The young man sat, bone weary, under a tree near the lake. Still held tightly his hand, the famous sword rested on the damp grass beside him, glinting in the early morning sun. It seemed absurd that the sun should rise as it always did. Everything was different now, wasn’t it? Neville felt different. Older. Wiser. Colder, somehow. He knew he should be rejoicing now that the war had ended, but he couldn’t find a shred of joy within himself. Too many brave warriors lay still and cold beyond him in the castle. He still felt the weight of little Colin Creevy in his arms. He’d had to escape the noise of celebrations. It offended him. And those girls that had never given him a second glance that now clamored for his attention turned his stomach. He didn’t want to be admired now. Not now.
Harry had done it. Neville shook his head. Somehow, Harry Potter brought off Voldemort’s demise with his simple disarming spell and left them all gaping like goldfish. He wished Harry had done it sooner, but maybe whatever he’d been doing all year had been part of all this. He’d looked ragged and worn. He’d looked the way Neville felt. Now, Neville only wanted a few minutes of peace to process the events of the previous night. Only one night? It seemed more like days, weeks. Leaning back against the huge oak tree, he closed his eyes.
Images came, unbidden, flashing behind his eyelids. Snakes and swords, flames and death. He raised a shaking hand and wiped hot tears from his face, but could not stem their flow. It was if the dam that had held back all the pain he’d endured over the entire school term had broken, and now it washed over him in tidal waves. He’d tried to be so strong, asking himself repeatedly, “What would Harry do? What would my mum and dad do?” He wanted to stand up and become the leader his grandmother always wanted him to be. Now, the little round-faced boy inside him wept. He didn’t want to be a hero. The terrors he’d experienced at the hands of the Carrows haunted him. They took great delight in discovering new ways to torture the student body. If not for Professor McGonagall's quiet strength and Madame Pomfrey’s secret healing potions, none of the scraggly band of Gryffindors would have survived. He’d spent many nights in “detention” learning how low the wizarding race could go. Pretty damn low, if you asked him. His body still bore a few scars that healing spells couldn’t erase.
Shaking off the memories, he focused instead on the moments he savored. Those brief, wonderful instances when he, the outcast who always seemed out of step with the rest of the world, joined in the march for freedom. He remembered the times when the remaining members of the DA secretly huddled behind tapestries and in corridors, and how overwhelmed he’d been when they had turned to him for leadership. He thought of how he’d shoved the fear down deep inside and followed Ginny Weasley into the darkened office of “Headmaster” Snape. So many times he had battled the desire to run in order to stand beside his friends. If they only knew how cowardly he’d felt. If they could see he’d only fought in order to end the never-ending rush of panic, would they still call him a hero?
Opening his eyes, he studied the gem encrusted sword he clutched beside him. For reasons that eluded him at the moment, he had not been able to part with it yet. Eventually, he’d make his way up to the Headmaster’s office and restore it to its rightful place. Until then, it was a tangible reminder that for once, Neville Longbottom had truly earned the title of “Gryffindor”. The Sorting Hat had not misplaced him. No mistake was made. Those little voices of fear and doubt could finally be laid to rest.
The whisper soft sound of feet on wet grass caught his attention. Taking another swipe at his face, he turned and squinted into the first full rays of sun. The glare blurred his vision, and he could not make out the new arrival’s face until she sat down silently beside him. Hannah Abbot stared out at the Black Lake, and for a moment Neville wondered if she even noticed he was there. Finally, she turned to face him, her blue eyes bright with unshed tears.
“You did as much as Harry did, you know. Hermione Granger told me that he couldn’t have killed You….V-Voldemort if the snake had still been alive.”
Neville swallowed hard past the lump in his throat. Hannah seemed nice enough, and he didn’t want to hurt her feelings, but he didn’t feel like playing the part of the great conqueror at the moment. Sighing, he stared out at the ripples caused by the giant squid.
“I hate to sound rude, but please don’t think I’m a hero. I wasn’t trying to be brave. I saw what he’d done, and all I could think about was all the pain he’d caused. It wasn’t courage. I was just…” he faltered, unable to put his emotions into words.
“Tired,” Hannah finished.
Neville turned to look at her, amazed that she had grasped what he was trying to say so easily. “Exactly. I was so tired of all the fear. I just wanted it to end. That’s all.”
A few tears slipped from Hannah’s eyes as she continued gazing over the dark water.
"It’s over now, isn’t it?” she whispered, so low that he almost couldn’t hear her. Tentatively, he reached over and put his hand over hers. When she didn’t jerk away, he gave it a squeeze.
“Yes. It’s over.”
Pressing her lips together, Hannah nodded. Sighing, she leaned over and rested her head on Neville’s shoulder.
“You stood up, Neville. You may not have been trying to be a hero, but you stood up and fought when you were needed. That’s a hero in my book.”
Feeling his ears redden, Neville almost cracked a smile. As the sun finally worked its way above the edge of the horizon, he let the sword fall from his hand.