Chapter 149 : Crawl
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He had never truly enjoyed school.
Hogwarts had been stunning. From that first moment he turned the corner as a first year, with the lights from the tall towers reflected like floating candles in the water, he'd been entirely and overwhelmingly captivated. He would never forget how his heart sped to a flutter with fiery excitement and tingling nerves; how his smile seemed to endlessly grow wider; how his breath seemed to stop altogether. He would never forget how free and confident and welcome and accepted he felt in that first moment, because it ended up being the only moment at Hogwarts in which he would ever truly feel that way.
He had never quite belonged. It turned out that loving something didn't mean you'd actually be any good at it. It turned out that being kind to others didn't matter if you were short and pudgy and clumsy and forgetful. It turned out that the days in which he tried desperately to disappear into the background were some of his happiest moments in that castle.
And so school had been a struggle. He fell behind in almost every class, he was picked on most every day, and no matter how hard he tried, he never quite got the hang of even the most basic of spells or least complex of potions. He always seemed to be a step behind.
He didn't want to come back. The war was over and he felt that he'd had his brief shining moments during what was supposed to be his final year of schooling. He knew he would never outdo himself; that he had peaked at seventeen.
But he did come back. He did decide to repeat his seventh year. He did return because he knew that without a completed education, someone like him, with no outstanding talents or traits, would never have a career of any kind.
His final year at Hogwarts had been different, though. Maybe not entirely so, but still a vast improvement. He'd found real friendship with Hermione now that Harry and Ron had decided not to return, and she helped him more than ever in his classes, which he had to admit he'd improved in. The Slytherins had quieted down; even with Draco Malfoy having returned, he kept his mouth shut more often than not. Prejudice still existed, bullying still occurred, and students would forever judge their fellow students, he knew, but it was still different, better. There was understanding within the walls, an unspoken understanding that these prejudices were not worth another war, or even a small battle in the hallway.
His final train ride on the Hogwarts Express was just 30 minutes away, now. What he thought might be his last morning ever spent at Hogwarts was rapidly coming to an end. And he still had one person left to say goodbye to.
The wheels of his suitcase made a rattling noise as he dragged it behind him across the stone walkway. The air was warm, the sky was blue, and the sun was bright. He decided that he would miss the land of Hogwarts more than anything.
It only took a moment of scanning through the greenhouse glass windows before he saw her. He knocked softly at the door.
"Mr. Longbottom!" Neville found that he was always surprised by the enthusiasm in which she said his name, as if it were truly worth the exclamation. "I was hoping you'd come to see me before taking off." Professor Sprout didn't move away from the plant she was tending, but she did invite him in with a "Come in, come in!" She smiled wide, her eyes as kind as ever.
"I just wanted to say goodbye before I left," he said, shuffling in a bit awkwardly. He hunched his shoulders, always feeling far too open when standing up straight, as if the bend of his back could block out all possibilities of being seen, scrutinized.
"You know, Neville, I have plans to retire in a few years," she said, trimming the branch of what he knew to be an older Screechsnap plant. Neville paused, unsure of exactly how to respond.
"Oh?" he decided would suffice.
"I hope you'll allow me to put in a good word for you." She looked up with a smile. "You always were my favorite student. Mind you keep that information to yourself; I understand that Miss Granger is as competitive as ever."
Neville laughed. In good humor or disbelief, he couldn't be sure.
"I... You want... I mean, you really think I could ever be a teacher?"
And while the smile on his face grew, perhaps from how ludicrous the sentence sounded to him, Professor Sprout's seemed to fade, her hands stilling their work, her eyes seemingly focused on the ground. She spoke quietly.
"Someday, my dear boy, you will look in the mirror and see the man that you've become instead of the child you once were."
She spoke with only a trace of sadness, her voice much more heavily coated in what Neville understood to be hope. Hope for him. Hope that someday he would believe her words and do just that, see himself differently.
She looked over her shoulder to the clock tower before sending a knowing glance back to Neville. He eyed the time as well and noted that he had only ten minutes before the Hogwarts Express would depart.
He didn't know how to respond. He felt a rush of gratitude towards Professor Sprout for having ever believed in him, and for doing so still to this day, despite the overwhelming evidence that he never really deserved such unwavering faith. He didn't know how to tell her that her belief in him was sometimes the only thing he had to hold on to. Were there even words for that?
"Thank you for everything, Professor."
She smiled softly and gave a small nod before returning to her pruning, and Neville left the greenhouses and his favorite teacher behind.
"Professor Longbottom..." he muttered to himself, smiling at the sound of it. Teaching. Maybe... maybe he could be a teacher. And maybe he would be a teacher. And maybe he would love it. Maybe he'd have another chance with the castle that he never quite fit into. And maybe this time he'd do it right. And maybe, just maybe, if he saw a bit of himself in a student, he could teach them not to hide, not to disappear into the background, and not to wait for someone to save them, because ultimately they would have to save themselves.
Or, at the very least, he could tell them that someday... someday things would be different.
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