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Chapter 1: The Boy Becomes a Man
I'm not scared but this is happening
I'm not afraid but this is real
This is real - Underoath
Neville knotted his fingers together as he glared at the form pacing the front of the classroom. The words flowing from the mouth of his ‘teacher’ were making him feel sick. Anyone who routinely mistreated people to that extent had no need to still be alive. Neville's eyes stayed trained on the grain of the wooden desk in front of him as he willed his angry heart to calm down. If only Harry was still here. Harry knew how to stand up to Umbridge, knew how to speak his mind. Neville missed the bursts of confidence that came when someone spoke the truth. It was harder to do that now, much harder. And everyone bore the scars to prove it. As if to prove his point, a ruler snapped across Neville's knuckles, shocking him back to the classroom. He didn't wince though. There was no way he was going to give that monster the satisfaction.
"Longbottom, can you tell me what the most repulsive thing about muggles is?"
"The fact they are better people than you?"
The words came from his mouth unbidden. He barely even realised what he was saying before it was said. All around the classroom, heads swivelled to look at him. He was going to be punished.
"What did you say boy?"
Normally, Neville would doubt he could ever be as courageous as this. However nothing was remotely normal anymore. There were far too many things that had changed. The fire that raced through his veins at the sight of the figure looming over him left no room for any other feelings. Anger surged through his blood.
"The Muggles, Professor. They are better people than you."
"How dare you." The words came out in a low, gravelly whisper. There was no mistaking the next word however. Alecto Carrow made sure the entire class heard it clear as day. "Crucio!"
Neville was prepared. He was proud that his tightly clamped jaw made no sound as his nerve endings screamed in pain. Carrow held the curse in an attempt to draw a sound from the rebellious boy. Neville was panting in exhaustion by the time he was released.
"Want to go the same way as your parents, boy?"
Neville paused, the mention of his parents cooling the fire that fuelled him on. He didn't want his classmates to know his weakness. Didn't want them to know just how much the Death eater had already affected his life. Without the fire, Neville's reserve snuck back in. His doubts, his insecurities, his fears. What was he doing? He wasn't Harry. There was no way he could do this. No way he could pull off a hero's role. His head dropped and Carrow's smirk grew wider.
"Didn't think so. Keep your trap shut and your head down boy. You might even make it through this alive."
A disappointed air fell over the classroom. They hated it when Carrow won. The war had sunken in to their hearts. It dragged them down, made their footsteps heavy and their shoulders droop. Every piece of resistance helped them lift that load. Every defeated resistance made that load double. There seemed to be no way out.
From his vantage point at the back of the class, Neville watched the shoulders of his classmate’s slump. He knew all too well the weight they were carrying for he was carrying it himself. Again his thoughts flicked back to Harry. It was so much easier when someone had the guts to stand up.
As Neville thought further, he realised something. He wasn't scared of the Carrows. He wasn't scared of the Death Eaters. There was nothing they could do to him that would top what had already been done. There was nothing worse than losing your parents to a fate worse than death. Yet he acted as if they controlled his life. He let those monsters control his actions and stop his hope with a simple mention of past horrors. His parents didn't lose their sanity for this. They would be ashamed that the freedom they lost their minds for was being ignored by their only son. Harry wasn't here and wasn't going to come back for anything less than the final battle. There was no use pining for something that couldn't eventuate, that wasn't going to happen. It was then and there that Neville realised something. Harry wasn't a hero. That was simply a title that people placed on him after his actions. Harry simply stood up for what he believed in. If pain doesn't bother me, Neville realised, then what is stopping me?
This growth of character had gone completely unnoticed by the rest of the class. ‘Professor’ Carrow had carried on with her lesson and was currently explaining why any muggle heritage in a person's bloodline made them instantly inferior to purebloods. The words flowing out of her mouth were vulgar and the entire class cringed at the implications of the things she was saying. There was no doubt in anyone’s mind that their Professor had killed, many times, and would be happy to kill again.
Carrow's instruction drew to a halt. A hand had risen at the back of the classroom. A hand that belonged to a boy that Alecto believed she had finally silenced. Against her better judgement, Carrow decided to call on this boy. He was easy enough to pull into line anyway. Or so Carrow believed.
"Professor, how much muggle blood do you have?"
"Silence, boy! Or you will end up like your parents, mark my words!"
"I would be honoured, ma’am." Neville smiled and the scowl on Carrow's face grew. "But you didn't answer my question. How much muggle blood is in your bloodline? Surely there is some."
As pain seared through his body, Neville was sure that Harry would be proud.