They meet at a ministry function at which Percy Weasley is uncharacteristically drunk.
Well, to be fair, at the start of the night he’s as stuffy and impossibly proper as she remembers, but between the free-flowing wine at dinner and the rather excessive amount of brandy in the dessert and the champagne the minister had insisted on toasting with, Percy is a tad flushed and just the tiniest bit dishevelled, red curls falling over his eyes on one side and tie slightly askew.
She has no idea how they ended up sitting next to each other, but between her mother’s careful social calls to her ministry contacts – which she’s sure have taken the form of at least one large “anonymous donation”- and Weasley’s job as assistant to the Head of the Department of International Magical Cooperation, they’ve ended up at a table with six extraordinarily dull but undoubtedly important young ministry employees. She has absolutely zero interest in the controversial new broomstick legislation or Hermione Granger’s absurd house-elf charity – which has somehow received support from the Minister himself – but she also knows, with her father in Azkaban and her own reputation rather badly tarnished - that she’s in desperate need of a fresh start.
So she fakes interest, and nods politely, and sips her wine, and pretends not to notice the fact that she’s had eyes on her all night, and she knows it’s not just because her dress is doing truly incredible things for her cleavage. She tactfully ignores the way two of the ministry employees glance sidelong at each other when she sits down, or the way the rest of them have either summarily ignored her or leaned forward with inane questions that are clearly a horribly transparent excuse to stare at her chest.
The self-important idiots don’t seem to realize that she’s already let go of her prejudices – the important ones anyway, she’s not above thinking she’s better than Granger simply because of that awful bushy hair. But from the vicious “character pieces” that vile cow Skeeter still publishes in the Prophet and the thinly veiled but unmistakably cool reception she’s been receiving all night, it’s clear that the rest of the wizarding world isn’t necessarily ready to do the same.
So she’s taken aback the first time Percy Weasley turns to engage her in conversation. He’s stiff as a board but perfectly polite, blue eyes fixed firmly on her face. She doesn’t really have an opinion on the new requirements for apparition licenses, but he clearly does, and she’s not a Slytherin for nothing.
“I’m not sure I know enough about it to really give my opinion,” she demurs. “Have you given it any thought, Weasley?” she asks, ignoring the badly-concealed whispers on the other side of the table.
“Well it’s a rather promising step forward for the Department of Magical Transportation,” he responds enthusiastically, freckled face lighting up, “both to help decrease the completely unacceptable number of splinching incidents among young wizards and to ensure fewer violations of the Statute of Secrecy. Honestly, the amount of wizarding resources wasted on memory modifications due to apparition in front of Muggles is appalling, not to mention the liability of unreported Muggle apparition sightings…”
And he’s off, reciting statistics and quoting previous policies, and it’s surprisingly easy, after that, to let the conversation flow – he has a frankly ridiculous amount of interest in ministry politics, and absolutely zero idea what constitutes scintillating conversation, but he also seems to genuinely consider any opinion she ventures. He nods thoughtfully when she mentions the ludicrous rules surrounding property inheritance that Draco had been whinging about all last week, and he actually huffs out a surprised laugh when she makes a dry remark about the Head Auror’s choice of robes, eyes crinkling in a way that some people might consider attractive.
She’s sure her mother’s aspirations of her finding a respectable job at the Ministry are going up in smoke, and she knows the hour she spent carefully curling her hair was a waste of time, considering no one but Weasley has shown any genuine interest in her all night, but she’s also not having as miserable of a time as she expected.
The next hour passes in a blur of long-winded speeches and a generous second helping of wine and a blatantly political toast to diversity and equality and doing away with antiquated notions of blood purity. And somehow, she finds herself in a secluded alcove listening to Weasley prattle on about cauldron bottoms, of all things, but worst of all, she thinks she might be enjoying it. There’s something rather intoxicating about having his attention so singularly focused on her, even if he likely just needs an outlet for his boundless enthusiasm and she’s cultivated a rather impressive ability to sit through long-winded tirades after being friends with Daphne for the better part of a decade.
She’s never going to tell a soul this, but she also thinks he stands tall in a way that draws attention to the way his shoulders have filled out a little since school, and he has an attractive dimple at one side of his mouth when he smiles, and he’s wearing cologne that she thinks might be Muggle and actually smells quite nice. And she’s sure it speaks to some deep-rooted psychological issues but she kind of likes how prim and proper and overwhelming put-together he tries to be, carefully enunciating his words and making sure his eyes rest firmly on hers, even if she swears she sees them flick down to her mouth for a split-second once. It’s – intriguing, almost, and she would break her wand and go live with Muggles before she admitted this, but it might be a little bit endearing, too. She should probably be more concerned about this, but she fancied Draco Malfoy for seven sodding years, after all, and at least Weasley shows promising signs of actually being interested in women.
“It makes perfect sense, you know,” she tells him once it seems that Percy has finally run out of steam. “My grandfather was a potions master and he was absolutely livid the day a nearly-finished experimental love potion ate right through the cauldron and leaked all over his workshop. He had to shut down his lab for a week until the assistants stopped professing their undying love for each other.”
She narrows her eyes slightly at Weasley, who is staring at her, wide-eyed and apparently speechless. She’s a little worried that he’s more drunk than she realized.
“It’s…a good idea, Weasley, really,” she adds, just in case that will stop him from standing there gaping like a fish. “A ministry policy on cauldron bottom regulations is long overdue,” she adds, watching his eyes glaze over and wondering if he’s about to have some sort of fit.
She certainly doesn’t expect him to suddenly lean down and press a firm kiss to her lips, one hand clumsily cradling her cheek and the other resting tentatively on her waist.
She just has a chance to taste the champagne and chocolate cake lingering on his lips from dinner and to appreciate just how nice his tall, lanky body feels pressed against hers before he abruptly pulls back, looking horrified with himself.
“I’m sorry,” he sputters, blue eyes wide as saucers and face the same colour as his hair. “It’s just – no one’s ever said that before. And, um,” he continues, and she watches as he somehow manages to turn even redder than he already is. “That was terribly improper - I don’t know what came over me, I’ve likely had too much champagne, and you’re beautiful, of course, but you were just… so, so interested in my work and I …I’m sorry.” He finishes, avoiding her eyes, and tugging nervously on the edge of one of his shirtsleeves.
A year ago, she would have been horrified with herself at the idea of kissing any of the Weasleys, let alone the pompous Head Boy who used to glare at her disapprovingly every time she giggled too loudly in the halls. But everything’s changed, now, and there’s no blueprint for what to do when the world falls apart. It might be ridiculous to think about kissing Percy Weasley, but she already tried to hand Potter over to the Dark Lord, after all, so she really doesn’t think she can make things any worse.
“Weasley,” she begins. He still won’t look at her. She can’t believe she’s doing this.
“Percy,” she says, and he finally meets her gaze. She darts her tongue out to lick her lips, and watches, satisfied, when his gaze drops to her mouth. She wants to savour this, a little. She takes a slow step closer, swaying her hips and biting down a smirk when his eyes rake over her from head to toe. She tilts her head up to meet his wide-eyed gaze, keeping absolutely still for one deliciously tense, charged moment.
“If you’re going to kiss a girl at a party, you need to at least do it right,” she tells him, reaching up to pull him down by his tie so she can kiss him again.