Chapter 1 : Courage
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Neville Longbottom sat glumly at the Gryffindor table, wishing he hadn't come downstairs. He couldn't wait for the feast to be over, for the school year to be over. At this moment, he wanted nothing more than to be back home. He shuddered slightly at the thought of his overbearing grandmother, but didn't change his mind. It had to be better than sitting here.
The green and silver wall hangings only served to remind him of his failures, especially the fifty points he had lost for being gullible enough to believe that Harry and Hermione were going to smuggle a dragon out of the castle. Where would they even get a dragon?
He shook his head sadly. Even that bit of foolishness didn't amount to his most recent blunder. If the rumours were to be believed, Harry, Ron, and Hermione had been very heroic and had saved a priceless magical artifact, something apparently called the Philosopher's stone...whatever that was. Of course, he couldn't believe everything he had heard. Some people had even been going on about how Harry had met Voldemort and defeated him for a second time. That was ridiculous of course, since Voldemort was dead, but the part about their heroic deeds did seem to be based in fact. And he--stupid, clumsy, insignificant Neville Longbottom--had tried to stop them.
His head shot up as he heard the chattering of the students fade. Professor Dumbledore was rising and seemed prepared to give a speech.
Right, the cup. Neville thought to himself, his stomach sinking even further. He allowed himself to block out the words, as the headmaster began speaking. He didn't need to hear the standings to know that Gryffindor had come in dead last, thanks to him. And it would have to be Slytherin who won, he thought vainly. It'd be fine if it had been Hufflepuff, or even Ravenclaw. They're all right, but no, it had to be Slytherin. He cast a sideways glance to the head table, where Professor Snape, head of Slytherin and bane of Neville's existence was seated, a smug, triumphant smile upon his face.
The sight made Neville feel slightly ill, and he began to fantasize again about being at home. Sure, at home there were lots of chores, no real friends to speak of, and his gran could be a bit frightening, but with luck, she wouldn't hear of his most recent failing.
Neville was snapped back to reality when a cheer broke out at his own table. He glanced around wildly, trying to discover what he had missed. From Percy Weasley's shouts and the colour of Ron's face, Neville deduced that Ron had just been awarded a substantial amount of points. Neville attempted a smile, but couldn't quite manage it. He felt oddly separate from the joy at his table.
Silence fell over the hall, and Dumbledore spoke again. This time, Neville clearly heard him award 50 points to Hermione Granger.
He really did smile this time; Hermione was one of the few people he could count on to consistently be kind and helpful to him. He wasn't sure what she had done to earn those points, but Neville had no doubt that she deserved them. He tried to catch her eye, but she appeared to have dissolved into tears, and was hiding her face.
When silence fell again, Neville actually found himself becoming excited. It was clear that Professor Dumbledore wasn't through awarding points. Maybe Gryffindor still had a chance. Maybe he hadn't completely ruined everything.
"Third -- to Mr. Harry Potter, for pure nerve and outstanding courage, I award Gryffindor house sixty points."
As the hall erupted into shouts and cheers, (intermingled with some hissing from the Slytherins) Neville felt his stomach drop. Some of the stories must be true; Harry and the others had done something amazingly brave, and he had tried to stop them. Neville suddenly had a strong desire to rip the Gryffindor emblem from his robes. The sorting hat had obviously made a mistake. He was no Gryffindor. He was nothing but a stupid, bloody coward who couldn't tell the difference between a joke and something important.
He wished he were invisible. Maybe if he focused hard enough, he could somehow sink through the floor and make his escape that way.
As the hall began to grow silent again, Neville looked up, hoping that it was nearly over. All of his previous excitement had vanished. He just wished the headmaster would award the cup and be done with it, so he could slink away to sulk in peace. But as the headmaster began to talk about courage, it was clear that he wasn’t ready to award the cup just yet.
"It takes a great deal of bravery to stand up to our enemies, but just as much to stand up to our friends."
Neville sunk in his seat. He wished he had some form of bravery. Any kind. Even if it was just the courage to face a dangerous plant or something, he would take it. But no, there was not a shred of courage to be found within him.
"I therefore award ten points to Mr. Neville Longbottom."
In shock, Neville felt his face drain of colour as he found himself in the midst of a pile of people, all struggling to congratulate and embrace him.
This has to be a mistake, he thought frantically, squirming under the weight of so many, and attempting to find room to breathe. By the time he was finally able to come up for air, he noticed that the food had appeared on the tables before them, and most people in the hall had begun their meals. He also realized the hanging banners had changed to represent his own house, meaning that there hadn't been a mistake.
He had just won the house cup for Gryffindor.
But no, that wasn't right. He didn't deserve those points. He hadn't done anything brave. He was a fraud. He had to get out of there. He didn't think he could stand to be in this room for another moment.
"Oi, Nev? Where you going?" Seamus Finnegan called after him, but Neville kept moving until he had reached the doors and exited into the entrance hall. He started up the stairs toward the common room, but anything related to Gryffindor made his stomach turn. Instead, he sat heavily halfway up the flight of stairs, feeling even more miserable than he had at the feast.
"Lost, Mr. Longbottom?" a voice carried across the room. Neville's head shot up in alarm. The towering form of Albus Dumbledore was approaching him.
He could do nothing but shake his head and stammer nervously, "N-n-no, sir. J-just needed a breath of air."
"Ah, I see," the headmaster responded, sinking onto the stair next to him. "Cockroach Cluster?"
"E-excuse me, sir?"
"Cockroach Cluster," Dumbledore repeated, showing Neville the box of candies. He chuckled lightly at the look of disgust that crossed Neville's features. "I've rarely found any who share my fondness for the sweet."
Neville shook his head again, feeling very uncomfortable. He had hardly even spoken to the headmaster before today, and now they were sitting on the steps together, and he was being offered a disgusting brand of sweet.
"Is something troubling you?"
Neville looked up at him, and felt all of his misery transform into anger at the old man. "Why did you do that? I don't deserve those points. I've never done a single brave thing in my entire life!" He stopped himself, the anger fading as quickly as it had flared. He felt the blood drain from his face as he realized who he was shouting at. "I'm sorry, professor, I-"
Dumbledore held up a hand to stop him. "No apology necessary. I felt that you might require an explanation. Tell me, which traits characterise the house of Gryffindor?"
Neville was taken aback, and he tried desperately to remember the sorting hat's song he had heard at the start of the year. "Um, bravery, I suppose, and daring. Er..."
"Courage, yes, an admirable trait, but what constitutes courage?"
"I-I don't know, sir," Neville floundered, wondering why Dumbledore's explanation seemed to consist merely of questions. "Not being afraid, standing up against evil, doing the right thing, even when it's hard. Things like Harry did, I suppose."
"Without fear, there is no need for bravery," Dumbledore responded. "Facing those things that frighten us, that is true courage. Why did you try to prevent Mr. Potter, Mr. Weasley, and Miss Granger from leaving the common room a few nights ago?"
Neville lowered his eyes. "I thought they were just going off to play another joke. I thought that they would be caught and Gryffindor would lose even more points. I thought I could stop them. They're my friends; I didn't want them to get into trouble." He stopped for a moment and lowered his voice. "But they walked right over me. I hardly even slowed them down. Plus, it turns out I was wrong. They were doing something important, and all I did was get in the way."
"I know how difficult that must have been. I, too, once had to stand up to a friend, a very dear friend." He trailed off for a moment, but Neville was too nervous to disturb the silence.
"Forgive me; I became lost in my memories for a moment. I meant what I said at the feast, Mr. Longbottom. It takes a great deal of courage to stand up to your friends. That was a very brave thing you did."
"But I was wrong, sir! I shouldn't have tried to stop them. I should've been helping them! If I had succeeded, the stone could have been stolen!"
"Alas, how easily such thoughts come after the fact. You had no way of knowing what they were up to. You were doing your best to protect them, as any true friend would do. In the future, I believe, you will allow for a bit more faith in your friends."
Neville's face dropped still farther.
"There are many types of courage. It isn't all about fist fights at Quidditch matches." Neville's eyes widened as he looked up at the headmaster, but Dumbledore's eyes were twinkling, and Neville allowed a small smile to appear on his face.
"We cannot all rush off headlong on quests to save the world. Some of us must remain level-headed and steadfast. Some must think things through and choose the best way to act. I believe that is your particular brand of courage. It comes from your parents. I knew them while they were at Hogwarts and afterwards. They had the same understated courage that you possess. The type that isn't often noticed by others, but is exceedingly powerful. They were not the types to rush straight into danger, but they never shied away when danger presented itself. They were always willing to fight for the things they believed in, just as you are. You are truly their son, Neville. They would be proud of the young man you are becoming."
Neville was in awe of the headmaster's words, and he could feel the tears streaking his face. He wiped them away, impatiently. No one had ever compared him so favourably to his parents. He had heard of their courage and abilities, but no one had ever suggested that he had inherited these traits.
"Thank you, sir," he murmured quietly.
Professor Dumbledore smiled down at him, "Come now, let us return to the feast. I believe you rushed out on a celebration."
Neville smiled as he climbed unsteadily to his feet and followed his headmaster back into the Great Hall.
For the first time, he felt like a Gryffindor.
"Third -- to Mr. Harry Potter, for pure nerve and outstanding courage, I award Gryffindor house sixty points."
"It takes a great deal of bravery to stand up to our enemies, but just as much to stand up to our friends. I therefore award ten points to Mr. Neville Longbottom."
---Quotes from Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, page 306 (U.S. Edition)
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