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Chapter 16 : Homage
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Neville and Oliver walked through the disserted halls of the school in an eerie silence. Neville tried to brace himself for the sight of Colin’s body, but before he could fully prepare himself, they rounded a corner and there he was.
Neville was instantly reminded of his second year, when muggleborn students had been petrified by a giant snake hidden in the Chamber of Secrets. Colin had been one of them, but this time no amount of Mandrake Restorative Draught could save him. He looked exactly as he had done when he set eyes on the Basilisks reflection; completely frozen. His arms were stiff and held out as if he was falling. His once eager eyes had glazed over in a final expression of shock and realisation of his fate.
Neville knelt down and gently closed Colin’s eyelids so he looked as if he were sleeping, then he and Oliver lifted his body and began to carry him back to the great hall. Something about the return journey was different however. In the paintings that lined the walls of their route, were hundreds of knights, villagers, monks, Lords and Ladies with their heads bowed in respect. This display of loyalty to the students of Hogwarts continued as long as there were paintings with inhabitants.
Neville was moved by the gesture, he had never realised that the people in the paintings cared for the students in such a way. He nodded to each one in thanks, grateful on behalf of Colin for the support.
Neville remembered how Colin was so in awe of the moving paintings when he first arrived at Hogwarts. Neville often found him just staring at a painting in the corridor, asking the surprised inhabitant all sorts of questions like “who are you?”, “what do you do all day?”, “why do you move?” Then there was Colin’s camera. Colin took it everywhere; and whenever he came across something magical or out of the ordinary, he would take a picture of it. Unluckily for most however, Colin was a muggleborn, so everything was magical and out of the ordinary. Neville had a sneaky suspicion that he had had his picture taken more than once, whether he was aware of it at the time or not.
Over the years, this small, blond haired, curious boy had grown into a hardworking, brave, young man, but every now and again, you would get a glimpse of the excited youth that Colin was at heart. Magic had never ceased to amaze him, and even the simplest things that were completely normal to Neville, such as Wizard chess, would intrigue him. Colin was also surprisingly clever, he matched even Michael, Pavrati and Terry when it came to knowledge of the magical world, partly because he loved every part of it, from Quidditch to the Hogwarts Express.
At the back of Neville’s mind, there was a snide voice. “You should be ashamed of yourself. You never noticed any of this about Colin when he was alive. It’s only now he’s dead that you’re taking any notice to his life-”
Neville shook his head to cut off the voice, but could not cut off the guilt that was forming in his mind. The voice had spoken the truth. The ugly, sickening, truth.
Neville’s assumed his feelings must have shown on his face, because at that moment, Oliver offered to take colin on his own.
Oliver lifted Colin’s body over his shoulder, the way you would hold a young child, and slowly continued though the doorway into the great hall. Neville did not protest, he felt that Colin would be better in Oliver’s hands. He realised that he could not handle the (real) death of a friend as he thought he would be able to, so he turned away from the entrance, not wanting to acknowledge any more dead bodies that may have accumulated in the time he had been gone.
He leant against the doorframe and tried to clear his mind before setting off in the opposite direction, not knowing exactly where he was headed.
It was inevitable really.
When Neville reached the end of the landing, he glanced down the stairs and found his path blocked by another corpse. Lying on his front, arms and legs splayed, wand still in hand, was another student, about the same age as Neville.
He knelt down and turned over the boy’s body so that his identity was shown. Vaguely, Neville recognised him. A Ravenclaw: the loose tie around his neck was blue and bronze … Brown, messy, curly hair, olive coloured skin, dark eyes … Faint memories of him keeping for the Ravenclaw Quidditch team … Lee Jordan’s voice “what an easy save for Cornfoot.” Cornfoot. Stephen Cornfoot.
Again, Neville was sickened with himself. Stephen had been in his year, even some of his classes, and Neville had hardly bothered to acknowledge his existence. Until now.
Harry's voice almost made Neville jump out of his skin.
“Blimey, Harry, you nearly gave me heart failure!”
Harry smiled half-heartedly, then averted his eyes. Neville became suspicious, remembering what Hannah had said, “Voldemort ordered a ceasefire, he said he wanted Harry to meet him in the Forbidden Forest within the hour.” But when Neville asked, Harry dissmissed the idea, so Neville left it at that.
Suddenly, Harry was rambling, something about a snake called Nagini, Voldemort’s snake. Words tumbled out, as if time was running out for Harry to say them. Nevertheless, it was clear what Harry wanted Neville to do. Kill it.
It did not shock Neville that Harry would ask for him to do this. He knew the stakes were as high as they had ever been and the tone of Harry’s voice told him that the snake’s death was somehow crucial to the destruction of Voldemort. How, when and where he would complete this mission was completly unknown, but Neville decided that there was no time for a plan and promised that if he got the chance to kill Nagini, he would.
But something still wasn’t right. Harry was distracted, distant.
Harry turned to leave, but Neville stopped him.
“We’re all going to keep fighting, Harry....” Himself, Hannah, Seamus, Michael, Dean, Terry, Padma, Pavrati, the list was too long to say. Neville hoped his words were enough. “...You know that?”
Harry’s reply was suffocated, but Neville understood. He knew it was difficult for Harry to watch them fight for him, not knowing who was going to make it out in the end, if there ever was an end.
Neville let Harry move on and turned back to Stephen’s body. Like Oliver had done minutes before, he lifted the body over his shoulder and began the journey back to the great hall. He wanted to spend the last few minutes of peace with Hannah and the others, all together, before battle recommenced and Lord Voldemort himself entered the fray.
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