My writing process can be likened to a long car trip. I have a map, I know where I'm going, but with rest stops, construction, detours and accidents, I might take a lot longer to get there than I think I will.
The rest of the day was grey and cold, as if to underline the general mood of the castle inhabitants. Any other time, the students would have been thrilled with the prospect of an unexpected holiday. Now, Harry felt their idleness gave them too much time to dwell on their thoughts
All of the Gryffindors were going to be called to speak with the Aurors one by one. They wanted to know about Neville. What Neville said about his home life, if there were any suspicions among them. Harry remembered Neville telling the story of his uncle dropping him out of a window when he was little, trying to scare some magic out of him. There were a few other stories like that--all involving the same uncle.
Harry noticed with irritation, that many of his housemates were claiming closer relationships with Neville than he’d ever observed them having. Lavender had almost been going around claiming unrequited love for him, until Ginny called her a stupid, cow in front of the whole common room. It was the first time Ginny had actually said anything that Harry had heard, after the announcement. But fairplay, Ginny had been quiet around Harry for as long as he’d known her. He did think he remembered Neville helping Ginny with her Herbology homework.
Soon after Dumbledore had finished his speech, Hermione had gotten up from the the table and walked out of the Hall alone, without a word to either of them. Ron and Harry hadn’t even realized she was gone for a while, wrapped as they were in their own shock.
When Harry and Ron went to look for her before lunch they naturally searched for her in the library, after they ascertained she was not in the tower. They found her in the very back of the library, in an alcove she favored for its privacy. She wasn’t reading though, she had her face in her hands.
“Hermione?” said Harry quietly, not wanting to sneak up on her.
“What?” she said, sharply. She didn’t move, didn’t take her hands away from her face.
“Uh, we thought, maybe, you might want to get some lunch?” Ron said, uncertainly.
“No.” Hermione said into her hands, “I’m not hungry. ” her voice was flat and hoarse.
Harry shrugged helplessly at Ron.
“I...well...we’ll be at lunch...” Ron said, nervously, “If, you know, if you need us.”
Hermione nodded into her hands. Harry and Ron headed up to the Great Hall, not knowing what else to do.
“This is horrible.” said Ron in a low voice. Harry nodded in agreement. The hall was half empty and those who were there, were subdued. Even the Slytherins were looking depressed.
“What about all this medical exam stuff?” Ron asked Harry as they sat down, “Do they really think there’s others who’ve had family beating on them?” It seemed to Harry that Ron gave him a long, speculative look.
Harry rubbed his arm uncomfortably, “I dunno, maybe.” Harry was nervous about that. He’d never had a proper medical exam. Madam Pomfrey had fixed him up when he’d injured himself, but he wasn’t sure this was going to be the same kind of exam.
Ron started loading up his plate. Harry couldn’t see anything on the table that he could stomach eating. He settled for taking some bread and buttering it heavily again. He put a lot of milk and sugar into his tea. He glanced at the teacher’s table. Most of them were gone.
Harry sat, thinking again about the bruises he’d seen on Neville’s arm. His weren’t anywhere near that bad.
The Dursleys were horrible of course, but they couldn’t be considered abusive, could they? That seemed a little over the top. Anyway, Vernon only got ugly once in a while. Most of the time, he just shouted at Harry. They hadn’t even locked him in the cupboard since he’d been to Hogwarts. This summer had only been bad because of what happened with Marge. It wasn’t as if any of the Dursleys would permanently injure Harry. Not like what happened to Neville.
A dull pain ached in Harry’s chest. He’d fed Neville’s toad that morning, as the poor thing sat patiently waiting for the master who would never return for him. He’d have to ask Professor McGonagal what she was planning to do with him.
Oh, but McGonagal was gone, right now. Harry wondered who was stepping in for her.
The questions in his head just kept coming back to the obvious matter. How could Neville had lived with them for two years and no one noticed? Harry racked his brain, examining every interaction he’d ever had with Neville.
It seemed he wasn’t the only one wondering this. Little snippets of conversation drifted to him, that all seemed to be about that very subject. Dully, Harry looked around the great Hall. Fred and George were sitting a little ways down the table. He thought they’d been looking towards him, but they were in deep conversation with each other, about Neville. He heard one of them saying, “And don’t forget about the nightmares Ron says he’s always had.”
Harry did remember Neville’s nightmares. A few times last year, when Harry couldn’t sleep, he’d had to wake a muttering, tossing Neville out of one. Harry hadn’t realized Ron woke up in the night to witness them, as well.
George (he was wearing the sweater with the “G” on it) glanced up and saw Harry. He gave Harry a wan smile. They’d both finished their meal and were getting up to leave, “All right, there, Harry?” he asked as they passed. They both wore an identical expression of worry and upset.
“Yeah, fine.” Harry said. He felt the same way, really.
The other topic of conversation Harry heard were these new “Screening exams”. Some of the murmuring sounded outraged, “My mother’s going to go mad to hear that the schools accusing Pure Bloods of child abuse!” Harry heard one Ravenclaw boy say haughtily, as they walked by.
Some of the tone sounded fearful, wondering who was going to do the exams and how they were going to be accomplished. Percy, Ron’s older brother, was sitting a few feet down the table. He had been appointed Head Boy this year, and as such, students hoped the teachers had given him new information. Two first years were apparently driving him to distraction with these question, “I know as much as you, and I’ll thank you to let me eat in peace.” he snapped at them.
It also seemed that people were discussing other students, in light of who might turn out to have a bad home life. Harry noticed with a sort of morbid interest, a little tableau that was repeated at least three times while he sat there; a student would walk past a knot of whispering people, who would fall silent. When the student in question passed them, the group would then poke each other, nodding and and making shh-ing noises and gestures.
Harry recognized the signs, since he had been the subject of so much gossip and speculation last year. It was a relief (although Harry hated to admit that there was anything good about today) not to be in the middle of that.
Finally deciding that he’d spent long enough picking at his food, Harry finished his tea and gave up lunch as a bad job, “I’m going to head back up to the Tower,” he told Ron.
“Yeah, okay. See you in a bit.”
It wasn’t too long later, when a general announcement was made that all students should return to their common rooms. Snape’s magically magnified voice said that heads of houses would be arriving shortly to explain the procedures for the following days..
“D’you suppose McGonagal’s back?” someone asked.
Harry had claimed one of the chairs near the window and was trying to get some of his summer homework done. He hadn’t dared sneak his belongings out of the cupboard under the stairs after Fudge had returned him to Privet Drive. This meant he was very behind.
Harry had ordered most of his new books by owl yesterday, taking the order form up to Hedwig in the owlry after he was supposed to be in bed. He hoped they’d get here before classes resumed, it would mean answering a lot of embarrassing questions otherwise. Fortunately, his school clothes still fit him and Aunt Petunia had given him a few pairs of jeans that were too small for Dudley to wear that almost fit Harry. Harry thought they might have been Dudley’s when he was about eight.
Harry went back to working on his History of Magic essay. At least this term he wasn’t going to have to turn it in late.
Over the next fifteen minutes, the common room filled up as people came in through the portrait hole and down from the dormitories. Harry saw Ron and Hermione come in together. Hermione’s face was blotchy, but tearless. The twins came in behind them, still with that uncharacteristically serious expression. One of them said something to Ron who nodded.
Harry waved to Ron and Hermione, assuming they couldn’t see him. Hermione touched Ron’s arm and they walked over to him.
“All right?” asked Harry.
Hermione nodded, not speaking and not meeting his eyes. She sat at the table, propping her chin on her hands.
Ron sat next to her, looking dispirited, “Hi, Harry.”
Harry wanted to ask what was wrong, but that was stupid. He wanted to say something, anything. There just didn’t seem anything to say.
The portrait hole opened again, and in walked Professor Lupin. He was still looking grey and tired. Now that Harry had a chance to really observe the man, he saw that his robes though clean, were quite worn looking.
“If I might have your attention?” he said, loudly enough to be heard over the general mutter.
The room quieted immediately.
“Professor McGonagal has owled us that she will be away for several days at least, so she has asked me to stand in for her. I realize this is not an ideal way for us to meet...” the man’s jaw tightened as he said this. Harry thought that it must be hard for him; the man had been the one to discover how injured Neville was, without even teaching a single class. The professor swallowed and took a deep breath, “I will be explaining the procedure for these new screenings.”
He held up a stack of parchment, “We’ll be doing the examinations alphabetically, by year. Each of you has a sheet here, with the time and day of your appointment. Please keep the appointment, as the healers from St Mungo's are only being lent to us for the week. It will be a painless although fairly extensive exam. It should take between a half hour to forty-five minutes.”
One of the first years raised her hand. Lupin pointed to her, “You had a question?”
“Do we have to get shots?” she asked, nervously. Harry remembered that this one was Muggle-born. Harry had gotten a few shots in primary school when the health nurse came around. Harry remembered the nurse being rather annoyed that Harry hadn’t gotten any before then.
“No,” said Lupin firmly, “This is merely a screening exam. If any treatment is indicated, the healers will set it up for another time.”
“Now, another concern,” Lupin went on gravely, “This exam is screening for mistreatment, but like everything, it is not infallible. You know each other, much better than the teachers ever could know you. If you have any fears regarding your housemates, it is imperative that you notify one of the staff. My office door is always open, as are the doors of any of the professors. Please don’t think that you are being in any way disloyal by sharing this sort of information. Quite the contrary. We cannot help where we don’t know the need.”
Lupin looked around at them seriously, “I will leave you to your afternoon. Please present yourself to the infirmary in time for your appointments.” he handed the stack of folded papers to Percy, who puffed himself up importantly and started calling people by name to receive their parchments, and left the room.
When Percy had called “Granger, Hermione.” Hermione went forward and took her parchment, then went out the portrait hole, without a word to Harry or Ron.
“Where’s she gone?” asked Harry.
“Library, I expect.” said Ron, quickly, “You want to play some chess once this is done?”
“Potter, Harry.” called Percy. Harry went to get his parchment.
“9:00 Friday, September 3.” The parchment read.
Harry had a weird hollow feeling as he read it. He remembered Vernon, the night Fudge brought him back to Privet Drive ranting about how no one believed Harry’s whinging and he’d just have to take what was coming.
This had happened in primary school once. One of the teachers had gotten upset that Harry had limped into school one day and notified the nurse. The nurse notified the Dursleys and then examined him herself. Of course, by the time she looked, it had already healed, Harry supposed magic made Wizards heal much faster than Muggles. Petunia had been furious at the nurse contacting her. Harry hadn’t eaten at home for a month--Petunia was claiming some kind of allowance for his school lunches or Harry was sure he wouldn’t have had those.
Harry crumbled up the parchment and stuck it in his pocket, deciding that there was no way he was going through that again. If he skipped it and went on Monday instead, the marks Vernon had inflicted would already be gone. Even better, Lupin had said the healers would only be there that week. Perhaps he could dodge it altogether.
“Well, the students should all have received their appointment times by now.” Severus Snape said, looking around the staffroom to see affimative nods, “Does anyone have any questions on procedure?”
The teachers shook their heads. It was one of the most muted staff meetings they’d had in Severus’ whole time at Hogwarts. He was not comfortable being the one to run it, but Dumbledore had left him in charge because he was the head of house most able to function through the aftermath of Longbottom’s death.
He chided himself for the euphemism. Longbottom’s murder, then.
“Then, I think we can adjourn until tomorrow morning? I have a great deal to do tonight and I’m sure all of you do, as well.” He finished, tiredly. Four hours of sleep was just not enough.
“Severus?” Lupin said as the rest filed out, “A word?”
“What, Lupin?” asked Severus, too tired to even sneer.
“Three Gryffindors have come forward to me, saying they have concerns about a fellow student. I told them to meet me in my office before dinner. Given that I don’t know them at all...”
Severus sighed heavily, “Quite right, I suppose. Although, I hardly think Gryffindors would speak to me any more freely.” Severus considered asking Poppy to speak with them. But no, he was acting headmaster and as such it fell to him, “Which students?”
“Hermione Granger.” Lupin began.
Severus couldn’t help but roll his eyes, “Of course, it is.” he muttered.
“Fred Weasley and George Weasley.” Finished Lupin, ignoring Severus.
That was interesting.
“Who is the student they were concerned about?” Severus asked.
“They wouldn’t say. I think they were afraid that they were likely to get their friend in trouble.” replied Lupin.
Severus thought about who it could be. Perhaps Jordan? Or one of the girls in Granger’s dorm? He went through all the students that he thought Granger and the Weasley’s might have in common. They were all from decent homes...
That thought stopped him cold. The Longbottoms were not just a “decent” family, they were considered of the highest quality in the Wizarding World.
“All right, Lupin, I’ll come with you.” Severus said shortly.
As they walked down to Lupin’s office, Lupin sighed pensively, “This isn’t the first time child abuse has been missed at this school.” he said softly.
Severus felt his insides turn cold. Surely, she had never betrayed his trust? “What do you mean by that?” he asked in a low, dangerous voice. His hand was on his wand, ready to Obliviate Lupin into idiocy, if necessary.
“Oh, come now, Severus,” replied Lupin, apparently not registering the other wizard’s outrage, “You knew the Blacks. I know you were friends with Regulus. I’m sure you heard about their father.” :Lupin shuddered, “And their mother.”
Severus relaxed, silently apologizing to Lily’s spirit for thinking so ill of her, “Yes, I believe I did.”
“I’ve always thought that that’s what drove Sirius over the edge. I wonder if joining the Voldemort was a way of trying to gain approval from his parents. A way to return to the Black family, with honor.” Lupin seemed to have forgotten who he was talking to, “I can’t imagine why he did what he did otherwise.”
“Yes, well, we have more immediate concerns here.” Severus was duty bound to hear out the Gryffindor students, but he would be damned before he became the wolf’s counselor.
Lupin shook himself, “Yes, of course.”
The three students were lurking just inside the Defense Against the Dark Arts classroom. A look of complete panic flashed across the Granger girl’s face, as she saw who was with Lupin. The twins seemed of sterner stuff, though. They merely looked mildly queasy.
Lupin invited them to sit around a table he conjured. Perhaps feeling (rightly) that his office proper would be too small a space. He flicked his wand and closed the door.
Severus sat down, trying to look less foreboding, “You had something you wished to tell us?” He cursed to himself, he hadn’t meant that to sound so short.
“Um...you see, sir...” Granger started, fidgeting maddeningly, “I wanted to tell you that...well, I’m not sure, really, but he’s got so much in common with Neville that I thought...Every time the sleeve on his robe slides up, he’s got the exact same kind of marks and I’ve been worried for a long time about it...He never goes home for holidays, either and they don’t feed him properly...” her eyes began to fill with tears and she ceased her babbling, trying to get a grip on herself.
Severus closed his eyes, it would not do to shout at the girl, as much as he wanted to. Instead he took a deep steadying breath, opened his eyes and focused on the Weasley twins, “Perhaps you gentlemen could enlighten me as to who Miss Granger is referring too?”
One of the boys (Severus had given up trying to tell them apart three years ago), took a deep breath, “Harry.” he said.
“I beg your pardon?” Severus stared blankly at the boys, looking for any sign of a prank. He couldn’t see any of their usual tells. No upturned quirk of the mouth, or nervous fiddling with their wands. Now did they have the deadpan expression of someone trying to hide their feelings. The three of them looked worried, sad and deadly earnest.
But that was mad, “Potter?” Severus demanded, “Has he been whining that his Muggle relatives are not worthy of Famous Harry Potter’s presence?”
Granger winced and cowered at his tone, but the twins looked mutinous, “Harry never talks about his relatives.” the other one said flatly, “But we broke him out of his room last year. They’d put bars on his window and they’d locked him into his room with about a hundred locks. There was a cat flap on the door and they’d been starving him.” he said firmly.
Luping opened his mouth to say something, but Severus glared him into silence, “What do you mean ‘starving’ him?” Severus asked slowly.
“We mean a can of Muggle soup once a day, shared between himself and his owl.” said one of the boys stoutly, “He told us that much, when we first picked him up.”
The other one chipped in, “He shut up about it after, though. Like he thought he said too much.”
“And when he got on the train this year, I couldn’t hug him without him yelping. I think they really hurt him.” put in Hermione, finally able to talk without tears, it seemed.
“It is not unusual for Muggles in rough neighborhoods to install bars on their windows for protection, you know.” Lupin jumped in. “They don’t have alarm charms or security spells.” He seemed almost pleading.
“Not just on one window, Professor Lupin.” replied Hermione, “And not on an upstairs bedroom window. That couldn’t be opened from the inside. If there had been a fire, he wouldn’t have been able to get out.”
Severus scoffed, “It would be a poor wizard, indeed, who died in a simple, non-magical fire.”
“Yeah, but the Muggles don’t know that, do they?” said one of the Weasleys. He nodded at Hermione, “She told us that Muggles have all sorts of rules for buildings because they’re afraid of being trapped in fires.”
“And where is the other Mr. Weasley?” asked Severus, “Surely, he has something to say?”
Hermione went very red, “He’s keeping Harry busy. Harry would be furious if he knew we were here.”
She didn’t add, “Talking to you.” but Severus could hear it, hovering in the air.
“Thank you for the information, Miss Granger. Mr. Weasley and Mr. Weasley. Would you mind putting your observations in writing?” if this were a prank or joke, Severus wanted documentation in the students’ own hand.
“Yes, sir.” They all seemed far more compliant than pranksters would be.
Severus conjured quills and parchment for all of them, “Give your observations to Professor Lupin. Rest assured they will be investigated.”
Severus stood, “I have many things to attend to tonight. You needn’t mention this conversation to Mr. Potter. I will not.” he thought they might be more forthcoming if he gave them a measure of anonymity. He left them in the capable and far more sympathetic, hands of Professor Lupin.
All the way back to his rooms, Severus struggled with himself. Potter was merely whining. He was an attention-seeker. He was creating stories to draw sympathy and impress his friends.
But Longbottom had been clumsy, incompetent. A daydreamer. A coward.
If what Granger and the Weasleys said was true, even in part...
Severus shuddered. He could hear the sound of Lily Evans crying for her son.
Notes on Chapter 2
Here we see Snape struggling with an idea he wouldn't have even entertained before Neville's death. It is not uncommon for a death like this to throw a whole community into turmoil with rounds of soul searching and self reflection.
Many people get upset with the way Snape reacts here, because he's still being a right ass. He's not trying to, but he can't help it and he's under a lot of stress. While he doesn't feel directly responsible for Neville's death, its called a lot of things about himself into question.
A note on my spelling and punctuation: Some chapters have been beta'd for this, some have not. My grammar is generally pretty good, although I sometimes get confused between US and UK conventions. My punctuation is sometimes sloppy. I have ADD, inattentive type, and so this is common. I do my best to fix it, but I can't always see it.
In regards to spelling Minerva's last name: there are no less than four English language spellings of this name. I have used all of them at one time or another. I try to get her name right, but "McGonagol" is the author of a reference book I use frequently and that is the most common misspelling.
If anyone has questions they wish to see addressed in these notes, please let me know.