Everyone was staring at Neville, or at least that’s how it felt.
He looked all around for Rubeus Hagrid, the friendly giant who had delivered him to Augusta Longbottom’s front door ten years ago when he was only a year old, but didn’t catch any flickers of bushy black beard or hands the size of dinner plates.
A boy standing nearby with his mother and father and two younger siblings stared as well, his brilliant green eyes involuntarily roving up to locate the jagged, lightning bolt-shaped scar on Neville’s forehead. Neville knew the boy well, as the Potters sometimes visited him or invited him over to spend time with Harry, Charlus, and Ruby, but Harry always glanced up at his scar every time he saw him, anyway. He’d once cornered him in a cupboard and pelted him with all sorts of questions, wanting to know if Neville could remember anything about the night his parents were murdered, before being scolded by his mother for mentioning such things. Neville didn’t fancy playing with Harry very much after all that.
“Don’t run off just yet, Harry,” the red-haired woman chided gently, keeping a firm hand on the boy’s shoulder. She knelt down to straighten his jacket, fussing at one of the unfastened buttons. “Write to us every day if you want to,” she instructed him, “and listen to your professors.”
“But don’t listen too well,” Harry’s father added with a mischievous smile, one hand resting on a bird cage that housed Harry’s screech owl. "Remember what I told you, about how if this year goes well, we'll see about me giving you the you-know-what next year."
“Don’t listen to him,” Mrs. Potter sniffed. “There's no way you're going to be wearing that thing around Hogwarts. Your father's N.E.W.T.s were atrocious because of his going round slipping into all sorts of trouble and I want you getting into a good department in the Ministry someday –”
“Mum,” he complained, gaze darting furtively around the platform to watch the other students passing by. "I can fasten my own buttons."
“We’re here!” a voice called out heartily. It was Mr. Black and his wife, and their young daughter who was still too young to attend Hogwarts.
“Sirius!” Harry exclaimed, eyes aglow. “I thought you were on holiday.”
Mr. Black gave him a light, playful punch on the arm. “Couldn’t miss my godson’s first trip to Hogwarts, now, could I?"
As Harry grinned, surrounded by his large, warm family, Neville released a small sigh and swiveled to stare balefully at his grandmother, who was chatting animatedly with another old witch. A clan composed entirely of red-heads hurried past, one of them almost knocking Neville over in their haste to get on the train before its departure. “We got everyone?” the mother yelled, her frazzled ginger curls flipping over one shoulder as she turned to count her children. “Percy, your owl? Ron, your rat?”
The youngest boy, who was tall and heavily freckled, peered all around. “Wait…” He went into a panic, pulling his pockets inside-out. “Hermes! Hermes ate my rat, Mum! He's been trying to get him all summer, I just know he ate him.”
“Scabbers wasn’t very useful, anyway,” one of the twins laughed. "You'd be better off with a toad." The younger boy scowled at him.
“I’ve got a toad,” Neville called out in a half-whisper. He cleared his throat, fidgeting nervously. “His name is Trevor!” The youngest boy halfway turned, and noticing that it was Neville Longbottom standing there, less-than-tactfully decided to gawk. Neville felt his face grow quite hot and he pawed anxiously at his fringe, trying to cover up the telltale scar that always preceeded him wherever he went. No matter how many times he conversed with other magical families or how many times he tried to convince everyone that he was normal, the novelty of his dark history, his legend, never waned.
“Do you reckon he remembers You-Know-Who?” Neville heard one boy whispering to another as they passed.
Neville swallowed, skin burning. As he heard it, everything was the fault of the mass-murderer Remus Lupin, who had been Secret Keeper for his parents and betrayed their whereabouts to Voldemort (Lupin was serving a life sentence in Azkaban for his misdeeds). His mother, Alice, had subsequently been murdered by Voldemort in the sitting room of their house when he was only a baby, and then his father had stood in front of him while he sat in his crib, desperately attempting to protect him from Voldemort. After Voldemort killed Frank, he’d tried to cast the Killing Curse – Avada Kedavra – on little Neville, but the spell had rebounded and somehow destroyed the Dark Lord. It left Neville with a scar that reminded him that his parents were dead and it was all because Voldemort had inexplicably wanted Neville dead, too. It didn't make any sense. Why would anyone want to kill a baby?
Heroes, Augusta had always told Neville with emphasis. They died an honorable death as heroes. Neville admired his parents’ bravery, but he would have preferred for his parents to have been the same kind of heroes as the Aurors Mr. Potter and Mr. Black – who had caught Death Eaters like Severus Snape and Rabastan Lestrange, and thrown them into Azkaban where they were currently rotting. At least this way, they were still heroes but also alive.
“What was that about your toad?” Augusta Longbottom intervened, stepping forward to block Neville’s view of the Weasleys. “You didn’t lose him again, did you?”
“No,” Neville replied defiantly, lifting his round face.
“Well, go on then,” Augusta demanded, shooing him off. “Don’t just dawdle around; go find a compartment.” She gave him a stiff hug and a pat on the head. “Have a good term. Do your parents proud and try to learn something.”
Hanging his head slightly, Neville shoved off with his trolley, wishing his trunk wasn’t so heavy. He passed Susan Bones and involuntarily ducked his head. He knew what it was like for people to stare because of who your parents were, and Susan’s mother and father had been tortured into insanity by Bellatrix Lestrange. His gran refused to give him many details, but he’d scraped up enough knowledge to know that Mr. and Mrs. Bones were both permanent residents at St. Mungo’s.
“You see his scar?” someone whispered.
“Is that really him?”
“Sure, it’s him. They say he looks just like his mother –”
“Except for his nose.”
“He’s got his father’s nose.”
Neville ignored them, trooping onward with his head still down, and accidentally trod over the foot of a pale-faced boy with a pointed chin. “Sorry,” he mumbled.
The boy looked furious, but his wrath quickly melted into awe as he rudely gaped at Neville’s forehead. Neville felt that familiar sense of dread washing over him all over again, wishing to himself that he could’ve gone to a different school, one where no one knew about the legendary Longbottom family. He felt like an animal in a zoo. “Are you Neville Longbottom?” he asked bluntly.
Neville’s confirmation of ‘yes’ was barely heard above the roar of the crowd, with mothers and fathers and friends ushering students onto the boarding scarlet train. A whistle blew, warning that the train would be departing soon. Neville attempted to sidle past the boy, who passively watched him scrabble with his luggage without offering to help.
“I’m Draco Malfoy,” he announced pompously, standing aside as Neville tried to work his trunk up the steps. Someone reached down and took it for him, and Neville meant to follow, but Draco stopped him. “You should join me in my compartment, I’ve got a whole one to myself.”
“O – okay,” Neville stuttered.
Draco’s forehead creased. “You all right? You’re stammering like a Quirrell.”
“Oh, nothing, just something my father says.” Draco pointed to a man with long blond hair, who was walking away from the platform with a woman who had equally long and blonde hair. “That’s him there. Lucius. You’ve probably heard of him loads of times – he’s everywhere important. The Ministry, the board –”
“Listen, I…” Neville pushed a bit harder, working to get past him. “I’ve got to get on the train. Can you move aside, please?”
Draco reeled back, two spots of pink blooming on his cheeks. “Of course,” he answered coolly. “After you.”
“Thanks,” Neville chirped, grateful. Once inside the train, he found that most students had already piled into their compartments, choosing their friends on the spot. He swallowed another lump in his throat, peering around for the pale Draco boy, but didn’t see him. A door slammed and he took two steps backwards, catching sight of Draco throwing him a filthy look through the glass.
Surprised, Neville blinked and trudged on. “S’pose he doesn’t want to sit with me anymore,” he muttered to himself. He passed the compartment with Harry in it – and as predicted, Harry was popular already. Rich and coddled, he’d known most of these kids for years before their first year at Hogwarts. He didn’t have a gran to say, “I don’t like a bunch of children in my house. They’re too loud. Be a good boy and go play with your chess set.” Harry was talking a mile a minute, settled in the center of a group of children.
Neville shook his head, sighing again, and continued to look this way and that into compartments. Every now and then he caught a face staring back at him, always roaming from his hair to his nose to his forehead, and Neville absentmindedly rubbed at the offending little scar. Finally, near the end of the train, he found a compartment with only one person sitting in it.
It would have to do.
Neville shouldered himself inside, wobbling a little from the acceleration of the train, and flopped into a seat by the window. He could feel himself being watched. He glanced up and the other boy swiftly looked away, embarrassed to have been caught staring.
“What?” Neville questioned wearily. “Might as well just get it over with.”
The ginger-haired boy blushed, but leaned forward eagerly. “Well, is it – is it really you? Neville Longbottom?”
Neville nodded. “You lost your rat, right?”
The boy’s face twisted into a grim line. “Yeah. My brother’s owl got to him, I think. I’ve been wanting an owl for ages, though…” He stuck out his hand. “Ron Weasley.” There was a smudge of chocolate on it, but Neville shook it, anyway.
“Nice to meet you, Ron Weasley.”
Thanks for reading! Everything you already recognize can be credited to JK Rowling, and more specifically to Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, USA edition, as any similarities were inspired by Chapter Six, "The Journey From Platform Nine And Three-Quarters".