Title: The Ballad of Neville and Ginny

Author: Merusa
Pairings: Ginny/Neville, with one-sided Harry/Ginny and Hermione/Neville, and a little Ginny/Michael if you squint. Ron/Hermione in the background.
Rating: T (some language and brief sexual references)
Summary: The Yule Ball from Ginny's POV. "…Perhaps it was that he was standing up straighter; that he was more confident in formal attire. Or maybe, Ginny thought to herself, it was that she had never really looked at him before."

Ginny surveyed herself critically in her mirror. "Oh, bollocks."

"Ginny!"

She rolled her eyes. "Hermione, Fred and George are my brothers."

Hermione appeared to have stopped listening, as a stray curl had sprung free from her slowly forming chignon. She sighed heavily, and reached for more Sleekeazy's.

Ginny returned her attention to her mirror. Abruptly, she was very grateful that her roommates were down in the common room. She did not want them twittering about them while they were trying to get ready.

She still couldn't believe that she actually got to go to the ball. When Neville asked her, she had been so glad that she practically tackled him in a hug, which was quite unlike her. She knew that he would rather have taken Hermione, but she didn't mind.

Of course you don't mind, a nasty voice in the back of her mind began, because you'd rather be there with-

She cut it off. "Do you think I'm too pale for this?" The soft green robes her mother had sent, she felt, washed her out completely.

"Ginny, you look lovely," replied Hermione. She didn't even look up, but instead tucked the last stubborn curl away.

"No, you look lovely," Ginny replied.

Hermione smiled nervously. "I hope so." She reached for the robes carefully laid out on Ginny's bed.

As Hermione changed, Ginny turned again to the mirror, but this time, her mind wandered to Neville. Ever since he asked her, Neville had paid more attention to her- sitting with her at meals, bringing his homework to her table and quietly working beside her, and- Ginny blushed- made a few fumbling attempts to hold her hand. She wasn't sure if she liked him- hell, she wasn't sure that he liked her- but it was interesting to think of what could-

"I'm ready, Ginny. I think I should meet Viktor now, he will be waiting-"

"Wait," Ginny interrupted, "Viktor? Viktor Krum?" She gasped in fake admiration.

Hermione threw a pillow at her.

-

Together, they ascended the staircase to the common room. In spite of herself, Ginny peered around the room looking for a certain shock of messy black hair, but was unable to find it. She squelched her feelings of disappointment away, and found herself staring at another boy.

Neville was not the handsomest boy, she knew, and many of her girlfriends had teased her for accepting a date from "such a strange one," but she felt an odd sort of pride when she saw him in his simple black-and-white dress robes. He had a strange sort of smile on his face as he watched her walk to him. Perhaps it was that he was standing up straighter; that he was more confident in formal attire. Or maybe, Ginny thought to herself, it was that she had never really looked at him before.

"H-hi," he murmured as she reached him.

"Hi." She whispered back, smiling nervously.

Hermione did not seem to notice what was happening between her two friends. She was glancing around the room, distracted. "Neville, have you seen Ron?"

Neville jerked slightly, as if in surprise. "I, uhm, think he's still changing." His eyes lingered on Hermione a beat too long before turning back to Ginny.

"Oh!" He reached into his pocket, and awkwardly thrust a flower at Ginny. "This is for you."

A smile broke out across her face. It was an orange blossom. "Oh, Neville, orange blossoms are my favorite!" She immediately tucked it behind her ear, needless of how the flower might clash against the waves she had painstakingly created.

Neville didn't seem to mind, however. He smiled the strange smile again. "Shall we go, then?" He appeared to swallow, and offered her his hand.

Still smiling, Ginny slipped her hand into Neville's.

Hermione was staring at the boys' staircase, tapping her foot impatiently. She let out a little sigh. "Oh, let's go then." She strode forward and stepped through the Portrait Hole.

Neville tugged at her hand and they started forward. He helped her through, and then let go of her hand. That was the first time he stumbled. He flushed bright red and mumbled something about being clumsy.

And suddenly, it hit her. This was Neville. Fumbling, unconfident, shy Neville, and this was her first real date, and, in spite of what some rumors might say, she had absolutely no idea what she was supposed to do or say to this boy.

"I-I, uhm," he cleared his throat, hard, "I s-suppose we ought to be going. Her- Hermione is probably already in the Entrance Hall."

Ginny nodded.

Together, they set off down the hallway. He did not reach for her hand, and she did not offer it. He nearly tripped a few times, but always caught himself. The worst part, however, was the utter silence between them, awkward and strange and everything that a first date, Ginny felt, should not include.

Ginny sighed inwardly with relief when she reached the mobbed Entrance Hall. This was the part she was good at. She mingled among her classmates, talking, laughing, kissing cheeks, and complimenting other girls' robes. She gossiped happily with Lavender Brown about who was with whom while Seamus and Neville joked around. Slowly, she began to relax. The Durmstrang students entered at some point with great fanfare, but Ginny and Neville were unable to see through the crowd.

At eight o' clock, the four of them filtered into the Great Hall and found a table together with Dean and his date, a girl Ginny couldn't place. She learned the girl's name but quickly forgot it. It didn't matter, in the confusion.

At some point, Neville's hand snuck under the table and caught Ginny's again. She managed not to blush, and they shared a quick smile. Ginny thought it strange that she struggled not to blush when a boy held her hand but Lavender was perfectly comfortable with Seamus's arm around her neck for the whole world to see. She had a lot to learn, she supposed.

Dean and Seamus were in the middle of a loud debate about the usefulness of muggle football when Dumbledore called for silence.

The champions entered with their dates. Ginny felt her heart clench when she saw Harry enter with Parvati on his arm. Parvati looked rather like a strutting peacock, she thought jealously.

Neville's hand had slipped from hers on the pretext of applauding, but Ginny felt it had more to do with Hermione and her pretty blue robes then respect for the champions. Then again, who was she to judge? She would rather be with Harry, but she had given up the chance to be with the boy who had actually asked her. She turned her face upwards and studied him- the slightly too large nose, a bit of an overbite…she sighed, and he turned to her.

When their eyes met, Ginny felt a jolt deep in the pit of her stomach. He looked at her almost sadly. His eyes flickered to Harry, and then back at her accusingly. She raised an eyebrow, looked pointedly at Hermione, and looked back at him. He smiled unhappily, and shrugged as his eyes looked into hers once more.

Understanding passed between the two of them. Ginny thought it strange that they could communicate without words, but she suddenly knew that it didn't matter how she denied it, he knew that she loved Harry. It didn't matter that she knew he cared for Hermione. They were there together. Without hesitation, she took his hand in hers. He smiled that strange smile again, and they turned their attention away from the dance floor and back to their bickering friends.

-

Ginny was apprehensive when Neville asked her to dance. She was happy that he had the courage when many of the boys in the room were still eating, but everyone knew how clumsy Neville was. However, she was pleasantly surprised to discover that Neville had been practicing. They went a few minutes before he stepped on her foot. "Sorry."

Another few moments. "Sorry."

Another few moments. "Sorry…" She laughed it off, but it was starting to hurt…

Ginny winced when Neville trod on her toes again.

"Sorry!" He said cheerfully. He spun her clumsily, and the force of it made her nearly fall.

"Sorry," he said yet again, this time without a trace of humor.

Ginny steadied herself against him. She looked around the room- at Parvati steering her Harry as if he was something to be shown off, at Dumbledore being thoroughly waltzed by Madame Maxime while Madame Pomfrey huffed jealously in the corner, to Ron glaring at Hermione while she spun joyously with Viktor- and suddenly, she burst out laughing.

Neville looked alarmed. "What? What is it?"

She hiccupped. "It's just ridiculous, isn't it? No one can just be happy."

Neville frowned. "Are you- are you not having fun?" His face had fallen, and Ginny felt her heart break just slightly.

"Oh, Neville, it's only been about a half hour, you can't.." She trailed off as she watched his eyes grow sadder. She abruptly changed tactics. "I- I'm having a wonderful time." And she was surprised to find that she meant it.

He smiled shyly at her. "Good." He spun her again, this time without a trace of awkwardness.

Ginny felt herself relaxing as the night went on. She mostly danced with Neville, except for a few turns with her brothers and one with Michael Corner, a handsome Ravenclaw boy who asked her to dance while Neville was in the lavatory. Michael winked at her and made her insides shudder in a way that had very little to do with her heart, and she felt oddly bereft when he bowed and walked away.

Whenever she saw Harry, Ginny rather felt like the world stopped for a moment. He looked endearingly handsome in his fancy green robes, and she wanted to hate him for it. However, it only made her wish for him more. She was almost grateful when he slipped outside with Ron, partially out of empathy for an angry looking Hermione but mostly because Harry distracted her, and she was supposed to be paying attention to Neville.

Not that Neville always paid full attention to her over Hermione. As the night wore on, however, Ginny felt herself becoming closer to the clumsy, sweet boy. She liked the way his hand flexed possessively at her waist when other boys talked to them as they danced and the fact that he was respectful of her, that while other boys let their hands wander over the bodies of their dates, his never did.

Two hours later, Ginny's shoes were kicked under their table and Neville was only in his formal shirt and pants, his outer robe and tie forgotten. She hadn't seen Harry at all, and thoughts of him were completely banished from her mind. Ginny's hair was a mess and Neville's sleeves were rolled to the elbows, and Ginny though that they must look a sight but she didn't care, she was having a lovely time and she tucked herself easily under his arm as they wandered out into the courtyard.

The night was chilled and she wrapped an arm around his waist so she could be closer to him. They found a small clearing that was devoid of other couples and they collapsed on the grass, laughing. Neville leaned back against his hands and let his gangly legs sprawl out. Ginny echoed his position.

Neville looked up at the sky. "All the stars are out tonight."

Ginny looked up as well. "They're beautiful to look at."

He frowned. "I wish I could remember what they were called. I never do well in Astronomy. Professor Sinistra doesn't like me much."

Ginny moved her hand so that it covered his. "I don't know them either."

He smiled.

For a few moments, they just sat in silence. Then, for what felt like the hundredth time that night, a realization hit Ginny.

He might try to kiss me.

Ginny had never kissed anyone before. The thought made her heart pound and her head ache. Her mind swirled. What if she was bad at it? What if he was bad at it? Did she want him to be her first kiss? Did it really matter? Did she actually want to date him, to be his girlfriend? She-

"Ginny?" He interrupted her thoughts.

She turned to look at him, and suddenly, it didn't matter. They might date for years, or tonight could be the only one for them, and it simply didn't matter, because she wanted to kiss him, because nothing could make this night more perfect.

And suddenly, he was leaning toward her, and she was leaning back, but she didn't quite know if she should turn her head, and-

"Twenty points from Gryffindor, Miss Weasley, Mr. Longbottom!"

Ginny pulled away sharply as Neville groaned aloud, embarrassed. Her eyes narrowed when she saw Snape and Karkaroff. Snape was sneering at them and looking quite satisfied.

"I suggest," Snape said sharply, "That the two of you return to the Great Hall immediately."

Ginny scowled at him. "C'mon, Neville." She grabbed his hand and they clambered to their feet. She continued to glare at Snape until they passed him.

She fumed silently until the men were out of earshot. "That horrible, slimy, git, taking twenty points, its ridiculous, there are Slytherins shagging out there, and if he catches them he'll probably just remind them to use a bloody Contraceptive Charm before inviting them to carry on-"

"Ginny!"

"Well, its true, isn't it?" She stopped dead when she noticed where he was leading her. "We're- we're going to go back inside, then?"

Neville turned to her, and he suddenly looked extremely nervous. "Do you, uhm," he swallowed, hard, "Do you want to...stay outside?" He didn't quite meet her eyes as he said it.

Ginny felt her throat go dry. "I, uhm, wouldn't mind." Her heart started pounding again. "It's- it's a lovely night."

"Y-Yes, it- it is."

He turned and started walking again, leading her in the opposite direction of where they saw Snape.

He cleared his throat. "D'ya reckon- Karkaroff seemed a little odd, didn't he? Paler than usual?"

Ginny blinked, surprised. "I didn't pay much attention, actually. I was too busy trying not to hex Snape."

Neville laughed softly. "The infamous Bat Bogey hex, I'm guessing?"

Ginny smiled. "So you've heard, then."

Neville nodded, still grinning. "I'd hate to have it used against me. Even your brothers seem a little scared of it." He laughed, loudly this time. "Although I don't know how someone as tiny as you could beat up big ol' me."

Ginny knew he was teasing, and that is what kept her from hurting him. She still whacked his arm, hard. "Neville!"

He laughed again. He tugged her into a corner. "I love this spot."

It was a small alcove created by the make of the castle itself. Two sections of the wall jutted out, supporting some gargoyle statues that were currently playing catch with one of the fairies. The alcove wasn't large, but there was enough room for a few people to stand comfortably.

"Ginny?"

She looked up at him, and smiled. This time, he actually managed to kiss her.

It was a little awkward, she thought, and his nose got in the way a few times, but overall, it was quite nice. She had to wipe her mouth when they pulled apart, but he did the same, so she thought that it must be normal.

She leaned against him, and he wrapped his arms around her. It was nice, she thought, but she had no delusions that she loved him or that they were going to have some sort of long relationship. She did care about him, though, and tonight had been wonderful. She closed her eyes and just let herself relax under the stars.

-

It was much later when they walked back to the tower. They exchanged a few more brief, chaste kisses and he managed to trip only once. They said goodnight at the staircases, and agreed to speak the next day.

Ginny wondered if Neville would become her first boyfriend. She was still floating out of sheer happiness from what had happened between them, and she thought that perhaps it didn't matter either way. She had discovered that she could have feelings for boys other than Harry, and that was the most important thing.

Anyway, she thought when she opened the door to find a tearstained Hermione sitting on her bed, she had some bigger fish to fry.