Title: Stumbling

Rating: PG

Ship: Neville/Ginny, a little Ginny/Harry

Summary: Neville struggles with admitting to Ginny that he is in love with her.

Disclaimer: All characters belong to J.K. Rowling and are not owned by me.

He sat in a corner, his head resting on his arms, his blue eyes surveying his fellow Gryffindors. They were talking and laughing but he was unnoticed as he sat in his little corner, hidden from the rest of the world, unnoticed, unwanted, unneeded and... lonely. Not that this was a particularly odd occurrence, he was very often alone. He usually just didn't care so much.

His eyes scanned the room, hesitated, and then traveled to her. He drank in the sight of her vibrant red hair, of the tiny little freckles that added so much charm to her face, her deep brown eyes that were, at the moment, looking at Harry Potter in silent adoration.

Ginny Weasley was one of the few people in the world who saw Neville as more than just a clumsy oaf who'd blown up a record number of cauldrons and could never remember the password to get into his own common room. Now she was laughing at something Harry had said and Neville smiled, he loved seeing her laugh, loved making her laugh. He'd go out of his way to see her eyes sparkle with joy, and her lips curve in that mischievous smile she'd inherited from her older twin brothers.

Neville and Ginny had been friends for a long time now, but as hard as he tried he couldn't recall the exact moment that he had fallen in love with her. It had been gradual and surprising... unexpected. He figured that it had all started with the Yule Ball in his fourth year. He had taken Ginny because Hermione Granger had turned him down and Ginny had gone with him because she was too young to have gone otherwise. Surprisingly, they'd had a good time, better than he would have ever expected. Ginny hadn't gotten mad when he'd stepped on her toes, multiple times, when they were dancing, she had just laughed and continued trying to teach him. That she had thought he was worth teaching was in itself a miracle.

After the Ball they'd gone back to the Common Room and talked until the early morning and he could never remember feeling more comfortable with anyone in his whole life. For the first time in his life he had been able to talk to someone with out constantly worrying that they would think he was an idiot. However, or whenever, for better or worse, he was in love with Ginevra Weasley and she would never know because he wasn't Harry Potter or Dean Thomas or Michael Corner, he was plain ol' Neville Longbottom who simply wasn't boyfriend material.

He turned his head away from her and allowed himself to indulge in a moment of self pity. He was never going to be good enough for her, not when she had Harry. No matter how he wished it otherwise Harry was the one that she loved and even if he could change that he didn't think he would. Harry made her happy and that was what Neville wanted for her most of all. So he was content to sit in the background and let her be happy, even if it tore him to pieces in the process.

The students were all talking excitedly and getting ready to go to Hogsmeade. Valentine's Day was tomorrow and he knew lots of students would be shopping for romantic gifts. He debated on just going to the library and studying for the N.E.W.T.s. They were only a few months away, and as Hermione Granger told them all, repeatedly, you could never study too much, though in her case he wasn't sure that was true. He had just made up his mind to take his books and head to the library when Ginny walked over to him.

"You're going to Hogsmeade aren't you?" she asked sitting down next to him and suspiciously surveying the piles of books laying out in front of him.

"I was just planning on staying here," he said busying himself with a book on Herbology.

She frowned and it felt good to know that she at least cared about whether he went or not. A small part of him lit up inside.

"Neville, you have to go, Harry is buying my Valentine present today so you and I can spend the whole day together. Please come, we'll have fun, I promise," she said with a smile as she plucked the book from his hand and tossed it on the table.

Neville looked into her eyes and he knew that he could deny her nothing.

"All right, I'll go," he said reluctantly.

Harry, Ginny, Ron, and Neville all sat in a carriage together on the way to Hogsmeade. Harry had his arm wrapped around Ginny and Neville occupied himself by looking out the window, it was snowing, and cold and he rubbed his hands together to generate a bit of warmth. Harry and Ginny had been officially going out for two months now and every time he saw them together it hurt, but he had learned to accept it. Harry was one of his friends and Neville had made up his mind not to do anything that could ruin that. If Harry ever broke Ginny's heart then he would be there to pick up the pieces, and if not... well... he'd smile happily at their wedding and wish them all the best in the world because Ginny deserved nothing less.

The carriage reached Hogsmeade, stopped, and they all piled out. As soon as his foot hit the ground Neville nearly slipped on a patch of ice but managed to stop himself from falling. His face went bright red and he buried his face deeper in his scarf. There wasn't a day that went by where he didn't slip, trip, or fall flat on his face. He knew that he should be used to it by now, but one hardly ever got used to looking like a fool.

"Ron and I have some shopping to do," said Harry, "We'll see you later at The Three Broomsticks, all right?"

Neville nodded and Ginny gave Harry a kiss on the lips while Neville became suddenly interested in the fringe of his scarf.

"So, where should we go?" Ginny asked, hooking her arm with his and Neville made himself block out the feeling of being so close to her.

"Trevor needs more food so I need to stop at Gooney's Pet Emporium."

"Sounds good, Gooney's Pet Emporium it is. I've wanted to look around in there for ages, maybe I'll even end up getting a girl toad for Trevor," she said with a smile and Neville laughed.

"I'm sure he'd love that."

They walked along the snow covered streets and made their way to the pet store. As they opened the door their ears were assaulted by the sounds of cats, toads, and owls.

"Ah, Mr. Longbottom! It's a pleasure to see you again," said the clerk, "And who is this pretty young lady?" he asked indicating Ginny and Neville's face turned red when the clerk gave him a wink.

"I'm Ginny Weasley, it's nice to meet you," Ginny answered, giving the clerk a wide grin. Neville could almost swear that she enjoyed seeing him embarrassed.

"Weasley, eh? I went to school with your pa, how's the ole boy doing?"

While the clerk and Ginny talked, Neville got a package of toad food and then made his way to the counter. After he'd bought the food he and Ginny looked around the store and Ginny spotted a little white owl.

"Look at her, she's so cute," she said with a smile as she touched the bird's snow white feathers. "I wish I had enough to get her, maybe I can convince Mum and Dad to buy her for my birthday, if she's still here." The longing in Ginny's eyes reminded him so much of the way that he longed for her that Neville knew what he had to do.

They looked around for awhile longer and then they decided to visit Zonko's Joke Shop.

As they made their way out into the street Neville told her that he had forgotten something inside so he went back to Gooney's Pet Emporium and asked the clerk to reserve the owl for him. He couldn't way to see the look on her face when he gave it to her. He made a mental note to wait a few days after Valentine's Day had passed, he didn't want her to get the wrong idea, which in truth would be the right idea. He sighed and walked back out into the snowy weather. She was standing there waiting patiently for him.

They visited Zonko's where Ginny bought a few dungbombs, 'for emergencies only', she had explained with an innocent smile that hadn't fooled him for a second. After Zonko's, they stopped at Scrivenshaft's Quill Shop and then they walked down the lane side by side window shopping.

"So," asked Ginny looking up at him, "Do you know what Harry is getting me for Valentine's Day?"

"No, why would I?" he asked. It came out harsher than he had intended it to.

"You two share a dorm... I just figured he might have told you... I'm sorry." She was doing the "lip thing", where she pressed her lips together in a sharp line. Which meant only one thing, she probably wasn't sorry and was only moments away from boxing his ears

"I should be sorry. I didn't mean to snap at you. Even if Harry did tell me I wouldn't want to ruin the surprise for you." They walked in silence for a few minutes. Ginny kept glancing up at him and Neville wondered if, perhaps, she was still mad. He hoped not. It was very rarely that he made her mad and it really wasn't like her to get that mad over one comment. She had a short temper but not that short. They made their way down the lane a bit more when Ginny pulled him to a stop.

"Neville, is everything okay?" she asked taking him by the arm and leading him into an alley so they could talk in private. "You've seemed very... sad lately and I don't want to pry but I'm worried about you. What's wrong? If it's all the hoopla about Valentine's Day don't bother with it. It's a lot of rubbish if you ask me. Nothing but an excuse to get sweets and flowers." She was looking at him and studying his reaction. He still didn't know how well she could read him. Sometimes, he felt like she could see his every thought and emotion with a glance. Other times, he felt like she barely knew him.

He looked into her beautiful brown eyes and he wanted so much to tell her what was really wrong. Sometimes, he just wished that he had the courage to say those three little words. After all, he was a Gryffindor, but he didn't think that he would ever have enough courage to tell her that he loved her.

"I – I've just been thinking about my parents." It wasn't a complete lie. His parents were never far from his mind but he had learned long ago to push his thoughts of them to the back of his mind whenever possible.

Ginny hugged him and he wrapped his arms around her, allowing himself, for one moment, to let go of everything. Everything, but that one secret.

"I know you miss them," she said softly and Neville knew that he couldn't do this. He couldn't hold her in his arms and pretend, even if it was only for a moment, that she loved him like he loved her. He quickly stepped away from her.

"Let's go to Honeydukes," he said changing the subject. He looked at her and found her studying him, a perplexed look on her face.

"Okay, let's go then," she said with a smile that he thought held a hint of sadness.

They were just about to cross the street to Honeydukes when Neville tripped on the curb. This time, combined with the ice and snow, he fell flat on his back, the wind knocked out of him. He heard something to his left and he looked over to see Malfoy, Crabbe, and Goyle standing not too far away doubled over with laughter.

"Neville, are you okay?" asked Ginny bending down and helping him up while shooting dirty looks at the three Slytherins.

"I'm fine," he said between breaths. He brushed snow from his cloak and they walked into Honeydukes, ignoring the Slytherins who were still laughing at him.

Honeydukes was extremely busy and Neville tried to blend in with the crowd. He bought all of his favorite sweets, hoping that they'd improve his mood but knowing that the sugary treats would only make his slightly pudgy figure a bit pudgier.

Ginny silently followed Neville, deep in her own thoughts. She knew that something was really bothering him, he just hadn't been himself lately. She wasn't completely convinced that it had everything to do with his parents either, because he had seemed... off for awhile now, even before he had went and visited his parents over the Christmas holidays. She wanted him to confide in her like he had before... well... before she'd started dating Harry. It suddenly occurred to her that he might feel left out. Ginny had to admit she wasn't spending as much time with him as she used to. With her dating Harry, and Ron and Hermione exploring a relationship she imagined that he must feel lonely and left out at times. She knew how it felt to be alone, her first year at Hogwarts had been very lonely. That loneliness had caused her to turn to Tom Riddle's Diary for comfort. She shivered at the thought of Tom, to think that she had considered Voldemort a friend, a confidant, tied her stomach in knots.

Neville was the only one who really knew how much the whole ordeal had affecter her... still affected her. She still had nightmares about everything that had happened. It always helped to share them with Neville, it made her feel not so alone. He had nightmares too, about his parents. He would dream that they were cured, that they were all a family again. The worst part for him was waking up and knowing that it wasn't real. There had been many nights she'd awake from a nightmare and be unable to go back to sleep so she'd go down to the Common Room and oftentimes he would be there, sitting in front of the fireplace with a mug of hot chocolate and marshmallows. He always made her feel better. They would talk and, somehow, he would end up making her laugh when she least felt like laughing and then she would be able to go back to sleep. She smiled fondly, any girl would be so lucky to have him.

Neville was forgetful, shy, extremely klutzy and accident-prone, but he was also generous, funny, and kind and he had the biggest heart of anyone that she had ever met. He was always there when she needed him. He was such an amazing person. She just wished other people saw him the way that she did.

"Are you ready to go?" asked Neville startling her from her thoughts.

"Yes, I am," she said smiling up at him and following him outside.

They entered the Three Broomsticks and saw Harry and Ron sitting at a table and they made their way over to them. Ginny went over to Harry and kissed him.

"For me?" she asked indicating the plainly wrapped packages.

"You'll have to wait until tomorrow to find out," he kissed her again and Ron groaned in exasperation and rolled his eyes.

"Get a room," he mumbled and as if realizing what he had just said he went red. "No, don't get a room, don't ever get a room."

Ginny sat down and stuck her tongue out at Ron. She knew it was hard for her big brother to accept that his little sister was dating his best friend. Neville sat down next to Ron and then Harry ordered Butterbeers for them all.

Ginny looked over at Harry. She still couldn't believe that they were dating. He was everything she had ever wanted. He was handsome, funny, sweet, talented. When she had first met him she'd believed that he hung the moon and the stars. The famous Harry Potter, conquer of evil. It had been so romantic in her head. She had grown out of her school girl crush long ago but she still loved him. She liked being around him and they could talk forever about Quidditch and he wasn't a bad kisser either. She wasn't entirely sure that he was 'the one', but then again they had only been together for a few short months and she was only sixteen, she had her whole life to find the person that she was meant to be with. They sat around the table talking and before they knew it evening had fallen and it was time to go back to Hogwarts. They got into the carriage and Harry held her hand in his. Ginny smiled up at him and give him a quick kiss and then her eyes wandered to Neville. Neville was looking out the window and he looked so unhappy, and her heart hurt for him. He turned and looked at her and then quickly looked away and Ginny knew that she had to find out what was really bothering him. She hated seeing him sad and closed off from everyone, most of all her.

When they got back to the castle Neville made his way up to his dorm room and sat down on his bed with a heavy sigh. He put a piece of chocolate in his mouth and pulled out a book on advanced Herbology. It usually cheered him up but now he was just reminded of the fact that Ginny had given it to him for Christmas. He sat the book down and laid back on the bed, looking up at the ceiling.

"Come on, she's just a girl," he told himself out loud.

"Sure, she's sweet, smart, and beautiful but so are a lot of other girls." The only problem was they weren't Ginny.

"Valentine's Day will be over soon and then everything will be fine and I'll be able to get this nonsense out of my head," he reasoned, hoping that it was true but knowing that these feelings weren't going to go away so easily. He wondered if he would ever be able to find anyone like her, someone who saw who he was inside and accepted it. He wanted someone who would love him even when he was accident-prone, unlucky, and rather forgetful. He wasn't blind to his good qualities. He knew that he was generous, and kind, and that he could be funny. The problem was getting others to see that side of him especially because he didn't open up easily. He tended to hide his feelings inside, to close himself off from others, even those that cared about him.

He reached over to his bedside drawer and pulled out a quill and parchment, he just needed to get everything out of his system. He stared at the blank parchment and then he just began to write whatever came into his head hoping that once he got it all out he would feel better.

I love you. Three simple words that are anything but simple. I wish I had the courage to say the many things that will always remain unsaid between us. You have been my best friend and I will forever be thankful that you found your way into my life. I feel like I've been waiting lifetimes to find you and I'd wait a hundred lifetimes more for you because that's how much I love you, that's how much you mean to me. I never thought that I could love someone completely, that I could allow myself to feel something so strong about another person. But you'll never know that I love you, you'll never know that thinking about my life without you makes me feel like I can't breathe. That the very thought of it tears my heart to pieces. There are so many things I'll never tell you and I can justify it to myself. I can tell myself that I'm doing what's best, that I'm letting you be happy, but the simple truth is that I'm a coward. You could never love a coward, but I love you anyway.

He sat the quill aside, read it over and decided that a walk in the fresh air would do him good. He threw the parchment aside and looked in Trevor's aquarium only to find that his toad was missing. Neville decided that he ought to go find him before someone stepped on him. Then he could take a walk, clear his head, and hopefully chase away his depressive thoughts. He went down the stairs to the common room, and got down on the floor and began looking for his toad.

Ginny reached down and picked Trevor up, wondering how he had gotten all the way up to the girl's dormitory. She was supposed to meet Harry in the library and she was all ready five minutes late but she decided that she should go put Trevor in his aquarium before Neville discovered he was missing and got worried. She went through the common room and then up the stairs to the Boy's Dormitories. She knocked on the door adorned with a golden seven and when no one answered she let herself in. It was empty, so she walked over to Neville's bed and sat Trevor in the large aquarium that rested on the nightstand. She was just about to leave when she stepped on something. She bent down and picked up the crumpled piece of parchment. She turned towards the trash bin intending to throw it away before deciding that she ought to check and make sure it wasn't anything important. Her eyes scanned over it and she immediately recognized Neville's hand writing. Her eyes opened wide as she began to read it more slowly. The words took awhile to process. Neville was declaring his love to someone. He was in love and hadn't bothered to tell her. She wanted to be angry that he had decided to keep this little bit of information from her. From the letter she could see that he was really struggling with his feelings. Whoever this girl was she was she was a very lucky girl. Neville was willing to hide his feelings to let this girl be happy. She wasn't sure anyone would ever love her that much. Ginny was just about to put it back when she heard the door close behind her and she turned around to see Neville standing there. When he saw what she was holding his face turned red.

"This is really beautiful," she ventured hoping that he wouldn't be mad at her for reading his personal thoughts. At the compliment his face got even redder, if that was even possible.

"I – it's just... nothing, it's stupid," he said flustered and he looked away from her. He was looking everywhere but at her.

"No, it's not stupid," she protested as he took the parchment from her, crumbled it back up and threw it at the trash bin where it missed and fell back on the floor.

"Who were you writing this to? Maybe I could help. I can talk to her for you maybe..." Ginny said casually wanting him to confide in her as she had always confided in him. She wanted him to be happy, she wanted to see him smile, she wanted to help.

Neville looked away from her and Ginny began to get a strange feeling in the pit of her stomach. It felt, oddly enough, like fear. She wondered why it was so important for her to know, after all, it was his secret to tell and as his friend she should respect that but something inside of her wanted... needed... to know.

"Who, Neville?" she asked softly, putting her hands on either side of his face so he wouldn't look away from her. His eyes avoided hers and Ginny suddenly felt like the temperature in the room rose several degrees.

"No one," he said stubbornly, "it's not real, I just made it all up," he said turning away from her.

"That's not true and we both know it. Please, tell me." Ginny hardly recognized her own voice, it was thick with emotions she couldn't even begin to identify.

He turned around and finally he looked at her and she saw so many things in his eyes, things that scared her, confused her, and filled her with a longing that she couldn't explain. She couldn't look away from him, she couldn't leave, it was too late for that, whatever was about to happen she knew would change their relationship forever and she had to let it, there was no turning back.

"Tell me," she whispered once more, looking up into his dark blue eyes.

"You." It was barely audible and at first she thought that she had imagined it. "I – I wrote it for you. I love you."

Neville made himself say the words, it took everything he had, every ounce of his Gryffindor courage to look in her eyes and finally tell her what had been in his heart for so long. She was looking up at him with tears in her eyes but she didn't say anything and it didn't matter because he felt as if a cloud of darkness had been lifted from him. Whatever happened now at least he wouldn't hide, and he knew, that for just a moment, he had stumbled out of the darkness and into the light.

The End