Neville Longbottom and the Moment of Truth

By Lady Dien Rating: G, but angsty Summary: Neville discovers his spine, with a little unexpected help from Professor Snape. Set in fourth year, but doesn't really have anything to do with GoF. I want to acknowledge a great deal of inspiration from Nyarth's amazing fic Memoirs of a Slytherin-- primarily the fourth chapter, dealing with Neville's parents. And thanks to her for kindly beta-ing. PLEASE review-- short as it is, this is my first finished Snape fic and I'll admit it's not what I expected to write about. (

*o*o*o*

It was a Friday, a hot cloying day only a week or so into the fourth year of Harry Potter and his friends. It was warm for September, but little of the day's boiling temperature penetrated down into the dungeons where houses Slytherin and Gryffindor were currently enduring their regular Potions class.

Professor Snape, it appeared, must have had an entirely disagreeable summer vacation, because his manner was, if possible, more caustic, cruel, and generally bastardly than usual. Even the occasional Slytherin had felt the brunt of his distemper, and everyone inwardly wished class was almost over, rather than just ten minutes in. But the students knew better than to complain and bent their heads silently to their new potions, which they were expected to have working versions of by the end of class.

The Potion Master's black eyes were fixed balefully on Neville Longbottom's trembling hands, as the boy attempted to pour a few drops of extract of hellebore into the contents of his much-abused cauldron.

Severus Snape was hardly surprised when the boy, quailing under his dark gaze, lost his grip on the vial and spilled the entire vial of hellebore into the cauldron. The liquid noticeably hissed, sizzled, and turned color.

Hermione Granger, next to him, winced. She had known something along those lines would happen the instant Neville had picked up the hellebore-- which he wasn't even supposed to be adding at this point. But under Snape's watchful basilisk stare, there had been little she could say or do.

The professor moved forward with angry strides towards the pale-faced Longbottom, whose expression indicated a clear and present desire to drop off the face of the earth. Trembling, Neville squeezed his eyes shut and hung his head as he waited for the recrimination that was sure to come.

He was not disappointed. Snape stood next to the raised lab table Hermione and Neville had been working at for a long moment, his cold glare taking in the now-ruined potion, Hermione desperately looking the other way, and Neville hunched miserably on his stool, his knuckles white where they gripped the table-top.

"I confess amazement," Snape's voice said finally, his voice possessed of all the warmth of a Muggle deep freeze unit. "It is hardly an original occurrence for you, Longbottom, to utterly destroy whatever potion you happen to be... working on--" his bitter sarcasm turned the word into an insult by the mere speaking of it, "--but you have now set a new record for speed in accomplishing said destruction. I wouldn't have believed it had I not seen it with my own eyes."

Around them, a few students shot sympathetic glances at the unfortunate boy, but nobody dared speak up less Snape's wrath and malice be turned on them. Neville's eyes flickered open and stared wretchedly at the floor as the Potions Master continued in a deceptively soft tone that had nothing to do with kindness. "Quite an... accomplishment.

"Really, Longbottom. How many times must something be repeated before you actually learn? I ask merely out of curiosity, you see. I am wondering if it is even possible for you to learn. I begin to doubt. Three years of classes behind you, yet the simplest concepts, it seems, are still beyond your pitiful excuse for a brain, you stupid, worthless child," Snape's voice hissed viciously, and even some of the Slytherins squirmed a bit. The professor was redefining 'harsh' and anybody who didn't feel at least a shred of sympathy for Neville Longbottom was not quite human.

Longbottom's eyes were brimming over with tears, and he was biting fiercely on his lower lip. Snape's black eyes watched him intently, as if waiting for something, then finally closed in disgust and contempt.

Snape whirled away from the desk, spitting back over his shoulder, "A point from Gryffindor for failure to follow clear instructions. Start over. You still have to show a completed potion by the end of class."

Neville's guts wrenched. He muttered something under his breath and reached for the cauldron in front of him.

But he'd muttered a bit too loud, and Severus Snape turned slowly, arching one dark brow contemptuously.

"Did you have something to say to me, Mister Longbottom?" he asked silkily. Neville was silent, trembling with a sudden, unfamiliar anger that gripped him firmly, and he didn't dare meet Snape's eyes for fear the professor would read the hatred there. With a dismissive sniff, Snape turned and began to walk away again.

It was too much. Neville shot to his feet and yelled at the top of his lungs, "I said, you're a cruel evil bastard and I hope you die, then maybe you'll shut up and leave me alone!"

Dead, dead silence filled the classroom.

The classroom waited in horrified shock, all eyes fixed on Snape, who had frozen in mid-step. Was he going to curse Neville Longbottom on the spot, or torture him for a few days first?

Neville closed his eyes and wished for a quick death, please. Painless if at all possible. Oh gods, he'd just said that to Professor bloody Snape...

Snape was very still, his face a bit more pale than usual and his lips compressed into a thin line. When he spoke, the temperature of his voice would have sent the Muggle deep freeze unit, and most full-grown icebergs for that matter, hiding with shame.

"I cannot believe I can have heard that correctly, Mister Longbottom."

He turned with terrible slowness, the black stare fixed unwaveringly on Neville. "Perhaps, for the enlightenment of the class at large, you'd care to repeat it?"

Neville closed his eyes hopelessly, an inner battle being waged in his soul. Plead for mercy. Apologize.~

To hell with it, he's already going to kill you, tell the nasty git off! It'd be worth it!



I want to live.~



What's the worst he can do to me?

Neville opened his eyes and said clearly, enunciating every word, "You're a cruel evil bastard and I wish you were dead so that you'd leave me alone... you ugly git."

Everybody gasped. Harry Potter stared in open-mouthed amazement and even a little awe at Neville. Hermione covered her face with her hands. Ron muttered under his breath, "It's been nice knowing you, Neville... but what a way to go..."

"Silence," the professor snapped, and the class instantly hushed. Snape's dark eyes never left Longbottom's face.

Now that Neville had said it-- and oh, what a glorious feeling that had been-- whatever magnificent courage had held him up seemed to vanish. He wanted to shrink down into himself. Or better yet, bolt screaming from the room... but with those eyes on him, he couldn't move. It was like being a rabbit charmed by a cobra.

Try as he might, Neville couldn't read the emotion in those jet-black eyes and quickly returned his gaze to the flagstones beneath his feet. For a long moment, the tableau held, then Snape moved.

He turned and gestured gracefully with his wand to Longbottom's and Granger's desk. "Have a seat, Mr. Longbottom," he said quietly. "Miss Granger, you will move your potion and components to another table until we're done."

Neville blinked and let out a shuddering breath, suddenly able to move again now that those eyes were off him. He shot a pleading, confused glance at Hermione, but she only shrugged helplessly and moved to obey. The boy closed his eyes, commended his spirit into the hands of whatever gods existed, and sat down on the indicated stool.

Snape hid a smile and pulled up a seat himself, sitting down so that he faced young Longbottom over the table's surface. Suddenly, he was aware of everyone's eyes still fixed on them and gave an irritated glare around the classroom.

"Did I give instructions for you all to stand there gawping like Muggles? Get back to work-- you all still have potions to complete!" he hissed, gratified by the quick scramblings to look busy. He turned his attention back to the boy.

Longbottom was staring at the table top with dread written across his young features. Severus steepled his hands in front of his face, smiling behind his fingers where no one would see it.

"So. Mr. Longbottom. You've finally developed a backbone. It's about bloody time," he said dryly, low enough so the inquisitive students around wouldn't hear. Neville looked up in confusion and disbelief. Snape continued.

"Three years I've been waiting for you to show some of that famed courage that got you into Gryffindor in the first place, Neville Longbottom," Snape drawled, unable to keep his amusement out of voice. "I was beginning to think I'd have to resort to something truly nasty to snap you out of this silly spinelessness of yours."

Neville's mouth was, by now, hanging open. Snape rolled his eyes. "Close your mouth, boy, you'll draw flies." Neville closed it with a snap.

"I know you think I hate you. You and all the Gryffindors. And it's true that you annoying, perky little twits irritate the hell out of me most days," Snape continued. "But I am a teacher here, and I have a duty to do my best to turn you all into capable, confident adults-- impossible quest though it may be," he added contemptuously.

His black eyes glinted with dark humor as he leaned in a bit, Neville instinctively drawing back. "Mr. Longbottom. There are an awful lot of-- how did you put it? 'Cruel, evil bastards' out there, and most of them will be perfectly content to walk all over you... if you let them do it.

"And they will not die, they will not shut up, and they will not leave you alone. Not of their own volition.

"They will insult you. They will call you stupid. They will call you worthless. Weak. Helpless. Incompetent and incapable of doing anything correctly."

Snape smiled slowly, holding Neville's attention easily. The boy was round- eyed and listening, for once, with every fiber of his being. "People like me, Mr. Longbottom. And there is only one way to make them leave you alone. Do you want to know what it is?"

The boy nodded wordlessly. Snape's smile twisted and he reached for Neville's cauldron, emptying it of the botched potion with a wave of his wand. When it was clean, he placed it before the boy and gently pushed it towards him. His eyes fixed on Longbottom's blue ones, he said with sudden intensity: "Prove us wrong.

"Prove us wrong. Make us shut up. Look at all the people you know who have ever made you feel worthless and scared and a failure, and find whatever thing we hold over your head as an example of your inadequacies, and get damn bloody good at doing it. Then shove it in our faces. Make us notice you. Prove us wrong.

"That's the only way to show us."

Snape leaned back and observed. Neville's eyes had shifted down to the cauldron, a whirlwind of emotions and thoughts playing out on his round face. When he looked up, there was a light in his eyes that hadn't been there before, a hungry light. Snape nodded approvingly and pushed his stool back.

"Now, start your potion over again, Mr. Longbottom. Do it correctly. Ask for help from Granger if you have to, but ask with the intent to learn and remember-- not just survive until class is over.

"Get it right this time-- or I really will take points from Gryffindor," Snape hissed, switching back to his usual venomous tones. Mission accomplished-- enough coddling the boy.

He stood and stalked off to his office. No need to tell the Longbottom boy not to repeat the conversation-- no one would believe him anyway...

*o*o*o*

The instant Snape's black robes disappeared through the door, Hermione scrambled over to Neville, fully expecting she'd have to keep him from a nervous breakdown. Harry and Ron were right behind her.

"Are you okay, Neville? What did he say to you? We couldn't hear a thing," she said anxiously, looking with worry at his face.

Neville gave her a quick little smile and turned back to his cauldron. "It's not important," he said, proud of the casual tone he managed and the astonished stares of his friends. "We really should get to work on the potion. Hermione, can you explain to me again what the mandrake root is supposed to do here?"

Hermione gaped for a moment, then recovered herself and began explaining, slowly, the processes involved. Neville focused on the task at hand, all the while remembering the glint in Snape's eyes as he told Neville to prove him wrong.

*o*o*o*

On the other side of the office door, Severus Snape closed his eyes and ran a trembling hand over his face. He sank wearily into a chair and shook as his mind replayed images of Longbottom's parents.

He had hoped, naively, that when the fear had left the younger Longbottom's eyes, the panic would vanish from the ones in his memory also. But still they stared, terror and pain and anger echoing in their gazes...

Even when he and the other Death Eaters had left, their eyes had still been open, still... accusing. Mutely but with words as clear as crystal.

Why didn't you save us? Why didn't you stop them?

"I did all I could," he whispered hopelessly into the silence of his office. "I saved your son. I did all I could."

Not enough.

"All I could. Forgive me. Please. I will do my best by him, to help him, I swear it."

Teach him what we will never have the chance to.

"Forgive me," he whispered again, bowing his head.

Forgive yourself.

If only, he thought miserably. If only.

The eyes still stared, and nothing would ever close them.