Hufflepuff, Neville quickly realised, was not really what he had expected.
On the one hand, almost every person in Hufflepuff was nice to him. This was somewhat unfamiliar in his general experience, but overall something that fit with the stereotypes he had heard- “but at least they’re nice” was the general back-handed compliment after the usual jokes. The jokes about people showing the traits that the Sorting Hat had not advertised about Hufflepuff but were generally understood to be associated with the house- not overly bright, not overly brave, and about as cunning as a rabbit.
Having actually met his fellow Hufflepuffs though, Neville had started to figure out a few things. Watching people was something he had always done, partly because he was a little shy, but mostly because he needed to know when attention was about to come his way. In his experience, attention was very rarely a good thing. Considering that Great Uncle Algie had almost killed him a number of times- falling out the window had been terrifying, and then there was that time before, at Blackpool pier, when his magic hadn’t kicked in in time…
Suffice to say, that Neville knew the value of staying below peoples’ notice.
Neville had originally thought that Hufflepuffs would understand that too, providing a kind of kinship for something that Neville was ashamed of (the small voice in his head that always whispered that he wasn’t good enough, wasn’t good enough to be a real wizard, wasn’t good enough to be a Gryffindor, wasn’t good enough to be his father’s son…) something that proved how weak he was, how unworthy of notice.
But, Neville was coming to realise, most Hufflepuffs remained below notice not because they were unworthy of it, but because when it came down to it, they didn’t see the point.
Brains might get you good grades, but focussed hard work with help from people who knew the material could do the same thing, and Hufflepuff study groups were, Neville quickly learned, intense.
Cunning might convince people to do things for you, so that you could pursue your ambitions, but friends would do the same thing, without the need to manipulate, and without the potential for hard feelings.
Bravery might allow you to do great deeds, but was it not better to go into battle with comrades that you trusted at your back?
Neville had thought before Hogwarts that (if he managed to get there at all) he would end up in Hufflepuff because that was the best he could ever be.
It wasn’t until he had spoken to Eren, and Mikasa, and Armin (but mostly Eren) that he realised that not only was that not a bad thing, but it might even be the best thing that had ever happened to him.
(Considering that the other first-year he had met on the train had been that Weasley boy, who had proceeded to make fun of Trevor, who had become a Gryffindor, Neville thought on that basis alone, he had dodged a blasting hex.)
And meeting the other ‘Puffs, who had hosted a party in the common room to welcome the first-years, who had been so kind, so nice, so welcoming, wanting to get to know him, because he was him, and not his father’s son or his grandmother’s grandson, and just because the first-years were all one of them now…
Neville had never felt like he really belonged anywhere. He had never felt like he fit.
He had never felt worthy.
Ever since he had met the Jaeger-Smiths and Armin on the train…
Neville had hoped that his life might change upon entering Hogwarts, but this was not something he would have even dreamed of.
These were the thoughts running through Neville’s head as he sat down at the Hufflepuff table the next morning, sipping pumpkin juice and eating porridge with honey and apple and pear compote.
“Mornin’ Nev,” Eren yawned as he sank down next to him, blinking drowsily.
Across the table, Armin and Mikasa were already seated, leaning into each other in a way that made Neville realise that they really must be quite close friends. He wondered how long they had known each other for.
“I would kill for some coffee right now,” Eren grouched as he poured himself pumpkin juice from the pitcher.
“Coffee will stunt your growth,” Mikasa said mildly, but in a way that expressed the likelihood of Eren ever consuming coffee without her having words to say about it.
Neville shivered slightly, but Eren merely snorted derisively.
(Neville was once again reminded that Gryffindor did not have the monopoly on bravery.)
It was at this point that Professor Sprout wandered around to them, and handed them their timetables.
“Here you all go, now, mind you ask the older students you’ve been buddied up with where to go- Hogwarts can be quite a maze, and your buddies will ensure you don’t get lost,” Professor Sprout said, beaming at them all.
Neville looked up the table, and caught the eye of his mentor, a fourth-year named Cedric Diggory. Diggory grinned at him, and flashed him a thumbs-up.
Everything was going so wel-FUCK!
Neville choked on his pumpkin juice as he looked down at the first class he had.
He had almost forgotten.
How could he have forgotten?
How could he have forgotten that the potions professor was none other than Severus Snape, convicted Death Eater?
A firm hand pounded him between the shoulder blades, and Neville started breathing properly again, and turned to see his new friend (and there was a word that Neville had rarely ever applied to another person of his acquaintance) looking at him concernedly.
“What’s the matter, Nev?”
“P-p-p-professor S-s-n-n-nape. He’s a, he’s a…” Neville trailed off, cursing how his stutter always got so much worse when he was upset.
“He’s a what, Neville?” Armin asked him softly. Patiently. Leaning across the table with her brown eyes full of concern.
“D-d-d-death Eater,” Neville whispered, feeling as though all the blood had rushed from his cheeks straight to his heart, which was beating erratically.
“Death Eater?” Armin asked, confused. “What’s a Death Eater?”
Neville shook, and opened his mouth to answer, but was interrupted by his mentor, who had seen Neville’s expression and decided to come and see what the problem was.
“A Death Eater is someone who follows You-Know-Who,” Cedric explained, concern for Neville clear on his features. Like most pureblood children, he was well-aware of the goings on in other pureblooded families, and the Longbottoms’ fates were hardly a secret. Now that he thought about it, he could see immediately why Neville would be so upset.
“Who-know-what?” Armin asked, still confused.
“No, You-Know-Who,” Cedric replied.
“But I don’t know who,” Armin insisted. “I mean, sure, I’ve seen him referred to before in a few of our texts, but who is this You-Know-Who?”
Eren rolled his eyes. “Apparently his name is Voldemort. Killed my parents,” he said bluntly, causing everyone who wasn’t a muggleborn to flinch.
“Don’t say his name!” hissed a third year Hufflepuff girl.
“Why not?” Armin asked.
“Because…” the girl trailed off. Obviously this thought had never occurred to her. “You just shouldn’t,” she insisted finally. “It makes people upset.”
“Yes, but why?” Armin asked in a reasonable tone. “I mean, of course I will call him You-Know-Who to avoid upsetting people now that you’ve explained this to me, but really, what is wrong with saying his name?”
“It’s because the Dark Lord put a Taboo on his name, meaning that he could find anyone who uttered it,” came a low-pitched drawl.
As one, the Hufflepuff table turned to stare in no little consternation at the black-clad professor who had somehow managed to approach them without alerting them to his presence.
“P-p-p-p-professor S-s-snape,” stammered Neville.
There was an uncomfortable pause.
“Well that would be right useful, and really annoying,” said Eren.
As one, the table turned to stare at him in disbelief.
“What.” Cedric appeared to have lost the ability to provide intonation in his shock.
“Well, if I knew when people were talking about me, then I could react accordingly. On the other hand, considering… well. Let’s just say that there’s probably a fair number of people who talk about me, and knowing about it all the time would probably be irritating,” Eren said.
Professor Snape appeared to want to say something about that, and Mikasa shot him a death glare that would not have looked foreign on a cobra.
The more observant students at the Hufflepuff table were extremely interested to note how this was apparently enough to cause Snape to restrain himself from commenting.
Conveniently, it was then time to go to class.
Professor Snape said as much, before sweeping away in a billow of black robes.
The Shiganshima Three exchanged looks.
This was going to be interesting.