Neville stared around him in wonder. The platform was bustling with people, children and parents alike. He knew he’d be attending Hogwarts eventually, but nothing prepared him for the absolute excitement when the time came. The platform was filled with laughter, parents calling their children’s names, and the sound of owl hoots, and cats hissing and toads croaking. Neville grinned at the hustle and bustle, far different from the quiet of the Longbottom estate. The only thing that discomforted him was the sudden hush that would fall whenever people spotted him, conversations turning into whispers as they stared and, occasionally, pointed. He almost jumped when a hand fell on his shoulder, tightly gripping but not hurting. It took all of his training to keep his pleasant smile on his face and a relaxed posture as he looked up at his grandmother.
Augusta was an imposing figure; tall, and proud, and severe. With her vulture hat and vibrant green coat, nobody would dare approach her on a normal day never mind on a day she was with the celebrated Boy-Who-Lived, her grandson. He followed as she steered him through the crowd to a carriage, checking if it was empty before silently sending his trunk up to the above railings with a wave of her wand, ignoring the hushed whispers. It was then she turned to him.
“I hope I don’t need to remind you about what we discussed about your behaviour at Hogwarts.” She warned sternly.
“You just did, Gran.”
There was a tense pause in which they both looked at each other, not backing down, before a smile, a small one but a smile nevertheless, curved the shape of Augusta’s lips. Her pride in him shined through for a moment before it was dampened, aware that people were watching. She gave Neville an imperceptible nod, and he wrapped his arms around her in a hug. For all the people knew, they had just said their affectionate goodbyes to each other before parting.
Augusta watched as her grandson climbed into the carriage only to reappear at the window. She reached into her pocket and brought out a toad, handing it to him as she said, “Don’t lose him, now.” A spark of amusement danced in both their eyes as Neville pocketed the toad. A sudden shrill sounded all across the platform, ushering kids onto the train and parents and relatives saying their last goodbyes. Augusta stepped back from the train and gave a last wave to Neville before the train started moving, slowly then picking up speed. A pang of anxiety rippled through her before she squashed it down. Neville will be fine. As the train disappeared, Augusta Apparated away.
Neville knew it wouldn’t take long before someone would come looking for the boy who had defeated You-Know-Who, and true enough, not ten minutes into the train journey, his carriage door opened. He looked up to see a bushy haired girl, already in the Hogwarts uniform, standing in the doorway.
“Hello,” she started uncertainly, “Can I have a seat? Everywhere else is full.”
“Oh, uh… Y-Yes, of course!” Neville stammered out, putting on a timid smile.
The bushy haired girl closed the door behind her and chose the seat across from Neville.
“I’m Hermione Granger.”
“Nev… Neville Longbottom.”
He watched in interest as Hermione’s eyes widened and she sat up straighter, leaning forward a little in her seat as if to get a better look. He slouched back a little, not meeting her eyes, as if he was embarrassed. He didn’t need to put much effort into that.
“Are you really? I’ve read all about you, of course. I’m a Muggleborn, so I thought I would get a head start on the ins and outs of the wizarding world. Even now, I still can’t believe it! Isn’t it exciting?”
She talked a mile a minute, but Neville liked her. There was something about her that he couldn’t quite put his finger on. Slowly, as if he was approaching a wild animal, Neville sent out a small tendril of his magic, undetectable even to those trained in feeling out others’ magic. Her magic reacted to his unconsciously, strong and bright. This one was powerful in mind and, apparently, in magic. He stifled a smile so Hermione wouldn’t question him.
They talked for the better part of the journey, and Neville was grateful that Hermione was more interested in school and books than his status as the Boy-Who-Lived. She didn’t even ask him about his scar. And as she mentioned briefly meeting other people also going into first year, he decided it was time to put his plan into action. He made a show of checking his pockets, and the railings that held their trunks before looking under their seats, waiting for Hermione to comment, which of course she did, asking what he was looking for.
“My toad… Trevor…” Neville let out a groan as he straightened from his position on the floor. “Gran’ll kill me!”
“Come on, he can’t have gone far. I’ll help you look.”
Neville ducked his head, as if in shame and embarrassment, to hide his triumphant smile. They made their way out of their carriage and started asking all the way down the train. As people started realising who Neville was and wanting to talk to him, he sent Hermione on ahead to keep up the charade. He could see she was getting impatient. They had already agreed to rendezvous back at their carriage if they couldn’t find Trevor; Hermione had already smartly predicted the mass’s reaction to Neville and had insisted on meeting back at their carriage if they had to separate. Neville had agreed - it would allow him to scope out the students without Hermione behind his back.
When the train eventually stopped at Hogsmeade, Neville and Hermione were comfortable with each other, and decided to share a boat across the lake. Everyone, Pureblood or otherwise, let out gasps at the sight of the majestic castle with all its windows lit against the night. It truly was a sight to behold. Hermione and Neville shared a grin as their boat pulled into the cave and were led to the Entrance Hall. Everyone’s excitement could be felt, even after their encounter with the ghosts and the stern warning from Professor McGonagall.
Neville pretended to listen to Hermione even as he ignored her spouting facts about the Great Hall; he only wanted to take in the sight of the enchanted ceiling, and the floating candles, and the Head Table where the professors sat. He ignored the hundreds of pairs of eyes that were watching them make their walk down the Hall until they came to a stop in front of a stool, on which McGonagall placed an old and ripped hat. The Sorting Hat, Neville knew, that would Sort them into their Houses.
They listened to the Hat’s song, and Neville couldn’t help but frown. It sounded as if the Hat could look into your mind to judge what traits you possessed. Carefully constructing the mental shields he had been tutored to do, Neville waited for his turn as McGonagall began reading out names from a list; he wanted no dispute about where he should be placed, Gran was clear about that. Hermione went first of course, and she was placed in Gryffindor. Neville had thought she would be placed in Ravenclaw if anywhere, so it came as a surprise that she was Sorted into the House of the brave. It made Neville wonder if the Hat could somehow look into the future and see what you would become. Maybe that’s what the Hat truly judged you on. There were several more names, and then he was called out.
He glanced around at the students whispering his name and trying to get a better look as he went up the few steps and sat on the stool. Darkness covered his eyes as the Hat was dropped onto his head and he took a couple of deep breaths to centre himself.
“Ah, yes… Difficult indeed. I can sense a cunning in you, but also loyalty. You would do well in either Slytherin or Hufflepuff. But not for the plan you are cooking up, no? Well then. Better be… GRYFFINDOR!”
The House erupted into cheers as Neville offered a shy smile to his new Housemates as he sat down next to Hermione. She discreetly squeezed his hand under the table, and he could imagine that she was relieved he had been Sorted into the same House as her. He gave her a quick, reassuring smile before turning his attention back to the rest of the Sorting in mild interest. But the name called out several minutes after him was what gained the most of his interest.
Neville watched as a thin boy slowly stepped up to the stool and sat, clenching the sides of the wood but otherwise showing no signs of anxiety or nervousness. He frowned; the boy was smaller than he should be, but perhaps he was just a late bloomer. Gran had, of course, told him about the other baby that Voldemort had gone after, only born a day after Neville. They are both orphans of the war, but in the end, Voldemort had chosen him. Had chosen Neville to kill.
He watched as the Hat took a minute, and then two, and then three, to Sort Harry Potter. Was it supposed to take this long? Neville couldn’t have taken more than a minute, and Hermione had taken two. The most had been about three. But Harry was nearing five minutes, and the students were getting restless. He searched the Head Table, and his gaze landed on the Headmaster, Albus Dumbledore. He noted that Albus seemed particularly interested, but perhaps he was only interested in students who took longer to Sort than three minutes. Even McGonagall was beginning to get a curious look in her eyes. His eyes were then drawn to a figure towards the far end of the Head Table, all clad in black – Severus Snape, their Potions professor. He was looking at Potter intensely, with a mix of anger and hate and curiosity. Neville knew he was one to be watched. After all, he had been a Death Eater.
Finally, after what felt like an age, the Hat shouted out, “GRYFFINDOR!” and there was scattered applause as people were still getting over their confusion. Only Neville was clapping steadily, and Hermione took his lead. Potter took a seat across from them, but didn’t look at either of them as he immediately turned back to the rest of the Sorting, in which the House also gained a Thomas, Dean and another Weasley, who took the seat next to Potter. Neville offered Ron a smile – after all, their families were friends and they had often shared playdates. Ron’s abilities as a strategist was simply a bonus.
The following notices from Dumbledore and the feast itself was intriguing. Neville took a mental note about the third floor corridor before focusing entirely on the food laid out in front of them. He noticed Potter only filling his plate with a very meagre amount before beginning to eat, quick and nimble with his left arm curled protectively around his plate, as if it would be snatched away from him if he didn’t watch over it or ate quick enough. Neville frowned at that but dismissed it for a later time, with more privacy. Perhaps it was just a quirk of Potter’s, but he wasn’t going to take any chances.
After they had all been suitably fed, they were led up to Gryffindor Tower by Ron’s older brother Percy, who was a Prefect. They were directed into their dormitories, where they found their trunks and pet cages already set out for them. Neville took the bed closest to the door, with Potter in the one next to him and Ron in the one after that. Dean Thomas and Seamus Finnigan took the last remaining beds, but they didn’t appear to mind. It seemed that they had already made friends on the train.
Once Neville had changed into his pyjamas, he turned to Potter, who was only wearing a faded grey top and some old jammie bottoms that were both clearly too big for the small eleven year old. He was climbing into bed when Neville spoke, introducing himself.
“Hi. I’m Neville.”
Potter paused in his motion of lying down before sitting back up, pushing his glasses back onto his nose.
“Harry,” was all he said, his green eyes bright even in the shadowed darkness of their dorm. His name was but a whisper, no louder than leaves stirring in the wind. Neville smiled even as Harry burrowed under his duvet, his black messy hair only visible at the top. He looked to Ron, who had clearly somehow made friends with the quiet boy, but he only shrugged and got into bed himself. Seamus and Dean was already in bed, sleeping. Giving a light shake of his head, amused, Neville also got into his own warm bed, pulling the curtains around him and smiled up at the canopy above.
It seemed Hogwarts was going to be even more interesting than he first thought.