A/N: This was written for Mynuet a little while back. Pansy Parkinson and Neville Longbottom meet unexpectedly after Dumbledore's funeral. HBP spoilers ahoy!
Disclaimer: The only thing I own worth noting at present is a 23.5 ounce can of Jolt.
He was trying very hard not to make a fool of himself today of all days, and it seemed more important than OWLs or Potions exams or remembering everything. It was also more difficult.
It wasn't as though he was the only one who had trouble, of course-- a few rows away, Hagrid was sobbing into a handkerchief roughly the size of his Gran's antimacassar. Hermione-- smart, brilliant Hermione, was weeping silently next to Ginny, her voluminous brown hair quivering slightly. Neville felt hot and itchy and just not himself, and he tried not to fidget as the tiny black-haired man up front gave the speech-- tried not to glare at Umbridge or any of the Slytherins. What would his father have done?
His father would've been stoical and sat firm, chin raised, loyalty shining in his eyes. Neville couldn't quite get the same imposing posture down without looking quite ridiculous, and he sighed as he lowered his head. He really, really should be listening to the speeches and looking at the person making them, but in his head, he heard Dumbledore's cheerful voice ringing. Ten points-- the ten points that he'd earned first year. The most points that he'd earned all year, and Neville felt that if he just squeezed his eyes shut tightly enough and focused, he could see that day again, when everything was far more simple. When Snape was merely the nasty Professor and not a murderer.
He did the same in St. Mungo's sometimes, and he could almost envision what his parents would be like were it not for that visit from the Lestranges.
It was shameful to close his eyes and think about What Now? instead of listening, but-- at least better that than acting foolish? As the flame burst into life, Neville finally opened his eyes and looked around wearily. People around him were still crying.
They all understood and yet didn't, and he just needed to be away.
Breaking away from the crowds, ignoring Gran's sharp exclamation, he all but dashed for the greenhouses.
"Watch where you're bloody GOING!" He had all but made it to Greenhouse Five when an angry female voice sounded by his ear, and it was familiar and yet strange. Pansy Parkinson had, by all appearances, just barely ducked out of his path. Her chin was raised, the slightly upturned nose that everyone made fun of in the Gryffindor Common Room making her look haughty and spoiled and petulant. Startlingly blue eyes met his own brown ones in a glare, and he recognized the way her eyes glittered, though it seemed strange that Pansy Parkinson of all people was holding back tears.
"Sorry," he muttered. She huffed, turning her face away, and he couldn't help his curiosity. "What are you doing here?"
"None of your business, Longbottom," she snapped. "Not like you bloody Gryffindorks give a shit about anything we do, except to criticize and prejudge and... just bugger off!"
He was a bit surprised at her language, and paused instead of obeying her command. She gave him a challenging look. "I want to be alone, and I'm not leaving. I got here first."
"I've as much right to be here as you," Neville found himself saying bravely, a scowl forming in between his eyebrows. Besides, wasn't HER boyfriend the one who started all this trouble in the first place?
She turned up her nose and stalked to the far end of the greenhouse, expensive dragonhide high heels poking angry little holes into the dirt floor of the greenhouse. She turned around, face pressed to the glass, stiff back facing his direction, and he turned away as well, cupping his hands around a baby fuzzflower and carefully picking off the speckles of dust that had gotten caught on its hairy leaves. It was the one thing that stayed the same, really-- the plants would always need tending, and the dirt would always be cool and damp and smudgy on his fingers.
An annoyed hiss drew his attention sharply away from the plant. Cautiously, he looked up, to see Pansy glaring at him venomously. She gave a light, injured sort of sniff. She looked about to cry except for the haughtiness.
"What did I do?" he asked in genuine confusion. He wasn't known for making girls smile or laugh, to be sure-- aside from Hermione and Ginny and Luna who were nice enough to consider him a friend-- but he certainly wasn't used to making anyone cry, either. Even if, or perhaps especially if it were Parkinson.
"No one listens to me!" It was part whine, part shriek of irritation, and she crossed her arms over her chest, lower lip sticking out. "Draco only heard what he wanted to and the STUPID boy now got himself into a fine mess, didn't he? It's not like I slept my way into becoming a Prefect! I THINK about things!"
Perhaps startled by her outburst, he nodded and carefully set down the small, potted plant. "I'm sure if Malfoy weren't such a prat, he'd listen to you," he ventured after a moment.
"That doesn't help," Pansy said acidly, glaring at him. "Now he's gone and the Ministry will hang him by his toes once they catch him, all because he wanted to be a Big Bad Death Eater and levitate a few stupid Muggles!"
"Death Eaters do more than that," Neville found himself whispering, his eyes clouded over. "They... they torture people for information. They kill people because they CAN."
"And Draco can't even stand up against a fake Auror without turning into a ferret! What'll he DO? The Dark Lord will kill him anyway, or leave him for dead on the Magical Law Enforcement floor!" She launched then into a full-out diatribe and it was all Neville could do just to listen, because he seemed rooted to the spot and she certainly wasn't being very quiet.
When she paused at long last to take a breath, he stood up, feeling an awkward need to comfort her, and wiped his hands on his trousers before picking up the fuzzflower and handing it to her. "Uhh, you can have this," he ventured. "Just keep the dirt off its leaves and water it once a week and it will bloom every Sunday."
She gave him a long look, one eyebrow raised as though he were some particularly fascinating animal snuffling at the hem of her robes. "What do the flowers look like?" she asked, her voice even and calm and patrician, as though she hadn't just through a small tantrum over Malfoy's stupidity in front of him.
"Fuzzy pink hearts," he told her, withering a bit under her piercing look. "Er... you don't have to take it, of course."
"Hmph!" She snatched the plant from his hands and held it out of his reach. "It's RUDE to retract a present."
It was so similar to something that his Gran might have said that he was still gaping after her as she swept out of the greenhouse, fuzzflower clutched firmly in one manicured hand.
He didn't think about it too much all summer as he struggled with his homework and stayed awake at nights wondering what school would be like now, with Dumbledore gone. He managed to pass his Apparation test surprisingly on the first try, and Gran celebrated by buying him a little tether for Trevor.
They headed to Diagon Alley in August, and it was now a quiet, weary sort of place. No stopping for ice cream, and no meeting up with casual acquaintances for a drink at the Leaky Cauldron. They stopped at the Apothecary, picking up ground moonstones and chervil roots and rat tails and cauldron-buffer solution, and then, he waited at the door as Gran haggled with the Apothecary witch over the price of the plum blossom hair tonic.
A flash of bright pink caught his eye, and he nearly stumbled in surprise. Across the street at the entrance of Twillfit and Tattings, Pansy Parkinson stood with arms akimbo and chin raised, looking down her nose at Daphne Greengrass.
"Of course you wouldn't know the last thing about it," Pansy said with a curl of her lip. "You read Witch Weekly for fashion advice. Poor thing. They're all the rage these days, fuzzflower corsages."
What had caught his eye was the spray of bright pink fuzzy hearts pinned at the shoulder of Pansy's pale blue robes.