A Very Impractical Man
For my son on his twentieth birthday.
I've always been called an impractical man—by my parents, my professors, my bosses, and even my wife. "That Frank Longbottom and his crazy ideas!" they say, though some speak with censure and others with affection (I'll leave you to guess who took which stance). However, I was never convinced that impracticality was a bad thing. Not at all. You see, many of my schemes have worked out to my advantage.
First, there was my choice to use a different wand every day during my first few years at Hogwarts. Each one had belonged to one of our ancestors, and from the way they hummed in my hands, I knew they were glad to be free from the Longbottom vaults. I loved handling them because I could feel their history. My professors insisted that my puzzling habit—and stubborn adherence to it—would hinder my growth as a wizard. Indeed, during my first couple of years in school, I was an average-at-best student. Turns out, the faculty was wrong in the end. Being able to wield whatever wand you can get your hand on is a decided advantage for an Auror.
Then, there was my insistence on taking additional optional courses in my third year. I can still hear McGonagall's voice: "Mr. Longbottom, your academic performance thus far does not suggest that overcommitting yourself is a wise course of action." Not to be deterred, I decided to sit outside her office every day until she relented. Contrary to all expectations, the extra work (and, admittedly, pain and humiliation) transformed me from a mediocre student into a strong one!
I stood up to people who were bigger than me, so I often heard Madam Pomfrey cluck at me for my foolish, thoughtless Gryffindor bravery. Maybe, considering how often I was injured, it was impractical to stand up to bullies, but it was not impulsive. I don't regret my actions. I defended what I thought was right at the time. I hope that someday, you will be just as 'impractical' as I was.
I've always hated smoking—a disgusting, dangerous, foul-smelling habit (please, don't start, and if you have, quit). Despite that, I let myself fall in love with your mother. During our stake-outs, she used to hide in the bushes, chain-smoking. If I protested, I heard the same refrain:
"It's the stress! You can't expect me to quit, not now, not until we take Voldemort down."
Yet, I married her, hoping she'd change. I tried everything: Arguing, Muggle research about the dangers of cigarettes, even refusing to kiss her (a terrible bit of blackmail, I confess—and quite frustrating for both of us). Nothing made an impression on her.
Then, when you were conceived, I spent a hundred Galleons on what must be a lifetime supply of cinnamon gum. Impulsive? Definitely. Impractical? Wrong. All I had to do was tell Alice that the nicotine would stunt your growth and that her smoke clouds, rising from our hiding-spots, could blow our cover and leave you an orphan. That's what made her put down the fags and pick up the chewing gum. She's been chomping away on it ever since, which is, while slightly rude, far less dangerous. Even before you were born, you may have saved our lives. Unless, of course, a mountain of gum tumbles over and crushes us in our sleep!
Alright, yes, I confess I did go overboard with the gum—but you have to admit it was a good strategy. I expect that in thirty years we will still be stuffing our grandchildren's Christmas stockings with packs of that stuff. That's fine with me, though, since it will mean we've survived to see them grow up.
It's hard to write this, but having you was also an impulsive act on my part. No, not that kind of impulsive act. I mean in the sense that Alice and I had not intended to have children—not in the middle of a war. When your mother told me you were on the way, she was so afraid of the future that she suggested we terminate the pregnancy. It was the only practical thing to do.
Acting on instinct, I convinced her that a baby—a child that would give us hope for our futures—was just what we needed to see us through the war, no matter how foolish it seemed at that moment. I persuaded her, and before long we were looking forward to meeting you with equal pleasure. (It may be difficult to read that you were unplanned, Neville, but you must never think you were unwanted.)
After your birth, however, the magnitude of our decision finally registered. To this day, I don't know how Molly and Arthur Weasley do it—so many children, in so dark a time, when facing such terrible danger. Alice and I are not only Aurors, but also members of the Order of the Phoenix (Merlin, I do hope the man I'm entrusting this letter to is reliable). This means our lives are in peril every day and night. We never knew when we would be awakened by a Patronus summoning us for a battle, or by a bawling infant summoning us for breastfeeding and cuddles. You had quite a pair of lungs on you, my son! Those were hard times.
That's when my impractical ideas began to flounder, and to this day, I don't know what the consequences of my actions will be. Panicked, I tried to convince your mother to raise you abroad. As you may imagine, my proposal did not go over well. I still remember her set-down as if it happened moments ago:
"Franklin Phineas Longbottom!" (She stamped her foot for emphasis.) "Do you have any idea what you are asking me to do? To leave you? To flee from our homeland when it needs us most? To sit awake at night wondering if you're dead or alive? To raise our son alone, perhaps for years, without him getting to know his father?"
Obviously, I gave in. I still wonder if that was a mistake . . .
Nevermind, though. What is done is done, and I only hope the threads of our lives are destined to be long—for all our sakes.
This is where I must begin my excuses and explanations. They may be unnecessary. You may have heard them a dozen times already over our dinner table. But they may also be long overdue, for the simple reason that I am no longer there to explain things to you. Therefore, from this point on, I must write under the assumption that Alice and I did not survive to see you grow up.
It is hard to write such terrible confessions—especially since I want your respect—but here I go:
My love for you is so great that I finally became 'impractical' in ways that may have repercussions I won't live to see. I can't know whether my schemes have saved you or damaged you irrevocably. Often, I lie in bed and stare at the ceiling, praying that I made the right choices.
You are a magical child, Neville—and I don't mean in the sense of "charming." We knew from the beginning that your name was on the registry—that you were destined to receive your Hogwarts letter. But magical children are at such risk nowadays. It isn't uncommon for whole families—especially anti-Voldemort, Pureblood families—to be wiped out in a single ambush. I got the idea into my head that if you didn't seem so gifted, you would be safer.
So I devised a spell to suppress your magic. And I never told Alice.
There it is, in black and white.
My plan is that the spell will wear off before you are ten, but I can't be sure it will work. As far as I know, no one else has ever tried to do such a thing. They'd never take such a risk with their child, no matter how terrible a shadow loomed over him.
Then, I did something more dangerous. More impractical. Something that might make you hate me.
You see, since Voldemort attacked the Potters and vanished, rogue Death Eaters have been taking vengeance on those of us who helped bring their "Dark Lord" down. They are merciless, Neville, and the truth is that by the time you were one you had already seen too many bad things happen. I tremble to imagine what will happen if they discover our hiding place and—when they attack—what you might witness.
Therefore, I have recruited a man to prevent you from remembering. This man is not one whom many people trust, but he has Dumbledore's confidence. He is also skilled at Legilimency. If something should happen to Alice and me, he has sworn to look into your mind, to find out what you have seen. And I have asked this man to Obliviate you should he find anything horrifying there.
To invade such a young mind is wrong. I know that it is wrong. Even the man who agreed to do this for me knows it is wrong—and you may believe me when I say that he is not known for being moral. But I think allowing you to suffer from such memories for your entire life would be more wrong.
There are dangers involved. When I made my proposal to my—how should I put it—colleague (Merlin, it's hard to describe him that way), he tried to argue with me. To tell me how impractical my plan was. You see, such a powerful spell inflicted on a small child—in addition to my earlier meddling—could suppress your magic even more. It could harm your memory in ways we cannot predict. It could leave you so incapacitated that you will spend the rest of your life in the Janus Thickey Ward at St. Mungo's—a fate I wouldn't wish on anybody.
However, such an outcome is unlikely. Otherwise, your mother and I would not have decided to go forward with the plan.
So this, my boy, is why you have had to suffer so much. This is why Alice and I made my mother—a harsh and difficult woman (I should know, she raised me, too)—your guardian. There are not many left on Alice's side anyway, and I know I can trust your grandmother and her brothers to push you past any barriers my impulsive need to protect you may have caused.
If worse comes to worst, my co-conspirator has sworn to do everything in his power to break you free. He is in a position to do so, since he is a professor at Hogwarts now. I pray that it won't come to that, because he's a sadistic man—and he has already assured me that between Obliviation and magical suppression, he will have little recourse other than wringing the magic out of you, perhaps in a brutal way.
I've made a deal with a devil, you see, though Dumbledore sees him as a fallen angel. For your sake, I hope Dumbledore is correct. For my sake, I hope that there is never a need for that man to break you free. My efforts have been intended to save you from pain, not inflict more.
Now, as I look back on my life, I realise that my flights of fancy have had as many disadvantages as advantages. When my gambles paid off—experimenting with wands, enrolling in too many courses, marrying a woman with a habit I despised, having a baby in the middle of a war—they have been tremendously rewarding.
It's the gambles that I might not see through to the end that torture me now. I love you and never meant to cause you grief or pain. If I have hurt you, please forgive me.
You see, your father has always been a very impractical man.
With Deep Love and Deep Regret,
Found among the personal papers of Headmaster Severus Snape, d. May, 1998. Delivered by Headmistress Minerva McGonagall to Mr. Neville Longbottom on July 30th, 2000. Archived in the library of the Ministry of Magic.
DISCLAIMER: The Harry Potter universe and all canon characters belong to J.K. Rowling, not me.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: Reviews—and especially constructive criticism—are warmly welcomed. The letter format of this story was inspired by ladyoftheknightley's "The Christmas Prank." This was originally written for the Pureblood Competition (Prompts: Frank Longbottom, impractical).
COMPULSORY PROMPTS FOR 52 WEEKS OF WRITING: Shadow, Grief