After being a prefect for two years I had developed a sixth sense for trouble. The air seemed to feel heavier around me, my black eyes narrowed and my ears pricked up moments before any sign of a commotion was apparent. Rolling my eyes, I turned a corner expecting to see something I could either choose to ignore (hey, it's survival of fittest in this world) or intervene, possibly resulting in an exchange of hurtful remarks, detention, or a visit to the Hospital Wing. Hey, it's not my fault, I always let the kids make their own choices; it's either the easy way, or the hard way (the hard way usually ending with a Hospital visit).
A smaller than average blond boy stood with his hands on his hips, a malicious sneer on his pale, pointed face. Two lumbering moss-covered mountains stood behind him, and it was a second before I realised they were actually dressed in Slytherin robes.
"Malfoy, you little shit," I muttered under my breath. I strode a little closer, long black hair swaying down my back.
A heavy-set brunette boy stood in front of him, his back to a wall, round face shining and red with embarrassment. I hadn't really paid much attention to the boy before; he was just one more kid bumbling around my castle. Longbottom bit his bottom lip and stared at his shoes as Malfoy laughed at his own "wit".
A small crowd had gathered in the corridor by now, Slytherins and Gryffindors alike. A gangly looking ginger and a smaller boy with a shock of black hair were being cautiously watched by a number of boys wearing the same Gryffindor robes close by. Potter's face was slowly becoming more contorted with ill disguised rage.
Potter, always the hero, I thought a little pityingly to myself. Before the boy made things worse I calmly reached into my robes and withdrew my wand. I've never had much time for heroes.
With quick flick of my wand, I muttered, "Silencio", and Malfoy's snide remarks were cut short. Confused, the crowd around him didn't make a sound. Malfoy's mouth opened and closed dumbly, and Longbottom timidly looked up, curious as to why Malfoy's insults had suddenly ceased. A few of the more astute members of the crowd realised what had happened, and began to laugh.
Indecipherable shouts mocking Malfoy were heard amongst the ascending laughter, and the boy's face quickly turned the same colour as Longbottom's. Adding fuel to the fire, Malfoy turned to face the crowd and silently shouted for quiet, a roar of laughter echoing down the halls. He clutched at his throat and, admitting defeat, pushed through the crowd as fiercely as he could, his cronies staring after him, confused and clearly unable to move without his instruction. Malfoy blindly ran in my direction, and I saw two Ravenclaw boys in front of me mutter and laugh.
One of the boys subtly held out his leg in Malfoy's path; thinking quickly, I kicked the back of the leg holding the boy up, making him loose his balance and withdraw his leg just in time to let Malfoy pass unharmed. Enraged, he turned to me and, upon seeing my face, turned pink and gulped, angry words lost in his throat. Malfoy had received a fair punishment, and I wouldn't allow him to suffer any more humiliation than what was necessary.
The crowd quickly dissipated, the sound of happy chatter settling back to normal. The Weasley boy stood in a circle of his peers and imitated Malfoy clutching his throat for Potter and his friends' amusement. I strode over to Longbottom, the only one (apart from Malfoy) who hadn't laughed. He still had his back to the wall, his round face still red.
"You alright, kid?" Longbottom looked startled when I spoke to him, and looked up at me in fright. I leaned casually against the wall beside him, more than a foot taller. Sweat still glistened on his forehead and round cheeks. Having perfected the art of conjuring by my 6th year, I lazily spun my wand and a red and yellow patterned handkerchief lightly landed in my open hand. Without facing him, I held out the handkerchief to Longbottom, and he took it shyly with trembling hands.
The corridor was almost empty now, classes having just started. Longbottom still hadn't moved.
"Thank you," his voice was so quiet it almost didn't reach my ears. I knew it must have been intimidating, talking to an older student you'd never met who had just witnessed one of your most embarrassing moments.
"He's wrong you know," I said casually, still not facing him; I knew he didn't want to be seen. "Malfoy. The hat's never wrong."
I heard a small inarticulate squeak of recognition beside me.
I continued, "Houses are all about potential. Sometimes your potential develops," I paused and faced him before pointing to the crest on my robes, "sometimes it doesn't. It's up to you to decide who you want to be."
He looked down at the handkerchief in his hands and lightly ran a finger over one of the corners, N.L inscribed in looping golden letters. Nervously, he smiled to himself and glanced up at me. I gave him a very rare smile and patted him on the back.
"Come on, let's get you to class." Without saying a word, Longbottom smiled again and, still holding his unused handkerchief, stumbled along to Defence against the Dark Arts. I kept my hand lightly placed on his shoulder until we reached the door to Professor Lockhart's classroom. I knocked, and opened the door, letting Longbottom enter in front of me.
"Sorry Neville's late Professor," I explained to Lockhart, Longbottom blushed again when his classmates stared at him, impressed I knew his name. He scrambled to a seat up right next to the door, next to a sandy-haired boy, looking as though he wished the floor would open up and swallow him, until the boy grinned and patted him on the back in congratulations.
Almost all the students in the class were gawking at me as Lockhart rambled on about some sort of banshee, Potter and Weasley sitting just a few rows from the door. I couldn't help but smile as they stared in shock at the Slytherin crest on my robes, then Longbottom, to each other and back again.
I winked at Weasley when his eyes met mine, his ears rapidly changing colour. Apologising to Lockhart and explaining I was late to class, I turned and walked back out the door, ruffling Longbottom's hair as I went.
It's all about potential. It's up to you to decide who you want to be.