Over your six years of attendance at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, you had heard a lot of cockamamie ideas that had only grown in preposterousness as you aged. By the time you were in third year, everyone swore that that forbidden corridor lead to none other than Filch’s coffin. Fourth year, they claimed that if you left the water running too long brushing your teeth, Potter’s snakes would squirm out of the tap and try to eat you. Fifth year, even some of the older students were convinced that a werewolf lived in the Shrieking Shack. This year, it had been asserted that You-Know-Who was back. No matter how ludicrous such rumors got, however, none could match the ridiculous statement that had just left your transfiguration teacher’s mouth.
“What?” you asked into the silence that followed.
You really had no idea why you were in her office. The End of Year Feast had just wrapped up. Not only had the entire thing been uncomfortable and depressing for your entire House, but you had packing (and probably some crying) to do before you left the next day. Surely Professor McGonagall had not requested you visit for something as silly as this. Your impatience to be gone was almost tangible–but it was nothing in comparison to hers.
“Longbottom, [L Name].” Her nostrils went white, a sure sign that your impertinence was noticed and unappreciated. “I need you to help him with his transfiguration over the holidays.”
You weren’t sure why, but your stomach felt suddenly full of ice. Not that you had plans for the summer, exactly, but any that cropped up certainly wouldn’t include teaching inept first years wand-waving techniques–let alone someone on their way to their O.W.L.s!
“Longbottom…” you said, playing desperately for time to think of a good enough reason to reject Professor McGonagall’s request. “Neville Longbottom?”
“Yes, Neville Longbottom,” said Professor McGonagall. “Surely you’ve heard of him. He has lessons in here while you’re aiding me every Tuesday.”
“You want me to tutor him this summer?” Unable to suppress your whine or the wince that followed, you slid lower in your chair. Oh, you’d heard of Neville Longbottom, all right. Who couldn’t hear his many mishaps in the middle of class each week? You could avoid the Gryffindor students as much as you wanted; eventually the horrified screaming broke through even your stony façade. Apparently sensing your immense trepidation, Professor McGonagall softened somewhat.
“I wouldn’t ask if I didn’t think you were fully capable of helping the poor boy, [L Name].”
Favorite teacher be damned, she was not winning you over that easily. “He’s not of age yet,” you hedged. “He’s not allowed to use magic during the holidays.”
She sighed. “Don’t be dense. You know as well as I do that the Ministry can’t detect underage magic in pureblood homes. But if it will ease your conscience,” her dry tone indicated she knew very well this was not your real reason for refusing, “we have already cleared the lessons with the Ministry.”
Again you hesitated.
“His grandmother has agreed to pay you one galleon, eight sickles and nine knuts a week for your time.”
She sighed a second time. “And I suppose, should you prove yourself responsible enough to handle the task, upon your return next year, we could look into this animagus lessons you wanted.”
Towards the end of this final offer, you could have sworn you saw a flicker of a smile. It was a smile you did not share. You’d do it–of course you’d do it; legal, supervised animagus instruction before your N.E.W.T.s was more than you could have hoped for–but that didn’t mean you had to be happy about it, or that you submitted for any other reason than that you still had a lot of packing and tearing up to do.
“Fine,” you said quickly. Not the politest way to seal the deal, but Professor McGonagall must have been eager to return to her room as well.
“Thank you,” she said as she stood. “I’ll send an owl along with all the details tomorrow. And [L Name]?”
“Yes, Professor?” you asked from the door.
“Don’t worry yourself over much about his improvement. If he can vanish a mouse without vanishing his fingers, I’ll consider your tutoring a success.”
The rumbling of the train the next morning did little to distract you from the prospect of your miserable summer: Cedric dead, your father’s predictable obsession with You-Know-Who’s return, and tutoring a wizard so terrible that he’d once crossed Hermione Granger’s hand with an aardvark. There wasn’t even the Quidditch World Cup to break up the monotony. Fantastic. Tears, tempers and tutoring! Much more of this and you would have to reevaluate who your favorite teacher was.
Most of the other students were packed together in herds. They jumped at every noise and refused to discuss any subject other than He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named, or the unfortunate passing of your House-mate, or whether or not Harry Potter had anything to do with either. Knowing you had these discussions to look forward to for the remainder of your break, you had ensconced yourself in one of the empty compartments toward the back of the train. Unfortunately, your thoughts still echoed that of your peers. Clearly, you were doomed to go mad this summer.
Just when you were considering sending an owl ahead for a room at St. Mungo’s, a distraction arrived in the form of some peeking tom outside your door. His round moon-face lit up scarlet when he caught you peeking back. You must have been too pathetic to scare him off, though, because soon after he was fumbling at the handle.
“Excuse me,” said the boy when he finally poked his head in, “but are you [F Name] [L Name]?”
“Who wants to know?” After all, your nerves wearing thing didn’t endear you to the remaining Hufflepuffs left behind in your previous seating area. Not that this kid looked Hufflepuff, of course.
“Me,” he answered.
“Neville. Neville Longbottom.”
Your eyes widened. It was worse than you had expected. Neville was round, pink-faced, and covered in a slight sheen of sweat. He looked more like an overgrown first-year than a fourth-year. What was more, his bright cheeks appeared to be coated in a thin layer of soot. Oh no. This guy couldn’t even use a hairbrush; how could anyone expect him to use a wand?
“Can I help you with something?” you asked after this startled pause.
“Well, Professor McGonagall said–”
“I’m not starting your lessons right now.”
To Neville’s credit, he looked perturbed by your interruption for only a second. Then he pulled himself together to stand straight as he offered you a letter. “N-No,” said Neville. “I just came by to give you everything you’ll need to get to my gran's place next week.”
Eyeing him suspiciously, you pulled the paper from between his pudgy fingers. Sure enough, there were the details Professor McGonagall had promised you: Neville’s address, the items he needed to learn before he even started to prepare for his O.W.L.s, and a neatly written note you assumed was from his grandmother. Once you had seen each of these, you swung your narrowed gaze back up at Neville.
“I thought McGonagall was going to send these with an owl,” you said. In response, Neville turned pinker.
“She–she was. But then she ran into me this morning and said since I had made it there before the post, I might as well take it to you instead. Said it would give us a chance to–to get to know each other.”
This was not the invitation that Neville took it to be. No sooner had your grunt faded into silence than did he settle onto the seat opposite you. Well, maybe he was sick of all the Dark Lord and Potter dribble, too. You didn’t own this particular compartment. Assuming this would be the end of it, you returned your attention to the sunny scene outside the window. Of course, it would look like a proper summer once you knew you wouldn’t have a proper summer. You blinked. There was someone watching you again. Of course, it was only Neville, staring at you from his seat. It had been a long time since a boy stared at you like that. Your skin started to crawl.
“Is it true?” he asked.
“Is what true?”
“That you’re on track to become an animagus.”
“Well, is it?”
You shrugged, like this didn’t matter–though obviously it did. It mattered more than anything else happening in your life right now. “I hope so.”
“Professor McGonagall says you’re the best in her class. All of her classes.”
Such praise could not be received lightly. Aware though you were that McGonagall did not toy about with selecting her upperclassmen aids and that she had said she only gave you this assignment due to her faith in you, it was flattering to hear from someone else. You only rather hoped that such praise was not being given to unduly raise Neville’s spirits. “It’s my only good class,” you assured him. “I’m no Hermione Granger, so if you’re expecting lessons at her level…” Another shrug.
“No, no!” Neville said eagerly, another glow of pink entering his face. “I don’t care, so long as I stop transplanting cactuses into my ears. I was in the Hospital Wing for a week last time!”
You gaped. Neville smiled.
What on earth had you gotten yourself into?
A week and a half later, and you weren’t exactly enthusiastic to be headed off to your first tutorial session, but you were more than enthusiastic to leave your house. Harry Potter this, The Dark Lord that, and for heaven’s sake, what about the Malfoys? The household was in an uproar, and who cared about one distant daughter caught up in the current? You spent your days curled up atop your mattress and your nights binge eating in the kitchen until the house elves noticed. It was about time you got out of there, preferably before you started pulling your own hair out.
As you got your first whirlwind look at your destination, however, you weren’t sure that you had landed yourself anywhere more appealing. Longbottom Manor was just that: another pureblood manor home, though not as well-kept or glossy as your own. The kitchen you spun into was more brown than anything else, and crammed with magical knickknacks wherever they would fit–though “fit” wasn’t the word you would have used. The overall affect wasn’t too terrible, though. The whole room gave off the impression that people lived there–perhaps the two people sitting at the well-worn table, watching the well-worn clock.
They looked up as the fire around you died away, and you got a good look at Neville and a woman you could only assume was his grandmother. She might have looked respectable, save for the mangled stuffed vulture perched atop her hat. The sight reminded you distinctly of another rumor from the past year, something involving a boggart, some third-years, and Professor Snape in such garb. You very nearly grinned at the memory. Only the past week of not smiling saved you. Your muscles cramped at the mere thought of exerting themselves in such a fashion.
“Well, Neville?” the woman barked. “Aren’t you going to introduce me to your friend?”
Neville scrambled none too gracefully to his feet and over to you. The woman stood herself as Neville, a brighter red than you had seen him yet (even after that accident with the lobsters back in March), gestured at you from his place at your side. “[Name], this is my gran, Augusta Longbottom. Gran…this is [F Name] [L Name]. My tutor.”
“Pleasure to meet you, dear,” she said, grasping your hand between both of yours while smiling surprisingly warmly. This warmth evaporated when her eyes fell on her grandson again. “You’ll have to forgive him. Neville’s a good boy, but a bit too clumsy for manners. Or transfiguration, as I’m sure you’ve learned!” A peal of laughter escaped her while a weary sigh escaped Neville. “His father was a great hand in the subject, but Neville...Well, bless you for spending your summer trying to help him.”
You forced yourself to smile this time. “My pleasure.” 'Think of animagus lessons,' you reminded yourself sternly. Surely you could get through even this in exchange for that. Once you managed that, you could escape not just this situation, but the one back home. All you needed was to endure for one more school year.
“The kitchen is all yours.” Having made her feelings known, Augusta headed for the door. “Do try not to blow the whole room to pieces, Neville. Those pans are self-scrubbing, you know.”
You heard the distinct snick of a lock after she pulled the door shut behind her. Apparently Neville’s family didn’t think him above transforming said pans into skrewts if they left him to it. Maybe you ought to start out small…
“Here.” Neville jumped at you handing over two ashy twigs plucked from the remains of the floo fire. His eyes slid up to your face, then back down as he took your offering. “Sticks into worms shouldn’t be too hard,” you said, slinging your bag onto the waiting table. “Let’s get started.”
It was too hard. Merlin’s beard, turning sticks into worms was too hard. You never thought you’d meet a non-Squib that took three hours to turn a couple of slightly-burnt twigs into earthworms. In the end, Neville’s sticks had still been a little too stiff for proper worms, but you’d released them out into the small garden outside the kitchen window before you’d left anyway. Their lives there couldn’t be any worse than yours back home. Then you’d disappeared back up the chimney, leaving the scattered pans and remaining worm bits for Neville to clean up himself.
Between that lesson and the next, your house became even more unbearable. The cigar smoke billowing from underneath the kitchen door wafted through the rest of the house night in and night out, which meant even your binge eating sessions were out. If you wanted food, you had to endure not only your father’s company, but that of Rita Skeeter’s shrill voice, taking up the recent cry of the Ministry: There is no war in Wizard Britain.
“[Name]! [Name]!” she called as you pushed through her and your father’s piles upon piles of papers and for the fireplace in the living room where they’d taken up residence while the House Elves cleaned up breakfast. “You knew the Diggory boy, didn’t you? Tell us, how do you feel about Potter getting away with murder?”
You leveled a glare at her that could have curdled Draught of Living Death. “Longbottom Manor!” you shouted as you tossed a handful of green powder into the flames. The last thing you saw? Skeeter’s ugly fake grin as you spun away. The nerve! Cedric had not died to become a martyr. He had not died to become the poster boy for whatever new story the Prophet wanted spewed now. Cedric Diggory trusted Harry Potter. And after she’d done everything she could to take the spotlight off Cedric it and thrust it squarely on Potter! If she and your father thought for one second that you were going to jump onboard their bandwagon–
“[Name]? Are you alright?”
Your eyes popped open. Too late, you realized you were back in Neville’s home. The fire around you had died entirely, and you stood white-faced in the remaining ashes. Neville sat at the table, wand out, a row of squirming twigs and a shoebox full of potting soil in front of him. He looked genuinely concerned for you. Oh no. You looked away.
“What are you doing?”
“Practicing,” Neville answered. When you finally peeked back over at him, he was beaming. He looked a lot less sweaty, too. “I think I’ve nearly got the worm stuff down!”
As long as he was willing to pretend he hadn’t seen you with your walls down, then you were going to pretend right along with him. You weren’t used to things like concern being thrown your way. “Let me see.”
Neville scooted back slightly so you could look at his work. Sure, the twigs were moving. The handful in Neville’s box of dirt were even a little pinker than those he had transformed last time you’d come by. But every single worm still retained its stick-like structure. They were wobbling lines, with extra heads or tails or limbs. Sighing, you walked back around the table to put your things down. How could you move on from this step if Neville couldn’t even make worms properly?
“That bad?” he asked, face slightly crumpled.
“Could be better.”
Neville sighed and pursed his lips together to prevent letting his face fall further into a frown. While you ignored him and tried to think of better ways to get the point across, you saw (out of the corner of your eye) Neville pick up his wand again and begin to wave it over his remaining pseudo-worms. His expression remained fixed as one of intense concentration, but it did not entirely escape you when Neville’s eyes darted toward you before he said the spell. A spell that did absolutely nothing, you noted as the slightly wriggling pieces of wood did nothing more than…well, wriggle.
“S-Sorry,” Neville said at the look on your face. You shook your head.
“The wand work’s all wrong. This isn’t Charms, you know.”
“Will you show me again? Just one more time. Promise.”
You were there to tutor, so getting up and walking back around the table for another display shouldn’t have been as annoying as it was. Apparently your lack of sleep was starting to get to you. As you stepped into place, you reached over to take Neville’s arm–but he took a quick step to the side, turning scarlet in the process.
“No, I mean…do it for me once?” he asked. “I want to watch.”
One side of your mouth puckered up, but how could you refuse? If you weren’t here teaching Neville, you would be back at home being hounded by Rita. There really wasn’t anywhere safe to go these days, if one wanted to avoid thinking of the future on top of their less than spectacular relatives. Your hand dug your wand out of your pocket and maneuvered it in the air above the worms. They instantly pinkened, and the wriggling turned into purposeful squirming. Before they could get far enough to disappear and dry out somewhere in Neville’s kitchen, you plucked them up and tossed them into the dirt. Only then did you realize someone was applauding. Neville stopped when you looked over at him.
“You did that without the incantation and everything,” he said, gaze moving away from your scrutinizing. After a moment of watching him look everywhere but at you, you let out a snort.
“You’ll learn that eventually, too. Next year, probably, or the next.” ‘If you ever managed to pass your O.W.L.s,’ you added silently in your head. Neville grinned. His teeth showed, but you noticed the expression didn’t really meet his eyes.
“Sure, I suppose.” Like a deflated balloon, he bobbed back over to the bench. There was one remaining stick, a long one more suited to snakes than to earthworms, and it was over this that Neville clumsily stuck his arms out again. “Vertistis vermibus!”
The stick shook, rolled over, and lay still. Neville’s face fell once more. “Like I said, it’s not a Charm,” you said. “You’ve got to be more purposeful. Move your wand like you mean it.”
Neville continued to stare at his stick for another minute and a half, then let out a long breath and sat down. “I’ll get it eventually,” he said, and though it came out as a whisper, you were surprised at the amount of confidence in his tone. Before you could pay much attention to this, however, Neville returned his attention to you. “Why is Transfiguration your only good subject?”
You paused, then: “None of your business.”
“I didn’t mean–”
“You’ve got the worms down, sort of,” you said over Neville’s apology. “We’re moving up a level. Matches into needles. Let’s go.”
“Augusta, please, be reasonable,” a distorted voice drifted in your ear as you made your way back to Neville’s several weeks later. “Dumbledore needs everyone he can get. We have to act quickly.”
“You be reasonable, Arthur,” returned Neville’s grandmother’s voice. “Go as fast as you want, by all means. I won’t stop you.”
“You were imperative in the last Order,” said a woman.
As you spun into sight, you caught a glimpse of the kitchen table, this time occupied by three adults: Augusta and two middle-aged redheads. None of them took note of your arrival. “And I lost my son and daughter-in-law to it, I’ll have you remember. No. Can’t do it. Oh, sure, I could do it, but I can’t risk Neville, you know. Absolutely hopeless when it comes to a fight. He’s had a tutor over once a week all holiday and all my teacups are still squeaking.”
You felt a flutter of fear at the realization of what they were discussing. The Order of the Phoenix lived on in your father’s articles from years long passed. First villains, then heroes, now villains again. If they were really on the move, did that mean that what Potter said was true? That You-Know-Who was back and Cedric had been murdered at his hands? You knew your father printed malarkey, anything to keep his job and keep people happy, but at least it was malarkey that didn’t make you feel quite so endangered when he was going along with Rita's Potter is a madman spiel.
“Oh, [Name].” All three heads swiveled in your direction as Augusta greeted you. “Neville’s waiting for you in the sitting room. You can have your lessons in there today.”
“Thanks,” you said weakly, and practically sprinted for the door.
“Is that the tutor?” asked the man as you made to close the door behind her. “If she’s any good, perhaps when she comes of age…”
“No,” said Augusta. “She’s a [L Name], and you know how that man thinks. Half the dragon dung being put out by the Prophet has his name on it, if it doesn’t have Rita Skeeter’s.”
Could your father actually be right? Not in what he was writing, obviously; he would always write what suited him best, what people wanted to read not what they needed–but in what he’d burst into your room over a week ago over? That you shouldn't be associating with known old Order members when there was the possibility that You-Know-Who was really back? The halls around you spun along with your stomach. When you stumbled into the living room, it was quite by accident. Lucky for you that Neville was already there.
“[Name]?” he asked, much more alarmed this time than the last. You supposed this time it was because your legs were shaking so hard that you nearly fell over. Before you could, Neville had rushed over to support you, and the next thing you knew, he was half-carrying you over to the sofa. You didn’t understand what was happening. The wild, panicked breathing issuing from your own mouth sounded like it belonged to someone else. You couldn’t get it to stop. And on top of that, Neville–pudgy, sweaty Neville Longbottom–was carrying you.
Only he wasn’t really pudgy, you realized as he sat next to you, gingerly patting you on the back. Maybe he had been, back on the train when you’d met him, but what had started out as puppy fat had melted away during these past few weeks to be replaced by what was obviously muscle. He was still sweaty, though. Very sweaty, in fact. Sweaty enough that even in the buzzing panic of your mind, you thought to scoot a few inches away. Neville’s hand dropped.
“Sorry,” he said. “Are you…are you alright?”
What did he think? He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named might be back, if Potter wasn’t a loon! Add to that your father that had been writing anti-You-Know-Who articles since the Dark Lord’s fall, and even pumping out pro-You-Know-Who statements again wasn’t going to save your family. They'd killed your mother before. What made you think you would get off now? Neither your nor your father were brave or good enough at magic to be Death Eaters. Your father had basically signed his own death warrant, and probably yours, too.
When you didn’t answer outside of forcing yourself to breathe normally, Neville got up again. You watched him walk back over to the window where he picked up a perfectly mundane towel and lifted it to his forehead to pat away some of the sweat.
“What are you doing?” you asked.
If Neville were a normal person, he’d have snapped at you the same way you had snapped at him the week before. Instead, he just blinked and came back over to sit down, this time on the chair. Maybe he was finally afraid of touching you. He looked nervous enough, wringing his hand on his towel like that. “You’ll probably laugh at me.”
“I don’t laugh.”
Neville laughed at this, though he immediately sobered up. “I, um. Right. I was just…exercising.”
“Exercising,” you repeated. “Like a muggle?”
“Wizards need to exercise, too. I–I could stand to lose some weight,” as Neville went on, he looked more determined, “and besides, I can’t keep up or help Gran or anyone else if I just sit there. I have to learn. I have to learn everything I can. That’s why,” he gulped, “that’s why asked McGonagall if she would find ask you to tutor me this summer.”
“You asked McGonagall?”
Neville had gone sort of chalky, but he nodded all the same. “I-I thought at first it would just be nice because–because Dad was always good at Transfiguration, and I know Gran wants me to do well, and I saw you helping McGonagall during class and you're always really good. But now You-Know-Who’s back and I want to help. Gran says I’m useless and should just stay put, but you can bet Harry won’t, or Hermione, or Ron. I have to help. I have to.”
His color returned, Neville stared past you toward the window. The sun still shone spectacularly through the glass, so beautiful that it was hard to believe that an old Dark Lord was stirring up old wars in your lifetime. “How do you know he’s back?” you demanded. Again, Neville looked up to blink at you.
“Dumbledore always said he’d come back someday,” he said, as though this settled the matter. You scowled.
“Dumbledore also said we ought to have a werewolf for a teacher.”
“Professor Lupin was the best Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher we ever had!” Neville protested, and you couldn’t exactly argue with that. You knew nothing of Lupin’s teaching abilities, since you hadn’t done well enough in that class to take the N.E.W.T. level course. But still. He was what he was. “Do you really think he’d lie about something like that? Dumbledore wouldn’t, and neither would Harry. If that’s who they say killed Diggory–”
Your heart twisted in your chest. Though you didn’t hear it yourself, you must have also made some sort of pained noise to go along with it, because Neville stopped dead. He frowned, looking ashamed of himself. “Sorry,” he said for the hundredth time. “You knew him, didn’t you?”
You felt like he had conjured a rock into your throat. Your breathing was fine, but you couldn’t get words to come out. In the end, all you could do was nod, and then Neville was back in his place right next to you.
“I didn’t mean it to sound like that. Diggory…Diggory was a good man.”
You nodded again.
“Were you close to him?”
Lifting your shaking hands to wipe away the few tears that had sprung into your eyes, you finally came back to yourself. “He was always decent to me,” you whispered. “The first friend I ever had at Hogwarts. I mean, after everything my dad wrote during the–the first war," jeez, it hurt to say that, "and then after. No one wanted anything to do with me. Cedric was–was my best mate, but he was so popular…”
You saw it as clearly as if it had been yesterday: You, a tiny eleven-year-old spending her first week at what was supposed to be the greatest seven years of her life alone, poking at porridge and struggling through potions homework. You remembered the upturned noses of older students and the whispers of coward and pureblood supremacist that followed you wherever you went. And you remembered a small, happy boy plunking himself down next to you at dinner one night saying, “Hello, I’m Cedric. Got lost on the stairs coming down. You done that yet?” and you being almost too stunned to answer.
“Were you in love with him?” Neville asked in the present day.
“No! God, no.” No, though Cedric was certainly handsome and kind and your very best friend, you had never felt anything like love for him, try as you might have. And you probably shouldn’t have tried. This entire year had been a mess. Popular before, becoming the first Hogwarts Champion had caused Cedric’s amount of fans to shoot through the roof. Combine that with his infatuation with Chang, how busy he was working out Triwizard clues, and your personal issues and–well, the last thing you’d ever done to Cedric was yell at him. You’d been jealous and lonely, and he'd b een doing his best, and now he was dead.
You were crying, you realized, and again it was too late to stop Neville’s noticing. How long you went at it for the first time since leaving Hogwarts, you didn’t know. The tears wouldn’t stop. Crying in front of Neville only made you cry harder, somehow, perhaps because you couldn’t believe you’d given into your feelings here of all places, in a strange house with a strange boy when a strange wizard could murder you at any moment.
Neville grabbed your hand. “[Name],” he tried, “it’ll be okay.”
“It won’t!” Well, that about proved you had entirely lost your head. Why not go on for a little while? “He’s gone, and I won’t have anyone to talk to at all. Dad’s only making things worse working with Rita all the time, and I-I-I can’t fight You-Know-Who. I’m not b-brave enough. Not like–like you!”
"But I’m not brave.”
These words caught you off guard. Thankfully, this also worked to clear your eyes. A few hiccups burst out of your chest, but you could see again. Your hand remained latched around Neville’s like it was an anchor. Embarrassing as this was, you still didn’t let go when you needed to wipe your nose. You just did it with your other hand. “What do you mean, you’re not brave?" you said at last. "You’re in Gryffindor.”
“I didn’t want to be,” he said quietly. “I asked the hat to put me somewhere else, but I guess it beat me down. Probably shouldn’t’ve listened to it, huh?”
“No.” The word came out so quickly that it surprised even you. You didn’t know why, but all of a sudden, you just couldn’t stop talking. Apparently something was going to spill out of your body, and if it couldn’t be tears, it might as well be babbling. “No because–because when I first came, I thought I ought to be in Slytherin because–because I’m not brave and I’m not smart and look where I come from, look who my dad is. I’m not loyal. Only thing I am is pureblood, and anyone can do that. But the hat said, no, I would be perfect for Hufflepuff. Only…only…”
“Only what?” Neville asked.
“Only I’m not loyal. I didn’t say goodbye to my only friend. And I’m not hardworking. The only thing I work hard at is Transfiguration, because then I can be animagus and then maybe…maybe I can be something more pleasant.”
Silence met this confession. You’d answered Neville’s question at last with the pathetic answer you had. He said nothing, not for several minutes, and when he did speak, he just asked one question: “Why didn’t you tell me before?”
Well, there was a good question. You shifted uncomfortably in your seat. “I’m not used to people listening to me.”
Neville nodded, and squeezed your fingers. “Maybe there’s more than one way to be hardworking and more than one way to be brave?”
You cocked a single eyebrow. How about that? Talking to Neville–Neville of all people!–had you feeling more like your old self. Your heart still felt ragged and dull, but you felt at the same time that you could go on as normal for a little bit. “How so?”
He blushed. “Well, you could keep teaching me Transfiguration…”
“And I could talk to you next year. I–I like you, [Name], and I wouldn’t mind talking to you more when the school year starts. It’s not going to get any easier. Things are just going to get worse. So–so maybe you can work hard and teach me Transfiguration and I can be brave and fight V-Voldemort like my dad. And then you'll be brave, too, because you're helping me.”
You winced at the name. Unfortunately, you had a bad feeling you’d be hearing a lot more of it in the coming months–months that certainly would feel a little brighter if you had a friendly face to look forward to seeing, even if that friendly face was the worst transfigurer you’d ever met. “You really think me tutoring you is going to help you fight You-Know-Who?”
“Anything well help,” Neville said. “Right?”
This right was directed not just at whether or not you could help Neville, but if Neville could help you. You were a mismatched pair at the best. But when you thought of coming here for the next few weeks and watching Neville get better, when you thought of him desperately working on worms while you were away and doing chin-ups while his grandmother debated with Order members in the kitchen, when you thought of him staring at you on the train and checking up on you when you arrived at his house shaking, it dawned upon you that yes, anything would help. Your summer looked just a little more summery. They might be the last few weeks you enjoyed for the rest of your short life, but hey: what the hell?
“Besides,” Neville went on, looking sheepish and holding up a teacup that still had a fleshy pink tail for a handle, “I don’t think I’m going to get better at this in another month.”
You surprised yourself again by laughing. This time, you surprised Neville, too. Surprising him even further, you squeezed his hand back and pecked him on the cheek. “Let’s get started, then, Mr. Brave,” you said as you pulled him off the couch. There was a lot of work to do, but as you took his wrist to guide him through the motions of the spell, Neville didn’t look like he felt any trepidation whatsoever. In fact, for once, he looked rather pleased. You couldn't quite fell that just yet, but you could feel it coming. There was plenty of summer (and tutoring) left to enjoy.