The stone whistled through the air and sunk immediately into
the lake, without once bouncing off the smooth water’s surface.
"Having fun, Longbottom?"
Neville nearly fell off the log upon which he had been
seated. A soft laugh came from behind and Draco Malfoy slid into place beside
him. Neville regarded him with suspicion and not a little anxiety.
"What are you doing here, Malfoy?" In his fear,
Neville sounded uncharacteristically aggressive.
"No need to take that tone," said Malfoy smoothly.
"Is it against the law to have a friendly chat now and again?"
"We aren’t friends," said Neville instantly.
"Gryffindors and Slytherins aren’t ever friends."
"So who are your friends, then, Longbottom?" asked
Malfoy. "Oh, I forgot, you don’t have any."
Neville’s round cheeks took on a pink tinge. "Shut up,
Malfoy. I’ve got Harry…and Ron, and Hermione…"
"Goodness, Longbottom," drawled Malfoy. "You
don’t mean to say you’ve always thought they were your friends? They don’t like
you…they merely tolerate you."
"That’s – that’s not true."
"Oh, yeah? Well, where were your so-called friends this
Neville’s face lost all colour. "You – you saw
Malfoy smirked. "Half the school saw it,
Neville swallowed. The incident that morning had been one of
the most embarrassing moments of his entire school life.
The Gryffindors had been having a Charms lesson, in which
they were learning to levitate larger, heavier objects than normal. It required
a lot more skill and thought, and Nebille had struggled for a full hour to make
his table lift into the air. It had refused to rise even an inch above the
stone floor, until finally Neville had jabbed his wand at it in frustration,
thinking the spell with all his might. He had been completely unprepared for
what happened next.
The table had risen up, swinging crazily in the air, and
proceeded to rocket round the room, as his classmates screamed and ducked
amidst a flurry of parchment. Professor Flitwick was knocked unconscious by the
table leg, and finally the table had shot at the unfortunate Neville, hitting
him in the stomach and lifting him clean off his feet. The worst had been yet
to come, however, as the table smashed straight through the window, taking him
There had been screams from several of his classmates, but
they soon turned into laughter when they saw the position he was in. For
Neville was stuck, dangling ridiculously from the neck of his own cloak, which
had snagged on the jagged glass still in the window. As he kicked and scrabbled
desperately for a grip on the smooth stone wall, the rogue table disappeared
over the treetops of the Forbidden Forest.
It was very unlucky that the bell had chosen that moment to
ring. To Neville’s horror, the front doors opened and crowds of pupils flooded
out to enjoy their lunch in the warm, sunny grounds. It did not take long for
students to begin pointing at him with great shouts of laughter, which only increased
when at last the cloak ripped and Neville fell, sprawling ungracefully on the
grass two floors down with a broken leg.
It had been mended in a second by Madame Pomfrey, but
Neville had felt so depressed afterwards that he had slipped away to be by himself.
That was why he had been sitting disconsolately beside the lake, trying,
unsuccessfully, to skim stones.
"You never answered my question, Longbottom," said
Malfoy, evidently delighted to have found a sensitive spot. "Where was
Potter to save you from making an idiot of yourself? Where was Granger to help
Neville stood up. "I don’t need to listen to this,
Malfoy," he stammered. "You – you just leave me alone!"
but I came here to offer you a deal, Longbottom," said Malfoy quietly.
"And I have not told you what it is."
"A deal?" said Neville warily. "Oh, I don’t
"You haven’t even heard it yet, Longbottom."
Malfoy stood up, too. "How would you feel about my protection?"
"My protection," repeated Malfoy. "Goodness,
I knew you were thick, but really, you are exceeding yourself today."
Neville ignored the slight. "Why should I need your protection?"
he said slowly. "And what’s in it for you?"
"Well, firstly, Longbottom, you must have noticed by
now that you can rarely walk down a corridor without someone or other jinxing
"Like you," said Neville.
Draco shrugged. "Not only me. Besides, if you agree to
the deal, I won’t be hexing you again. As for your second question," he
added loudly, as Neville opened his mouth, "all I want in return for every
jinx or insult I save you from is some information about Potter."
Neville looked surprised. "What do you want that
for?" he said cautiously. "And what sort of things?"
"Anything…personal," said Malfoy delicately.
"Little tidbits about his life, his family…oh I don’t know."
Malfoy looked impatient. "Stuff he says in his sleep, secrets,
"I don’t trust you."
"I’m not asking for trust, Neville. We
Slytherins learn that trust only burdens us. No, all I’m asking for is a few
pieces of information, in return for my looking after you."
"You want blackmail material, Malfoy. Stuff you can use
"Perhaps," drawled Malfoy. "But really, why
should you care about Harry so much?"
"Because we’re fr-"
"Oh, please, Longbotton. We’ve been through this. They
only talk to you to be polite. They didn’t stick up for you this morning when
you were hanging out of the window." Malfoy knew that Harry, Ron and
Hermione had left the classroom to find a teacher after Flitwick had been
knocked out, but Neville did not, and Malfoy played this card ruthlessly.
Neville did not answer.
"What about the time when Granger cursed you in first
year?" pressed Malfoy. "She body-bound you, Longbottom. That’s not
something that friends do. And when you were only trying to help,
too..." He sighed dramatically.
Neville bit his lip. The memory of lying stiff and unable to
move in the dark common room for hours until he had been discovered still
frightened him. It had been harsh of Hermione to do that...
"Hey, Longbottom, nice stunt this morning."
Neville looked up, heart thumping as he saw a tall, dark-skinned Slytherin
strolling over, a malicious grin on his face. "Is jumping out of windows
something you do normally, or were you just practising your talent at fly–
The Slytherin reeled as a sudden, vicious curse from Malfoy
struck him like a whip against his cheek.
"Get out of here, Zabini, before I do worse,"
threatened Malfoy, pointing his wand at the shocked Slytherin, who hesitated,
his eyes flicking between Neville and Malfoy’s wand. With a look from Malfoy,
Zabini finally turned and half-ran away, blood trickling down his face.
"See, Longbottom, now wouldn’t that be nice if I did
that every time?" Malfoy waited, smirking and assured as Neville gazed
after the Slytherin’s fast-retreating figure. "Or you could just go back
to those people you call friends, who curse you and say that they fell sorry
for poor, clumsy Neville behind your back."
Neville looked stunned. "They do not say that!"
"Oh, but they do," lied Malfoy smoothly.
"I’ve heard them say it, many times. They pity you, Longbottom,
they do not like you. Didn’t Granger refuse to go to the Yule Ball with
you? And didn’t the girl Weasley only go with you as a last resort, so
that she could go at all? You have to admit, you aren’t too popular with your
fellows…but if you really don’t want my services…" He brushed down his
robes and turned away, timing his move carefully.
Malfoy began to turn back, smirking ever so slightly.
"Changing your mind, Longbottom?"
A split second, a battle of emotions playing across
Neville’s round face, and then Malfoy got a shock he would never forget.
"Re – relashio!"
Malfoy stumbled and fell to the floor as the curse hit him. As
he staggered to his feet, furious, Neville raised his wand again in one shaking
"Impedimenta!" Malfoy froze, unable to
move, and Neville glared at him.
"Harry taught me those spells in the DA, before you
came and ruined it all," he said fiercely. "So you can just shut your
mouth, Malfoy. I don’t care what you say, I don’t trust you and I won’t ever
join you. And I don’t believe that half the stuff you’ve told me is true."
Malfoy ground out through clenched teeth, "You’ll
regret this, Longbottom…"
Neville ignored him. "I’m going to find my friends now,"
he said firmly. "I’m a Gryffindor, and besides, Ron once told me never to
let you walk all over me, so I’m doing what he said. You can just shove off
walked determinedly away towards the castle, where Harry, Ron and Hermione were
to welcome him, leaving Malfoy still frozen by the lake with a very sour
expression on his pale, pinched face.