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Christmas '98

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Pansy had never liked Christmas, because when she was a child her parents showered her with toys, whereas in recent years they had only given her rubble. The first Christmas Pansy wanted to spend alone was in 1998, leaning on her elbow on the balcony of the Leaky Cauldron waiting for something or someone to distract her from her rotten loneliness.

As she turned her glass of firewhisky over in her hands, she heard a ringing sound, a sign that another human being was looking for company on that desolate Christmas. The first after the war, the first without the dead people, the first without Voldemort.

"A butterbeer, thanks Tom."

"Right away Neville! And merry Christmas!"

Neville? How long had it been since he'd heard that name? It seemed ages since she'd last interfaced with Longbottom.

"Well, well... Longbottom coming to drink on Christmas night? Where are your little friends?"

She smiled teasingly, a little mischievous and a little serpentine. She felt the sheer desire to hold on to something from her old life and teasing Longbottom seemed perfect. But he defied all expectations: he didn't turn red, he didn't start stammering awkwardly, he didn't stumble in his chair and he didn't slouch; he simply smiled. He smiled a little amused and a little superior, as if to let her know loud and clear that that sharp tongue no longer hurt him.

"I could say the same about you Parkinson."

"Life isn't very good for us non - heroes at this time in history. Besides, I hate Christmas."

Pansy knew she was being unfair as she spoke those venomous words, but the alcohol in her system cushioned her little feelings of guilt.

"It's your lucky day, dear Pansy, because I love Christmas. I'm here because my grandmother is of a certain age and stops keeping me company. So I have all night to change your mind about the magic of Christmas."

He didn't take the bait about the war, he didn't mention her psychological wounds, nor did he bother to explain where his parents were. It was just there, disarming in its naturalness, and Pansy had to laugh. And so, she laughed.

 

 

Maybe she was drunk, maybe she was just tired of being alone, but Pansy let the (almost) swaggering Gryffindor drag her that night. She wasn't sure where he wanted to take her, but outside the Leaky Cauldron she could feel the December chill in her bones.

"Are you trying to freeze me to death and hide my corpse by any chance?"

"You really have no patience, do you?"

No, she had never had any patience, she had always been used to having everything at once. As a child she was the queen of the house, her parents spoiled her and she sulked at every "No". She would have done the same at that moment, but common sense strangely prevailed and she decided to keep a minimum of composure.

Neville dragged her into a desolate park, lit only by the light of a few street lamps. The moon, far away, was not able to embrace them with its feeble glow. The meadow was covered in snow and for a moment it felt like they were back at Hogwarts. Christmas was magical there, even for those who had always hated it.

Neville jumped unceremoniously onto the blanket of snow, starting to move his arms and legs awkwardly. It was slightly ridiculous, almost embarrassing, but he didn't seem to be fazed by the brunette's astonished gaze.

"Does Slytherins know how to have fun?"

"Oh Longbottom, you can't even imagine the ways we know how to have fun. We just have dignity, unlike you."

Neville didn't answer, but he found it sad. He had always thought that Slytherins of their year wanted to feel like adults sooner rather than later, shunning their childlike souls altogether. In an attempt to remain aloof and impassive, they ended up ruining their best years. Was it worth it? The war had already destroyed their adolescence.

"Come on Parkinson, don't make me beg you, try being an angel! Are you scared by any chance?"

"I'm not scared Longbottom, but it's freezing cold! You're crazy!"

But eventually she jumped in next to him, because he seemed to be having a good time and heck she was tired of holding back.

And she enjoyed it, even though she felt the icy water get under her clothes, inside her shoes and on her face. She had fun even though in the end no angel came out (Longbottom, why do you get one and I don't? Surely you have some secret trick), and she had fun even though when she got up she realized she was dripping.

They sat in the snow like a couple of kids and Pansy conjured up a transportable fire (Wow Pansy, I've only seen Hermione do that spell! You're good at it, huh?).

"Now what's the next step? Will you show me the Pansy of the past, present and future?"

"Did you really make a reference to a Muggle's story?" She blushed, feeling caught in the act. She hated Christmas, but she found the thousands of stories the Muggles had made up for that holiday fascinating. The whole thing about everyone being better, understanding their mistakes in the name of love: she didn't believe it, she would never believe it, and she found it amusing how human beings told themselves those little tales to make themselves feel better.

"So, what was the Pansy of the past like? Other than being an attention-seeking bully?"

It was her turn to be surprised at that point. It was almost cutting Neville's line, arrogant, biting. Was he trying to provoke a reaction in her? She had no idea how easy it was to break her down, she didn't have to play with fire.

"The Pansy of the past was much stronger."

"You Slytherins have a strange concept of strong."

"And what would be the proper definition? You, by any chance?"

"No, I just think that being strong doesn't mean being an asshole. You weren't strong when you were teasing Hermione about her big teeth, you weren't strong when you were leery of the Carrows just to get good grades."

Pansy made to get up, tired of that argument and regretting getting into those brambles; she hissed, thinning her dark eyes, "You don't know what you're talking about."

"Then tell me! Tell me why you used to report us when we were trying to do something good, you have no idea how many beatings I took from those bastards." He was getting hot too, his voice thicker and harder. He was angry.

"You have no idea the pressure that was on all of us! Draco gave up everything to follow his parents, mine weren't Death Eaters but they sympathised! We all wanted to be part of a faction, not betray our people, stick together. At the cost of anything."

"People died, you would have sacrificed Harry's life and who knows who else's to save your own skin."

"You don't think that's human? I was seventeen years old! I was scared and no one had given me another chance! No one thought of us who had evil within our walls."

"I was seventeen too, Pansy."

"Look at that, we're not all like you. Goodbye Longbottom, take care."

By now she was livid with rage, her pale cheeks stained red with cold, resentment, guilt. She clenched her hands inside her gloves and turned her back on him, making to leave. How had she ended up fighting with Longbottom on Christmas night?

She took a few steps but a hand tightened around her wrist. She turned slowly and Neville's adult face was in front of her. He was red too, embarrassed and suddenly self-conscious again. There was no sign of the hero who had pulled out the sword of Gryffindor, he was back to the chubby child of seven years before.

"Sorry... I got caught up in the moment. I don't know how things went for you, I didn't mean to judge you."

Pansy laughed dismissively, almost meanly, she didn't want his apology. She knew she had been wrong, she knew she had been a selfish coward and she knew she had drawn hatred with that phrase during the battle.

"The Carrows... they weren't any nicer to us, him especially. True, they didn't beat us, they didn't give us high grades, they didn't try the Cruciatus curse on first year Slytherins. But they weren't nice to us either."

"What did they do?"

"Everything a woman wouldn't want to happen to her, Neville. You wouldn't understand being a man."

Neville did not answer, respectfully and gently. He threw himself back onto the snow and invited her with a nod to do the same, in an attempt to give that little girl in a woman's body a moment of serenity.

 

 

Neville held the door open with his foot, to let in a soaking wet and trembling Pansy. She apologised in advance for the lake she would have created, but mumbling added: "Even if it is your fault."

Somehow they had managed to put aside their differences and return to the carefree nature of the snow angel. Then the fire had stopped and they both began to beat their teeth frantically. Neville, however, inexplicably did not want to say goodbye to her and suggested that she come to his house to warm up. He didn't even care that her grandmother was sleeping in the next room.

"Jesus Christ Longbottom, you're surrounded by plants in the house too." He blushed, again.

"You can take a hot shower if you want, I'll tidy up a bit in the meantime."

Half an hour later she came back, swaggering in as if it were her house, but humble in asking if he needed a hand. He, inebriated by the wet dark hair dripping down her neck, didn't even answer; Pansy smelled good.

"Now what?"

"Do you want some mince pie?"

She looked at him quizzically, having no idea what he was talking about. A Christmas pie, by any chance?

"It's a typical cake in English culture, the Muggle children on Christmas Eve leave it on the window along with a glass of milk as a gift for Santa."

"You still believe in Santa? I thought you were silly, but not that silly! Besides, it's a purely Muggle custom, you're a Pureblood."

"No I don't! When I was a kid, I did, and it's remained a tradition here at home. My grandmother liked to raise me with Muggle customs too, she wanted me to have an open mind." Pansy noticed that when he spoke of his grandmother his chest swelled with pride; she found herself thinking of him as sweet. A sweetness that she didn't have and one that she suddenly missed. She didn't talk like that about her parents.

"All right, let's try it. I hope Santa won't be disappointed!"

So they ate, accompanied by laughter and chatter. Every now and then Pansy would shush him, reminding him that his grandmother was asleep but Neville, suddenly selfish, didn't care. The cake was good but too sweet for Pansy's taste and too little for Neville's.

"And where are your parents?"

"You want me to believe that you really don't know?" Neville changed his attitude, closed off again, shy again. But Pansy really didn't know and tilted her head to make their eyes meet.

"No I don't know, but if you don't tell me I won't die of curiosity, so relax." She failed in her attempt not to show interest.

"Bellatrix Lestrange and her cronies when I was a child tortured them to the point of madness. Now I'm in St. Mungo's, in the permanent sick ward. That's why I grew up with my grandmother." Lapidary, concise, hasty and Pansy, genuinely sorry, decided not to dwell on that sadness for long: after all, it was Christmas night.

She offered him a bite of her piece of mince pie and changed the subject.

"Does the present Neville want to know about the present Pansy?" He nodded as he chewed, amazed at the girl's initiative to talk about herself.

"I'm sort of taking a break, my parents haven't made a fuss also because if they do I'll shut them up." Neville laughed, but Pansy wasn't joking.

"And what would you like to do?"

"I'd like to be a journalist, but I can't find the courage to introduce myself to any newspapers."

"Why not? I could see you doing it, but please don't turn out like Skeeter."

"I always liked Skeeter!"

"I think you've got the potential to be a success even without the cheap tricks she played."

"Not many people believe in me, Longbottom." Not many, really, not even herself.

"Start going to smaller newspapers, get noticed. I'll take you if you want after the holidays."

Pansy, for the second time during the evening, found it sweet. She found his naivety and innocence sweet, his assumption of an aftermath. She was afraid of that later, because nothing good can happen between the quintessential brave and a coward.

"And what do you want to do with your life?"

"I'm studying Herbology at the Magical University. I'd like to teach one day."

"That's a good plan Neville, you'd be perfect as a professor."

"Have we moved on to the name? Am I hallucinating or was that a compliment?"

"Longbottom! Don't get any ideas, it's all the sugar in that damn cake!"

But then, smiling, she took another bite.

 

 

A pleasant ballad by the Weird Sisters spiced up the atmosphere in that living room. It was a Christmas song, amazing how the magic band had stooped to composing that kind of music. They had thrown in a Muffliato so as not to upset poor old Mrs Longbottom any further.

"I liked them better before." She was not slow to point this out because, you know, she always had to have the last word.

"Do you like dancing?"

"Not particularly. You do, Longbottom, I remember." And he grinned. After the Yule Ball in the fourth year, there had been a rumour that Neville liked to dance so much that he did it alone with his shoes around his neck and Oscar in his arms.

"Dance with me then." He tried to be swaggering but came across as just shy, understandable for someone who hadn't approached a girl in a long time: that area wasn't his forte.

"Mhmm... and what's in it for me?"

"A special moment with the best dancer in all of Hogwarts?"

Pansy laughed, and wondered why she shouldn't. She stood up and wrapped her arms around him, whose large hands gripped her hips. She felt shivers run through her body, unaccustomed to a gentle, non-violent, non-invasive male touch. She liked the feeling so she pressed herself against him a little more. They were certainly uncoordinated, but they were a good match. They mollified to the notes of Christmas carols, with no need to talk or confront each other.

Pansy felt her legs go limp - that had never happened to her before.

Neville felt impeded again - it had not happened in months.

"What about the Pansy of the future?"

"Depends on what you mean by the future," she pulled away from his chest and looked him in the eye ruefully "it could be a year from now, two months from now, tomorrow or in the next few seconds."

"Why...where do you see yourself in the next few seconds?" Neville wasn't understanding; his face was the picture of confusion.

But Pansy, cheeky as only she could be, stood on her tiptoes and gave him a kiss. A long, warm kiss that tasted of Christmas treats and a lit fireplace. She didn't regret it even when she pulled away and he was looking at her between astonished and stupefied.

She thought that sometimes it was worth melting for someone. Even if that someone was the ultimate brave and she was just a coward who always hated Christmas.