Fic: A Slow Waltz with Severus Snape Title: A Slow Waltz with Severus Snape Characters: Neville Longbottom, Minerva McGonagall, Severus Snape Rating: G Word count: 2600 Summary: As they say of the greatest dancers, Neville's strength is in his passion, not his technique. Notes: A belated happy birthday to Severus Snape!
On the very last day of classes, when the last few students had filed out of Greenhouse Four chatting about exams and House competitions and leaving feasts, Neville Longbottom finally dusted off his robes and took off his soiled hat and gloves and sat down heavily, as if he might never get up. The year was over. The newly rebuilt Hogwarts had reopened; students had filled the halls again almost as if the last battle had never happened; and Neville--Professor Neville Longbottom, though he often forgot the title, himself--had repotted the angry mandrakes and soothed the agitated Chinese Chomping Cabbage and led several dozen students through their lessons every day for an entire year without any major mishaps or injuries.
There was only one more task to do before he could set aside this school year and start to think about the next, and he had to walk back to the castle to do it.
Last Friday, Neville had come back to his rooms at the end of the day to discover a set of three tarnished, jewel-encrusted silver bottles in an elaborate metal rack sitting atop his unmarked essays. He recognized the bottles from home; his grandmother had a similar set with memories of his parents on their wedding day. He did not, however, recognize the handwritten label on the front of the rack, which read simply: OWL-Level Potions. Next to the rack sat a grey marble Pensieve and a brief note from Acting Headmistress McGonagall informing him that she had recently discovered these memories, hidden by a charm, while clearing out former Headmaster Snape’s office, and she thought he might be interested in looking at them himself.
Neville was decidedly uninterested in recalling anything having to do with Professor Snape. He had never wished his least favorite professor harm, but, as his grandmother always said, there are some wizards whose backs were more attractive than their faces, and Neville had been very glad to see the back of Professor Snape, so to speak. Uncharacteristically, he had let the tarnished bottles sit on his desk for more than a week while he thought of ways of avoiding the unpleasant task Professor McGonagall had set for him. Only when he couldn’t put it off any longer did he sit down at his work table, empty the first bottle’s contents into the Pensieve, and swirl the memory around with the tip of his wand. Then he took a deep breath and dove head first in Professor Snape’s past.
The first memory was, surprisingly, set just outside Greenhouse Four, where Neville had taught his last class. It was a bright, overly warm summer day, and the Ministry examiner Griselda Marchbanks stood with Professor Dumbledore and Professor Snape, gesturing animatedly, discussing the performance of an unknown Ravenclaw on her OWLs in great detail. Neville waited patiently for a few minutes, listening to Madam Marchbanks’s praise and wishing he had the potions ability of a certain Magdalene Curriepuff, before he decided that this must not have been the memory Professor McGonagall wanted him to see. Reminding himself to send an owl to Grandmother--seeing Madam Marchbanks always made him feel like he wasn’t quite the grandson he could be--he slipped out of the memory, back into his own rooms.
The second memory, by contrast, was very short. Neville found himself following the flowing robes of Professor Snape through an unfamiliar shop door, past a group of bickering wizards in top hats, and back to a rack of international wizarding newspapers in several languages Neville didn’t recognize. Professor Snape selected a newspaper printed in deep purple ink and began reading, only to look up a moment later.
“Lucius!” Professor Snape exclaimed. “Narcissa!” Neville wasn’t sure how Snape had spotted them so quickly, but Malfoy’s parents were there, arm in arm, selecting their own newspaper.
“Snape,” Mr Malfoy said nodding, and they had just turned to go when Professor Snape reached out toward them, almost convulsively. “Has Draco written to you recently?” Professor Snape asked, his breath coming more quickly.
“Yes, and thank you,” Mr Malfoy said, tucking his newspaper under his arm in a rather final way. “Thank you, Severus,” Mrs Malfoy added kindly. “Thank you, for all you’ve done.” The memory ended so abruptly Neville almost hit his head while exiting the Pensieve.
The last memory took place in the Potions classroom and was so recent and so vivid Neville felt he was reliving it himself. His own OWLs-level Potions class was assembled there, working on a project that, from the state of the desks, seemed to involve sliced ginger root. Class was coming to an end, and Hermione was hissing instructions to Ron, and Harry was staring off into space, and Neville himself had walked a small phial of bright blue liquid up to Professor Snape’s desk.
“Sir,” the younger Neville said, but Professor Snape did not even lift his head from the report he was writing. With a sinking feeling, Neville remembered which lesson this was.
“Zero again, Longbottom,” Professor Snape said, and Neville watched his younger self jerk slightly, as if he had been slapped.
“I think I may have got it right this time, Sir,” the younger Neville said, his voice quavering. “If you don’t mind looking, Sir.”
Professor Snape lifted his head no more than an inch, his eyes flicking up from under his heavy brows. “Zero,” he said.
“But, Sir,” the younger Neville said. “Please look.” In the back of the classroom, someone laughed.
Professor Snape looked up, and for a moment Neville thought he could see a flicker of surprise in the professor’s eyes. Then Snape sat back in his chair and folded his arms. “How did you make this potion, Longbottom?” he asked slowly.
“I started with two pinches of ginger and the down from a black owl...” The younger Neville rattled off the ingredients and instructions, counting them off on his fingers behind his back.
“And how should you know you have failed yet again?” Professor Snape asked.
“I don’t know, Sir,” the younger Neville said. “I was very careful this time.”
Professor Snape held up the phial as if he were inspecting it. “Do you call this robin’s egg blue, Longbottom?”
The younger Neville shrugged and bounced on his toes. "Yes?"
“I very specifically said that the final potion should be robin’s egg blue, Longbottom,” Professor Snape said. “This is...more aquamarine. Exactitude, Longbottom. Zero.” With a wave of his hand, the phial was gone, and Snape was writing his report again.
“Sir?” the younger Neville asked.
“Zero, Longbottom,” Professor Snape said.
“I’d just like to know what to do differently next time,” the younger Neville said, and Neville could hear the tears gathering, even if he couldn’t see his own face. “If you don’t mind, Sir.”
“It’s clearly too late for you to change your personality, Longbottom,” Professor Snape said, to widespread laughter from the Ravenclaw contingent in the back of the classroom--
Neville jumped. He was back in his rooms, sitting in front of the Pensieve, heart still beating wildly.
“Professor McGonagall!” he said, startled to see the headmistress standing in his doorway. “I mean--I’m sorry--Professor Minerva.”
Professor McGonagall adjusted her glasses and smiled at him. “Professor Neville, I see you found the memory I left for you?”
At any other time, Neville would have nodded and let it pass, but his blood was still racing, and he still felt a bit of the old terror he always felt in Professor Snape's classroom. “I’m not going to say he was a good person,” Neville blurted, unable to stop himself. “Even though Harry says he’s a war hero now.”
Professor McGonagall’s eyes narrowed and mouth hardened into a thin, tense line, and Neville was sure she had quite a bit to say about either Harry Potter or Professor Snape--or perhaps even Neville himself--but in the end she merely cocked her head towards the door.
“The professors traditionally meet in the headmaster’s office for a drink on the last day of classes, Neville,” she said. “Would you like to join us?”
Oddly enough, Neville had not been in the headmaster’s office since Professor Snape had summoned Ginny and him there toward the end of his last year. Headmistress McGonagall--Minerva, that is--did not seem to have much fondness for either the position or the office; she usually saw her teaching staff in her old rooms in Gryfindor Tower and refused to give up teaching for what she termed the insufferable bureaucracy of educational administration. Today, though, the room had been decorated with soft pink and orange fairy lights, and a large table in the center of the room had been covered with a striped cloth and a dozen cakes and assorted brews.
“Professor Longbotttom!” The voice belonged to Professor Dumbledore, who had appeared in his portrait wearing a party hat and purple crepe paper around his neck. As Neville glanced around, he realized that the headmaster’s office was full of party goers--not only Professors Flitwick and Firenze and Vector and all the teachers he saw every day, but former headmasters milling in and out of their portraits, hair filled with pixie dust, half-empty glasses already in hand.
“Welcome, welcome, Neville!” Professor Flitwick said, gesturing frenetically from atop the table, where he was standing next to a pyramid of wine glasses. “Here, have a glass. We’re about to start the toast! Everyone! Everyone! Quiet!”
The professors quieted down much more quickly than Professor Flitwick’s students ever had.
“Minerva, if I may—“ Professor Flitwick glanced at Professor McGonagall, who nodded. “I would like to propose a toast. To another year at Hogwarts! To the reconstructed castle!" The room filled with murmurs of agreement and the sound of clinking glasses. "And let's welcome our youngest professor yet, the herbologist extraordinare Neville Longbottom! And our newest addition to this venerable gathering of Hogwarts headmasters, former Headmaster Severus Snape!”
It was only then that Neville noticed a very new, life-size gilt-framed portrait propped up against the wall near the door. Inside the frame, Severus Snape sat, glowering, a bit of pixie dust sparkling in his hair.
Was the applause a bit hesitant and lukewarm and polite? Ears burning, Neville stared down into his drink.
If most of his worst moments in school had taken place in Professor Snape's classroom, Neville's best moment was probably the night of the Yule Ball, fourth year. He and Ginny had walked back to Gryffindor Tower together, Ginny talking, animated and happy, still flushed from dancing, holding his arm and humming various tunes from earlier that evening. Neville could hardly contain his delight at just how well the evening had gone. He loved dancing. He loved having friends. He loved Ginny, for inviting him.
Just as they were about to climb through the portrait hole, he slipped a hand around Ginny's waist and leaned over so close he could see the shape of her freckles and the fine ginger hairs curling around her ears.
She pulled away.
“I’m sorry,” Neville said immediately, feeling sick with embarrassment. He didn’t know quite what to do with his hands now that he wasn’t holding her arm.
“Don’t be,” she said. “I had fun tonight.” They climbed through the portrait hole and paused, not certain they wanted the night to end.
“I’m sorry you couldn’t go with Harry,” he said, much more honest than he’d ever intended to be. “I know you wanted to go with him.”
Ginny shrugged. “My mum says going to the dance is what matters. We’ll all dance with each other, eventually.”
Somehow, that made him feel better. Neville smiled. “Thanks, Ginny,” he said.
Ginny grabbed his hand and squeezed. “No problem,” she said. Then she vanished into the girls' dormitory, and Neville lay sleepless for hours, toes still tapping with the excitement of the evening.
One of the things Neville quickly grew to love about teaching at Hogwarts was talking to people who seemed just as odd as he was. Not that Harry and Hermione and Ron and Ginny and Luna hadn’t been good friends, but they were all a little more bright and courageous and interesting than him, and none of them had ever shown even the remotest interest in herbology. At the end of the year gathering in the headmaster’s office, Neville sipped his wine with Professor Vector and explained his plans to breed smaller, less potent bubotuber plants whose pus would cure hangnails, and Professor Vector nodded very seriously and replied that, in an extraordinary coincidence, she was working on a new article on the number eleven.
“Eleven?” Neville replied blankly.
“Eleven,” Professor Vector said, staring at a point just over Neville's shoulder. “Isn’t that the number of days it takes for a bubotuber plant to germinate?”
Neville’s heart warmed. Was it the wine? Flitwick was known for producing surprisingly potent drinks.
Within an hour Professor Vector was dancing on the headmaster’s desk, and Armando Dippet was singing, and Professor Dumbledore was trying on Dilys Derwent’s lace collar, and Professor Trelawney had predicted the rise of another Dark Lord, and Professor McGonagall decided that sufficient fun had been had by all.
“Enough!” she cried, trying to guide a very groggy Professor Fierenze toward the door. “Time to go back to your rooms! We all still need to be at dinner tonight!”
The professors filed out, one by one, grumbling and weaving, and Professor Dumbledore sighed and took off his party hat, and a phalanx of house-elves wearing knitted hats rushed in and began clearing the remains of the party.
“Neville.” Professor McGonagall peered at him over the tops of her glasses. “The memory I left for you--“
“Never mind,” Neville said quickly. “I’m sorry for my outburst, earlier.”
Professor McGonagall glanced surreptitiously toward the new portrait leaning against the wall in the corner of the headmaster’s office, adjusted her glasses, and cleared her throat. “I ended a fourteen-year friendship with him when he hired the Carrows that year,” she said quietly. She paused. “What I mean to say is that this isn’t easy for any of us. It’s something, isn’t it, to know he wanted to remember you, even if he didn’t do the right thing?”
Neville hadn’t thought of it that way. He wondered if Professor Snape had.
“Say hello to him on the way out,” Professor McGonagall said more briskly. “I think he’s noticed you haven’t been over to talk to him. This castle is too small for, well, whatever drama you two might concoct.”
Neville approached the portrait with more than a little trepidation. Professor Snape was sitting back on his painted armchair, arms crossed, supervising the house-elves with a stern eye.
“Hullo, Professor Snape,” Neville said. The man in the portrait nodded almost imperceptibly.
“Severus!” Professor McGonagall called out sharply.
“You look much the same, Long— Professor Longbottom,” Professor Snape said, his reluctance evident in the sour twist of his lips. Had it been Harry or Hermione or Ginny standing there, Neville thought, someone would have said something about Nagini or the sword of Gryffindor or the pixie dust still clinging to Professor Snape’s hair. Well, not Harry; Harry thought Professor Snape was a war hero, now. And perhaps he was.
As was Neville himself, if you took that kind of thing seriously.
“Thank you, Professor Snape,” Neville said brightly. Professor Snape nodded again, a quick, slight nod. All in all, that wasn't as hard as Neville thought it would be.
He pulled the door firmly shut behind him as he left the headmaster’s office. Perhaps it was Flitwick’s wine, but he felt like dancing. He waltzed down the corridor toward Gryffindor Tower, his heels tapping out the rhythm on the stone floor, violins swelling in his head.
One, two, three, one, two, three...
Smiling, Neville imagined an unwilling Professor Snape dancing down the corridor with him, and he swung his invisible partner around.