"Do you remember," said Neville softly, barely even struggling against his invisible bonds, "when the use of Veritaserum was strictly regulated by the Ministry?"
"It still is," said Snape. Just regulated differently. He pinched Neville's nose tight and let three drops of clear fluid fall onto his tongue when he finally opened his mouth to breathe. "Aren't you lucky that I work for the Ministry?" He waited another moment, then let go of Neville's nose. "Have you got anything you want to tell me?"
"No," said Neville, licking his lips.
An honest answer, though no test of the serum's effectiveness. Snape doubted, however, that Longbottom had the foresight to have the antidote on hand. So few people did.
"Tell me, Mr. Longbottom, what you think of me."
"I think you're the most vile teacher I ever had at Hogwarts, and you're ugly and horrible a-and brave and--" Neville twisted his face, obviously fighting the potion. "Honourable. But you're a liar and you're abusing your position by asking me this."
All these years and still the same Longbottom at heart, though outwardly he was not at all the student Snape remembered. He could hardly believe it when he saw the name of the man he was assigned to interrogate; of all the students he suspected he might one day have in this room, Longbottom was the least of them.
"Now that I know the potion is effective," he said, as though Longbottom hadn't just spent the last few moments extolling his many and varied virtues, "we can begin. What is your name?"
"Neville Frank Eldridge Longbottom."
"And are you aware, Neville Frank Eldridge Longbottom, that Dragonsnap blossoms are a Class Three non-tradable substance?"
Neville scowled. "Yes."
"Have you been producing and distributing Dragonsnap blossoms, Mr. Longbottom?"
"Silence! I needn't hear your excuses." He would not disclose one iota of the respect he found himself forced to hold for anyone who could successfully cultivate Dragonsnaps in British soil. "Do you further admit to distributing said Dragonsnap blossoms among underage witches and wizards, Mr. Longbottom?"
Neville fought the potion again. "If you'd just listen--"
"Answer the question."
"Yes," he said after a moment. "They needed them."
"For what, Mr. Longbottom? I can think of no potion we teach that requires them, no field of Divination that permits their use..."
"To forget," said Neville. "They needed them to forget." "I see."
Snape considered the answer carefully, narrowing his eyes at his former student. Neville held his chin high, without shame. He believed in what he was doing, to the extent he was not only willing to defy the Ministry, but to defy Snape as well. How very noble. How very stupid.
"And do you, too, need to forget, Longbottom?"
"Don't we all?" said Neville. The partial body-bind kept him from changing positions, but Snape would have sworn that was the point at which Neville would have leaned back, narrowing his own eyes and returning that searching gaze. It was a disquieting image.
"Thank you, Longbottom, that's all the Ministry requires. Someone will see to you shortly."
"Is that it then?" he asked, bolder now. "What's to be my sentence? Are they sending people to Azkaban for petty crime now?"
Snape would not flinch at the mention of Azkaban, but it took force of will. "I sincerely doubt it," he said, turning away but not turning his back. He preferred to keep his captives in line of sight, no matter what their crime. "There is a fine; I suspect it will be the maximum, considering you involved children in your little enterprise."
"They needed it," said Neville again, disgustingly earnest, "and no one else was helping."
"The last thing they need is your sort of help," said Snape. He knew precisely what that sort of help did, down to the last biological detail. Still, Neville had one thing right: he was one of the only people trying to help.
He didn't look back after he stepped through the door, signalling the Auror -- and honestly, having an Auror involved was nearly as ridiculous as using Veritaserum to suss out petty criminals -- that Neville had confessed and was free to be punished. The fine would probably take most of the money he'd made off the blossoms, and Neville, judging from his lack of remorse, would probably gladly pay it.
Snape's office was in the sub-basement, in a quiet corner furnished in old leather and cobwebs; he quite liked it, often settling into the worn leather chair in his moments of leisure, though it vexed him that he hadn't been asked what he would prefer, when entering the Ministry's employ. It wasn't as though he'd been forced into service; it had been a choice, the least of all the evils that had faced him following the war. He'd grown used to being in a position of trust, after all, and found that it suited his temperament, sated his need for influence.
And if it did not sate his desire for recognition, well, he was quite used to that already.
He'd faced six interrogations that day, ranging from a simple standards violation to a case of malicious endangerment of Ministry officials, and none had stayed with him as Longbottom's case had. Snape's days were filled with tedious Ministry bureaucracy, his long evenings spent alone in his row house entertaining few visitors. Though he was loath to admit it, he was bored, and a generation of Hogwarts students could have told anyone who asked that a bored Severus Snape was a dangerous man.
In the midst of such abject boredom, he found that anything that captured his attention like Longbottom's case was generally worth pursuing.
The war, still so vivid in his memory, had been washed from the forefront of the Ministry's attention like so much dragon dung. Once the last of the Death Eaters had been rounded up, it was no longer even mentioned in polite company. It was short-sighted and dangerous, especially for a world that had seen so much conflict in so short a time, but Snape liked his position of freedom and security, and so he did not say so.
But he had wondered, privately, in the seclusion of his office or his home, just how many people, like him, were not able to so easily forget.
Longbottom, apparently, hadn't just wondered; he'd gone looking for them.
"What are you doing here?"
Snape sat down at the long bar next to Longbottom and ordered himself a pint, a perfectly ordinary act in the course of his average day. "I'm having a drink, Longbottom, what precisely do I appear to be doing?"
"No, what are you doing here?"
"I'm stalking you, obviously. Why else would I enter a public drinking establishment?"
"You haven't changed a bit," muttered Neville. He made some motions to leave, but after a few moments of silence from Snape he didn't go anywhere, and indeed leaned closer to the bar.
"I was unaware anyone had implied I had," Snape said finally, without even really looking at him. "Interesting. I was under the impression drink wasn't your intoxicant of choice."
"I've paid my money to the Ministry Reparations Fund, you haven't got anything to bring me in for," Neville said instantly. "Let me drink in peace."
"Bringing people into the Ministry isn't my job," he said. "I merely administer my potion and ask the necessary questions. A dirty job requiring a dirty man, as I'm often told."
"They're not wrong," said Neville quietly. "You like it."
Snape knew that if he didn't care for conversation -- of this sort or any other -- he shouldn't have followed Neville into the Coach and Thestral after he'd finished up at the Ministry. He'd rather imagined, though, that despite Neville's performance in the interrogation room, he'd still prove to be the meekest sort of Gryffindor.
"I like that I have a position that allows me to sleep at night," he said after a moment, a finished off half his pint in one long swallow. "Does yours?"
"Better than I ever would have believed possible, after everything," said Neville shortly. Whether that was a herbologically aided sleep or not, he did not say. The level of Neville's drink was lowering significantly more slowly than Snape's; clearly he was not much of a drinker after all. Nor need he be, with a steady supply of Dragonsnap blossoms at hand. "What are you doing here?"
Snape had thought he'd already answered that question. "How many students are you providing Dragonsnap blossoms to?"
"The Veritaserum has long since worn off," said Neville, snapping his head to the side to glare; Snape's eyes were accidentally caught, and once caught he didn't pull them away. "I don't have to answer you."
"But you will," said Snape slowly. "Because when I'm in here, I've nothing to do with the Ministry, and I want to know. And I think you want to tell me. How many, Neville?"
"There were two students who confessed to the Ministry where they acquired the blossoms," he recited.
"As many as need it. Can you even imagine what some of those children saw?" Neville finally looked away, curling both hands tightly around his drink. Snape could, in fact, imagine quite easily what the children might have seen, might have experienced; he hardly even needed to imagine. "Why do you care, Snape? Why do you even care?"
"Why, indeed?" he said, looking away himself. There was, mercifully, no mirror behind the bar in which he could be subjected to his own reflection. "Perhaps I don't. I was merely curious."
"You've never been merely curious, about anything," said Neville, draining his drink. "I've got places to be. I do hope I won't be seeing you again." He pushed away from the bar and stalked out of the pub before Snape could get in the last word.
~~~ There were a lot of things Snape had missed, during the last year of the war, and after. He'd been so deep inside enemy territory he hardly knew what was going on outside of it, and the information he provided flowed only one way after his dramatic flight from Hogwarts. In the months between the end of the war and the start of his employment with the Ministry, well, he'd hardly wanted to know anything.
But after a day and a night's brewing on the only Veritaserum he trusted -- required in far greater quantities now than it ever had been before this war -- he found himself in the Ministry archives, researching the fate of one Neville Longbottom. Someone who he hadn't given much thought to over the years, until the news came in that he was supplying narcotics to Hogwarts students.
He hadn't known that Neville hadn't gone back to Hogwarts for his final year, that he'd instead joined the Order only to be given the most menial and loathsome tasks. He hadn't known that Neville had watched Luna Lovegood be torn apart by Malfoy and Macnair, while he was under a body bind and could only watch. He hadn't known that Neville's parents had expired under suspicious circumstances, while Neville was too far underground to hear and hadn't found out until two weeks later. He hadn't known that Neville had been the steady lover of Harry Potter after the war, had stood by his side through all the tedious pomp and ceremony, only to be cast aside when Potter had wooed and married the Weasley chit.
There was a time when he wouldn't have cared. In fact, until he'd found himself three levels underground looking through already-neglected records, he would have said he was still in such a time. Perhaps this interest was only because he'd finally found someone as bitter and angry as himself.
He'd never imagined Longbottom would end up angry of all things, a quality he'd only rarely seen in him as a boy. But Longbottom the boy was hardly Longbottom the man, in a great many ways. Angry and alone, rarely surrounded by those he'd once called friends. He'd always been a bit of a solitary boy, but when it came down to it, he'd also been part of a larger group that had seemed disinclined to abandon him.
And of all of them, Longbottom'd had the least foolhardy and most practical sort of courage. Snape wouldn't have chosen him to be the one to bury his memories in an artificial forgetful bliss.
The archives had given him some answers, but left him with even more questions than he'd started with.
Meetings at the Ministry were even more tedious than meetings at Hogwarts had ever been, perhaps because his opinions -- and he did frequently feel inclined to offer them -- carried even less weight. Despite having been forced to tell the sordid tale time and again, he still often wondered just how he'd ended up working for a Ministry he only barely supported.
"...and if you look at parchment fourteen, paragraph two, you'll see that the sentence for a Class D Misdemeanour Offence has been clarified as a fine of no less than fifty Galleons or no more than six months of service to the Ministry."
Snape stifled a yawn.
"Now to the Longbottom case; a fine of two hundred Galleons has been received by the Ministry Treasury, and the offender has been released with no further punishment. Who was the interrogator on this case?"
"That would be me," said Snape dryly. "Longbottom confessed; it was quite straightforward."
"Do you think he should be put under surveillance, lest he continue his operation?"
"For a minor offence?" said Snape. "Hardly. It would be a waste of manpower, and you're already stretched too thin."
"So you believe that he will not be committing this offence again?"
Of course he would be, he'd as much as said so when Snape had talked to him. And knowing what he did, both about Longbottom's past and about the lack of options the wizarding world was offering to ease his situation, Snape wasn't even sure he could blame him. The Ministry would rather forget the war ever happened, now that all the war criminals were locked away or dead, than deal with the aftermath.
"No," he said, "I don't believe he will. Longbottom's learned his lesson; he always was a noble little Gryffindor."
Perkins' snort showed he shared Snape's opinion of that sort of wizard, but he did tap the parchment in his hand with his wand and it vanished into the bowels of the Ministry, considered dealt with and probably never to be seen again.
"Moving on," he said, "who did the Greengrass interrogation?"
Snape stifled another yawn, and resisted the urge to count the minutes until he could flee this meeting and return to the relative comfort of his office. It would not, after all, make the time go any faster.
The number of minutes turned out to be one hundred and fifty-seven, and rather than return to his office Snape left the Ministry building altogether, hat in hand and a bundle of scrolls tucked under his arm.
A pint at the Coach and Thestral was most definitely required, to wash the taste of that insipid meeting out of his mouth. The others would probably be making merry in Perkins' ample office, passing around the firewhiskey and recalling the day's work, but Snape had never joined them.
Alone, he could also ponder the enigma of Neville Longbottom. But he was not there more than ten minutes when someone eased onto the stool next to him, pressed up shoulder to shoulder.
"Severus," he said. "It's been too long."
Severus glanced to the side with as much guile and discretion as he'd learned since the first war. "Goyle," he said quietly, sipping his drink as though he hadn't been interrupted. "It has been a long time." Not too long, of course; in fact, if Snape had never seen Goyle again, he still would have considered it too soon.
"Some of the old crowd is getting together," he said, motioning to the barman. Those that had used cunning, lies and outright bribery to avoid being fingered by the Ministry, that was. "I thought you might like to join us."
"You thought wrong," said Snape, draining his pint to the dregs in one smooth swallow. It burned pleasantly, the only pleasure he was going to get out of this visit, it seemed. "If you'll excuse me...."
He turned and left without a backward glance, without ever really acknowledging Goyle's presence. It was the story of his life, that he now eschewed the only companionship he was likely to be offered.
Neville Longbottom lived at number eighty-four Heather Lane, a winding road that led west out of Hogsmeade, on a charming plot of land with a house that might've come straight out of a fairy tale. Snape hated it on sight.
Nonetheless, he walked up a lane lined with large red and yellow blossoms (how very Gryffindor, though Snape was amused to know that they also bit), and knocked on the solid oak door. It was a few moments before Neville answered, dressed in plain green robes with hair that looked as though it had remained untouched after being slept on three nights in succession.
"Snape?" he said, frowning, blocking the doorway with his body. "Why have you come?"
"Because one of me in the world is the exact right number, and I won't have you become another. Let me inside."
Neville stepped aside, allowing his passage but in no way encouraging it. "You always were melodramatic," he said, closing the door behind him. "I have tea. You might as well have a cup, since you've come."
Yes, he might as well, it was the least Longbottom could do. "The Ministry didn't send me," he said after a moment, "if that is what you were concerned about."
"I'm not concerned," said Neville, his back to Snape. There was a time he never would have dared, that few people would have, had they had a choice. "Though you still haven't explained w-why you've come."
No concern indeed. "I believe I did," he said. "You just chose not to listen to me. I should hardly be surprised; you always were guilty of that."
Despite his pinched lips and white knuckles, Neville managed to place the tea service on the table without incident. "I listened," he said. "Then I decided you were full of it. You're a little short on manners, aren't you?"
"Something I suspect we are both guilty of," said Snape, though he had knocked, and Neville had offered tea, so at least they'd observed the niceties.
"Ever since the... the Ministry," said Neville, avoiding the word 'interrogation' as most did, "you've been following me."
Snape sniffed his tea before taking a sip. No evidence of any of Longbottom's recreational products. "You interest me," he said after a moment. "All the others did precisely what I would have expected of them: Potter an Auror and breeding with the Weasley girl--" Longbottom flinched at that; still a sore spot, clearly. "--Granger already back at Hogwarts; I do hope she finds she loathes teaching as much as the rest of us do. And Weasley working a menial job at the Ministry, as is his family's tradition."
"And yours, apparently."
"Indeed," said Snape tightly. "But you, Longbottom; you are not at all as expected."
"What were you expecting, exactly?" he asked sharply. "My parents were Aurors, you know."
"You were never your parents," said Snape with a wave of his hands. "Oh, don't give me that look, it's not an insult. You were never on that path and you know it. But something quiet and unobtrusive, surrounded by those loathsome plants you adored, that would have made sense."
"That's exactly what I've done."
Snape sniffed. "Semantics," he said. "You know what I mean; your illicit trade hardly counts. Above all else, Longbottom, I expected you, of all people, to be able to cope with the war."
Neville was silent, finally having taken his own seat across the table. He looked both indignant and curious, a strange expression, his brow furrowed as he watched Snape intensely.
"And by cope, in case it wasn't clear, I don't mean by drugging yourself senseless every day," Snape prodded him, waiting for something, anything.
Neville shook his head. "You don't know anything," he said. "You don't know anything."
"I do know!" said Snape, raising his voice. "I know things, Longbottom, things that would surprise and frighten you."
"I survived the war," said Neville wearily. "You haven't got anything left to frighten me with. Is that what you came to do? I thought this game was over."
"There was a time you wouldn't have dared speak to me that way."
"There was a time you'd rather have poisoned me than shown up on my doorstep."
Snape inclined his head, admitting the truth of that. He might have even smiled a little. "I want to know what happened to you," he said, "and there's nothing and no one to stop me from finding out. It doesn't mean that I care."
"I don't want you to know me," said Neville, pushing away from the table but not -- quite -- standing.
"I don't care what you want," said Snape, sipping his tea with as much calm as he could muster. These children, his former students, could still anger him all this time later, with only their sheer entitlement. "What you want has not landed you in a very good position, in case you hadn't noticed."
Neville didn't touch his own tea. "Do you enjoy what you do?" he asked, after a thick, dense pause. "Do you like working for the Ministry?"
"Would you be surprised if I said yes?"
"You get to force the truth out of people. You've always liked that kind of power."
"Would you prefer the Ministry convicted its criminals on lies?" Snape asked him smoothly. "That was how the used to do it, you know. Sirius Black served twelve years in Azkaban without ever being asked if he did it."
"You don't get to talk about Sirius Black!"
"You say that as though you knew him," said Snape. "You didn't know him like I knew him." All Longbottom knew would be the tales of glory, told to him by the friends who'd once licked Sirius's boots. He didn't know anything. "He was one of many, you know. Some more tragic than others, of course. So do I like what I do? Yes, Longbottom, I do."
"Especially when you get to interrogate someone like me?"
"Yes," hissed Snape, and knew his lie was invisible. "So tell me, Longbottom, which one of your herbs is responsible for this new-found bravado in the face of your enemy? Do you take them in succession, constantly, to get through each day and each night?"
"Why do you care?" said Neville again, as though he still believed that Snape did. It made his skin tingle with anticipation.
"There are potions that would serve your purposes more easily."
"Potions were always your field, not mine," Neville bit out. Indeed, they were, which was precisely how he knew. "But there's still nothing like Dragonsnap blossoms to make you forget."
"Only for a little while," said Snape. "Then it always comes back."
If Neville was so keen on forgetting, and helping others forget, then a memory charm would be much easier, quicker and more permanent. But that wasn't what he wanted, no, somewhere in the depths of his mind he knew that one couldn't just forget something like a war. One had to find a way to deal with it.
Snape finished his tea and stood up. "I'll take my leave now," he said, not expecting any response. "I have errands, things to do." Neville just nodded. "Do keep yourself out of trouble, Longbottom. I'd hate to have a repeat performance at the Ministry."
Neville was silent as Snape pulled his robes closer about him and stepped out into the bright afternoon, onto the cheery walk in the cheery yard. He only looked back once, at the bottom of the cheery steps, to see Neville still standing in the doorway.
"You're not what I expected either," said Neville as he shut the door.
Snape found he had little desire to -- and thankfully, little reason to -- visit Hogwarts these days. In fact, he hadn't been in... going on two years now, he supposed, not since Minerva had invited him to help go through some of Albus's old things. Time had not made that task any easier.
Somehow it figured that Longbottom would be the one to force him into an uncomfortable situation at Hogwarts again.
"It's late," said Minerva, meeting him at the doors as though she knew he was coming. He wondered which portrait had given him away; probably Albus himself.
"I didn't want to risk seeing children," he said succinctly. "May I come in?"
"You are always welcome here," she said. So long as he didn't indulge that invitation very often, and he most certainly wouldn't. "What can I do for you?"
"A cup of tea, to start," he said, stepping in out of the chill and casting a warming charm. "Then merely a bit of information." Perhaps he shouldn't have said information, for it put a look of deep suspicion on her face; as well it should have, given his position. "I will not play games with you, Minerva; I assume you know of Longbottom's activities?"
The question did not ease any of the suspicion on her face. "I haven't any idea what you're talking about, Severus."
"I'm not here on an errand from the Ministry, Minerva. I'm here as... someone who remembers. Now I will do you the credit of assuming that you do know, and proceed from there."
She nodded once and led him to her private quarters; the first man who'd seen the inside of them for some time, Snape thought uncharitably. "I do not approve," she said, as she served him his tea.
"But you do not stop him," Snape replied, inhabiting his seat like they visited every day. "Because you know why."
She neither agreed nor disagreed with his conclusion. "Davy Meriwether lost both parents, Muggles, when he was ten," she said after a moment. "Before he ever started Hogwarts or knew what a wizard was. Sophie Davis watched her older brothers be tortured to death while she hid under her bed. James Hughes was thirteen years old when he fought them. Fought them, Severus. At thirteen!"
"He must be nearly finished with Hogwarts, now," mused Severus, not quite irrelevantly. "Has it really been so long?"
"These things do not leave us," she said, taking her own seat with a smooth and ghost-like motion. Severus did not remember her being quite so thin and pale. "The children most of all."
"And yet we do nothing," said Severus. He had been both, after all: a child who needed help, and an adult who offered none. "Do you approve of Dreamless Sleep potions? Calming draughts? Blissful brews?"
"Well, of course," she said, "but those are all medicinal, Severus. Surely you're not comparing--"
"No, of course not," he said, and let her draw her own conclusions. The very fact that she did not stop the trafficking when she was one of the only people with the actual power to do so told Severus what he needed to know, on that count.
"It's like this every time," she added after a moment, the weariness of a woman who would know such a thing weighing down her voice.
"And how very sad it is that we can quite confidently say so," said Severus. "Are the children better, for what he does?"
She sighed and stared at her hands. "They are not worse," she said finally, "which is something. But I do not approve. There is a reason such things are prohibited."
"And indeed, if the children got it in their heads to dose themselves whilst in class you might have a great number of them repeating their years at Hogwarts. A punishment like none other, really."
"It has not been a problem," she admitted. "So far. Should it ever come to that, I would take steps, Severus, do not doubt me." Severus did not, for Minerva McGonagall was a formidable woman when she chose to be.
"Longbottom... has taken an interesting path with his life, hasn't he?" It was not, as it might have seemed, a change of subject.
"I had such high hopes for that boy," said Minerva with a deeply sorrowful sigh. "He had so much potential, for all his problems when he was a young boy."
"And you believe that potential is being wasted now?"
"Don't you agree?" she said. "The war changed him, Severus, and I fear there will be no changing him back."
"You wanted him to do great things, like your other little lions," he said, not without a little bit of bitterness. "You wanted him to be at the forefront of his field, or fighting dark wizards like Potter."
"I wanted him to be happy, Severus," she retorted. "That, is where I fear I failed him. For not even you can argue that he is."
Indeed, Severus could not.
"I was fine," said Neville, grabbing Snape's shoulder before Snape even saw him coming, something he found even more deeply disturbing than what Neville was saying. "I was doing all right, I was fine, and then you came along and you wouldn't leave me alone!"
Snape was going to have to find a new watering hole, if he was going to continue to be accosted every time he entered this one. Though being accosted by Longbottom was something of a novel and intriguing experience.
"I visited you one time, Longbottom. Surely this left you plenty of time to be alone."
"And you followed me into the pub--"
"Like you've done just now to me?"
"And you won't leave my head," finished Neville, nearly breathless. "Why are you doing this to me?"
"If I am constantly in your head, Longbottom--" And wasn't than an interesting thing to know? "--then that has nothing to do with me and everything to do with you."
"Y-you think you know things that you don't know. I have a good life, Snape. I have a life you don't know anything about. Why couldn't you stay out of it?"
"Since when have I done anything you asked."
"I don't understand you!"
"There are very few people who ever did," said Snape. He thought perhaps he would now have a moment's peace -- not as enticing a thought as he might have expected -- until he heard the sound of a hand slapping on the solid bartop next to him.
"You are the most horrible, disagreeable, filthy, stubborn, nasty wizard I have ever known. And I w-- I wouldn't spend a single moment more with you if I had V-voldemort himself as my only other option!"
Yet Neville did not leave.
It started with a little tickle at the nape of his neck, a little tug at his mouth, a twitch at the back of his throat. First he was snorting, then smiling, then Severus Snape was laughing.
"Nasty and inappropriate."
"Come on," said Snape, "we've got to get you out of here before you make a spectacle of yourself." Though they were quite past that already, he suspected. "You don't want any more Ministry attention than you've already had."
Snape might have been horrible, disagreeable, filthy, stubborn, nasty and terribly, terribly inappropriate, but what he was not, at the moment, was miserable.
Snape's home was dark, dreary and crowded, and seldom saw guests, but it was still sufficient to contain an angry and possibly intoxicated Neville Longbottom. "You'll not touch anything," he said, leaving him in front of a worn armchair. "And you'll kindly stop yelling."
Neville still looked too startled at being unwillingly pulled along on Snape's Apparition to do much of anything. Snape supposed there might have been a better way to handle things, but not a quicker one.
"I do dislike making a scene."
"I seem to recall you enjoyed being dramatic," said Neville, finding his voice. "And these days you seem to do whatever you like. Maybe I ought to be doing whatever I like as well."
"I have to wonder," said Snape, stalking a circle around that very same chair, "just why you aren't? Or is growing Dragonsnaps and sulking around Hogsmeade like a miserable, old curmudgeon the sum total of your ambitions?"
"It seemed to work just fine for you."
"And since when am I any sort of model to be emulated?" Snape spat at him. "Honestly, Longbottom, surely you have a better answer than that."
"Not that I can repeat in polite company."
"Oh, I believe we haven't been polite company in some time," said Snape, pausing at Neville's shoulder, close enough to feel his breath. "Not if your string of invectives against me is any indication."
It was not clear which happened first, Neville grabbing Snape's wrist or Snape shoving Neville against a wall, but there they were, eye to eye and hot breath to hot breath. What was clear was that the moment their lips met it was an entirely mutual action.
"Do all your idle curiosities end this way?" Neville asked him, only when he'd shoved back, pinning Snape between his body and that solid, old chair.
"I should be so lucky," said Snape, sucking in a lungful of air before their lips crushed together again, this time for a very long time.
They broke a lamp, two picture frames and an antique vase between wet, clumsy kisses against the chair and two naked bodies between the sheets of Snape's mercifully-tidy bed, but they got there in the end.
Snape thought it was the first truly good thing that had happened to him since his freedom at the end of the war, until he woke the next morning and found Longbottom long gone.
Snape found him in the garden behind his cottage, which shouldn't have surprised him and yet it did. The man kneeling in the dirt, wearing the dragonhide gloves and peering closely at a curled and snarling leaf could have been the Hogwarts student Snape had once known. And after how they'd spent the previous night, that was an extremely disquieting thought.
"What are you doing?" he asked him, after hovering over him for long enough to have long since been noticed.
"I'm working," said Neville, finishing his ministrations to the cranky plant before he bothered to so much as look up. "What, did you think Dragonsnap blossoms were the only thing I grew? That I made my living supplying them?" Neville pointed to a corner of the garden, which looked like mere daffodils until Snape concentrated a little harder and saw the true contents of the patch. "That's all I've got and that's all I need."
It was hardly enough for any sort of industry, probably just enough for himself and Hogwarts. "Do you make any money off it at all?"
"Not a knut," said Neville, brushing off his hands.
"But your fine to the Ministry--"
"I have a respectable inheritance. It was worth it. Now these, these fetch a fair bit from the better Diagon apothecaries; they don't take to all tenders, you know. You've got to have a delicate touch."
Snape opened his mouth to comment, then shook his head, refusing to stray from his original intent. "You," he said, pointing a bony finger in Neville's direction, "are an idiot."
"I know," said Neville. "Last night should never have happened."
Snape snorted at him. "Of course last night should have happened," he said. "You never should have just left. You were a Gryffindor, Longbottom, surely you're capable of telling a wizard you're not interested in him without having to sneak off into the night."
"I thought..." began Neville weakly.
"You thought what?
"--that you would be the one to ask me to leave if you saw me there."
"Do you think I have so many guests in my bed that I can toss them aside when I'm through, Longbottom? Do you think I'm not entirely too familiar with an empty bed?"
"I thought you liked it that way."
It was on the tip of Snape's tongue to say 'I do', to snarl and swirl his robes around his ankle and stalk out of the garden again having had the last word. But he did not. He said instead, "I did."
Neville kicked at the dirt, leaving a little furrow next to his carefully-tended plant. "Yeah. Suppose I thought I liked my life too, before you started mucking about in it."
"Mucking about, he says. Like I did anything more than actually make you think for once."
"Made yourself think, more like," Neville countered. "I don't drug myself senseless, you know. It's just for once in a while."
"Yes, I believe I can see that for myself," said Snape. Once in a while was still not so good as never. Though he should talk, a man who still kept a supply of exotic potions on hand for those nights when he could not sleep. "So be a man, Longbottom, and tell me whether to stay or go."
"Well," he said, pausing only a moment. "I don't fancy having to wait until the Ministry decides to bring me back in before I see you again."
Snape almost smiled. "I can't say I don't fancy the idea of having you under Veritaserum again. There are a lot of things that still don't have answers."
"Not everything needs and answer," said Neville, removing his gloves and levitating them back to the garden shed. "Just a solution."
"Yes, well," said Snape, following him along the path back to the cottage. "We haven't got enough of those yet, either."
"Come inside for tea," said Neville instead of responding directly, then looked back over his shoulder and gave Snape the first genuine smile -- grin even, lopsided and gleeful -- he'd seen on Neville's face in a very long time. "I'll be sure to put all the breakables away."
Snape thought that sounded like a very good idea indeed.