They are the unsung, the forgotten. They will never be a Boy Who Lived. Yet their victories, unnoticed and uncelebrated, mean the difference between victory and defeat.

Silent Soldiers: Neville Longbottom

It Could Never Be Me

Neville slowly crept down the dormitory stairs. It was nearly midnight, and he would risk extremely harsh punishments if caught out of bed. If his roommates had awakened and seen him, he would have claimed that he needed a drink of water, but no one moved. Not that they'd care if they did see me, Neville thought. No one ever cares.

He was nearly down to the common room when he heard voices. He froze on the steps, not wanting to be discovered. The voices, although mere whispers, carried clearly to where he stood. Neville hesitated. Now what? He couldn't leave the tower with people watching, and it would be unthinkably rude to eavesdrop on these people's conversation when they so obviously wanted it to be a secret.

He'd just have to go back up to the dormitory and wait for them to leave. Neville chewed on his lower lip anxiously. But then it might be too late…

His head jerked. He had distinctly heard his name among the whispers below him. Neville even thought he recognized the voice. He sat down on the steps and peered cautiously around the corner of the stairwell.

Harry, Ron, and Hermione were standing in a little circle, arguing furiously. He frowned. What were they doing up? Then he heard his name again and began eavesdropping shamelessly.

*   *   *

"…don't know if we can trust him," Ron hissed angrily.

Harry glared back at his friend. "There's no reason not to," he said angrily.

"You guys," Hermione whispered anxiously, peering around the room. "Keep it down!"

"Listen to me, Harry," Ron said urgently, ignoring Hermione. "I know you like to believe the best in people, but you have to be open to the possibility that someone could betray you!"

"Not Neville," Harry said firmly. Neville's heart constricted. They were talking about him? They thought he might betray them to Voldemort?

"Harry, stop being so stubborn! A traitor helped You-Know-Who before; who's to say that he might not try to convert someone again? And who better than someone from your own dormitory?" 

Harry was adamant. "Maybe so, but Neville wouldn't do it."

Ron looked ready to continue arguing when Hermione spoke up. "He might have a point, Harry," she said worriedly.

He rounded on her in disbelief. "Don't tell me you think Neville would turn against us, too?"

Hermione looked very unhappy, but she continued her explanation. "You remember what happened to your dad. How Peter Pettigrew…" Her voice trailed off momentarily. "You know what Professor McGonagall said. About how Peter followed your dad around and…well…wasn't quite as talented as of his friends? I don't mean to speak badly of Neville, but he is a lot like that…history repeats itself, you know, and there are certainly enough similarities between then and now."

Harry looked into his friends' eyes, then to the ground. "I know, Hermione, but I just can't believe it of Neville."

"Don't you think that's what your father believed about Peter?" she asked quietly.

Harry stared at her again. "But this isn't the same!" he insisted.

"Like hell it isn't!" Ron blurted out. "How is this any different?"

"Have you ever wondered why Neville's grandmother raised him?" Harry asked quietly. Neville's heart pounded painfully in his temples. Ron and Hermione blinked.

"Well, I guess…I never thought about it," said Ron. "What does that have to do with anything?" 

"A lot," Harry answered. He held up a hand to forestall questions. "It isn't my story to tell. Ask Neville, if you like. But believe me, Neville would never join someone who has made him suffer as much as he has."

That made his companions fall silent. Ron, however, could not stay silent for long. "That could be an incentive for him to join You-Know-Who! If You-Know-Who killed his parents, then maybe Neville feels like there's no point in standing up to him! Maybe he's already given into the person who murdered his parents!"

"I never said they were dead."

"Huh?" came Ron's intelligent response.

"His parents aren't dead; they're worse than dead. If Neville wants to tell you the whole story, he will – but his parents were victims of Voldemort. They dedicated their lives to the fight against Voldemort and the Dark Arts. Maybe Neville isn't as talented magically as some of the rest of us, but he would never let his parents' sacrifices be in vain."

Harry's voice had a cold finality to it. "Neville would never betray us. I know it."

*   *   *

As quietly as he could, Neville crept back up the tower stairs. He eased open his bedroom door, being careful not to wake Dean and Seamus. Somehow he picked his way across the cluttered floor without tripping over anything and collapsed on his bed shivering.

He didn't know how long he lay there, shaking in silence. It must have been a long time, though, because the next thing he knew the door opened again. Harry and Ron slipped through it, apparently finished with their argument. He waited until there was no movement from the beds near his before daring to take out his wand and mutter, "Lumos." He pulled a crumpled piece of parchment from his pocket and unfolded it with trembling hands.

The feeble light of his spell just illuminated the words – the words that were permanently branded into his memory.

                                  Neville –

You don't have to be alone. Meet me

at the North Tower at midnight. We can

give you the power you desire.

There was no signature. Just a crude sketch of a skull with a snake for a tongue.

Every wizard and witch in the world knew the Dark Lord's sign.

Neville stared at the parchment in his quivering hand. Then slowly, deliberately, he tore it into a thousand tiny pieces.

He laid back down to sleep, extinguishing the light with a whispered, "Nox."

And if Harry noticed that a certain group of Slytherins was especially cruel to Neville the next day, he didn't say a word.