you and your little band of rebels realize that you cannot hope to evade all punishment from the Carrows for this. Nor can I mitigate their reaction."

Neville nodded. "We know. But we thought it might be worth it, to help Harry." He swallowed. "Ginny, Luna and I are going to get twice as bad, aren't we?" For himself, he'd manage, but the other two...even if Ginny and Luna were tough and able to take care of themselves...

Snape took another deep breath, flattening his hands on the desk. "As you shall be encroaching on my domain, removing valuable school artifacts from my office, the punishment will be mine to administer. I shall, of course, be irate at catching you. And rest assured, it will be me, and no other, who finds you red-handed." The older man sighed, and the mask of vicious anger and annoyance slipped just a little. "I shall do what I can, that it will not be too terrible, though I've no doubt the Carrows will add to my punishment in the classrooms and hallways, as they can. That, however, will be your problem."

Neville nodded. He could live with that. And he was almost beginning to believe Snape, when the man said he'd protect them. But he still had one more question. "Why sir? Why are you letting us do this?"

Snape grimaced, and his narrow fingers twitched restlessly. "Because, in spite of the inconvenience, this represents an opportunity." He laced his finger's together, raised an eyebrow at Neville's questioning expression. "The Sword of Gryffindor in the case is a fake. It was replaced weeks ago, in preparation for the time Potter will receive the real one. However, an attempted theft provides an opportunity for removal, leaving less danger of the forgery being discovered, and less room for comment. Moreover, it will be a chance to evaluate your little army in action, as well as the precariousness of your position, along with Weasley and Lovegood. Beyond that..." He paused, and a brief flicker of unease crossed the stern visage. "Of late, I have been consistent in how I discipline you. An attempt to steal the sword provides perfect motivation for my behavior to suddenly escalate to dangerous proportions, such as the lessons we previously discussed. Theft is a serious matter in the Wizarding world, and even McGonagall cannot intervene overmuch in such circumstances. I shall let it be known that I am singling you out because I have already given you multiple warnings and am determined to thrash the lesson into you."

Neville frowned. The argument made sense to him, but it also brought up another question. "Sir, if I'm meant to be practicing combat spells and all, who am I going practice with? I mean, how am I going to know if I'm doing it right and all?"

A grim sneer tightened Snape's mouth. "Surely even you can figure that out, Longbottom, given that there will be only two people in this room."

Neville stared at him. "You're seriously going to let me hex you, sir?" His hand tightened into a fist. "Why? So you can give me more detentions?"

Snape's jaw tightened, and his hand slammed onto the desk. "There is no other way!" He stalked forward, black eyes snapping with anger. "You asked to be a partner in this, to receive and give help. That I agreed is against my better judgment. Unless you wish for me to Obliviate you and return to our former patterns of behavior..."

"I don't." Neville held up his hands. "Look, four years ago you scared me more than anything else in the world. Three weeks ago, I thought you were a murderer, and a worse monster than the Carrows. How do you expect me to respond when you say things like that?"

A muscle in Snape's jaw tightened. "You might consider being grateful, that I am even attempting to better prepare you for what is coming. Perhaps, you might consider what it means, that I am willing to let you even attempt to cast such spells in my direction. Or did you think I do such things often? I have offered the opportunity to only one other student, and the results were more dismal even than your lamentable attempts at potion making. Or perhaps, you are fool enough to believe I enjoy the idea of getting hexed, of letting a teenage brat with no respect for authority even make an attempt to put me under the Cruciatus?"

The words hit Neville like a brick wall. His anger vanished, smothered under the implications of Snape's words. He paused, thinking. A month ago, he would have jumped at a chance to hex Snape, with no possible repercussions. And these were things that he and the rest of the DA needed to know, if they were going to survive. The Carrows were proof, if they'd needed any more, that the Death Eaters and followers of the Dark Lord wouldn't hesitate to use any nasty spell they could think of.

Snape was still staring at him, jaw tight, eyes dark with anger. Neville swallowed, and forced his hands to relax. "You're right sir. I'm sorry. It's just a bit...well, off, you know? I do appreciate what you're doing for us, sir. I just haven't gotten used to it. Besides...if you asked me last month to try and curse you, I'd have jumped for it. But now...I dunno, it feels wrong. Knowing that you're helping us, knowing that You-Know-Who is hurting you for it...I don't know that I want to add to it." He found himself smiling, somewhat bitterly. "A month ago I would have loved this opportunity. Now I feel like I'd rather be stuck in double Dark Arts classes."

Snape snorted. "Being forewarned, I am quite capable of mitigating the effects of almost everything you can throw at me. More to the point, I highly doubt a child of your particular temperament is even remotely capable of casting any sort of harmful spell with the same intensity as the Dark Lord." He paused. "As for your dilemma..." A bitter smile not unlike Neville's own crossed the narrow features. "I'm sure you will manage to overcome it soon enough."

Neville nodded. "I know. But still...I do appreciate it. I guess you'll just have to give me more time to deal with all this." He squared his shoulders. "Anyway, I'll try not to let you down, sir."

Snape regarded him coldly. "See that you do. I have no time to waste, and you have very little." They stared at each other, then Snape waved a wand, and the small writing desk and parchment appeared, along with a quill and ink. "I believe, Mr. Longbottom, that you have a detention to start. For tonight, I will settle for you explaining to me the code by which you communicate to your fellow DA members."

Neville nodded, relaxing under a familiar, simple expectation. "We can send words sir, but it's mostly symbols and dates and stuff..." He moved over to the desk and settled down into it, and Snape moved to hover over one shoulder.

They spent the remainder of that night and the next discussing the DA communications system, the dangers and the safeties, including how to break the charm on the coin, and how the 'sneak' hex that Hermione had put on the coins operated, if someone betrayed them. Snape looked mildly impressed. "Interesting. It is fortunate that the Dark Lord does not have something similar." His right hand moved, to absently brush the left, where the Dark Mark was covered by his clothing.

Neville nodded. "Hermione's scary brilliant sometimes." He was actually rather surprised he hadn't been hit by the hex, after giving Snape a coin. But then, Snape had proven he was on their side. Of course, that left the question of what would happen to Snape if he went against the DA. "Sir...that hex..."

"I will dismantle it from the coin you have given me, for safety's sake." Snape had already pulled the galleon out of his robes and was considering it, scowling at the coin. "Miss Granger is talented, however, she is hardly the only one."

Neville had no doubt that Snape's coin would be hex-free by the end of the night, with the way the man was staring at it. He nodded, and went back to explaining things. After a moment, Snape re-pocketed the coin and joined him.

The night after that, they went back to their regular routine, Neville cleaning, Snape watching and making acidic remarks, though now the man went over his homework as well, making comments, and writing all over the margins. It annoyed him, given that the man wasn't even his teacher anymore. But when he looked over his homework back in the tower that evening, he found several useful tips, in amongst the scathing criticisms. He copied those out and stowed them away in his trunk for safety, then took his work down to the common room with a curse, complaining bitterly about how he'd have to redo his essays, after the bastard had marked them up so bad. It earned him plenty of sympathy with the others, at least.

Two days after that, Ginny had started sending him impatient looks across the common room. She was clearly itching to move. The others were restless as well. No one said anything, trusting him to handle the details, but there was a feel in the air, and edge of added aggression towards the Discipline Squad and the Carrows. As he headed toward detention Thursday night, Neville was honestly worried the fight would start, and not just as a diversion for the theft.

Snape met him in the doorway to the office. "Cleaning again tonight, Longbottom." A sneer curled his upper lip. "I understand two of the Potions classes made quite a mess down there. I'm sure they're all pleased to know they have such an...excellent...older student to clean up after them." The emphasis on excellent made it clear the opposite was meant. Neville flushed, but didn't reply. He simply set his books to one side within the office and stood there, his face red with anger and embarrassment.

Snape led him down to one of the lower dungeons. There was a mess down there, but it wasn't nearly as bad as he'd expected. Snape conjured the usual cleaning supplies, then settled back to watch. Even as he bent to his task, Neville spotted the subtle flick of Snape's wand that meant he was warding the room. He felt himself relax slightly. They didn't talk most nights, but he'd wanted to have a word with Snape. He set to cleaning, waiting for the other man to speak, knowing he would only when it was safe.

The thought surprised him for a moment. When had he begun learning to wait for Snape, and trusting his experience? It was worrying. He focused on his cleaning, scowling at the unidentifiable crap that was on the desk. He scrubbed at it, then bent to scrub it harder, annoyance overtaking his relaxation.

Snape spoke, startling him slightly. "Tomorrow night."

Neville jumped, then set his scrub brush down and turned. "What's tomorrow night?"

Snape snorted impatiently. "Honestly, have you already forgotten, Longbottom? Your little plan, concerning the theft of the Gryffindor sword?" One dark eyebrow rose mockingly.

Neville grimaced. "Right. I think everyone's looking forward to the fight, to be honest." He straightened and stretched his back. "You want us to go through with it tomorrow?"

"Indeed. Tomorrow's detention will involve cleaning my office, and writing lines. You will, as soon as you think I am not looking, inform your friends."

"I get it, I get it." Neville frowned. "Why tomorrow night, sir?"

"Because, the current level of tension within this school cannot be maintained much longer." Neville blinked, and Snape awarded him another cool, mocking look. "Oh yes. I am aware of the rising antagonism between your little band of rebels and the Carrows and their Discipline Squad. It's obvious to anyone with eyes that you are all positively spoiling for a fight." His eyes clouded, and something almost like a grimace crossed the narrow face. "In addition, an incident tomorrow night gives me the weekend to deal with the inevitable consequences." His gaze flicked back to Neville. "And to make sure your detention is carried out before we begin our work on Monday."

Neville nodded. "Sir."

Snape regarded him for a long moment. "Finish your work." Neville nodded, and turned back to the desk.

Snape finally released him, just before curfew. Neville raced back to the Tower, his head whirling, his stomach heavy with anticipation. Somehow, he wasn't surprised to see Ginny waiting for him in the common room. "Hey Neville."

"Hey." He saw the question in her eyes. "I think I've got most of the passwords. Should be soon."

"All right." She nodded.

The next day was hard. The tension between the Discipline Squad and the DA threatened to result in sparks. Ginny was stiff with impatience. Luna was calmer, but there was a sharpness in her eyes that wasn't normally present. Neville found himself fingering his coin throughout the day. By the time Muggle Studies came around, he was more than willing to add fuel to the fire, acting sullen in class. He didn't dare confront Alecto directly, afraid the situation would explode, but by the time she hauled him to detention, they were both furious.

Snape met them at the door to his office, scowling as usual. "Problems?"

"Brat's still disrespectful. Still think you oughta let me string him up." Alecto sneered the words, her fingers pinching Neville's arm.

"Well, if he's progressed from fighting with the staff to simple disrespect, then we're making progress, aren't we?" One dark eyebrow rose in a mocking look. Neville flushed red, and Alecto did as well. Then Snape seized Neville's arm and yanked him forward. "Inside."

Neville stumbled across the threshold, and Snape shut the door in Alecto's face. He stood by the door a moment, then turned and gestured curtly to where the familiar cleaning supplies were leaning against the desk. "You have work to do."

Neville nodded. He picked up the dust cloth and moved to one side of the door. There wasn't much dust, courtesy of the House Elves, but Snape made him dust and polish the shelves anyway. Several things were warded, sparking against his fingers. He winced the first time, and was rewarded with a mocking sneer. He scowled sullenly back, then went back to his work, trying to be more careful.

Neville dusted around a quarter of the room, then slipped one hand into his pocket. A quick look assured him that Snape was looking the other way, working on paperwork at his desk. He linked his fingers around the coin, and sent a quick message. 'Go.' Then he yanked his hand out of his pocket and went back to work.

Twenty minutes later, there was an alarm. The fireplace flared green, and Slughorn's voice boomed out of the flames. "Riot in the corridors, Headmaster. The students are fighting."

Snape cursed in response. Black eyes met Neville's for a moment, then Snape rose with snarl. "If you set one foot out of this office, Longbottom, you will pay for it. Continue your detention." Then he was gone.

Neville swallowed, feeling his palms go suddenly hot and sweaty. He swiped at a few more shelves, more from nerves than obedience, then moved to the door and threw it open, looking down the stairs.

A minute later, Ginny and Luna came sneaking up the stairs, both with their wands out. "Neville. Everything ready?"

"Ready as it can be, I think. But I can't swear to it. Man's more paranoid than anyone else I've ever met." Neville made a face. "There's wards on everything."

"Well, I suppose we'll just have to take our chances, won't we." Ginny made a similar expression, but neither of them stopped.

Neville nodded and stepped back to let them in. The sword was in the case on Snape's desk. Ginny examined it. "There isn't a catch."

"Well, we might try lifting it." Luna's voice was quiet, considering.

Neville moved over and the three of them tried it. The base came with the top. Neville grimaced. "Now what? We'd better hurry. Snape'll probably be back soon. I know he expects me to be dusting, but still..."

"Well, then we'll just have to do this the fast way." Ginny scowled, then pointed her wand at the case. "Reducto." The glass cracked and shattered.

Neville grimaced. "No way Snape'll miss that. We'd better hurry." He threw his outer robe over the sword, to protect their hands against the glass, then lifted it up. "Damn, it's heavier than it looks."

Ginny grabbed the hilt. "Never mind that. Let's just get out of here, before Snape catches us."

Neville nodded. "You two take the sword and go. I've got to stay here. Snape said he'd know if I left the office." Suddenly, his Galleon heated, and saw Ginny and Luna jump as well.

Ginny grimaced. "I told them to signal if Snape left the fight. That means he's coming."

"Right. Let's go then." He moved aside so Ginny and Luna could balance the blade between them, then threw open the door. It was clear. He gestured, and both girls moved across the room, trying to use the trailing edges of their robes to mask the flow of the robes draped over the sword.

Ginny took the lead. She looked as far as she could, but the curve of the stairwell made it impossible to see. She took a deep breath, and she and Luna raced for the stairwell. She'd just hit the second step when Snape appeared on the stairs, his face set in lines of fury.

Everyone froze. Snape's face was white with anger. Luna's face was it's usual impassive stare, but Ginny's was hard with defiance. Finally, Luna broke the silence. "Headmaster."

"Miss Lovegood." Black eyes drifted over the group. "Miss Weasley. And...Mr. Longbottom." His gaze touched each of them in turn, flat and dark and cold as ice. "And what might you three be doing?"

Ginny glared back at him. "We wanted to make sure Neville was all right."

"Indeed. A group of Gryffindor trouble makers starts a riot in the halls, and you...wanted to make sure...that Mr. Longbottom was all right." The words were slow, mocking, a sneer across his thin features. "So, you chose to come to my office and break in, for Mr. Longbottom."

There was a long moment of tense silence. Then Snape's hand darted forward, faster than Neville could really see, and caught Ginny's arm. She started, jostling backward, and the robes slipped away to reveal the hilt of the Gryffindor Sword. Snape's nostrils flared, fire snapping in the black eyes. He snapped his fingers. "Give that to me at once."

Ginny backed up. "It's Harry's. Dumbledore left it to him."

"I could not care less what Potter supposedly received from Dumbledore. That sword belongs in my office and you will return it...immediately." He clicked his fingers.

Ginny shook her head. "No. It's Harry's."

Snape made another of those lightning fast strikes and seized her arm. A twist of her wrist made her gasp, and her grip loosened. Snape caught the hilt from her hand. Luna wisely let go before the blade could cut her hands. Neville darted forward. "Hey."

"Silence." The look Snape gave him made his breath catch in his throat. "We have not even begun to discuss the trouble you are in, Mr. Longbottom."

"Headmaster." Alecto's voice at the bottom of the stairs made all of them stiffen. "Headmaster? Something going on up there?" Alecto came up the stairs, Amycus right behind her. Both Carrows stopped short as they came up the stairs. "What's this then?"

"It appears Longbottom, Weasley and Lovegood were attempting to steal the sword for Potter." Snape's sneer was sharp enough to cut glass. "It seems to have occurred to none of them that I ward everything in my office."

Alecto's eyes widened, and Amycus snickered. "Right then. These three are due a long spell in the dungeon. Good long session of the Cruciatus, spot of torture. Got some curses we haven't used on Longbottom yet, and a few old favorites. Give us the weekend, brats'll be sorry."

Alecto stepped forward and grabbed Ginny's arm, tugging her sharply forward. Ginny stumbled on the stairs, just missing a bad fall, and Alecto sneered. Luna stepped forward, and Alecto shoved Ginny toward Amycus and grabbed her. Luna winced as Alecto's nails cut into her arm. Alecto pointed her wand at Neville. "Come on then, Longbottom."

Neville felt his chest tighten with fear. He looked at Snape's face, but it was set in a cold mask, tight with contempt and loathing. Neville's heart began pounding. Thought he was going to protect us. A full weekend in the dungeon sounded like a death sentence. He remembered the last time the Carrows had taken a free rein with him, and cold fear poured over him. He wasn't sure he could handle it, and Ginny and Luna...cold sweat broke out on his brow. Words escaped his mouth before he could stop it. "You ruddy bastard."

Amycus snickered again. "That'll earn you a few more. Come on then. Take your punishment like a man, little boy."

Neville stared at Snape with loathing for another moment, then turned away and slid past Alecto and Luna. His heart was heavy with betrayal and anger. Bastard. He set us up. He felt sick, that he'd even thought of believing Snape, no matter what Dumbledore's portrait had said.

They reached the bottom of the stairs just as McGonagall came around the hallway. She stopped dead at the sight of the Carrows escorting the three of them. "What is the meaning of this?"

Amycus sneered. "Brats were caught stealing from the Headmaster. They're due to learn a lesson, and a sharp one."

McGonagall paled visibly. "You can't be serious."

"Quite serious." Neville jumped. He hadn't realized Snape had followed them down the stairs. "They attempted to steal the Sword of Gryffindor. The case has been shattered."

McGonagall paled further. " accident..."

"Since I arrived to find them attempting to cart it down the stairs, I assure you, it was no accident." Snape's voice was cool.

McGonagall stiffened, and Neville saw the hopelessness in her eyes. "And what did you plan to do with them?"

One eyebrow rose. "I had intended to send them to the dungeons. However, as it seems all three have problems learning from such measures...I have a far more appropriate idea." Black eyes surveyed all three of them. "If they desire to be heroes so much, then heroes they can be. Send them to the Forbidden Forest."

McGonagall's eyes widened. "The Forbidden Forest?"

"Certainly." A sneer curled his lip. "Have Hagrid give them a crossbow or whatever it is he uses, leave their wands at the castle, and send them in. I understand Slughorn has ingredients he needs collected, as well as Hagrid's usual patrolling duties. If they're feeling so brave, I'm sure these three can handle such mundane duties for the weekend."

McGonagall stared at him. "You can't be serious."

"Indeed I am." The sneer deepened. "Furthermore, I shall be keeping Mr. Longbottom in detention until he learns his lesson. Whatever methods I must use."

Dismay washed over her face. "You can't be serious about the forest. The centaurs are have all but declared war on us, there's who knows what roaming inside. I've had reports of...of werewolves, Acromantulas, a rogue giant, all sorts of dangerous creatures. Sending three students out, without their wands or's murder."

"Your point? After having them attempt to steal from my office, I have a right to do whatever I please." Snape's voice was cold, and McGonagall stiffened further. "If they want to play hero with Potter and his little band, then they can take the risks. If they die, then it's one less concern. I hardly need their continuing antics. And if they live...perhaps they'll have learned a lesson. If not..." An ugly expression twisted his face. "Well then, perhaps sterner methods can be used."

"Sterner methods?" McGonagall's voice was faint.

Amycus grinned. "Make an example of them, will we Snape?"

"Perhaps. In the meantime...lock them in the dungeons for the evening, and send them to the Forest in the morning." Snape's face had relaxed from sneers to boredom. His gaze slipped to the Carrows. "Chain them if you wish, but nothing else. I've no desire to face a feeding frenzy if the brats draw the forest inhabitants by bleeding all over the place."

Alecto nodded. "What if they try to run?"

Snape smiled unpleasantly. "Then they'll encounter the wards I've set up to prevent it. I suspect we'll all find it highly...entertaining." The tone of his words sent cold chills down Neville's spine.

"Right." Amycus snickered again. He delivered a sneer in McGonagall's direction, then dragged Ginny toward the dungeons. Alecto yanked sharply on Luna's arm, and prodded Neville with her wand to make him move. As he turned away, Neville saw Snape turn and vanish back up the stairs, disappearing before McGonagall could speak further to him. He allowed Alecto to shove him toward the dungeons, his thoughts whirling.

The Forbidden Forest. Well, the centaurs could be persuaded not to hurt students. They were fierce and dangerous, but there were worse things. Hagrid would warn them away from the dangerous areas. Harry had told him about the Acromantulas, he and Ginny both. He didn't know about a giant, but Hagrid probably did. Two days in the Forbidden Forest did sound nerve-wracking, but still, it was far better than the Carrows.

Realization hit him. Snape had planned it all. He'd kept his promise after all. A detention in the forest was dangerous and uncomfortable, certainly, but compared to a weekend in the dungeons, it was a picnic. A little luck and they'd be able to avoid getting more than scrapes. All three of them had some experience with the forest. In spite of McGonagall's fear, it wouldn't be nearly as bad as she thought.

Alecto shoved him into a cell, snapped a too-tight cuff on him, and left him. Neville didn't even fight too much. His mind was still thinking over what had happened. He made it sound like he was sending us out to get killed. But...he knows we've been to the forest. He knows about the detention first year, me and Harry. And he knows about the thestrals, the end of fifth year. Grudging admiration touched his mind. He knows damn well what he's doing. It's still bloody dangerous, but still... He'd thought Snape had betrayed them.

The night's excitement and the lack of dinner caught up with him abruptly. Neville sighed, then settled against the wall. The shackle pulled uncomfortably, but he didn't care. He suspected he was going to need his rest.

Author's Note: Plenty of drama between these two, but they might be learning to trust each other. Let me know what you think.

Some Additional Notes:

+ When Snape says he let one other student curse him: During Occlumency lessons (in book 5), he told Harry he could use whatever magic he wanted to throw him out of his mind, or defend himself. Which included at least one instance when Harry hexed him.

+ The forest in Neville's first year: In the movies, it was Harry, Ron, Hermione and Draco. In the book, it was Neville instead of Ron.

Just some points that I wanted to clear up, for those that may not have read the books, or at least not as recently as they've watched the movies. It can be a little confusing sometimes, I think.