Christmas Time Is Here

By Jedi Tess of Gryffindor

Summary: It's a dark and stormy night. Pansy Parkinson isn't expecting Harry Potter to beg her for refuge and then faint in her flat. Nor is she expecting this to be the Christmas that her war-torn life begins to sew itself back together. P/H, with hints of Blaise/Hermione.

Disclaimer: Harry Potter and original canon characters and situations are the property of J.K. Rowling. I am not profiting in any way from this fic, except insofar as I've learned a good deal about writing from practicing in Ms. Rowling's arena.

A/N: While I'm aware that Pansy/Harry isn't the most popular ship out there, it's one I'm attached to and Pansy made a fun protagonist. This was a very challenging year for me, in terms of my Christmas fic writing, so I apologize for poor editing (I feel I do this every year but this year, it's ESPECIALLY true!). I hope all of you enjoy this foray into a bit of new fic territory.

HAPPY HOLS! Loves!

)Christmastime(

When Pansy Parkinson had imagined life after Hogwarts, she hadn't imagined Harry Potter changing everything.

Like most Slytherins, she'd imagined riches and fame and possibly a castle in the country. She'd even sort of imagined marrying Draco Malfoy. She'd been put off by the latter ambition by Draco's tendency to do stupid things like let Death Eaters into Hogwarts, get tattoos attaching him to megalomaniac dark wizards on his arm, and cry like a baby when confronted with danger.

She'd also been put off Draco when she realized she was falling for Harry sodding Potter, who couldn't have been more different from Draco.

Potter hadn't been there from the start. There had been a time after the war ended when Pansy lived a Potter-free life style. Her family, not heavily involved in the war, had kept themselves out of Azkaban by relocating to France Pansy's fourth year. They'd let Pansy remain at Hogwarts because she'd demanded to and when she'd graduated from Hogwarts, her parents had bought her a flat in a small Muggle village outside London, hoping that with some distance from the magical world, she'd be able to escape the horrors of the final battle at Hogwarts and the horrors of being a Slytherin there as well. They kept their subscription to the Daily Prophet. They knew what the world thought of Slytherin House.

Sure, the Slytherins had come back after they ran away. "Fetched reinforcements," Blaise Zabini told them all to tell reporters, stalkers, and Aurors who asked. And they had returned with reinforcements who had helped clean out the Death Eaters and saved lives. That didn't make anyone forget Draco's bad choices, Pansy's "turn Potter over to the Dark Lord" speech, or the running away in the first place. Instead, the whole thing was viewed as too little, too late, both by classmates in the other three houses and by the media. Even Professor Snape's sacrifice – the ultimate sacrifice – wasn't viewed as points for Slytherin but as a fluke, a solitary event.

All that said, no one was more surprised than Pansy when she opened the door on a stormy November night a year and half after graduation and found Harry Potter shivering on the doorstep.

"Please," he said with a violent sneeze. "Please let me in."

"Why?" Pansy said, then blinked. "I mean, what are you doing here?"

"Please," he'd said again, swaying on the doorstep.

Without realizing what she was doing until it was half done, Pansy hurried forward and helped him in. Even half-drowned, he had the decency to collapse on the floor, rather than on one of Pansy's nice sofas. He looked relieved to be lying down at all. He lay huddled on the doormat, teeth chattering, and Pansy tried to figure out what to do.

"Potter," she began, swallowing hard. "What the hell are you doing in my flat?"

"Hiding," he said, with astonishing honestly. "And I will pay whatever you like to stay hidden." Then he passed out.

"I don't need money!" she snapped pointlessly, glaring at the unconscious Chosen One. He didn't look chosen. He looked pathetic and weak and wet to the bone. Pansy chewed at her lip. She didn't need this – she didn't want anything to do with Potter or his world of privilege and hero-worship. She gave his shins a sharp tap with her toes as she maneuvered the front door shut.

She noticed that his lips were turning blue, panicked when she realized the Chosen One might die of hypothermia on her living room floor, and did what any desperate Slytherin would do. She Flooed Blaise Zabini.

"I'm sorry, could you repeat that?" he said, when Pansy had shrieked hysterically down the Floo at him for several minutes.

"Blaise, what will happen to me if he dies in my flat?" Pansy wailed. "How did he even find my flat? Oh, god." And she began to cry.

"Stop that!" Blaise ordered, alarmed. He hated weeping. "Shall I come round?"

Without waiting for an answer, he pulled a fancy ceramic jar off the mantle and ordered Pansy out of the Floo. A moment later, he stood in her flat, staring across the living room at the Boy-Who-Lay-About-Uselessly-Freezing-to-Death.

"Bloody. Hell." Blaise scowled as he stalked across the room and knelt beside Potter. "Do you want him alive or shall I dispose of the body for you?" he asked at last.

"What?" Pansy shrieked. "He can't die, Blaise, are you mad?"

"Oh, fine." Blaise scowled harder than ever. "Then the only thing to do is tuck him up in bed so he can warm up." He glared at Pansy. "You might have to make him some tea."

"Don't leave me, Blaise," Pansy said piteously.

"Oh, god," Blaise said, borrowing Pansy's exclamation. "Fine, I'll stay until he's gone. But I'm not undressing him."

Pansy stared at him.

"What?" Blaise demanded. "If you want him to warm up, you'll have to have his wet clothes off him."

And drying charms didn't work when the clothing you were drying was on a person. At least, Pansy hadn't been able to make them work before …

"At least help me carry him to the sitting room," Pansy muttered. She moved carefully toward Potter, irrationally worried that he'd wake up suddenly and kill her if she tried to have his robes off him. He didn't, though. Pansy managed to wrestle his cloak off with a little difficulty. Underneath the cloak was one of those hideous jumpers Potter seemed to wear a lot around the Christmas holidays. Pansy had seen Weasley and Granger wearing them, too, and wondered if they were part of a cult that required you look as dreadful as possible through poor fashion choices.

Pansy frowned at the jumper.

"Just cut it off," Blaise said, his nose wrinkled. "Then I'll burn it," he added, rubbing his hands together.

Pansy set the tip of her wand on the jumper and murmured a spell. A neat line sizzled along the seam, splitting it down the center. Pansy peeled the jumper open. Despite his complaints, Blaise had pulled off Potter's shoes and nudged his socks off with the tip of his wand. He scowled at Potter's feet. "Undressing Harry Potter," he grumbled. "It's the most horrible thing I've ever had to do."

Pansy snorted. She cut through the arms of the jumper and let the whole thing fall away onto the carpet. Under the robes and jumper, he was clad in a Muggle tee shirt and jeans. No wonder he'd got wet through. He wasn't dressed for bad weather.

"Anything about him in the Prophet lately?" Blaise wondered, sitting back on his heels and making a characteristically abrupt transition from disgust to curiosity.

"I don't read it much," Pansy began, when the Floo went on the other side of the sofa.

"Pansy!" Draco Malfoy's voice barked down the line.

Pansy threw a panicked look at Blaise. Blaise smirked at her. She pointed at Potter, put a finger to her lips, and then made a slashing motion across her throat.

"What, Draco?" Pansy demanded, maneuvering around the sofa and hoping no part of Potter was visible.

"What are you doing?" he demanded.

"Nothing," said Blaise a little wickedly, peering at Draco around the sofa.

"Don't nothing me," Draco retorted. "Something's going on."

"Why are you on my Floo, Malfoy?" Pansy demanded.

"Do I need a reason to ring you, darling?" he asked, smirking at her.

"You always have one," she snapped.

"You wound me." He paused. "Can I come round? My aunt Andromeda is coming over with her werewolf baby and I don't want to be here."

Draco's entire home life was in ruins at the moment. His mother now ruled the family with an iron fist, comparable (so Pansy heard anyway) to that of the late Grandmother Black. Neither Lucius nor Draco were allowed to move a muscle unless Narcissa knew about it. Draco's mum had also reached out to her only remaining relative, Andromeda Tonks. This infuriated Draco, who was terrified of werewolves and insisted that his cousin Teddy probably was one, given who his father had been. Narcissa would have none of it, however, and so the Tonks were weekly visitors. Draco usually hid at Pansy's at the first sign of an impending visit.

"You can't come round now," Pansy temporized. "Because …" She floundered.

"We're having a torrid affair and we need the entire flat to ourselves," Blaise, whose soul was pure evil, said brightly.

"Oh, please," Draco said, rolling his eyes.

Pansy was torn. She did not want to be alone in her apartment with Potter but under no circumstances was she letting Draco see that Potter was here. Nor, come to it, was she letting Potter within wand-sight of Draco. The blond was one of her best friends, for all he was certifiably insane.

"Blaise was just leaving," Pansy said at last. "Our torrid affair has lost its spark and I wish to be alone. Go to Blaise's house."

"My mum's in Egypt again," Blaise said, throwing a look at Pansy. "Come round and we'll break into her liquor cabinet." He frowned. "Where's Greg?"

Gregory Goyle's face appeared beside Draco's in the Floo. "Here," he mumbled. "Where else would I be?"

"At my place, naturally," Blaise said. "Meet you there in a few minutes."

Draco and Greg vanished from the fire. "Well?" Blaise said, glancing at Pansy.

"Well, what?"

"You gonna be all right here?" Blaise said, eyeing her across Potter's prone body.

"Sure, go on," Pansy said, waving him toward the fireplace. "I'm fine. It's not like Potter's going to do anything to me except drool on my sofa." She scowled. "I don't need to undress him any more, do I?"

"No, he'll be fine with some blankets. Look, I'll come round later," Blaise said anyway. "Draco usually passes out after a couple of hours."

"Blaise," Pansy said hastily as picked up the jar of Floo powder. "Please don't – don't tell Draco about …" She waved a hand at the lump on her floor.

"You're weird, but okay," Blaise said after a long moment. "Just try to be rid of him by tomorrow."

"I'd bloody well better be."

Blaise grinned and disappeared into the Floo.

Pansy groaned but set to work levitating Potter's boneless body onto her sofa. She piled all of her extra winter blankets on him (because better that than having to look at him) and then went and collected all of her back issues of the Daily Prophet that had been collecting in a kitchen cupboard. Though little notices appeared about him in every issue, she was several weeks into the past before anything especially telling presented itself.

Harry Potter Returns from Grand Tour, read an early-November headline. Below it was a picture of Potter with his extra appendages, Ron Weasley and Hermione Granger. All three were scowling in the picture, looking shifty and unhappy. Pansy couldn't see why – attention hogs, the lot of them. She scanned the article. Mostly, it was Potter being short with the press, which was nothing she hadn't seen before. Something else caught her eye, though: at the bottom of the article was a little picture of Potter and Ginny Weasley (or his puppy, as Pansy enjoyed thinking of her). They were grinning, arms around each other. Whoever had taken this picture had clearly caught Potter in a good mood. The caption underneath read, "Engaged? Potter and long-time girlfriend, Ginevra Weasley."

Pansy frowned and began working her way back through the Prophets that had followed this one. Potter was featured in almost every one, which made Pansy's lip curl. Potter opens new wing at St. Mungos, Potter Opens Former Order of the Phoenix Headquarters to War Orphans, Potter Training for Aurors?, What's Next for Harry Potter? Pansy glanced at the sofa, where the boy wonder himself lay half-buried in blankets. He wasn't even snoring and Pansy had forgotten to take his glasses off. He didn't look like much.

An hour later, Pansy was forced to conclude that the Prophet didn't know any more about Potter and his magical life than anyone else. There was plenty of guesswork about Potter's life, relationships, plans, and famous-sodding-self but nothing that actually confirmed anything about him. It seemed like a load of speculation and sometimes, outright fiction, apparently designed to turn Potter's mysterious life into an open book for the ravenous wizarding masses.

Pansy peered at Potter, wondering idly if Legilimency worked when the subject of it was asleep.

Potter's eyes suddenly popped open.

Pansy shrieked and fell out of her chair, the stack of Prophets tumbling down with her. She shoved them off her in time to see Potter attempt to sit up, get tangled in all the blankets Pansy had thrown over him, and tumble to the floor, narrowly missing the tea table. The pile of blankets flailed and writhed like a wild creature until at last Potter's head appeared through a gap in a white duvet. Potter stilled, eyes scanning the room. They settled on Pansy, who wondered distantly if she'd make it to the Floo if she broke for it now.

"Where am I?" Potter said, eyes narrowing behind his stupid glasses.

"You're asking me?" Fear tangled Pansy's voice into a snarl. "You're the one who turned up here, soaking wet, and fainted in the entryway!"

Potter scowled. "That's embarrassing." He paused. "I remember. I wasn't expecting to be so wet."

"I wasn't expecting you to turn up at all," Pansy snapped, pressing back against the leg of her chair.

"Right, sorry about that," Potter said. He wasn't trying to fight his way out of the blankets anymore. "It was part of the plan."

"The plan?" Pansy repeated.

"Well, I mean, the fainting wasn't," Potter said, and sneezed three times. He blinked at Pansy through streaming eyes.

Pansy had no idea what to do. She stared at him silently as he mopped his eyes on the corner of the white duvet and sneezed again.

"Look," Pansy said at last. "What are you doing here and when are you leaving?"

Potter sniffed, wiping at his eyes some more. "About that," he said, taking off his specs and rubbing the bridge of his nose. "I was – er, I was kind of hoping I could stay."

"What?" Pansy shrieked, leaping to her feet. "Are you out of your bleeding mind?"

"Obviously, where have you been?" Potter mumbled. "Look, it's the only plan we could come up with on short notice."

"What, Death Eaters are after you or something and you thought you'd just spend a few nights here? No fear!" Pansy growled, hands on her hips.

"Oh, it's worse than Death Eaters," Potter said ominously. He tried to stand as well, got his foot caught in the blankets, and collapsed heavily onto the sofa. "Okay," he said after a moment's pause. "I'm appealing to your sense of empathy and compassion."

"I'm a Slytherin!" Pansy began hotly.

"Damn, that's right," Potter muttered.

"Tell me what's going on or get out of my flat!" Pansy shouted, feeling slightly hysterical and wishing Blaise would come back.

"It's them," Potter said darkly, sneezing again and pointing to the pile of newspapers littering Pansy's floor. Pansy stared at him, imagining hundreds of sheets of paper flapping along after Potter through Diagon Alley.

"The media – the Prophet, to be specific," Potter clarified.

"Yes, you're popular, aren't you?" Pansy retorted, hating him just a little more than usual.

"Yeah, and I'm through with it," Potter said. "Why do you think we left on the Grand Tour right away? Dropped off the radar for two years?"

"How the hell should I know?" Pansy shot back. "I don't give a damn what you do."

To her surprise, Potter looked relieved beyond the telling of it. "Exactly," he said, sinking back into the sofa cushions. "That's why I thought of you. Gin didn't like it but I knew you'd be a good choice."

"A good choice for what?" Pansy asked, involuntarily inching back a step.

"I want to move in," Potter told her.

Pansy sat down hard in the armchair. "Excuse me?" she managed after a moment's deep breathing.

"Move in," Potter repeated slowly. "Pay you lots of money to hide in your flat for a bit."

"I – my flat – hide?" Pansy repeated. It was just too much. Why couldn't Blaise be there?

"Parkinson, you hate my guts, right?"

"Yes! Right!" Good, back on solid ground!

"And you don't give a damn about me or anyone connected to me?"

"Of course I don't!"

"And if we did the battle of Hogwarts all over again, you'd still suggest that someone grab me and turn me over to Death Eaters?"

Bastard! Was he trying not to smile?

"Don't you see, then?" Potter hurried on, sitting up and staring beseechingly at her from his tangle of blankets, all traces of the almost-smile gone. "You're the best choice. No one from the Prophet will come looking for me at a Slytherin's flat or in Muggle village."

"Why are you doing this?" Pansy demanded, although against her will she was starting to realize some of the reasons. "Why hide?"

"Parkinson, I haven't had a day of peace since graduation," Potter said, scowling into his lap. "Everywhere I go, reporters and photographers and people pointing and staring." He glanced sharply at her. "Malfoy can say whatever he likes, but I bleeding hate it. Ask anyone who really knows me, I've always hated it."

"Oh, please!" But Pansy couldn't help remembering the picture of him and his friends glowering into the camera in the Prophet article.

"And it's hurting the people I love, who get harassed about where I am and what I'm doing twenty-four hours a day," Potter went on, ignoring the interruption. "If those people – if Ron and Hermione and Ginny and my school friends and the Weasleys aren't seen around with me anymore the Prophet will get bored and find something else to talk about and we can all go back to living normal lives again."

He looked miserable, Pansy realized. He sat hunched and small on her sofa, staring down at his hands with his mad hair sticking out in all directions. Pansy hadn't ever considered that Potter might care about someone's feelings besides his own. The look on his face when he spoke of his friends …

"How long?" Pansy blurted out.

Potter's eyes snapped up to meet hers. "What?"

"How long do you want to stay here?" Pansy snapped, daring him to make anything of it.

"A month or so," Potter said carefully. "Maybe through the New Year."

Christmas was just over a month away … Pansy didn't dare look at Potter again, with his horrible green eyes wide and pleading behind his glasses. She knew what to do with the Harry Potter who was best mates with that Mudblood cow Granger but she had no idea what to do with this other Potter, who had fainted in her flat and was begging for refuge.

From Pansy Parkinson. Friend of Potter's worst enemy at Hogwarts.

Because he had nowhere else to go …

Pansy snorted. She'd always been a closet hopeless romantic.

"All right, Potter," Pansy said at last. "All right, you can stay. But look – "

She choked off a gasp when he threw himself across the room, grabbed her hand, and kissed it. "Thank you. So much."

"Oy, get off!" she said, pressing back into her chair. "I still hate you and think your touch is – is germy!"

"Right, sorry." Potter inched backward, the blanket apparently making it something of a challenge. "I'll pay whatever you'd like if – "

"I don't want your money!" Pansy snapped, unaccountably offended.

"Why not?"

Well, of course he wouldn't understand. He didn't know what it was like to feel persecuted and hated and knowing that nothing you did would or could prove you had a good heart. "Shut up," Pansy told him. "Shut up and listen. There are rules, Potter."

"Sure, anything."

Pansy raised her eyebrows.

"Uh, I mean, what rules?" Potter said, clearing his throat.

"Rules like your mates can't be tramping in and out of my flat," Pansy told him. "And none of my friends can know you're here."

"Sure," Potter said hastily. "But, I mean, I need to eventually tell Ron and Hermione where I am?"

"What about baby Weasley?" Pansy asked curiously.

Potter shifted uncomfortably. "She's – it won't worry her just now. She's staying with her brother and will probably be out of touch a few days."

"Shocking drama," Pansy said dryly. "Why?"

"It's part of the plan," Potter said vaguely. "Oh, but she's meant to convince everyone she's very upset at me so Ron probably isn't speaking to me just now either."

"Just Granger then?" Pansy said darkly. Of the lot, she hated Granger most.

Potter's eyes narrowed, but he simply said, "Yeah. Just Hermione."

Pansy sighed gustily. "Fine, fine, have your bookworm. But she can't come near my flat."

"We can just Floo," Potter agreed reluctantly. "And about your mates," Potter said, his voice cautious. "I'll gladly clear off when they're around."

"Too right," Pansy muttered. She wasn't letting him within a league of Draco, not for a thousand Galleons. "You're in luck, actually," she said, climbing to her feet and motioning him to follow. "I have a guest room so you'll have somewhere to kip that isn't the sofa." She frowned at him. "You're not to say a word about it."

"Parkinson, those stories about me growing up in a cupboard under some stairs? Not exaggerated, even a little. I can kip anywhere."

Pansy decided not to ask. She led him into the guest room, flicking her wand at the bedside lamp and letting him move passed her into the room. "If you're staying here," she said suddenly, "where are your things?"

Potter glanced quickly around, saw his cloak hanging over the back of chair in the corner, and sighed in relief. He reached into a pocket and fished out a tiny toy-sized replica of a trunk. He drew his wand out of another pocket, whispered a spell, and the trunk inflated with a sharp pop.

"Lived on the road the last couple of years," Potter explained. "Had to carry everything with us in pockets."

Pansy shifted a little and said, "Er – do you need anything?"

He turned slowly to face her. He looked absurd, swathed in all those blankets with his wiry hair on end and his glasses crooked on his nose. He looked weary – bone-tired and groggy. But when he met her eyes, gratitude glittered out at her. "Really," he said. "Thank you, Parkinson."

Pansy didn't know what to say, so she backed out of the room and closed the door. She paused, listening as he moved around the room. At last, the light went out and the bed creaked as he climbed into it. A few minutes later, she heard the gentle snores of someone in deep and satisfying sleep.

She tore into the living room and, throwing caution to the winds, Flooed Draco's. She stuck her head into the flames and as the smoke began to clear and the scene formed up around her, she could hear singing.

Charming. Draco was drunk.

"Ah, lovely Pansy!" bellowed the host of the festivities, waving his fire whiskey bottle in greeting. He was sitting quite near the Floo and nearly knocked Pansy a glancing blow in the nose.

"Where's Blaise?" she demanded. She realized she was shaking a little. She took a deep breath, then two more. Thanks to the quality of both her Floo powder and the Floo connection to Draco's place, the air around her nose and mouth remained ash free and easy to breathe.

"What is it? What's wrong?" Blaise appeared beside Draco.

It was easy to tell, in contrast to Draco and, she noticed, Greg and Teddy Nott who were hunkered down on the sofa, that Blaise was sober.

Pansy's lip trembled.

"Never mind, I'm coming round," Blaise said after one look at her face. "No, Draco, you're staying here." Pansy watched as Draco struggled to his feet, stumbling on the carpet.

"Why? Does Pansy like you more than she likes me?"

"At the moment? No contest," Pansy told him. "You'd just pass out on my floor."

"Wouldn't!" But short of falling into the Floo, it didn't seem like he'd be get to his feet and into the fire, so Pansy wasn't too worried. She back out of the Floo and Blaise stepped down onto Pansy's hearth rug.

Pansy wasn't sure whether she wanted to cry or hyperventilate and so stood staring at Blaise until he said irritably, "You're making me nervous. What happened with Potter?"

Pansy told him.

"You're letting Potter stay at your flat?" Blaise said slowly, tugging at his earlobe. "Pansy – "

"I'm barking, I know!" Pansy wailed. "I didn't know what else to do."

"Tell him to sod right off and – "

The Floo coughed at them and Pansy squealed, clutching at Blaise. He shook her off, looking grumpier by the minute. They both watched as a head appeared in the wreath of flame.

"Granger?" Blaise said blankly.

"Granger!" Pansy said darkly. "Potter can't have talked to you yet."

"You're right," Granger said, scowling and looking for all the world like an angry lion with her mad hair in a golden Floo halo around her face. "I found out myself where he was going because when he went running off into the rain, I knew it was to do something mental." She scowled harder than ever. "Also, he and Ginny aren't good at scheming subtly. I've known for weeks something was up."

"Which doesn't explain how you found out where he was or how to get on my Floo if Potter didn't tell you," Pansy snapped.

"It's Granger," Blaise pointed out. "Girl's nosy enough for anyone."

"Oy, Zabini," Granger said, doing her best to look threatening.

"Oy yourself, Granger," Blaise said, smirking at her.

"Hermione?"

Pansy and Blaise both jumped. If Potter, emerging sleepily from Pansy's guest room, was shocked to see Blaise in Pansy's flat so late at night, he was hiding it well.

"Harry!" Granger said, her voice switching from annoyed to relieved to stern in a breath. "Harry, what in the world are you thinking?"

"Hey, this wasn't just my idea," Potter said. He hadn't even bothered with his specs, which Pansy thought was awfully trusting for a bloke essentially living in enemy HQ. "Anyway, when I mentioned getting away, you're the one who said go somewhere no one would expect me to go."

"It was not my idea for you to go and live with Parkinson!" Granger retorted. "When did I say, 'Gosh, Harry, living with a friend of Draco Malfoy's would probably greatly improve your quality of life and certainly your personal safety'?"

"You said to go the last place anyone would look for me," Potter pointed out, moving passed Pansy and Blaise and kneeling beside the hearth. "Short of trying to move in with Malfoy, this seemed like a good shot."

"Well, you're right that no one would dream you're there," Granger conceded. "Ron thinks you've gone back to that shanty at the foot of the Himalayas where we met the men with the pants."

Potter snorted. "I never want to see those pants again. Are you going to tell Ron where I am?"

"No, she isn't!" Pansy cut in. "Granger, Potter said he wouldn't tell anyone but you."

"Only because I figured Ron wasn't speaking to me on account of Ginny," Potter said defensively. "Yeah, but I did promise Parkinson."

"See, Harry, this is why I make the plans," Granger said with a heavy sigh, pushing ineffectually at her hair.

"How did you find me?" Potter asked her curiously.

"I have my ways," Granger said.

"I'd like to know what those are," Pansy snapped. "I thought my flat was protected from snoops at the Ministry."

"Hermione's the greatest snoop of them all," Potter said affectionately.

Granger, who looked ready to be both indignant and offended at Pansy's inference, relaxed and smiled at Potter. "Shut up, Harry."

"Make me."

"I can still tell Ron about the lady Sherpa and the water buffalo – "

"You swore you wouldn't!"

"Granger, you can tell me about the lady Sherpa and the water buffalo – "

"You can shut up as well, Zabini," Potter shouted, bright red now and very wide awake.

Granger smiled a little, in spite of herself. Pansy tried not to do the same.

"How long to do you plan to be there?" Granger asked at last, the smile fading.

Potter shrugged. "Parkinson's agreed to let me stay through the holidays."

"After which, I assume you're hoping the Prophet will give up on you and find other people to harass," Granger said pointedly.

Potter's eyebrows shot up. "Why else would you and Ginny hatch this mad plan unless you thought you'd be helping us all?" Granger said with a knowing smile. "You could have just told me, Harry."

"Gin reckoned it would be easier on you if the press asked you where I was and you honestly didn't know anything about it," Potter muttered, looking a little embarrassed.

"There's more to this than just dealing with the media though, isn't there?" Granger said shrewdly.

"Look, I'll fill you in eventually," Potter promised. "For now, just trust me?"

Granger was clearly torn but after a moment, she said, "Fine. But I plan to check in regularly."

"I hope you don't plan on checking in every day until he leaves," Pansy snapped.

"I wouldn't mind," Blaise began but Pansy elbowed him and he shut up.

"Don't worry, Mione," Harry said. "I'll be fine." He paused. "I love you."

"Oh, Harry." Even through the wavering fire, Pansy saw Granger's jaw tremble. "Love you, too. Twit. Get some rest."

"You, too."

Potter pushed away from the Floo at the same time Granger's face disappeared into the flames. He wandered back to the guest room, looking a little preoccupied.

Pansy scowled after him.

"You know how to pick 'em, Pans," Blaise said, following Pansy's scowl. "You'll be all right?"

"I doubt he has scandalous designs on my vulnerable person, if that's what you mean," Pansy grumbled, throwing herself into an armchair.

"You know it's not," Blaise retorted, sitting down across from her. He blew out a long breath. "Know what I fancy?" he said suddenly. "Hot chocolate."

)Christmastime(

It was a little café down the high street from Pansy's flat. Unlike the other little shops in the village where Pansy lived, the café stayed open until midnight each night. Pansy had had occasion to make more than one late-night run. It was still pouring a depressing mixture of snow and rain when Blaise opened a massive umbrella over them both, surreptitiously cast a water-repelling charm over their shoes, and led her down the street.

"Aren't you worried Draco will hurt himself if you don't get back?" Pansy asked as they hurried through the wet slush pooling in the street.

"This might sound mad to you," Blaise said, "but I had actually imagined my mates would become adults around the same time I did and would show signs of being able to take care of themselves for a few minutes."

Pansy drooped. "Sorry about tonight and – and everything."

"Oh, go on, I wasn't talking about you," Blaise said, putting an arm around her. "This is the first time you've rung up with a crisis and, unlike Draco, you've a legitimate one, don't you?"

Pansy managed a laugh around the lump in her throat. "Thank you."

"Sure." He hated to be thanked, but sometimes Pansy couldn't help it.

They ordered their chocolate from the cheerful barista, Stephen, who flirted hopefully with Blaise for a few minutes before Pansy dragged her friend away to a table.

"You're just jealous that everyone wants a piece of me," Blaise said, sipping his chocolate. "Also, I think I should come stay with you for a while."

Pansy was torn between unspeakable relief and sudden anxiety. "Someone's bound to notice if you're always in my flat." They both knew who she meant by someone and if that someone came snooping and Potter spooked and cursed him again …

"So pretend we really are having a fling or something," Blaise said, shrugging.

"No one would buy it," Pansy argued, rolling her mug between her hands. "You remember what happened when I pretended I was shagging Teddy?"

Blaise snorted. "Kept Draco amused for weeks, anyway."

"Right, Mr. Smartypants," Pansy retorted. "So no one would buy us, would they, least of all Draco?"

"Come on, Pans, we don't need a reason," Blaise said. "Who has to know? I'll just hide with Potter whenever Draco rings and if he calls looking for me, I'll Floo back to my place."

Pansy wanted to argue but was suddenly too weary to try. Anyway, she hadn't wanted to deal with Potter all on her own and now here was help flinging itself at her feet, so to speak. Who was she to resist?

)Christmastime(

The next morning, Pansy found Potter pacing the living room with a cup of tea in one hand and a newspaper in the other. After a moment, Pansy realized it was her copy of the London Times that he must have brought in off the doorstep where it appeared each morning. Because Pansy had chosen to live in Muggle London, she'd begun to feel it was necessary to become more familiar with Muggles and their culture. Though the Parkinsons weren't pure-blooded, they hadn't had a Muggle marry into the family in generations and had fallen out of touch with Muggle ways and lifestyles. It wasn't hard to pick up, though, now Pansy was living in a Muggle village.

She loved it, really. It was peaceful and people only knew about her what she told them. Not so in the wizarding world, where people whispered about her and none of her classmates outside of Slytherin would speak to her (some in Slytherin, too, actually).

"You made coffee," Pansy said, eyeing the mug in his hands.

"No, no," Potter said hastily, glancing up from the paper. "I went to the shop on the corner and got hot chocolate. I mean, for me. Zabini reckoned you liked coffee more so I got you cappuccino."

"Did you." Pansy went warily into the kitchen and found a steaming mug of coffee on the drain board. She sniffed hesitantly, then took a sip. She took a moment to be amazed that Blaise and Potter had apparently had a civil conversation and then realized that obviously Blaise had been using Potter for free drinks.

"So."

Pansy turned and found Potter shifting from foot to foot in the doorway. "So …"

"You won't let me pay you to stay here," Potter said, using the corner of The London Times to shove his stupid specs up the bridge of his nose. "I wanted to try to do something."

"Please," Pansy said uncomfortably. "Don't. Just – just don't bring it up, all right? You thanked me, which ranks high on my list of things I never ever thought would happen in my lifetime."

"You have a list?"

"Don't judge me."

There was an awkward pause. "It's coming up Christmas," Potter resumed with another pointless shove at his specs. Pansy didn't get it – he was heir to a fortune or two, as far as she was aware … why didn't he buy new glasses?

"It is." Pansy took another pull on her cappuccino and went to investigate the contents of her fridge. There wasn't much but she did find a carton of milk. Further searching through the cupboards uncovered a box of oatmeal. If Pansy were having especially good luck, she reckoned there might still be brown sugar in the tin.

"Yeah," Potter said, watching her roam around her kitchen. She wished he wouldn't – she felt the irrational need to produce croissants and fresh fruit or something. "So I thought I might – do something for you. You know, for Christmas."

"What kind of something?" Pansy glanced up from the saucepan in which her oatmeal was slowly coming to a simmer. One of the disadvantages of living in Muggle London, particularly a small village, was that she really had to limit her magic usage to things like the occasional waterproofing of her boots and washing up after a visit from Draco. Otherwise she'd be easier to magically track down by other wizards and would turn up on the Ministry's list of overactive magical presences residing in the Muggle world.

"Well …" Potter shrugged, taking a swallow of chocolate. "I was thinking about Christmas trees and decorations and presents and so on."

He had her attention now. Pansy scowled.

"You want to decorate my apartment?" Pansy had had experience with boys decorating her apartment (she'd had to redecorate after Blaise and Draco had laid waste to her sitting room and kitchen with tacky wallpaper). But this was a whole new level of weird and scary – Harry Potter, hero of the wizarding world, was offering to decorate for Christmas. To do Christmas for her in her own flat. It felt like winning a bizarre Witch Weekly sweepstakes prize.

Pansy sat carefully down on a kitchen chair.

"No, I don't want to decorate …" Potter sounded embarrassed. He took off his glasses and polished them on his tee shirt. "I just wanted to – I mean, I just thought since it's Christmas anyway, I could help …"

Pansy chewed her lip. Her impulse was to tell him to go into the guest room and stay there until the new year. But she did love Christmas. She usually got around to decorating eventually but it sort of felt half-hearted because her family didn't really like coming into the Muggle world, or indeed back to England, however happy they were that Pansy felt safe there herself.

"Are we talking about a tree? Lights? Mulled cider?" Pansy asked cautiously.

"Christ, Parkinson, I don't know!" Potter exploded. "I'd just like to do something for you, that's all."

"Oh, let him, Pans." Blaise appeared behind Potter in the doorway, sipping chocolate from a giant "World's Sexiest Wizard" mug that was from Blaise's last birthday but had somehow taken up permanent residence in Pansy's kitchen. "Imagine what else he'll get up to if he gets bored."

Pansy felt her eyes widen. Potter gave Blaise a dirty look and Blaise smirked at him.

"Fine!" Pansy snapped. "Fine. But don't you two go messing up my flat."

"Us two?" Blaise choked on his chocolate.

"You're to make sure Potter doesn't make a bloody cock-up of everything," Pansy told him.

Blaise scowled. "If I have to babysit Potter," he said, looking down the length of his nose at the Gryffindor, "I shall not merely stand by. I shall supervise."

"You weren't invited!" Potter said, outraged.

"I'm inviting myself," and Blaise sauntered out of the kitchen.

Potter followed, muttering, "Try to do a nice thing …"

Pansy stood staring after them and wondering, What have I gotten myself into now?

)Christmastime(

She found out a week later when the changes began.

Potter had been remarkably quiet and well-behaved. He'd mostly kept to his room, although he came out at least once in the morning and once at night to say, "Good morning" and "Good night." He was almost painfully polite to her and kept his small living quarters so clean it was hard to tell someone lived there. It was clear he showered regularly but Pansy had yet to catch him at it. She was either at work or in the village when he did it and the only sign he'd ever been in the loo was that a second towel had appeared on the rack beside hers.

Blaise was another story.

The second night after he'd decided Pansy and Potter needed looking after, Blaise came tiptoeing into Pansy's room and crawled into bed with her. He said sleeping on couches was for commoners and since Potter got a bed, it was only fair that Pansy extend the same courtesy to him. He went home each day to shower because he said the thought of sharing a loo with Potter made him want to break out in hives. Apart from that, he seemed to hang around her sitting room, except when he went off to check on Draco or he wandered into Potter's room to scheme about their Christmas shenanigans. These discussions usually ended in fights about details Pansy couldn't really understand for all the yelling.

Then, of course, there were the daily check-ins with Granger. Pansy wished desperately that Potter could make the calls while she was at work, but unfortunately bloody Granger worked roughly the same hours Pansy did, which meant that Potter rang her in the evening. Pansy went out for the occasional meal and was even guilty of trying out the Muggle cinema from time to time but she was mostly a home body. And because they were never sure who was calling when the Floo went, Pansy had to be the one to answer, in case it was one of a hundred people calling who mustn't know where Potter was.

Blaise was no help at all, of course. He wanted to be there when Granger rang up and usually lurked in the background making remarks that were sure to irritate Potter and grab Granger's attention. Why he did it was a mystery to Pansy because Blaise had never shown that much interested in either Gryffindor at Hogwarts, except to tell Pansy shortly after the final battle that she'd done the right thing trying to get Potter to turn his lazy self over the You-Know-Who.

Eight days after Potter moved into Pansy's flat, the decorations began appearing and the kitchen was suddenly full of food.

It began innocuously enough with a lovely wreathe hanging on Pansy's flat door. It had a big red bow at the bottom and holly boughs woven in with red ribbon. It almost made Pansy smile until she opened the door and found Potter slaving over a hot meal at the stove.

"What the hell are you doing?" Pansy demanded. Blaise sat on the kitchen counter, swinging his legs and humming a little as he watched Potter work.

"Maybe supper," Blaise said cheerfully. "Potter went to the shops for groceries today because he said the cupboards were bare and I suggested he get your meal tonight because Wednesdays make you tired."

"My cupboards aren't bare!" Pansy snapped, glaring at Potter.

"There are three of us here," Potter pointed out. "Zabini eats like a bleeding hippogriff – "

"Take that back, you sod!" Blaise cried with the look of one mortally offended.

"And I know I've been into the cupboards a few times to avoid starvation," Potter carried on.

"Isn't the whole point of you being here to hide from the world?" Pansy asked suspiciously. "Why would you go into the village?"

"This is a Muggle village," Potter countered. He had a pot of crinkly pasta boiling on one burner, a delicious-smelling brown sauce simmering in another, and a large bowl of salad waiting on the side board. "No one knows me here. I was out for an hour and no one looked at me twice." He sounded as though he were recounting an extraordinary event, not a menial task like getting the groceries. "I lived in the Muggle world for ten years before I got my Hogwarts letter and I did a lot of shopping and cooking. Trust me."

The pasta was delicious, Pansy discovered. And when she'd got up the next morning and discovered croissants and fresh fruit waiting conspicuously on the counter for her, she couldn't decide whether to hate stupid Potter or pity him for trying so hard.

)Christmastime(

She was at home one evening several days later, reading the Daily Prophet and making a note to tell Potter he was only mentioned on the last page, when the sitting room Floo went. Pansy glanced up, expecting Granger. She started, then shouted, "Potter!"

"So he is there." Ron Weasley was redder than Pansy ever remembered him being. "You tell him – "

Potter came skidding into the sitting room, glasses slightly askew. He also had a smear of paint across his cheek and his jeans were covered in glitter. His eyes were wide behind his glasses. "Ron?"

"Bleeding right!" Weasley snarled. "Where the hell have you been, then?"

"How did you find me?" Potter asked, a smile tugging at the morning of his mouth.

"Well, I got Hermione to tell me, of course!" Weasley said, shoving a hand through his fire engine hair.

"She wouldn't," Potter said, narrowing his eyes. "Who'd you bribe?"

Weasley looked suddenly shifty. "Who would I bribe?"

Potter crossed his arms. "Was it Gin?"

Weasley sighed gustily and rolled his eyes. Then his entire expression went glacially calm and he said, "Mind tell me why she's practically moved in with Bill and Fleur? What did you do? I ought to come over there and – "

"No!" Pansy shouted. "No, no, no, Weasley, you keep your ginger arse out of my flat. Potter, you promised."

"Look, would you give us a minute?" Potter asked Pansy, rubbing the bridge of his nose. "Please?" he added.

Pansy got up and stomped out of the room.

She found Blaise in the kitchen, eating something doughy out of a bowl. "Get kicked out of your own room?" he asked, offering her a doughy spoon. Pansy stuck it in her mouth and sulked.

"What was I thinking, letting Potter in here?" she mumbled around the spoon. The dough on it was sweet and delicious.

"Overcome by the spirit of Christmas?" Blaise suggested. A moment later, Blaise was bowled out of the way as Potter came flying into the kitchen. "It's Malfoy!" he panted. "He's coming through the Floo!"

"What about Weasley?" Pansy demanded.

"We rang off," Potter said.

"He won't come round here, will he?" Pansy asked desperately.

"I promised," Potter said.

"Pansy?" Draco's voice came from the sitting room.

"Oh, damn." Potter looked hastily around.

"Under the sink," Blaise hissed, grabbing him by the collar and stuffing him into the small space. Potter fit, just.

"Why does this feel horribly familiar?" he muttered as Blaise slammed the door on him and spun away, just as the kitchen door banged open.

"What's going on around here?" Draco swept into the kitchen like it was a grand ballroom. "What are you both doing in the kitchen?" He scowled. "Who's making cookies?"

"We were hungry, Draco, calm down," Blaise said, pressing his foot against the cupboard door. Pansy could practically hear Potter holding his breath.

"You always order in or go to the bakers, Blaise, don't be a prat," Draco grumbled. "Pans, I want to borrow your guest room for the night. I'm sick of Blaise's house and I think his mum's home." The only woman Draco had ever feared, apart from his own mother, was Blaise's.

"You can't stay here," Pansy said, sending Blaise a frantic look behind Draco's back. "Because – because Blaise is staying here. He has the guest room."

"Fine, I'll kip with you then," Draco said, tugging open the pantry doors and peering in. Pansy gave devout and silent thanks that she hadn't stuffed Potter in there, which had been her first idea.

"You can't sleep in my bed, you kick," Pansy said. She brightened. "It's Friday, Draco. Why don't Blaise and I come stay with you for a change? I'm out of food anyway."

Blaise shook his head vigorously at her as Draco pulled his head out of the pantry and said, "You look like you're going to entertain for all of Slytherin House, Pans. I don't think anything else would fit in the pantry."

Damn you, Potter, for going shopping, Pansy thought.

"Your flat, Draco, we're going in ten minutes," Blaise said, taking pity on her. "Pansy had the nightmares again and bought a lot of silly food she doesn't know how to cook. She'll be better for a holiday."

"Ooh! A holiday!" Draco lost interest in the pantry. "Let's take a holiday in Ireland. Oh, can we? Please?"

"Brilliant!" Pansy said. "Draco, go home and prepare everything. Blaise and I will pack and meet you there."

Draco grinned at the pair of them and Pansy knew suddenly that it was going to be a stupendous holiday. Draco only stayed at the nicest hotels and ate at the best restaurants in whatever city he vacationed in. He slapped Blaise on the back and left the kitchen. A moment later, Pansy heard the whooshing of the Floo going in the sitting room. She and Blaise held the silence a moment longer, and then Potter fell out of the cupboard under the sink.

"My foot's cramping," he said, rubbing his socked toes furiously. He glanced up at the pair of them. "Have a nice holiday."

)Christmastime(

Pansy almost didn't go. She had her doubts about leaving Potter alone in her flat. It was Potter who convinced her in the end.

"Parkinson, I'm trying to stay hidden here," he pointed out. "I'm not going to trash your flat or do anything that'll cause trouble."

So Pansy went and had a lovely time. She hadn't been away in a long time. She never really felt comfortable in her own skin unless she was at home or out in her own Muggle village. Everywhere else, there might be people she knew and never wanted to see again. But Draco had promised her he was taking her to a part of Ireland no wizard had ever heard of where they would have run of a small city by the sea and people would wait on her hand and foot.

The vacation was just what he promised. She and Blaise were both surprised that he took them to a Muggle city but it was a city with connections to the magical world that included the Floo Network. They spent the weekend in the penthouse of an old and elegant hotel. As usual, Draco brought Greg with him. Pansy spent a lot of her weekend wandering the city, which was in the full swing of Christmas with fairy lights, pine boughs, and hot drinks in every shop.

The final day, it snowed. Pansy put on Blaise's long winter coat and stood out on the balcony, watching a white blanket cover the city. Many of the shop owners put candles in their windows that sent a cascade of flickering light across the snow. Pansy took Greg out for a walk while Draco and Blaise lounged about by the fire reading.

"Pans," Greg said as they wandered through the city park. "When are things going to be okay again? At home, I mean?"

She didn't have to ask what he meant. She watched a Muggle family – two men with their arms around each other and three little girls with long brown braids down their backs – sledging down a hill already several inches deep in snow. Shouts of "Daddy, it's my go! Ciaran went last time" followed Pansy and Greg as they rounded a bend in the path.

"Dunno," Pansy admitted, patting his arm. "I reckon it takes time for something like You-Know-Who's regime to be forgotten."

"I'll never forget it." Greg shivered, leaning a little closer to Pansy. He was a good six inches taller but somehow Pansy felt like the one doing the protecting. "I didn't mean to do some of that stuff I did," Greg said haltingly. "It just seemed like Potter and his lot were running mad and breaking rules and someone had to put it right. Why not Umbridge? Or the Carrows? Why not You-Know-Who?" He gave a hollow laugh. "Now I know, obviously. For what it's worth."

Pansy sighed. She thought of Potter, hanging around her flat. It sure looked like a bed of roses for him and his lot … but there he was, hiding from the people he'd saved who just couldn't get enough of him.

"I'm not sure we're any worse than anyone else," Pansy said slowly. She paused as she and Greg left the park and came out onto one of the cobblestone street near the hotel. "Go on, mate," she said, nudging him. "It's Christmastime. We're far away from all that and we're near the café where they have those biscuits you fancy."

Greg cracked a smile and let her lead him into Sullivan's Tea Shop.

)Christmastime(

They left Ireland that evening. A weekend without alcohol and hundreds of miles from home had done Draco and Greg good and Blaise looked more relaxed than he had all year. Pansy felt lighter, somehow, as though the flurrying snow had cleansed her somehow. She hadn't felt so relaxed away from home since … maybe ever. For all she disliked Potter and his lot, it was awfully nice not to have to worry about maniac dark lords who might or might not come round and destroy people's lives.

They had two Floo stops. They had to Floo out of Ireland and through English customs and then home. Fortunately, they were going through customs in York and Pansy was pretty sure their names didn't stand out terribly. Draco got a couple of dirty looks when someone noticed his last name but he didn't seem to be aware of them and Pansy settled for giving the wizards the finger when Draco's back was turned and letting it go otherwise.

Pansy said goodbye to the boys in York and Flooed home. Blaise wanted to wash up before coming back to her flat and Pansy was pretty sure she could handle being alone there with Potter for an hour. As soon as she stepped out of the Floo into her sitting room, she could see her relaxation in the north would be short-lived.

"Potter!" she bellowed, dropping her bags on the hearth and looking around at the madness that was the remains of her flat.

"Now hurry up, you lot, because Parkinson will be home soon and – " Ginny Weasley came around the kitchen doorway into the sitting room and froze, staring wide-eyed at Pansy. "Er – on second thought …"

"Potter!" Pansy bellowed again.

"Oh. You're home. Um." Potter appeared in the doorway as well, dusting glitter-covered hands off on his jeans. "How was your holiday, then?"

"What – I mean," Pansy floundered.

"Oy, Harry, you want these ornaments on the tree properly or – " Neville Longbottom crowded into the doorway beside Weasley. "Parkinson?" the boy said, frowning. "Harry said you wouldn't be home for another hour."

"Potter …" Pansy waved a vague hand around at her living room, which was a clutter of ribbons, ornaments, a tree laying on its side, Muggle fairy lights, unlit candles, and all kinds of holiday decorations that probably looked nice when hung up but for now looked like Potter had brought Santa's elves and their workshop into Pansy's flat and then blown them up. Pansy pointed to the kitchen. Potter took the hint and followed her.

"I'm sorry," he said immediately. "I didn't think you'd be home so early – customs is murder if you're traveling between countries or even regions – and so I thought we'd have more time …" He trailed off.

"You promised," Pansy said shakily. "You promised you'd not have any of your mates in my flat."

"Oh, I know." Potter pushed a hand through his hair. Now it glittered along with his jeans. "Only you weren't to know. I trust all of them completely. And they all Flooed from one place and have no idea where in England they actually are. They'll all leave through the Floo so they never see anything outside your flat and …"

Pansy wanted to cry. "Look," Potter said hastily (he'd probably seen Granger cry enough times to know the signs). "If you go to Malfoy's … or Zabini's … for an hour, I promise you won't ever see any of my friends again. They will never bother you or come near you or your flat ever again – "

Pansy burst into tears. Whirling away from Potter, she leaned on the edge of the sink, her whole back tense with sobs.

"Oh – oh, no!"

Pansy heard running feet and thought, Charming. I'm the Girl-Who-Made-the-Boy-Who-Lived-Run-Away. Then she thought, Of the people I saw roaming around, none of them was Granger. She couldn't even bring herself to care of any of Potter's stupid friends saw her in this state.

"Pans. Shh."

Suddenly a large, familiar pair of arms went around her. Pansy leaned into Blaise and cried harder than ever. He didn't say anything else but picked her right up and carried her away into her bedroom, where he tucked her up in bed, dabbed at her face with tissues, and made her take sips from a glass of red wine that tasted too expensive to have come from Pansy's kitchen. Slowly, Pansy felt her tears run their course, her sobs slowed to the occasional hiccup, and she huddled down into her pillows while Blaise stroked her face.

The next things she knew, early-morning light was creeping across her bedroom floor. She could hear Blaise's slow, even breathing on the other side of the bed, his back pressed reassuringly against hers. She rubbed at her eyes, which felt sticky and unused, and tried to remember why she'd fallen asleep in her traveling cloak. It came slowly back to her – Ginny Weasley and Neville Longbottom, a few other faces lost in the blur of horrified confusion, and worst of all, Potter's expression of misery when Pansy burst into tears.

She rolled over, stretching and sitting up slowly. Blaise had put a glass of water on her bedside table and she swallowed it in three gulps. She slid out of bed and went to listen at the door. She couldn't hear anything, so she peered out. Satisfied that she could at least make it from the bedroom to bathroom without seeing any of the people Potter might have let invade her apartment or whatever damage he'd caused, she crept across the hall to take a long, hot shower.

She felt a slow rage boiling in her gut. How many people had there been and how long had they been hanging around her flat? One of her very few positive notions about Potter was that he was trustworthy. A prat, generally, but a trustworthy one. She'd had his word and assumed he kept it. She hadn't even worried while she was away. And now, who knew what he'd been up to.

She let the hot water work out as many kinks in her neck and shoulders as it could and then wrapped herself in a towel and went back to her bedroom. Blaise was sitting up, reading the Prophet. "We missed nothing while we were gone," he informed her, closing the newspaper. "Oh, and Potter isn't in here at all." He shook his head and made a face. "I can't believe Potter and Weasley made a plan that worked. That must be the first time that's ever happened. I wonder if they'll try to get a national holiday for it."

Pansy wanted to smile, but … "I'm sorry," she said quietly. "I know you hate crying."

"Don't talk rubbish." Blaise patted the bed and she went and sat down across from him. "Potter Flooed for me last night. He made me swear not to strangle him first," he added, smirking a little. "He said you needed me."

"Go on, then." But she didn't deny it.

"Pans, you know I think Potter is absolute rubbish as a person but …" He hesitated, which was so unusual for Blaise that Pansy stared at him suspiciously. "After I put you to bed last night, I went to find out what Potter was up to." He eyed her across the covers. "Get dressed. I want you to come see before you go mad."

Pansy found some clothes, pulled her hair into a high knot atop her head, and pushed her feet into slippers. Blaise offered her her favorite bathrobe and led her out into the flat.

Pansy caught her breath.

The explosion of Christmas gone wrong from the night before was nowhere to be seen. Instead, Pansy's sitting room, entryway, and kitchen were made over with garlands of fragrant pine tied with red and white ribbon. The tree stood in the corner near, but not too near, the hearth. The tree hung heavily with ornaments, cranberry garlands, and twinkling Muggle fairy lights. A delicate glass star sat atop the tree and underneath it were a neat but sizable arrangement of gifts. Along the mantle was a miniature ceramic Hogsmeade – Pansy knew at once because when she went to inspect the little buildings, she found signs on them reading Three Broomsticks, Honeyduke's, and even the Shrieking Shack. They weren't enchanted, like magical decorations, but Pansy could see little candles sitting unlit inside each hollow building that, when lit, would bring them to life. The edge of the mantle was trimmed with more pine garlands and hanging beneath them were several stockings. Pansy saw one for Blaise, one for her, and, to her amazement, one with Draco's name neatly inscribed on it. They were really only decorative, but the gesture wasn't lost on Pansy.

Someone had even been to some trouble to drape the sofa, armchair, and glass table with festive blankets and cloths in coordinating green, red, and white. The doorway had a sprig of mistletoe hanging across it.

Pansy glanced helplessly at Blaise. He nodded toward the kitchen. Pansy went for a look and found that the whole room smelled like a cake shop. A plate of iced biscuits sat in the center of the table and all the tea towels, dish rags, and place mats had been switched to ones patterned with holly and reindeer. The room had been lined with more fairy lights and when Blaise turned them on, they bathed the room in a gentle white glow. As Pansy moved further into the room, she found that Potter had set out plates of brittle, roasted walnuts, and fudge all over the kitchen. And on the stove beside the kettle sat a large tin of chocolate.

Pansy turned slowly back to Blaise, who leaned against the doorway with an unreadable expression. "Apparently," Blaise said slowly, "he didn't think he was creative enough to do all this himself. So he called in his ex-girlfriend and some of his best mates for a little help."

"He's trying to make me fat," Pansy said faintly, gesturing to all the plates of sweets. "His ex -girlfriend?"

"Ask him," Blaise said, shrugging. "She didn't sound unhappy about it, though."

"She was here," Pansy remembered.

"Potter said she has excellent taste and she felt she owed you one." He led the way back into the sitting room, where they sat side-by-side on the sofa and stared at the Christmas tree. Potter had evidently found the biggest tree he could fit into the room without actually breaking through the ceiling.

"Why did he do all this?" Pansy wondered. "I mean, I know he said he wanted to do something nice but – " She groaned. "I just wish he'd warned me."

"Apparently, he really thought we'd be held up in the north and that he'd have Weasley and Longbottom and their crew gone before you got back," Blaise said, eyeing the tree. "Ask him about it." He stood and stretched. "Want coffee?"

He left for the café and Pansy stayed where she was, surrounded by fabulously seasonal interior décor and not quite sure what to do with herself.

"I really am sorry."

Pansy jumped, half-turning to look at Potter. He was in his pyjamas in the doorway, rubbing sleep from his eyes. His specs were perched atop his head. Probably didn't want to see if Pansy was crying. "Why do this, Potter?" Pansy asked, gesturing around. "I mean – this is incredible. Are those real gifts?"

He gave a surprised chuckle. "Yes, they're real. What, you thought I wrapped up empty boxes for decoration?"

She tried not to smile. "Where are your little helper monkeys this morning?"

He blushed. "Once I realized you weren't coming out last night, I thought they might as well stay and help me finish. Then I sent them all home."

"What did you have to bribe them with?" she couldn't help asking.

"I didn't have to bribe that lot," Potter told her, coming slowly into the room. "They came all by themselves because they all thought they owed you."

"Explain, please." Pansy had spent years assuming that every last one of Potter's friends thought she was dirt. She couldn't believe they all had something to thank her for. It simply wasn't possible.

"Well, Gin owed you because our plan worked."

"Your plan," Pansy reminded him. "Why does she think she owes me?"

"She didn't like it, but she knew it was the best we were going to come up with," Potter explained. "She went off to Shell Cottage to stay with her brother Bill the same day I turned up here. We wanted to break up but we couldn't be home when Mrs. Weasley found out. She thinks I'm on holiday on the continent or something. And we didn't want to risk telling anyone what we were up to until the last minute. We didn't tell anyone where I was hiding, only that I'd be hiding somewhere. We wanted them to be able to honestly say they had no idea where I was. Sometimes, the damned reporters know you're lying but if Hermione and Ron and the others sounded really upset because they really didn't have any idea where I was, even the worst journalists would leave them alone."

"Only Granger tracked you down."

"It was a matter of time," Potter said, shrugging. "Mione knows how to find things that aren't meant to be found. And she's so used to figuring me and Ron out that I don't think it was much work."

"And Weasley?"

Potter shrugged. "He had a temper tantrum when he realized Ginny and I had made the plan and that Hermione had figured it out. Hermione figured it was safer to tell him than risk him ruining everything by mounting a search-and-rescue." He sighed. "He was also really hacked off that Ginny and I had broken up. He was sort of counting on us getting married and her making an honest Weasley out of me."

Pansy decided to be nice and let that one go. "And the people you brought into my flat …"

"You can lock them out of your Floo and they really have no idea where you live," Potter assured her. "I honestly couldn't think of another way to get all this stuff done while you were gone. I needed Gin's help decorating. She's got an eye for it and loves Christmas. And she figures she owes you because she and her family aren't being harassed by journalists and people like Rita Skeeter these days. Nev and Luna are people I trust completely – they'd never blow the plan or tell anyone anything about you or your home."

"And you really only promised that you wouldn't have Ron Weasley and Granger running in and out," Pansy conceded, somehow moved and relieved in one go. Potter was really only here because she'd thought she could trust him. She frowned. "You and Weasley broke up."

"We did." Potter shifted uncomfortably. "Ginny's brilliant and I love her. It's just – so much of our relationship is built on her childhood hero-worship. Oh, she knows me now and it's not the same thing, but she deserves someone who loves her as deeply and as much as she loves them. I can't ever give as much as she does and – and it wasn't fair. She began to realize that something was missing while I was away on the Grand Tour and it was bad. The press were mad with wedding speculation. You might have seen some of it."

"Some of it," Pansy admitted. "So you ran away in a thunderstorm?" she added, smirking. "After all that planning, you nearly died of pneumonia before you made it to my flat?"

Potter grinned sheepishly. "I told you, it was actually part of the plan. Gin's idea. She figured it was a long shot even getting you to think about taking me in and thought if I looked ill and wretched you might be overcome with the urge to care for me."

Pansy snorted. "She's mad."

Potter chuckled. "But it worked. Here I am."

"Here you are."

They were silent a moment. Less awkward, somehow, than the silences of the past week and a half but somehow more complicated.

"Look, Potter," Pansy said slowly, each word coming out with difficulty. "It's not that I hate all your friends like I hate Granger. It's just – " She floundered.

"Parkinson, have you ever considered that the war was hard on everyone?" Potter said gently. "In different ways, yes, but you know what most people want? I mean, Hogwarts people, people who were actually there?"

Pansy's lip quivered. She bit down and shook her head.

"They want to let it go, move on, forget the whole damned thing," Potter told her. "Why do you think I barged in on you? Took the Grand Tour when what I so badly wanted was a cottage somewhere in the country where I could sleep and maybe garden for a couple years? Once the press stops trying to manufacture heroes and villains and finds other issues to report on, people will start healing." He hesitated. "I had an idea last night about that. I don't know if it will work, but will you at least hear my out?"

)Christmastime(

It was an insane idea. But so was the one that had landed Potter in her apartment to begin with.

"Well," Blaise said philosophically when he returned from the café and they told him about it, "either it works or it doesn't but all the effort Potter and his friends put into the flat, I reckon we should do something with it."

They strategized for a few days before putting the plan into motion. It required careful timing and arranging. Potter kept hinting that Granger would really be a huge help with all of it (as he insisted she would have been in all the decorating in the first place) but Pansy made it clear she wanted to hold off on Granger until the last possible second and Potter had the grace to let it go.

Phase one began two weeks before Christmas. Potter and Pansy made their Floo calls and five minutes later, four people came through into Pansy's sitting room.

"Uh, Harry?" Ginny Weasley stepped tentatively onto the hearth rug. "Did we miss something?"

"You didn't," Pansy cut in. "It's beautiful."

Weasley's eyebrows shot up but she only said, "I'm glad you like it."

"What the hell am I doing here?" Greg wondered, staring uneasily at the Gryffindors. Pansy was surprised they didn't look more guarded but then realized that someone must have told this lot about Crabbe's death. They probably felt bad for Greg. Even someone with half a heart would feel for him.

"You're one of our favorite people, Greg," Blaise said, grinning at him.

"We wanted you lot around for Christmas fun," Potter explained. "And something of an experiment. Humor us?"

"It's this or help Gran clean out her attic," Neville Longbottom said grimly but with a tentative smile.

"Do you use Doxie repellent on those drapes?" Luna Lovegood asked Pansy, nodding to the long red ones behind the tree.

"What's the Christmas fun?" Weasley asked. She frowned at Potter. "And why are we the ones being experimented on? Where are Ron and Mione?"

"Come on, enough questions." Blaise led them into the kitchen and gestured around. "We're making cookies!"

)Christmastime(

Pansy's kitchen had never been such a mess. Flour on the floors, counters, and door handles. Trays of Christmas cookies on every available surface, covered in icing and sprinkles. Some of the cookies were perfectly ordinary but after a few batches were rolled out and cut into outlines of wreathes, sleighs, snowflakes, and candles, Greg and Weasley began experimenting and soon had a variety of Christmas zombies, exotic animals (including a Screwt), and ludicrous caricatures of the people in the room.

"I'm not sure whether to hide those or leave them out to get eaten as quickly as possible," Pansy told Potter as they cleaned up the kitchen that night while Blaise went home to "clean flour out of places he didn't know he had."

"Just make sure those aren't the ones you bring home to your family at Christmas," Potter told her, grinning across the kitchen at her. Pansy couldn't help smiling back.

"That went rather well," she admitted.

"So far, so good," he agreed. "This lot was pretty easy. And I think they'll be back."

Pansy and Potter had agreed on two rules. The first was that anyone they invited was subject to an open-door policy at Pansy's flat. So long as they gave ten minutes' warning, they were welcome back any time. The only caveats were that they couldn't tell anyone Potter was in the apartment and, therefore, couldn't tell anyone else about the get-togethers at Pansy's or who they might have seen there.

"It's a controlled experiment," Blaise agreed with Potter. "We need to bring people in slowly."

There next batch were trickier. Pansy invited Millicent and Daphne, her closest girlfriends in Slytherin, for their next official get-together two days later. Potter invited his friends Seamus Finnegan and Dean Thomas. The first group were invited back as well and, for a wonder, all came. This gathering's "Christmas fun" was putting together Christmas bundles for the orphans at Potter's orphanage.

"It needs doing and it seems like most people feel good doing this sort of thing at Christmas," he defended when Blaise gave him a look.

Potter had asked Weasley and Greg to pick up some boxes for him on their way to Pansy's flat and when they turned up, came staggering out of the Floo with armfuls of boxes full of clothing, toys, books, and wrapping supplies.

"Pans, what's this all about?" Daphne murmured.

"Just go with it," Pansy pleaded. "We had fun last time."

"Last time?" But Daphne and Millicent both made an effort and it seemed to work even better than the first gathering. Pansy noticed Finnegan flirting for all he was worth with Millicent, who clearly had no idea what to do with him but couldn't seem to stop listening to his talk of blowing things up. Thomas and Weasley helped Greg and Blaise sort the different toys into piles by age and gender while Potter and Daphne sorted through piles of wrapping and packing materials.

"Where did you get all of this stuff?" Daphne asked Potter as Pansy's entire sitting room began to fill with piles of gifts and wrapping.

"Some donations, some I just bought outright," Potter said absently as he consulted a list. "Can you help me figure out how many seven-year-olds are on here and what gender they are?"

The project lasted well passed dinner, which Blaise ordered in while the rest of them sang overloud Muggle Christmas carols, off-key and often off-word. By the time they were done, each of the orphans had a small stack of gifts for the end of their beds. "Reckon I can risk going there Christmas Eve?" Pansy heard Potter ask Thomas he waited with him near the Floo.

"You should go, regardless," Thomas said. "The kids would love it and you could Apparate so no one sees you go in."

Potter grinned and thanked him for coming. Then he leaned closer and said something that made Thomas start a little. Both their eyes turned to Weasley, who was telling Greg and Daphne a story about one of her brothers. Greg's guffaw made Pansy and Blaise look at each other in amazement. Weasley laughed too, throwing her head back and clutching her sides. Thomas began to smile, too.

The second group agreed to the same rules as the first and, like the first group, dropped by over the next few days at odd hours. Millicent brought supper and Weasley with her one night (evidently, they'd met up shopping in Diagon Alley) and Thomas and Finnegan brought more presents for under the tree. "What's this for?" Potter asked them, laughing as they unloaded gifts wrapped in old copies of Daily Prophet cartoons pages.

"Special delivery from Santa," Thomas said conspiratorially. "By the way, is it too soon to ask Ginny out?"

Their third group was the hardest. Pansy had wanted to wait a bit longer, but Potter and Blaise insisted it would work out. "It's so close to Christmas," Potter said. "People are different this time of year."

"If my flat gets blown up, you're paying for a new one for me," Pansy told him.

"Trust me," he said softly. Pansy blushed for some unaccountable reason and Blaise rolled his eyes and went off to "dress for Granger."

"He's mad to try for Hermione," Potter murmured once Blaise had safely Flooed to his place for a shower.

"Do you want me to say anything or shall I keep my mouth shut?" Pansy asked him.

He tried to glare but it dissolved into a smile. "Come on," he said. "Let's make sure this is going to work."

They went into the village to make the arrangements and then came back to wait for their guests.

"You're sure about this?" Pansy asked Potter. "If it doesn't work – or if someone sees you – your stay with me is over."

"It's worth the risk," Potter insisted. "This could be an important step in healing wounds. You've made it possible for us to try this and make it work."

Pansy frowned. "It wasn't me," she began.

"You let me stay with you," Potter cut in. "You started it, Parkinson." His voice softened. "Pansy."

Her mouth fell open. She had no idea what to say. Fortunately, the Floo went and she had more immediate things to pay attention to. The first few people to come through were from previous groups. Finnegan and Thomas came through with Greg. Apparently, they'd gone for fish and chips at Finnegan's favorite pub. "A Muggle pub," Greg told Pansy in an undertone. "They had these weird boxes mounted on the walls that showed moving pictures. Lots of shouting and Muggle sport. Thomas told me what it's called, but I forget." He was smiling as he said it. Pansy felt like kissing the mad Gryffindor duo. Lovegood came through with Daphne and Millicent. "We had tea," was all Millicent would tell Pansy. If Pansy noticed Daphne wearing giant radish earrings identical to Lovegood's, she kept the observation to herself.

The rest of the old crowd came through and made themselves comfortable in Pansy's sitting room. They had no idea who else might be coming through and so weren't tense like the three hosts. Pansy found herself catching Blaise and Potter's eyes at intervals and seeing her own doubts and ambivalences reflected there.

This is a good thing we're doing, Pansy told herself. Bringing people together. It has to work.

The first new visitor to come through was Teddy Nott. He'd always been one of the quieter Slytherins and he hung back when he saw the people crowded into the living room. "What's going on?" Pansy heard him ask Blaise.

"Just a bit of Christmas fun, Ted, don't panic," Blaise assured him. "Look, Greg and the girls are here."

While Teddy went to settle in with people he knew, the Floo went again and Pansy threw an involuntary look at Blaise. "Hermione!" Potter grinned as they exchanged hugs and kisses on the cheek. Pansy felt a funny flutter in the pit of her stomach, which she wrote off to anxiety because it was bloody Granger in her sitting room. Granger waved at the Gryffindors who called greetings her way and said, "Harry, what are you up to?"

Then she noticed Pansy, who'd deliberately kept off to the side. In two strides, Granger was in front of her. Pansy felt her whole body tense. "Parkinson, I know we've had our differences," Granger said, a little breathlessly but with the determined set to her chin that Pansy was familiar with. "But I want you to know that I'm in your debt for what you've done for Harry and for us all."

Pansy met Granger's wide brown eyes and was so floored by the genuine gratitude she saw there that she couldn't think of a thing to say. Granger smiled tentatively and offered Pansy her hand. Pansy gripped it briefly, grateful not to have to speak, and let it go.

"Granger, so glad you could join us," Blaise cut in, saving Pansy further confusion and embarrassment by drawing Granger away toward the others gathered around the sitting room. "Won't you join this argument Teddy has foolishly started about politics?"

Pansy caught Potter's eye again and was amazed when he smiled and mouth, Thank you, at her across the hearth. Pansy felt her cheeks warm and was grateful when the Floo went and Draco stepped out. Blaise was back at the fire in a moment and Pansy took an automatic step closer to them. Draco took the scene around him in with remarkable grace. Potter had stealthily repaired to the sofa and was determinedly discussing some Quidditch teams' chances with Greg. Greg hadn't noticed Draco come in and was drawing Thomas and Millicent into his and Potter's conversation.

"What the hell is going on?" Draco hissed at Pansy, his voice so slow she almost missed the question.

"An experiment," Blaise told him. "But if you're not comfortable, you can leave and we'll understand."

Draco did just that. Blaise blinked as their friend vanished up the Floo.

"I didn't really expect him to jump right in," Pansy murmured, her heart aching for him as she turned from the Floo to regard the large group in her sitting room.

"We startled him," Blaise pointed out. "He needs time."

At this interesting moment, the Floo coughed and Ron Weasley came stumbling onto the hearth. Potter leapt across the sitting room, situating himself between Pansy and Blaise and the ginger dusting soot off his robes. "Harry!" Weasley said, not looking around at all and glaring at his friend. "What the hell are you about, mate?"

"It's a long story," Potter said evasively, grinning so wide it nearly split his face. "Can I tell you about it over a meal?"

"Food?" Weasley asked, although his eyes had begun to drift around the room. His jaw sagged when he noticed his sister arguing companionably with Greg and Millicent about Quidditch fouls.

"Trust me?" Potter said softly.

Weasley's eyes snapped back to him. "Always, mate." He grinned. "Oh, thank Christ, it's Hermione!"

"Come on, then," Potter said, guiding Weasley into the room. "All right," he called over the noise of friendly chatter. "It's three days til Christmas and we thought you lot might enjoy a couple of Muggle traditions as our Christmas fun for this evening."

"Ooh, are we going to the cinema?" Daphne asked, bouncing a little in her seat.

"What's cinema?" Both Weasleys asked.

Blaise had thought of making reservations at the Green Ostrich pub in the village first and the entire lot of them trouped down the high street together. Halfway there, the dark sky began peppering them with snow, which continued to drift gently down as they ate. It was Potter's idea to assign seats and the waiter who'd taken the reservation had laughingly said that they'd never had a request like that but since it was Christmas he'd humor them. Pansy watched them all relax as they ate, talked, and listened. She felt like she was always picking up on tense moments around the table but by the time she tracked down their source, they'd passed.

"I can't actually believe this is working," Potter said to her over the low rumble of the pub crowd around them.

"Me neither," Pansy said, shaking her head as she watched Blaise get Lovegood and Granger's attention about house-elf rights.

"I think Ron will loosen up a bit once he's been over a few times," Potter murmured, his eyes on his friend. Weasley wasn't actively excluding himself but he was keeping quiet and huddling close to Granger. They'd known Weasley and Draco would be the hardest – that was why they'd waited on them for last. They'd argued about who would be worse but Pansy had always known it would be Draco. She couldn't imagine Draco sitting down at the same table as Weasley and Potter. That moment was a long time coming. She hoped between her and Blaise she could at least get him to come back and try one of these gatherings himself some time soon.

They finished at the pub just in time for Potter to slip out and get them cinema tickets. The movie was something about an orphan boy living secretly in a train station in Paris and meeting a famous Muggle filmmaker. Their group had an entire row of seats to themselves and Pansy was pleased to see that the seating mix-up from supper was keeping people from gravitating toward their housemates now.

The movie was actually pretty good. Pansy could hear Ginny Weasley and Daphne sniffling and was pretty sure Granger drew a hand across her eyes once or twice, too. She knew Greg was blubbering like a baby, with Lovegood and Longbottom patting his back on either side of him.

They made their way back to Pansy's flat in the falling snow, leaving a path of shallow white prints as they took the scenic route through the edge of the park. The lights of the village twinkled below them. Pansy even heard the occasional sleigh jingle through town, mingling with the few Muggle cars. Quite a few young people were up on the hill in the middle of park with sledges, throwing themselves down the steep hill. Pansy made a note to procure a sledge at some point and try it.

She realized she and Potter had fallen to the back of the group when he spoke quietly. "Quite a night."

"Yeah." She smiled. "I'm a Slytherin, so if you want to join me in a self-satisfied cackle, just say the word."

Potter laughed. "We're pretty damn good, it's true." His laughter faded. "It's beautiful out here," he said, his eyes on the trees that glowed black and white in the bright moonlight.

"Ruggles Park has some sort of rule that it looks lovely no matter what season or weather it is."

There was a moment's pause as they left the park and reentered the high street just before Pansy's flat.

"Parkinson?"

She glanced at him. He was staring straight ahead, watching their friends talking and laughing and arguing and learning to be comfortable with something new. Something Pansy and Potter were building together.

"Yeah?"

"I – I know you're probably sick of hearing this, but thank you again. For everything."

"I should really be thanking you, I reckon," she said grudgingly. "I was pretty much living as a recluse until you turned up at my door."

"You should never have been made to feel you had to shut yourself away," Potter said, shaking his head.

"You're saying that to me?" Pansy felt a wave of shame sweep across her heart. "Potter, I tried to throw you to the wolves a few years ago. I would have offered up your life to save mine."

"To save the lives of a lot of people you loved," Potter said firmly. "I don't blame you for that. I let it go and if I can do that, so can you. We all did things we're not proud of during the war. I did. Mione and Ron did. Snape certainly did and he's the real hero, isn't he?"

Pansy sighed. "It's not that easy. Just forgiving yourself."

They were at the entrance to the building now and followed the others in and up the stairs. Blaise, who had Pansy's key that night, began letting everyone into the flat.

"How about this then?" Potter paused in the doorway, turning to face Pansy. "I don't know if it helps, but I forgive you. For saying what you did. I forgave you ages ago."

Pansy's throat tightened. She swallowed, moisture swelling in her eyes. She bowed her head, took a deep breath, and looked up. "It helps … thank you."

Potter hesitated, then leaned forward to kiss her cheek. Without realizing she was going to do it until it was done, Pansy turned and caught his lips with hers. He paused, his lips just resting against hers, the lightest touch. Then he caught her face in his hands, tilting her face and deepening the kiss for long, tender moment. Pansy lifted a hand, pressing it to his chest and feeling his heart beat gently against her palm.

She pulled back, flushed and smiling. Potter's lips curled into a lopsided grin, quivering on the edge of something more. Then he looked up and laughed. Pansy followed his gaze. "Mistletoe," she said. "Well, I guess we were just keeping with tradition, then?" she said, almost tentatively.

Potter's lips curled up in his face-splitting smile and he said, "We didn't know it was there the first time. I don't think it counts unless we try it again." He bent toward her. "Happy Christmas, Pansy."

"Happy Christmas, Potter."

And it was.

)Christmastime(

Finis

Merry Christmas!