It would be different, Pansy thought, if Neville hadn't turned out fit. He hadn't outgrown his tendency to blush, and his hair would always be a rather unfortunate shade hovering between sandy and mousy, and he was still occasionally clumsy, but Merlin help her, she found it endearing now. There would always be something puppyish about him, and she'd always had a secret fondness for dogs.
Of course, in Pansy's (sadly limited by Recent Events) circle, a secret fondness for dogs was a lot less shameful than a secret crush on Neville Longbottom, no matter how tall he'd got or how well his shoulders had filled out.
Not that he even seemed to be aware of the fact.
He would shake his head after wrapping up a plant for yet another giggling old schoolmate, and say, "You know, Eloise (or Hannah or Susan), there's a perfectly good wizarding florist in Brighton (or Bristol or York), and you wouldn't have to pay London prices."
And Eloise (or Hannah or Susan) would simper and gush, "But then I wouldn't get to see you, Neville, and it's so nice to see old school friends, don't you think?" And she'd look over at Pansy, reduced to working as a shopgirl after the family fortunes had been seized by the Ministry in the wake of You Know Who's defeat, and say, in a much more astringent tone, "And so good to see you, too, Parkinson." And Pansy would smile and clench her hands into fists so she didn't reach for her wand.
Afterwards, he'd always say, "I wish they were nicer to you, Pansy. It's not as if you were a Death Eater."
"Not everyone is as...noble as you are," she always answered. And really, having worked with Neville now for a year, she understood that he was as much a true Gryffindor as Potter or Weasley--maybe even more so, because he understood the true cost of being courageous, while they often seemed to act on instinct, no thought involved until after the fact, when everything lay in pieces around them, and they could never understand why anyone else might be angry at the destruction.
He never took it as a compliment, always thought she was being snide, and perhaps those first few weeks she had been, but the more time she spent with Neville, the more she realized that he was noble, and kind, and funny, and that he couldn't quite understand why other people weren't. It wasn't naïveté--she'd have found that boring after an hour--so much as it was hope, and the belief in others' inherent goodness. How he'd managed to keep it after everything he'd seen and done, and had done to him (she still had nightmares sometimes, and some mornings he came in with dark circles under his eyes, so she knew she wasn't the only one), she couldn't understand, but she found herself drawn to it, to him, even more than to his broad shoulders or long lashes.
She remembered how mean she'd been to him at school, and it made her vaguely uncomfortable--she wondered if this was what shame felt like--but he either didn't remember, or he didn't care. Somehow, that made her feel worse.
The bell over the door rang as Ron Weasley pushed his way into the shop, breathless and sweaty. Pansy felt her lip curl instinctively at the way his hair clashed with his Cannons jersey, and forced herself to assume the false smile of shopgirls everywhere, the one that said, "If I weren't being paid a slave wage to help you, I wouldn't piss on you if you were on fire."
Weasley didn't seem to notice.
"Come on, Neville," he said. "We're heading down to the Leaky, me and Harry and the twins. Going to celebrate the Cannons' win this afternoon."
"Ginny'll be there," Weasley teased, and Pansy felt sick, because everyone knew Neville had fancied Ginny for years, and Ginny obviously didn't reciprocate, and only a blockhead like Ron Weasley wouldn't have realized it.
Neville turned to her, eyes wide and pleading. "Pansy?"
She bit back a sigh. "Go on, Neville. I can handle things here."
"S'not fair to make you work if I'm not. You should come with."
Weasley paled at that, but didn't argue. Maybe Granger had finally beaten some manners into his thick skull. "Yeah," he said unconvincingly. "Love to have you, Parkinson."
Neville smiled at her eagerly, and everything she knew she should say--about how much she hated his friends, and how much they hated her--melted away.
"Let me finish with these amaryllises," she temporized, "and then I'll join you."
"Okay, then." He went into the back to get his jacket and Weasley said, "It's okay, you know. We can keep Hermione in check for a few hours, for Neville's sake." He rubbed his chin thoughtfully. "Though maybe not if she's been drinking...."
She gave him a smile that was little more than a stretch of lips over bared teeth. "Sounds charming, but I think I'll pass."
"If Neville wants--" he said in a low voice.
"As if you've ever cared what Neville wants."
"Oh, and you do?"
She was spared the necessity of answering that because Neville himself came through the beaded curtain separating the backroom from the rest of the shop.
"You'll be along in a bit, Pansy?" he asked, still looking unsure about the whole thing.
"Of course. I just have a few things to finish first." He didn't move, so she made a shooing motion. "Go on with you now."
They left, though Neville turned back and waved through the window, a concerned look on his face.
She sighed in relief once they were gone--it wasn't so much the thought of spending time with Neville's friends that bothered her (the day she couldn't put Granger in her place with a well-chosen word was the day Pansy would turn in her wand and move to Muggle Manchester) as it was the notion of watching Neville pine over that redheaded twat who wasn't good enough to kiss his feet.
Working with the plants calmed her, and she puttered around the shop, humming softly to herself. There were a few customers--blue-haired old witches who narrowed their eyes at her and said they'd come back when Dear Neville was in, and a desperate young man who needed a dozen roses to beg his girlfriend for forgiveness--but Saturday evenings were generally quiet. Usually, she and Neville ordered in Chinese or Indian and went over the accounts. She was good at accounts, better even than she was with plants or people--it was why he kept her on, even though most of his customers despised her and she felt the same towards them--and he was hopeless at them.
When she'd first started working here (the first job she'd ever had, because "daughter of suspected Death Eaters" wasn't exactly a career, and it didn't enhance her resume either), the books had been such a mess she was surprised he'd managed to stay in business for so long; it was clear the old warlock who'd sold it to him had run the place into the ground and Neville'd had no clue to how to fix it. He'd turned it all over to her with a grateful, cheerful smile, and though she'd thought at first she'd cheat him blind and he'd deserve it for being so oblivious, she'd found she couldn't do it.
She actually liked him.
It was a lowering thought, and one that never felt any less shocking, no matter how often she'd thought it--felt it, and more, from the outside of her skin to the marrow of her bones--over the past few months.
She was getting ready to lock up and go home to curl up with a cup of tea and the latest in Muggle romance novels (yet another guilty pleasure Neville had got her hooked on, the bastard) when the bell rang.
It was Neville. "You didn't come."
"There was quite a bit to do. I lost track of time." She hoped he couldn't tell she was lying.
"There wasn't that much to do, Pansy. If you didn't want to come, you should have just said so." He pushed his way around the counter to stand far too close to her. He smelled of smoke and sweat and potting soil, and her stomach did this weird fluttery thing when he put his hand on her chin and raised her face. "I waited for you, but you didn't come."
"I would have just been an inconvenience," she said. "I didn't want you to feel like you had to entertain me when you wanted to be with that, I mean, Ginny."
"If I didn't want you to be there, I wouldn't have asked you to come."
He cut her off by leaning in and pressing his mouth to hers. His lips were warm and soft, and a little tentative, and when he opened his mouth, he tasted of butterbeer and chips.
"Neville," she breathed when he pulled back to look at her, long lashes fluttering like fans against his fair skin.
"I thought, I mean, I hoped, I mean, Pansy--"
"Shut up and kiss me again, Neville."
And he did.