Neville nearly jumped out of hisskin. He was so scared, he couldn't even open his mouth to answer. His only thought was that this hat was definitely much scarier than any Troll.
"No need to be scared."
The hat apparently read minds. Yeah, Neville was quite sure wrestling a werewolf would be easier than a hat that read your mind.
"But of course I read minds, how else could I decide on the perfect house for you? Now, let me see… Not Ravenclaw, sorry lad."
Neville shrugged his shoulders; he didn't really think he'd ever stand a chance to enter Ravenclaw. Studying was never first in his priorities.
"How about Hufflepuff? You're loyal enough."
Neville thought about Trevor, how everyone laughed about his toad, but it was a gift from Uncle Algie and so he tried to keep the wanderer safe. Yes, he was loyal.
"I'll keep that in mind. On we go, not Slytherin."
Neville was sure his sigh of relief could be heard all over the Great Hall.
"Slytherins have their qualities as well, you know," the hat admonished.
"Gran will have my hide if I'd end up in Slytherin," Neville answered silently.
"Where would your Gran want you to be?"
Neville thought the hat was mocking him a bit, but he ignored it. "Gryffindor, of course. My whole family have been Gryffindors since the 14th century."
"I see," said the hat.
Neville was quite sure the hat didn't have eyes and couldn't really see but he tried to ignore the thought and concentrate on being sorted. Gryffindor would be awesome to be in, that he was sure of. But was he Gryffindor material? As much as he wanted to, if he was really honest with himself, he wasn't brave enough.
"You know, not all of us are brave at age eleven. And Gryffindor is a lot more than bravery. Honesty is one of their finest qualities, in my humble opinion." The hat paused, and then continued in a sure voice. "As much as I'm tempted to put you in Hufflepuff, I think you'll do better in GRYFFINDOR!"
Neville was so excited he jumped off the stool and ran to Gryffindor table.
"Ehm… I think the next one in line might like to be sorted…"
Neville startled, he had completely forgotten the hat was still on his head. He blushed furiously and went back to put the hat on the stool. Embarrassing as it was, he was too happy to be sorted into Gryffindor to care much.
The day Neville realized he was good at something was the day Ginny Weasley nearly died. No, he didn't try to kill her, for Merlin's sake. He also didn't try to save her; that was Harry's job.
It had been such a hard year for him, scared to death by the monster in the castle and even more scared by the thought of not being magical enough. But when Professor Sprout came over and asked him to help with the mandrakes, he knew it was for a reason.
Greenhouse number three was probably full of noise, but no one heard it, thanks to the earmuffs. Professor Sprout worked with the help of a few N.E.W.T. level students while Neville worked with a fourth year Hufflepuff on preparing the pots for a few lucky mandrakes that weren't about to get chopped.
From the very first Herbology lesson in his first year, he had enjoyed the feel of the earth on his fingers, but dealing with simple plants was a little boring. This year, however, handling mandrakes, who were obviously important, interesting and extremely dangerous, gave Neville a glimpse of the real world of magical herbs and plants.
It took him a while, but he relaxed and enjoyed the silence provided by the earmuffs. Professor Sprout's orders were crystal clear and he and Andi, the Hufflepuff he worked with, followed them with ease. It left him a lot of time to think. Of Hermione in the hospital wing, still and quiet. He knew she'd be upset if she woke up, no, iwhen/i she woke up and found out how much she had missed. He thought of Ron's little sister, lying alone Merlin knew where. And he thought of himself, nearly a Squib, but still managing to pass somehow. And Professor Sprout thought he was good at something, ihe/i felt he was good at something. Soon, Hermione and Colin would wake up and he would have a tiny hand in it. He would help save someone.
It felt good.
That fateful Defense Against the Dark Arts class with Professor Lupin was a good start for the year. Snape's body inside his Gran's clothes, though quite a scary thought, turned out rather funny in reality. And he laughed, maybe for the first time in a very long time. Gran would probably say his behavior was unfitting, but he didn't really care now.
A few hours later he found himself wandering around Professor Lupin's office.
"Mr. Longbottom, come in."
Neville fidgeted a bit before he entered the room. There wasn't anything particular he wanted to talk about with the Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher, he just felt like Lupin really understood him in class, even better than he would himself.
Neville nodded; tea always made things better. Watching Professor Lupin make tea was calming, in a weird sort of way. The older man didn't prod, just silently made the tea and with a calm smile, handed Neville a steaming cup.
He sipped slowly on his earl grey and tried to think of something to say. The silence wasn't awkward, though.
"Do you know my grandmother?" he finally asked.
"Of course, everyone knows Augusta Longbottom. A fine witch she is, very powerful, though lacking a sense of humor, unfortunately." There was a glint in Professor Lupin's eyes and Neville liked him even more now.
"I'm not entirely useless like Professor Snape said," Neville blurted before he could stop himself. "I'm alright in Charms and Herbology."
"Of course, we teachers talk, you know. By the end of this year you'll be good at Defense as well, don't worry. Would you like to see what I've planned for our next lesson? I think you'll find it quite interesting."
When Neville left his teacher's office he felt better than ever. They laughed a bit more, and even though Professor Lupin said nothing bad about Professor Snape, Neville felt like they had built some sort of understanding about him and managed to laugh about him a bit without saying anything really. From this day on Neville put extra work on his DADA homework and gave extra time for a bit of laughter.
Neville's legs dangled from the high chair he sat on near the bar. He sipped his gillywater slowly and watched the dance floor intently. Next to him Ginny's heels dangled as well; she looked as tired as he was.
"We should go back to Gryffindor tower," he finally said.
"Yeah," she mumbled awkwardly.
They walked in silence for a while, Neville's hands in his pockets while Ginny fidgeted with hers.
"Can I ask you something?" She stopped right before the long set of stairs and dropped to the first step in line. With a sigh she undid the straps of her high heeled shoes and took them off her feet.
"Sure." He sat next to her.
"Why did you ask me to the Yule ball?" she fidgeted with the claps of her shoes.
"Well," he stammered. "Hermione said no and I thought you might like the chance to go." He wasn't sure he had said the right thing and sighed heavily.
"Funny, when you say that I really appreciate it. When Harry said it I wanted to smack him. Of course, I just blushed and ran away, but you know, it's the thought that counts."
"Don't worry, he'll come around." Neville tried to cheer her up, though it was a complete lie. Harry was a clueless git and they both knew it.
"Do you fancy Hermione?" she bluntly asked.
"Do you fancy me?"
"No." he then added a weak, "Sorry."
"So you wouldn't mind if I start going out with a guy I danced with?" She blushed a bit and bit her bottom lip.
He snorted "Of course not, why would I mind? Is it the tall one from Durmstrang?"
"No, that blond Ravenclaw, Michael. Only danced with the Durmstrang guy once and he smelled really bad."
Neville brought his nose to his armpit, just to make sure, and Ginny giggled.
"You were fine! Do you fancy anyone at all?"
Neville blushed. "Not really, I'm just fourteen. I have to concentrate on my studies anyway or I'd fail completely."
"Why are you saying that? You helped me a lot in Herbology."
"Herbology's easy." He shrugged.
"Not to me." Ginny looked closely at him and he had a feeling she was trying to find something deep inside him. "You know, my mother would say you're a late bloomer. You take your time on things but when the time comes you'll be spectacular. So you might struggle now, not your fault Snape's a foul git, but when you're ready you'll shine."
Neville blushed deeper than he ever thought he could. "That's what your mother told you?"
"Funny." Ginny snorted and then brushed her hand over her cheek to make sure nothing stuck on it. "Of course not, she said that to Ron. Fred and George took the mickey out of him for years, probably still do. I was 'trying to catch tomorrow', that's how she called me. 'Cause I wanted at age three to do what Bill was doing. That's how I transfigured my leg to a carrot after I stole my father's wand at age four, how I ended up sneaking into the broom shed at the age of six to steal a broom, how I invented the Bat-Bogey Hex…"
Neville blanched. He had seen Ginny pull that hex on someone and it wasn't pretty.
"You are a late bloomer," Ginny said again, much more confident now. "I can't wait to see you blossom."
Neville's face went quickly from white to red. He hoped with all his heart that she was right. "Sorry I stepped on your feet," he said awkwardly and pulled off the step.
Ginny stood up as well. "Don't worry about it." She smiled and pressed a kiss to his cheek.
"Neville, elbows off the table."
Neville removed his hands from the tablecloth and tried to eat the soup as quietly as he could. Gran was in a bad mood, he could tell from her voice.
Ever since he could remember visiting his parents in St. Mungo's, his grandma had treated him to lunch at the Leaky Cauldron after their visit and a bit of window shopping. They would walk lazily down the streets of Muggle London until they reached the Leaky and Neville always felt a lot better after the walk and ready to enjoy a lunch out.
This time was different. He hadn't seen his Gran this agitated in years. She walked the streets briskly and silently, without acknowledging her grandson at all.
He knew it was his fault, knew she was angry at him but had no idea how to ease the tension. It was all so confusing, seeing Harry, Ron and Ginny in the hospital, having his secret revealed. He wished that he could turn back time and leave the hospital earlier; that way he wouldn't have to deal with this whole mess. And it wasn't that he was ashamed of his parents, it was just… Neville couldn't even explain it to himself; he had no idea why he had never told anyone.
The main course was nearly gone from his plate and he knew he had to apologize soon. If they left home without confronting the subject they would never talk about it and his Gran would always think little of him over it. Not that it mattered; she always thought little of him anyway. The thought sent chills down his spine, that wasn't true and he knew it. His Gran loved him, she just had very high expectations of him.
"I'm sorry, Gran," he mumbled into his roast.
Augusta Longbottom put her fork down on her plate. "You should be," she replied forcefully. "Being ashamed of your parents … they are heroes, Neville!"
"I know!" he retorted, then, in a quieter voice added, "I'm not ashamed of them. I never told anyone because no one asked."
It was obvious his Gran didn't expect this answer, because she took the fork in her hand, then put it down again and stared at him for what seemed like ages.
"And… and I never said anything because I didn't want anyone's pity. I see how they look at Harry -i poor boy has no parents/i, that's what they say and think, ihe has nobody/i. I don't want people to say that about me. I have you."
If he didn't know his Gran, he could swear he saw a glistering tear at the corner of her right eye. But Gran never cried. When the silence stretched he took a bite of roast to cover his embarrassment, even though he was quite full.
"I'm sorry, I should have known you had a good reason."
Neville was so surprised he nearly choked. He felt his eyes water and pushed another bite to his mouth. It was the nicest thing his Gran had ever told him.
"Today you choose dessert," Augusta said when Tom came over to take their dirty plates.
Neville smiled. His fingers brushed the gum wrappers in his pockets. His heart warmed and he felt loved, like he never felt before.
Hermione Granger had to be the nicest person in Hogwarts. Neville knew he would never pass his classes without her help and she was always so nice about it, never bragged or wanted anything in return, just quietly whispered instructions under her breath.
He felt guilty about it, but a small part of him enjoyed the fact that Hermione and Ron weren't on speaking terms.
"So you're saying you have access to some dittany?" Hermione asked eagerly, "Because I've read so much about them and now that we have Apparition lessons I'd like to have some essence of dittany, just in case I Splinch, you know."
Neville didn't really believe it was possible for Hermione not to succeed in something, but nevertheless, he promised to ask his Gran to send some from her garden.
They walked the rest of the way to their next class with an easy chat about the magical properties of dittany. Neville was just grateful to have someone to talk to about his favorite subject.
Although it didn't look that way, Neville had many friends, especially after joining the DA. Luna and Ginny were becoming his closest friends rather fast, but he had other friends from his year like Ernie, Susan and Hannah from Hufflepuff, Anthony and Terry from Ravenclaw. He got along very well with his roommates, so he included Dean and Seamus along with Harry and Ron in his growing list of friends.
Unfortunately, none of them shared his passion for plants and herbs, and so he basked even more in the joy of talking with someone with knowledge and passion for the subject.
Months into the fight, Hermione spent more and more time with Neville. They still spent time with their other friends, but it felt a little like first year, going together from class to class, having Hermione bossing him around. Her help in his homework and their long Herbology talks compensated for the bossy attitude though. It was nice.
Finding Hermione walking agitatedly around the common room one Saturday morning wasn't something he expected when he returned from breakfast. He was going to do some revising and progress on his charms essay, but obviously, the look on his friend's face was clear enough. Something happened.
She turned around, her face stained with tears. "I… Ron… I…"
"What happened?" Neville stirred her toward a settee in the corner, for a little privacy.
"Ron, he…" she hiccupped. "Ron is in the hospital wing," she said in a hysterical whisper.
"But, it's his birthday." Neville was extremely confused. "I just saw him when I woke up, he was opening his presents."
"Professor Mcgonagall came over to tell Ginny. He was poisoned…" she choked again.
Neville looked at her quizzically, "Then why are you here?" he asked.
Hermione sighed and he noticed that her hair was bushier than ever. "I… We haven't… I didn't even wish him a happy birthday. He wouldn't…"
"But of course he'd want to see you, Hermione. Don't be silly. You're his best friend."
She shook her head vigorously. "Not for a long time. I let a silly thing come between our friendship. I should never," she took a deep breath, "I should have been happy that he is happy."
"Yes, well… you overreacted a bit." He hastily added "Maybe" at her glare. "Alright, you were both prats. But now is not the time for fighting."
Hermione slumped in her seat, "I don't want to fight anymore," she mumbled into her hands.
"I'll ask again, why are you here?" He got up and pulled her with him. "Now go!"
Hermione released a sob and wrapped her hands around his neck, "Thank you, you are such a good friend," she whispered in his ear, then ran out the portrait hole.
Neville followed her with his eyes, unexpectedly, with no sadness at all. There was no doubt Hermione had been miserable these few months and it was hopefully going to change now. Neville felt a sense of relief instead. It was better to see a friend happy but far than sad but closer.
And, of course, hearing that he was a good friend was always nice.
Neville had to pinch his own arm to make sure he had heard correctly.
Luna, Ginny and he were standing in Snape's office, which used to be Dumbledore's, after they tried to steal Gryffindor's sword and their punishment was going with Hagrid to the Forbidden Forest? That was it?
Ginny's foot pressed hard on his foot under his robes and he winced and tried to pull himself together.
Later that night he argued with Ginny in the common room.
"I'm telling you, something was off."
"I don't care," Ginny answered back with force. "The ugly git probably forgot he has a wand or something. I'm just happy this is the detention we're getting, alright? As long as I don't get Cruciated, as long as I don't have to Cruciate any poor first year, I don't care."
Neville watched her back as she walked toward the girl's dormitories.
A week later, the three of them walked over to Hagrid's hut with a cackling Carrow behind them.
"We'll see how brave you are in the Forest, with them spiders and monsters," he called just as Hagrid opened the door, and walked back to the castle.
Hagrid made a rude hand gesture toward the retreating form of Amycus Carrow and they walked into the Forest silently.
The Forest was scary enough, that was sure, but not as scary as casting Unforgivables on a friend. Neville still had a feeling that something was wrong. It was either they were going to get a very nasty surprise at the end of this trip, or Snape had purposely chosen an easy detention. The second option seemed so unreal and yet…
"Snape's a foul toerag, Neville. He killed Dumbledore, for Merlin's sake!" Ginny whispered when he confided in the girls.
Luna seemed quite detached. "Shush, this is so interesting, we might be able to watch an Acromantula."
The war left many memories in Neville's heart. This day marked, for him, the day he grew up. He could see Ginny, just a year younger and so passionate about her opinions, not willing to compromise. Luna was the exact opposite, it was like she tried, childishly, to ignore the war and concentrate on the things that made her feel better. But today Neville realized that sometimes even bad people could do a good deed. The world was no longer black and white; he could see shades of grey here and there.
A few months later, Ginny and Luna would grow up as well, prematurely because of the war and the final battle. They would understand then what he was talking about.
A few months later he would understand why he was put in Gryffindor.
Some people very dear to him would die, one of them he helped to save once, very long time ago.
He would see his favorite teacher die in the battle, fighting monsters that weren't taught in the books.
He would realize it was his time to blossom.
He would know just how much his Gran was proud of him.
And he would be happy to see his friends alive.
A few months and a couple of days later a reporter would ask if killing Voldemort's snake made him feel a man and Neville would smile and think about the day he realized the man he despised the most wasn't as bad.