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Harry watched the staircase swing back toward him from between a clump of first years. They threw him nervous glances out of the corner of their eyes and whispered his name in hushed tones.
Idiots. He rolled his eyes and stepped onto the moving stair.
‘Got you.’ Katie wriggled around the back of the firsties and jumped onto the moving stair with him.
Harry glanced over the side at the several floor drop. ‘I suppose you have. Bit of a risky move, that.’
‘I — er — I have a lot of things to say.’ Her smile wilted. ‘I probably won’t be able to say all of it before the stairs swing back…’
I suppose I can’t keep avoiding this forever.
He gave Katie a faint smile. ‘I guess I’ll have to wait, then.’
‘Thank you,’ Katie murmured. She tugged at her little finger, twisting the skin round her knuckle until it went white. ‘I guess I should start with the tournament. Professor McGonagall came and asked me if I could be your hostage. She said that the hostage was someone that you’d be most determined to save, someone you’d sorely miss. I, well, you’re still important to me, Harry.’
‘I did save you. I admit that I considered leaving you to be a mermaid, but there’s no quidditch underwater. I was afraid you’d never forgive me.’
‘I would never have forgiven you,’ Katie declared. A brief smile passed across her lips. ‘I would have made a great mermaid, though. I’ve got the right hips for it. Just need a seashell bra.’
Harry’s eyes dropped from Katie’s face. ‘Well, you don’t need a seashell bra.’ He raised an eyebrow at her. ‘I’m sure nobody would complain if you went without.’
Katie laughed. ‘I bet they wouldn’t.’
The stairs came to a halt and Harry stepped onto the lower set. Katie stared at him, a small frown marring her brows. He reached out and pulled her down onto the step next to him before they swung away.
‘Let’s go wander toward the quidditch pitch,’ Harry said. ‘We can talk out there without anyone listening in.’
Katie squirmed, but nodded.
They drifted through the corridors and stepped out into the spring cool, picking their way across the grass and dodging the protruding tips of the spring flowers.
Harry took a seat in the stands. ‘Go on, then. You first. You’ve been chasing me, after all.’
Katie shuffled her feet and fiddled with her little finger. ‘Can we be friends again? Will you forgive me, for going with Roger Davies and being so stupid.’
If you forget your mistakes, you just end up repeating them. Harry took a deep breath. That doesn’t mean we can’t be friends, though. I just need to remember.
‘No, I won’t forgive you for overreacting. Davies just wanted to revenge himself on me for getting Fleur Delacour’s attention when he could not, and she—’ Harry clenched his jaw and buried the memory of her blue eyes less than a finger’s length from his face ‘—she just wanted to win.’
‘But we’ll be friends?’ Something in Katie’s manner faltered.
Harry saw in the reflection of her eyes how cold his face had become. ‘Definitely. You proved that you still cared when you nearly became a mermaid. I just wanted to be clear… in case you were about to ask me to Hogsmeade again.’
Katie fidgeted. ‘You looked very lonely. I wanted to go and speak with you, but Angelina and Alicia thought it was a bad idea.’
‘They were probably right,’ Harry admitted. ‘If you hadn’t agreed to help me with the task I might not’ve believed you. I – I find it very hard to trust people twice.’
‘I’m not surprised,’ Katie whispered. ‘But I won’t let you down again, Harry. I promise, yeah. Not again. And it’s ok you don’t want to date me, too. I’m not mad, or anything. We kind of messed that up.’
‘Yeah. We did.’ Harry sighed. ‘A shame, really. It was really good until it wasn’t.’
Katie nodded. ‘Yeah.’ A little spark rose in her eyes. ‘But I meant what I said, Harry. I won’t let you down. I won’t do anything stupid like that again. I won’t choose anything over our friendship.’
‘You will,’ Harry murmured. ‘But I expect some things to be chosen above me now, everyone has goals, dreams, and people more dear to them than others. As long as I know where I stand on your scale and think it’s fair, then I’ll never be disappointed or hurt. I’ve got my own scale now, too, so it’s all even.’
A small smile curved Katie’s lips, then she beamed and leapt up. ‘Want to see what I look like when I’m not wearing a seashell bra?’
Harry flushed. ‘Er?’
‘I look like this, silly!’ Katie cackled. ‘What, did you think I was about to pull my top up and flash you? We’re not even dating, Harry. A boy’s got to ask me out before anything like that happens.’
He snorted and cast a quick tempus. ‘Okay. You got me. I have to go help Nev, Katie. I’ll catch you later.’
‘Be gentle with him,’ Katie murmured. ‘He seems fragile now. I heard when he met Mr Crouch in the hallways, he accidentally set fire to every tapestry within ten feet of him.’
‘Nev?’ Harry studied her expression, but there was no mischief in her eyes. ‘He did violent, accidental magic at our age?’
What on earth could’ve pushed him so far? Harry frowned when nothing sprang to mind. I really don’t know anything about Nev at all, do I?
‘I heard it from Alicia, who said she heard Malfoy and Ron arguing over it,’ Katie said. ‘Apparently, Malfoy was going on about how he heard Neville couldn’t even perform accidental magic as a child. There’s some story about Neville’s family trying to provoke him into doing some when he was a baby and Malfoy was bandying it about. Ron had to be dragged away by Seamus and Dean.’
‘When was this?’ Harry demanded.
‘A few days ago. I can’t believe you didn’t hear about it. The whole school’s talking about it.’
‘I’ve kind of stopped listening to rumours. It makes my life easier.’ Harry sighed. ‘How’s Nev been?’
‘I haven’t really seen him,’ Katie said. ‘You know how he is with girls. He stutters twice as much even talking to Hermione and I’m fairly sure Hermione’s about as asexual as the venomous tentacula. Ron defended him, but it was more because he hates Malfoy than anything to do with Neville.’
‘I can’t imagine Nev doing something like that.’
‘It’s true. I’ve seen the walls on the fourth floor where the tapestries used to be.’
‘I should go meet him.’ Harry stood up.
‘When will I next be able to corner you?’ Katie asked.
Harry grinned. ‘I’ll be around. I’m sure you know where I turn up after stalking me for so long.’
She beamed. ‘You can’t hide from me, Harry!’
‘I definitely can.’ He cast his disillusionment spell and faded from view.
‘That explains a lot!’ Katie yelled after him.
Harry hurried back up to the seventh floor. Nev leant against the tapestry opposite the Room of Requirement.
There’s an item of furnishing Hogwarts won’t miss if he feels like setting fire to something else.
‘We’re using the room?’ Nev nodded at the blank wall across from him.
‘I found it over the last year,’ Nev said. ‘I often come to wander the school away from anyone and not many people come up here. One time, I just wanted somewhere to be one my own and the room appeared. How did you find it?’
‘I knew it was here,’ Harry said. ‘I came looking for it and eventually I found it.’
‘S-Shall we go in.’
‘After you…’ Harry smiled. ‘Since you know how to use it and what you need better than I do.’
What you need is what I needed.
The door grew into place on the stonework. Harry followed Nev inside. Empty stone stretched from floor to ceiling.
Nev hung his head. ‘I guess I don’t really know what I want.’
Harry grimaced. Which means I’m the one with the strongest desire and the room’s about to change. Fantastic.
‘Let’s try again.’ He ushered Nev out the door and slammed it shut, sparing only a single glance for the holly log fire.
And that’s just the beginning of that room’s lack of respect for personal privacy.
Nev stared at his feet. ‘Y-you’re disappointed in me n-now, aren’t you?’
‘You’re just saying that,’ he mumbled. ‘Everyone knows I’m not much of a wizard.’
You need to believe in yourself, Nev. If you expect to fail, it’ll corrupt your intent.
‘Would not much of a wizard be able to set an entire corridor alight without using his wand?’ Harry asked.
Guilt flashed across Nev’s face.
‘I don’t think they could,’ Harry said. ‘You even rid the school of some terrible tapestries.’ He grinned and jabbed his thumb at the tap-dancing trolls. ‘If you’d got that one, you’d have your own award for special services to the school!’
‘You’re strong. You just need to stop listening to the people who try to tell you otherwise. If you expect and visualise your spells failing, they will.’
‘I’m not like you, Harry,’ Neville burst out. ‘I can’t just be strong. I can’t stand up to You-Know-Who, or basilisks, or anything like you’ve done.’
‘You’re just like me, Nev,’ Harry said. ‘You’ve just not been stuck in a spot where you’ve had no choice but to ignore that little voice of doubt in the back of your head.’
‘What if I can’t do it?’
‘How would you know until you’ve tried as hard as you’re sure you can?’ Harry asked.
‘You don’t,’ Harry said. ‘There’s nothing to be gained from giving up, Neville. You’re stronger and braver than half of the Gryffindors I’ve seen, and to prove it you’re going to call Voldemort by his real name.’
‘I can’t do that.’ Nev shook his head. ‘Even Gran doesn’t say his name.’
‘You will,’ Harry said. ‘Repeat after me. Tom. Marvolo. Riddle.’
Nev’s brow creased. ‘Tom Marvolo Riddle.’
‘See. You, Neville Longbottom, just said Voldemort’s real, original name. One he hates, one he’d probably try and kill you for saying if he knew. What happened when you said it, Nev?’
‘Nothing,’ the boy mumbled.
‘And nothing will happen next time you say it, or if you say Voldemort,’ Harry said. ‘Go on.’
‘V-Voldemort,’ Nev muttered.
Harry shot him a grin. ‘You’re braver than your Gran. And I’ve heard she’s a pretty formidable lady.’
‘There are no buts, Nev. You said the name, you were brave. If you can be brave when you thought you couldn’t be, then you can be strong, too.’
‘But my magic always fails,’ he said. ‘I know it will.’
‘You knew that you couldn’t say Voldemort a moment ago,’ Harry murmured. ‘Forget what happened last time. Magic’s about intent. If you want it to happen, if you focus and understand what you’re trying to achieve, then you’ll make it happen.’
‘I always want it to happen,’ Neville said.
‘I’d bet you never believe it will, though.’
Nev shuffled his feet. ‘Maybe.’
‘Believe it, Nev.’ Harry put a hand on his shoulder. ‘If you can set fire to a corridor without a wand, you’ve more than enough power to do a few spells.’
‘It’s not the same,’ Nev whispered. ‘I was so angry when I saw him. It was like he thought he was better than the rest of us, striding down the corridor with his tight collar and self-righteous face. Nothing but disdain for everyone else. He judges everyone he sees like it’s his right.’ Neville’s face twisted. ‘He’s no right to, not when his own son was a monster!’
His son’s dead. Harry remembered the ash basilisk and the shattered torso of the mad Death Eater. And if he thought following rules was more important than a little girl’s life, it’s no wonder his son turned out such a mess.
‘His son is dead, isn’t he?’ Harry asked.
‘Not dead enough,’ Neville hissed. ‘Not after what he did.’ Nev took a deep breath. ‘My parents were aurors in the war. A group of V-Voldemort’s followers tortured them with the Cruciatus Curse for hours. They don’t even recognise me.’ A bitter smile crept onto Nev’s lips. ‘I wanted to make them proud, I even use my father’s wand, but they’ll never be proud of some stranger. Why would they?’
Poor Nev. That might be worse than having no parents at all. It’s easy to pretend dead people would’ve loved you.
‘What can I do about that, Harry?’ Nev demanded.
‘Nothing,’ Harry replied.
‘Just like there’s nothing I can do to bring my parents back. You should be strong for yourself, your own reasons, and your own goals. I’d be proud of you for that and I’m sure your parents would be proud of you as well. Your gran, too. And if they aren’t, then they should be.’
‘They’d be so disappointed if they could recognise me now,’ Neville mumbled. ‘Sometimes, I’m glad they can’t, just so they don’t have to be let down by me like Gran is. I’ll never be as good as either of them.’
You need more proof, do you, Nev?
‘You won’t be as good as them if you give up,’ Harry said. ‘But if you believe in yourself, why can’t you be better? You have all the tools you need. You can’t deny you have enough magical power, you set a corridor on fire without using a wand. You just need to want it.’
‘Maybe I don’t want it anymore,’ Nev muttered. ‘Maybe I’ve already given up.’
Well, we’ll see about that. Harry drew himself up. Let’s give you some proof, Nev. You trust me, I ought to try and trust you.
‘I want you to open that door, Nev.’ Harry pointed at the empty wall. ‘The room will change for the one who wants things most if those using it aren’t in unison. You don’t doubt how much I want things, do you?’
Nev shook his head. ‘No. No, you’ve grown so strong.’
‘Then if the room changes and you want something even more than me, you’ll be able to get strong, too.’
Nev wrestled with it. ‘I guess so.’
‘You know so.’ Harry willed the room back into existence and twisted the handle. ‘So let’s see.’
Nev isn’t the only one who needs to be brave.
A hundred different reflections of Fleur Delacour looked down at him. Her rare, warm smile and bright blue eyes shone from dozens of frames. They leant forward, a memory away from kissing him.
‘Harry?’ Nev’s eyes flickered over the walls.
Harry gestured round the room. ‘The room’s shown you what I want, as much as I’d rather it wouldn’t.’ He pulled as much of a smile onto his face as he could manage. ‘Now show me how much you want to be strong.’
Fleur Delacour’s silver hair and blue eyes faded from the walls of the room to be replaced by shelves of spell books.
A stupid thing to want. Harry watched the pictures go with a bitter, sour heat in his heart. She just wants to win. She’s proven that twice now. Better to want to help Nev. He can be trusted not to thrall me, at least.
‘Well done, Nev,’ he said.
Nev gaped at the walls. ‘I did it. I — I actually did it.’
No, you didn’t. Harry flashed Nev a bright smile. I changed the room. I wanted to help you help yourself. But as long as you believe in this, then you’ll believe in yourself.
‘Let’s have a test,’ Harry suggested. ‘The blasting curse has the incantation reducto.’ He demonstrated the wand motion with his hand and conjured a statue of Mr Crouch. ‘Destroy it.’
Neville’s eyes burnt. ‘Reducto,’ he spat, sweeping his wand into a sharp vee. The spell hissed across the room and blew the upper half of the statue into dust.
‘Not bad for a first try. You need to practise the wand motion a bit, it was over exaggerated, but still a good first try. Better than mine, actually.’
‘Reducto,’ Neville cried.
The remaining half of the statue exploded into shining grey dust.
‘Well done,’ Harry said. ‘When you’ve a better grasp of the spell, you’ll be able to control the power put into it and cast it silently.’
He drew two sharp, horizontal fees in the air with his wand, unleashing two silent blasting curses at one of the empty walls. The first sparked out, but the second rippled across the wall and a wave of hot air reflected back past them.
‘I should practice,’ Nev said.
‘Practice everything you think you need to, but don’t forget how successful you were here when you’re doing it on your own.’
‘I won’t.’ Neville stared at the dust that had once been the statue of Barty Crouch Senior. ‘I only wish that I could’ve shown Barty Crouch he wasn’t anything more than the father of a monster. He’s disappeared. I heard Professor Sprout talking to Professor McGonagall about it this morning by the greenhouses.’
‘Has he,’ Harry murmured, a small smile spreading over his lips. ‘What a terrible shame.’