If it hadn’t been for her bloody name, she wouldn’t even be at this ball in the first place. Her invitation had been received six weeks ago, finding a place on her sideboard with the other invitations for various holiday festivities in which she had no intention of attending. She was not an employee of the Ministry nor did she have any particular connections to any ranking officials so she had no desire to spend her final evening of the year at such a formal and tedious affair. True, she would have likely spent the evening alone with her new cat, a gift from her cousin, or possibly attending Draco and Blaise’s informal get together at their flat, but it would have been a far cry more entertaining than this had been.
Unfortunately, she had not recalled her cousin’s latest infatuation with a former classmate of hers who now worked for the Ministry. She also had not foreseen Adrian stopping by for their weekly breakfast date and finding the invitation. And to say she had not predicted his excitement at being given such a golden opportunity to pursue prissy Granger for an entire evening would be a vast understatement.
Honestly, Adrian had been after Granger for nearly two months, since he had bumped into her, literally, at Diagon Alley in late October and become smitten. Pansy had assumed it was a passing fancy, as was standard for her cousin. She loved him dearly but he was very fickle when it came to women and it would not be inaccurate to tease him about having a girl of the week. This thing with Granger was nearing the two month mark, which indicated that he had finally found someone with whom he had serious intentions. When he had seen the invitation and given her the puppy dog eyes and pout, well, she hadn’t had the heart to continue saying no and had reluctantly agreed to allow him to escort her to the ball.
The bastard had deserted her as soon as they had arrived, spying Granger across the room and moving to her side so quickly Pansy had wondered if he had used a charm to move so fast. She had been forced to watch their playful banter and disgusting flirting all evening, though she had to admit Granger looked a bit better than she had during school and did seem rather smitten with her handsome cousin. They made a rather attractive couple, not that she would ever tell Adrian such a thing, preferring for him to have to earn her compliments instead of freely giving them. Regardless, they were definitely interested in one another and their behavior was sickening to someone who was alone and had no romantic prospects of her own.
“Do you think she’ll finally say yes?”
Pansy turned to face the man who spoke, her eyebrow arching as she regarded the stranger. He was tall with a slightly husky build, his shoulders broad and her eyes lingered on his large hands. Looking at his face, she decided that he was somewhat attractive in a boyish way with a deep voice that had pulled her from her contemplation of hexing Adrian for forcing her to accompany him this evening. He wasn’t handsome at all, but she would be lying if she said she didn’t find him rather sexy. Quickly concealing her reaction beneath an aloof fašade, she said, “I have no idea what you are talking about nor do I particularly have any interest in ‘mingling‘ with a stranger.”
“Mingling with a stranger?” he repeated, amusement flashing in his dark brown eyes. “That sounds like the name of some tawdry romance novel they sell at the market by the registers.”
“I assume that is a reference to some Muggle tradition,” Pansy replied dryly, “as I do not recall such lascivious novels in Diagon Alley shops.”
“I was referring to Hermione and Pucey. He’s been chasing after her for weeks and I think she’s grown tired of running. I daresay she might finally put the man out of his misery this evening by accepting a date,” he told her as he looked at the witch and wizard in question. His lips curved into an affectionate smile, which caused Pansy’s eyes to narrow suddenly.
“Longbottom,” she said in an accusing manner, recognizing him from the dimple that appeared when he smiled. She glared at him for having the nerve to stand there and let her make a fool out of herself by calling him a stranger. Though that was actually somewhat true since the extent of their interaction in the past had consisted of working on a Herbology project together and the occasional barb from her acid tongue during Potions in the seven years they’d attended Hogwarts.
This was the first time she had seen him since graduation seven years ago except for a grainy image that had appeared in the Daily Prophet following Voldemort’s defeat a year after graduation. And if it wasn‘t bad enough that she‘d been snide and rude, she‘d been discretely ogling him in a very feminine way. God, there was no way that Neville bloody Longbottom had caused her body to become heated with lust in a way that it had not been since, well, in a very long time. She snapped, “Were you planning on telling me who you were or did you find it humorous to laugh at me behind my back?”
“I was actually waiting for you to realize who I was, insult me, and then run off to glower in the corner. Laughing at you was merely an unforeseen benefit,” Neville smirked.
He was smirking! Bloody hell, when did he start smirking? Her eyes were drawn to his lips, the bottom lip quite full and the upper thin. He had very kissable lips. Kissable lips that were currently smirking at her. “When did you start smirking?” She cringed as she realized she’d actually spoken that question out loud. Perhaps she could create a portkey and escape before she made an even bigger oaf out of herself.
“Would you like an answer or was that merely one of those questions you don‘t expect to have answered?” he asked in a friendly tone. “I don’t know the exact day I smirked for the first time, but I believe it was several years ago. Ron, that’s Ron Weasley, one of my best friends? He noticed while we were playing Wizard’s Chess one night and he said ‘Neville, you’re smirking’ and that was the first time it was actually brought to my attention. Why? Do you not approve of smirking? If I recall, you used to be quite an expert at it yourself.”
“You’ve changed,” she said suspiciously, wondering what had happened to the shy bumbling wizard who had often been the object of ridicule. This rather confident sexy man was confusing her. He seemed to be flirting with her and was nearly as sarcastic as any Slytherin she knew. She found herself intrigued by this adult version of the boy who had botched practically every Potion known to wizard kind.
“It’s been a long time since Hogwarts, Pansy,” he reminded her. “I’m sure we’ve all changed in one way or another. To be quite honest, I’m not usually this talkative. I’ve also used about all the charm I possess so maybe I should just leave before there is awkward silence and you decide to spend the rest of the night making fun of me.”
“As you said, we’ve all changed,” she replied softly. “I rarely make it a habit to verbally torment those around me. Besides, I want to know what you meant about Granger finally accepting Adrian’s invitation to dinner. Is she really interested in him? I must admit, I think he fancies her quite a bit and I’d hate to see him hurt.”
“Hermione doesn’t play those kinds of games. If she says yes, it means she likes him,” Neville said. Leaning closer, his voice lowered, his eyes flashing with humor as he whispered, “To be honest, she didn’t plan on attending the ball tonight until Pucey mentioned that he was going to be here. That’s why she asked me to come with her at the last minute. She knew I wouldn’t tease her because she turns red every time his name is mentioned and acts so girly when he’s around.”
“You’re here as Granger’s date?”
“Yes. And you’re here as Pucey’s date, aren‘t you?”
“He’s my cousin,” Pansy explained, wondering why she had told him that detail. Seeing the way he smiled, she felt a fluttering in her stomach and instantly knew why. She wanted him to know she was available.
“It looks as if our dates have run away together.” Neville indicated the area where Hermione and Adrian had previously been standing. Looking into Pansy’s eyes, he gathered what courage he had left, which wasn’t much since the majority had been used to approach the pretty witch in the first place, and said in what he hoped was a flirtatious manner, even though he thought he sounded a bit silly, “Guess that means we’re both dateless.” He cringed as he realized that didn’t sound charming at all. “I mean, we’re alone, together, and it’s nearly midnight and we don‘t have anyone to kiss. Bloody hell, I’m sorry. I’m not good at this flirting banter. I saw you standing here earlier and thought you looked so beautiful and lonely so I decided to try to flirt with you and it seemed to be working because you smiled at me in that way but now I just feel like a fool because this isn’t me at all. I‘m sorry for intruding on your evening. Happy new year, Pansy.”
“Where do you think you’re going, Longbottom?” Pansy asked sharply, her lips curving into a smile as he stopped walking and turned to face her. While she found the smirking and confident Neville rather intriguing, she much preferred the awkward and shy wizard, finding him far more sexy after his rambling speech than when he was simply smirking in that wicked way. If he paired the smirk with the awkward rambling, she’d been a goner for certain. Back in control, Pansy moved forward until she was standing right in front of him. She had to tilt her head to look into his eyes, shuddering in a very feminine way when she smelled his scent and realized just how big he was compared to her rather petite frame. Giving him *her* best flirtatious smile, she drawled, “I believe you said something about a kiss?”
“You want me to kiss you?” His surprise was evident. “Are you sure? This isn’t just a pity kiss, is it? Ginny and Hermione always give me the pity kiss on New Year’s Eve and.”
“Neville, shut up and kiss me,” Pansy demanded as she interrupted his charming ramble. She had barely finished the sentence before his lips were on hers. Oh God, she whimpered as she moved into him, his hand drifting along her back as she parted her lips. He was hesitant at first, teasing her without even likely knowing he was doing so, finally sliding his tongue into her mouth and deepening the kiss. At that moment, Pansy made her first new years resolution ever: to spend as much time as possible in the upcoming year snogging Neville Longbottom.