Chapter 1 : The Sandcastle
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A lone boy sat on the edge of a massive sandbox, his pudgy hands building sand into a large pile. The hot sun beat down on his bare neck, but he ignored it, keeping his dull brown hair over his eyes. He was Neville Longbottom, supposedly a young wizard, although he’d never shown any signs of magic ability. At five years old, his uncle claimed he still had time, but his Gran was less confident in him. He glanced up at her from the sandbox, her stern ramblings still ringing in his ears.
She sat on a bench a number of feet away, her nose in a magazine, cleverly hidden behind a Muggle publishing of some sort. Neville didn’t know much about Muggles except he may as well have been one with his pitiful inability. He watched his Gran flip a page of her magazine, wondering what was so great about magic, anyway? He wasn’t allowed to mention it in the park, because it was crawling with Muggle children and their parents.
Parents. He’s never really known his own. They’d been driven to insanity. He didn’t know how, when, or why; all Gran would tell him was how valiant and brave they were.
“Hey, you,” a voice interrupted his thoughts.
He looked up, shading his eyes with one hand, the other still on the mound of sand in front of him.
“Your castle needs to be fixed,” the voice continued.
Neville squinted against the harsh sun, now seeing a girl about his own age towering over him, her dark hair falling around her shoulders and her hands on her hips in a mature fashion.
Neville didn’t know what to say, so he said nothing.
“You’re a wizard, right?” she asked.
“I saw your aunt reading Transfiguration Today.”
Neville glanced at his Gran again, seeing a moving imagine slipping out below the Muggle newsletter she’d covered it with. Then he looked back at the haughty girl beside him.
“She’s my grandmother,” he said quietly.
“Are you pureblood?” the girl asked darkly – as darkly as she could for such a young child – ignoring his comment. She rubbed her flat-tipped nose with the back of her hand.
He had no idea what she meant by “pureblood” (he was much too young to learn such words). He didn’t have any other bodily fluids that he knew of in his veins and he decided that he did have pure blood. So he nodded.
“Good. I don’t play with Mudbloods,” she replied, finally sitting beside him. “Move over, I’ll show you how to make a real castle.”
Neville still didn’t understand what she meant and looked towards the Muggle children for guidance. They didn’t look muddy to him.
“Don’t look at them!” the girl burst out, shoving him to get a better reach of the mound of sand. “We don’t want to play with them, so don’t look.”
“Why wouldn’t we want to play with them?” Neville asked naively.
“My mother said not to go near that filth. Now, look at this mess of a castle. You don’t even have any towers.”
“It was going to be a pyramid,” Neville whispered. He remembered the pictures of pyramids he’d seen in one of his Gran’s magazines. He liked the neatness and simplicity of their shape.
The girl ignored him, grabbing a nearby orange bucket and packing it with sand. She was graceful but tough, giving an air that she was actually wise beyond her years. However, she still had a childish manner to her – it was clearly visible in the way she kicked the mound of sand over, giving her a clear space to build the castle.
“What’s your name?” Neville asked, trying not to be shy.
“What’s it to you?” the girl said toughly. “How old are you, anyway – four and a half? You ask too much stuff.”
“Almost six.” He didn’t mention that he’d only asked two questions and she’d been the one asking him about his blood.
“Really? I’ve been six forever,” she exaggerated, plopping the bucket over and revealing a perfect tower. She immediately began to re-pack the brightly coloured bucket. “Since, like, June.”
Neville wanted to point out that June had only been the month before, but he didn’t get a chance to say anything before she spoke again.
“Have you done any magic yet?”
“No,” he replied.
“What are you, a squib? Everyone’s done it by now! I’ve done it two times,” the girl rambled wildly, now revealing the second tower. “Once I made our neighbor’s hair turn pink, and the other time I got so mad at my father when he yelled at me, he woke up the next day with no voice. He couldn’t speak for three days. I brought my wand, I could show you stuff.”
Before he could reply, she reached into her pocket and pulled out a rather battered looking, very short wand. It couldn’t have been more than six or seven inches long. To Neville it looked much like the same material as the play broomstick he’d seen in Diagon Alley.
“Watch. Expecto Patrowhatsit!” she muttered quietly, and a very, very tiny puff of smoke came out of the tip. She looked up at Neville, seeming quite pleased with herself. He wasn’t sure if she believed the wand was real, or if maybe she just liked pretending it was.
“I know it’s small now, “ she explained, ignoring his silent doubt. “But how many six year olds do you know who can get that much smoke? None, right? I’m really good at it.”
“Are you sure that wand’s real?” Neville asked, realizing she was trying to brag.
“Yeah. Look, it has a phoenix feather and everything.”
She gave the end a good squeeze and suddenly a cap flipped open, a very thin feather appeared out of the wand in a plastic-looking case. Neville suppressed a giggle – even he knew that wands didn’t open up and they were pretty useless if the core was removed. The girl snapped it quickly back into the wand.
“If you don’t believe me, I can hex you!” she erupted threateningly, the wand aimed somewhere around his collar bone.
“I believe it,” Neville lied, taking the abandoned bucket from beside her and plunking it down for the third tower.
“That’s not bad,” she continued grudgingly. “Let me do the last one, you’d probably ruin it.”
He didn’t argue. He was by far the clumsiest person he’d ever known. He wondered if she knew that or if she was just bettering herself over him.
She finished the fourth tower a few silent moments later. She carefully placed it to form a square with the others, nodding happily to herself in approval. Then she ordered him to build a wall from tower to tower, modeled carefully after her own, of course. She made him watch as she built up three walls by pushing sand together with her palms, the whole time giving him instructions and “helpful” tips. Then he was supposed to build the fourth wall. He only got a third of the way through before she pushed him out of the way to finish it herself, muttering about his bad castle making skills.
Then she sat back in the sand in a very undignified way in comparison to her original position. She smiled for the first time since she stomped up to Neville, admiring their – her – work.
“Now that’s a castle,” she said in a very grown-up fashion.
“Shouldn’t it have a moat?”
“Well, I don’t know,” she replied, rolling her eyes. “Hogwarts doesn’t have one! You know what Hogwarts is, don’t you?”
He nodded. His parents went to Hogwarts for their schooling many years ago. Neville hoped to go himself if he was magical enough.
“I have to go,” the girl said suddenly, tucking a piece of almost black hair behind her ear. “My mum is looking for me.”
Neville followed her gaze to see a very uptight looking woman standing on the edge of the playground, looking sternly back at her daughter.
“Bye,” Neville said as the girl marched off.
“I’ll see you, maybe,” she called. Then she and her mother disappeared.
And they did see each other again, but five years later Neville Longbottom and Pansy Parkinson didn’t recognize one another as the playmate they’d once built a castle with at the side of an abandoned sandbox, surrounded by Muggle children.
Neville stayed longer after the girl had left, rebuilding his pyramid in the middle of her castle’s fortress. He worked endlessly on the edges, trying to make them as straight as he could. Finally he stood, smiling at the form he’d built. His pyramid and her castle in unity.
He hoped to see her again.
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