Disclaimer: JKR owns, I play.


In the Calm

The air filled her lungs like water, thick with the smell of rain and fear and anticipation. Ginny stood on the castle walls, watching as dark clouds swallowed the stars one by one, massing in the blackness beyond the silent forest like the gathering enemy. At least the storm would hit the Death Eaters first. Maybe Voldemort would be hit by lightning and save them all the effort.

There was a whisper of cloth behind her and she turned to see Neville come out onto the wall, clutching that plant of his. He stopped dead when he saw her and even in the dark she could see him flush.

"I'm sorry," he mumbled, backing away. "I didn't know anyone else was up here. I'll go back inside."

"You can stay," she said. "I don't mind."

"Thanks," he said, joining her by the wall. "It's so… I don't know, grim, I suppose, down there. We needed some air."

"We?"

Neville blushed deeper and held up the plant. It had gotten much larger since she'd seen it first, more than two years earlier. Two years. It seemed like ten.

"I know what you mean," she said. "Just because we're all doomed doesn't mean we need to be depressed about it."

"We're not all doomed," Neville said, with surprising firmness, gazing out across the walls towards the Death Eater camp beyond the forest. "Harry will win."

"I hope so," she said. "It was nice knowing you, though, if he doesn't."

Neville gulped, looking pale, and for the first time she noticed how much weight he'd lost these last few months, as fear ate away at all of them from the inside. His plump cheeks were sunken now and his eyes disappeared in shadow. She put a hand on his shoulder.

"Sorry. I shouldn't joke."

"No, no, it's better to laugh about it," he said, not sounding altogether sure that he meant it.

She bit her lip, feeling like a troll in a china cabinet, and they were silent for a time, staring out at the flickers of lightning on the horizon, the only noises the strange crooning of the plant as Neville stroked it and the rumbling of distant thunder.

"I'm sorry I stepped on your feet at the Yule Ball," Neville said suddenly, startling her out of the strange stupor she had begun to slip into, hypnotized by the dancing light.

"That's okay," she said. "It was sweet of you to ask me. I had a good time."

"No thanks to me," he muttered.

"Don't be ridiculous."

He fiddled with his plant. "I'm glad you had fun with Michael, at least."

"Neville Longbottom!" she said, grabbing his chin and forcing it up so she could look him in the eye. He flushed deeper, trying to pull away, and she took pity on him and let go. In a quieter voice, she said, "You've been a good friend, Neville. You mean more to me than Michael Corner ever did." He was studying the plant with too much interest, even for him. "It's true," she insisted, impulsively leaning over and kissing him on the cheek.

His head snapped up, eyes wide, and she read her mistake in his face.

"A good friend," he repeated, and her heart sank. "But only a friend."

"Yes," she admitted. Damn damn damn. "It was always Harry I was in love with." She smiled crookedly and hopped up to sit on the wall, swinging her legs with forced playfulness to hide her discomfort. "Except when it was Tom, of course. But somehow it's hard to stay in love with someone who tries to kill you. Fortunately for me."

He smiled, too, at that, and if it didn't quite reach his eyes, she couldn't tell. He set the plant on the wall next to her and settled himself beside it.

"Can I touch it?" she asked, looking at it with interest. It really was an ugly little thing, but somehow intriguing. Even in the wizarding world there weren't many plants that crooned.

He touched it thoughtfully. "Probably," he said, after a moment's consideration. "Just be gentle or it might attack." Ginny grinned at the memory of the train compartment splattered in Stinksap, and she knew from Neville's sudden, broad smile that he was thinking of the same thing. "These days when it goes off, it's like falling into a lake of the stuff, there's so much," he added.

Ginny grimaced. "Maybe I won't risk it."

"No, no," Neville said. "Go ahead."

She tentatively reached out a finger to stroke it. The grayish flesh was cool and smooth, despite the grooves and boils, but it pulsed under her touch. She yanked her hand back in horror.

Neville grinned. "No, that means it likes it," he said. "Do it again."

She did, carefully caressing one finger up and down the plant as it rippled pleasure. After a moment, it began its odd crooning noise again and Ginny smiled, pleased. "If the flobberworms had been this friendly, Hagrid might have had better luck getting us interested in them," she said. "Are you sure it's a plant?"

"Yes," he said.

The thunder was growing louder and Ginny looked up sharply as a crack of lightning split the sky above the forest.

"It's from the desert, isn't it?" she asked. "Won't the rain hurt it? Should we go back inside?"

"Not yet," Neville said. He was watching her with a curious intensity that made her shift uncomfortably and look away, unable to bear the wistfulness on his face. The plant gurgled a protest when she drew her hand away, and she heard Neville sigh almost imperceptibly as he reached out to take over petting duties. It squirmed like a satisfied puppy at his familiar touch and Ginny smiled in spite of herself, watching, and reached over to take the other side. It really grew on you, this mimbulus Mimbletonia thing did.

They reached the top at the same time and their fingers brushed lightly as they met. Ginny felt Neville tense at the contact and slowly, carefully, she worked her fingers into his, twining them together around the plant.

"I do love you," she said, almost in a whisper. "If it hadn't been for Harry…"

"It always was Harry," he said, looking down.

She poked him. "Except when it was Tom. Don't forget Tom!"

"How could I?" he said in a strangled voice, waving a hand towards the dark shadow that was the Forbidden Forest. "How could anyone forget him?"

"He would be happy to hear you say that," she said bitterly. Very happy, the smug bastard. "He was quite content to live on only in memory, once."

In the dark, Neville's eyes looked hollow, haunted. "He can't win, Ginny, he just can't," he said hoarsely, and she knew he was thinking of his parents and their ruined lives, of Dumbledore and Sprout and even Snape, the greasy old git, who had deserved a better death.

"We won't let him win," she declared. "We won't even leave his memory behind." A few drops of water splattered across her nose and cheeks as the rain began to fall, but when she reached up a hand to feel, she realized she was crying, too. "We won't let him," she repeated, quieter this time, and leaned over to kiss him, gently, on the lips. She felt him tense again, like a creature in pain, and reached up to cup his face in her hands.

"Forget," she breathed, and then his mouth opened under hers, soft and salty where her tears had mingled with the rain, and for a time, he did.