The next day dawned bright and early. Neville hoped today will be better than the day before. At least they didn’t have Potions today; Neville wasn’t sure Harry could take another class with Snape so soon after yesterday. He had been really shaken up by Snape’s treatment and Neville could hear him having nightmares last night, muffled by Harry’s closed curtains. Though he was sympathetic, he didn’t think Harry would appreciate any help. Not just yet anyway. Neville was going to have to tread carefully about helping Harry. Hopefully, he had somehow convinced Snape that something was wrong, and even if Snape doesn’t outwardly show it, Neville hoped that Snape would keep an eye on Harry.
As they did yesterday, the first year boys went down to breakfast together, talking animatedly between themselves. Harry was a bit more subdued this morning, but Neville couldn’t blame him. He and Ron carried most of the conversation anyway, Ron supposedly because he had noticed his best friend was quiet. Well, quieter than usual, anyway.
They were all excited for today’s big lesson – flying. Though Hermione was the most nervous, Harry was a close second. Neville was confident in his abilities, but he put on an air of uneasiness to make them feel better. If the Boy-Who-Lived was nervous about flying despite growing up in a magical household, then it was valid for everyone else, particularly Muggleborns and people who had grown up in a Muggle household, to be nervous as well. It was just unfortunate that the Gryffindors will also be sharing this class with the Slytherins.
As they waited for Madam Hooch to make an appearance, Malfoy decided it was a good time to start up another bullying session.
“Hey, Potter! Did you open a book about flying before coming to this class?” He taunted, a smirk spreading across his pointed face.
Harry’s face flushed as he stared at the ground, avoiding everyone’s eyes. His hands clenched in the pockets of his robes and he blinked rapidly, but other than that, he didn’t respond to Malfoy.
“No answer, eh, Potter? Why don’t we try again?” He said mockingly, hearkening back to Potions yesterday. “Have you ever been on a broom before? Oh wait. You grew up with Muggles because your parents died.”
The Slytherins laughed as Harry attempted to make himself smaller in the hopes that they will ignore him. Before Neville could say anything, Hermione spoke up, frown on her face.
“People dying is not a joke, Malfoy. At least he didn’t grow up with pompous parents like yours.”
Neville noted how Malfoy grew an interesting shade of red, and he had to choke back his laughter.
“Nobody asked your opinion, you filthy little Mudblood.” Malfoy spat.
The reactions were immediate; Neville’s laugh immediately died in his throat, Hermione’s eyes shone with unshed tears, and Ron lunged at Malfoy as he swung back a fist. Before he could make contact, there was a loud bang and Ron was thrown back. Everyone froze. Madam Hooch was striding down the path with her wand raised, fury etched onto her face.
“Ronald Weasley! You come with me right now!” Before she turned her back to march Ron back to the castle, she eyed the group of students severely. “Fighting, of any kind, will not be tolerated on my field. If I catch any of you at it again, you will get detention for a month. And if I so much as catch wind of any of you flying without me being present, you’ll be out of Hogwarts before you can say ‘Quidditch’.”
The students watched in silence as Ron was marched away, the tips of his ears red. Nobody dared move until Harry slowly lowered the arm he had extended in the attempt to hold Ron back. Malfoy stooped to pick something off the ground before exclaiming in glee, bringing attention to himself.
“What’s this, Potter? Why have a watch that doesn’t even work?”
He shook the object dangling from his fingers, and only then could Neville see that Malfoy was indeed holding a watch with a faded black leather strap. Harry made an aborted move to step forward, his lips parting slightly before he caught himself and snapped them shut.
“Give that here, Malfoy.” Neville said quietly, noticing that this item clearly meant a lot to Harry somehow.
“Pardon, what was that? I couldn’t quite hear you,” Malfoy smirked.
“I said, ‘give it here’.”
Malfoy crouched down to pick up a broom.
“No, I don’t think I will,” he replied as he settled onto the broom he had picked. Kicking off, Malfoy hovered in front of Neville. “I think I should put it where Potter can get it – how about – at the top of a tree?”
Neville snatched up a broom, ignoring Hermione’s protests about breaking rules, and flew up to meet Malfoy. He held back his grin on seeing Malfoy’s worried look, relaxed and familiar on a broom.
“Give Harry’s watch back then. There’s no Crabbe and Goyle up here to save your neck,” Neville called out, and smiled in triumph when he saw that Malfoy had come to the same conclusion.
“Catch it if you can, then!” Malfoy shouted, and threw Harry’s watch high into the air. Malfoy streaked back to the ground, but Neville’s attention was caught by the falling item.
There was no way Neville was going to allow an object Harry so clearly prized above all his other possessions fall and break. He streaked towards the rapidly falling watch, going into a steep dive. He caught it just before it hit the ground and he rolled off his broom onto the soft grass with the watch held up in the air.
The cheers of his fellow Gryffindors fell silent as Neville scrambled to his feet to face Professor McGonagall.
“Never – in all my time at Hogwarts –”
She was staring at Neville, and he wasn’t entirely sure if it was shock or fury taking precedence over her features, “– how dare you – might have broken your neck –”
The Gryffindors attempted to defend Neville but were shut down very quickly as McGonagall told Neville to follow her back to the castle, much like Madam Hooch with Ron. He ignored the Slytherins’ looks of delight as he made his way to Harry, who looked worried that he had gotten Neville expelled from Hogwarts despite how indirectly. Neville offered Harry a reassuring smile, took his hand and gently laid the watch in his outstretched palm. Before Harry could say anything, Neville followed McGonagall to the castle.
Of course, by the end of the day, it had become common knowledge that Neville had just been made the youngest Seeker of the century, supposedly possibly better than even Charlie Weasley. Ron congratulated him with a grin that almost stretched from ear to ear, not caring in the slightest that he had received a month’s worth of detentions for fighting, or that Neville had taken his older brother’s title of the best Seeker Gryffindor has ever had. Hermione was a bit put out that he had been rewarded for his rule breaking, but she immediately softened when later that night in the common room, Harry approached him and shyly thanked him for saving his watch while risking his education to do so when he didn’t have to. Neville had waved away his thanks, telling him that he didn’t need to thank him as anyone who wasn’t a Slytherin would have done the same.
“Yeah, but only you actually did it,” Harry had replied quietly as he met Neville’s eyes, making it one of the rare occasions he made eye contact with him, making Neville realise he was being serious.
Neville had just smiled gently and accepted his gratitude in response, biting back his curiosity about the watch. Hermione had stepped forward and carefully enveloped Harry in a hug before allowing him to escape to bed. She couldn’t complain much after that but she warned Neville not to take risks like that again, because the consequences of next time could be worse. Neville had agreed with her but made no promises, to which she had rolled her eyes and announced she was going to bed. She thanked Ron for defending her earlier about being called a Mudblood, making the ginger flush and shift uncomfortably in his seat, mumbling something along the lines of “you’re welcome,” prompting Hermione to smile as she went up to her dorm.
Neville and Ron opted to stay up for a bit longer playing wizard’s chess, and as Neville absently moved his pieces, he pondered his four friends; how he had just connected with Harry there, feeling like their tentative friendship had shifted into something more solid, and the coming together of Ron and Hermione. If he was to become friends with Harry, he didn’t want to isolate Ron as he was clearly Harry’s best friend. But Neville wasn’t going to isolate Hermione, because she was fast becoming Neville’s best friend too and he had been apprehensive of the possibility of having to step in between the two when things got too heated. He had noticed Ron hadn’t taken a shine to Hermione in the beginning, but perhaps Ron was coming around. After all, you wouldn’t defend someone from bullying without becoming friends.