"Isn't it lovely? It was his mother's." Ginny held out her left hand across the kitchen table, displaying the bright ring that now glittered there, and Neville nodded slowly.
"It's very nice." He had meant it completely about the jewelry, but Ginny's copper brows drew together tightly at once, and she tilted her head at him with a suspicious frown.
"What do you mean?" Neville tried to look completely innocent, taking a long sip of his tea as he shrugged. "It's very pretty, Ginny, and you seem very happy about it. I'm glad for both of you."
"There's still a 'but'," she insisted, yanking back her hand to cross both arms over her chest. "Look, if this is some kind of thing because Harry got promoted to Deputy Head of the --"
"No!" Neville shook his head quickly. "I have less than no interest in that! Harry wants to be an Auror, I'm thrilled he got the promotion. I'd sooner eat Doxie eggs!"
"Then what is it?" Ginny pressed. "I might not know you like Hannah does, but I still have you pretty well figured, Neville, and it's not hard to know when you're hiding something."
"I just...." He hesitated, taking a long, deep breath as he forced himself not to look away. "You said yes because you love him, right?"
The frown grew into an outright scowl. "Of course I do. I've loved him since I was ten."
Neville knew he should drop it, knew they had agreed never to talk about it, that it hadn't happened, but the memory of a summer afternoon three years past hung in the kitchen like a relentless ghost, and he licked his lips awkwardly. "There was a while that you didn't seem so sure."
Ginny's bright cheeks paled, and her mouth fell open as he saw the pieces come together in her soft brown eyes. "Oh." She looked away, fidgeting with the ring as the blush returned fiercely beneath the scattering of freckles across her cheeks and nose. "You remember that."
Neville nodded again carefully. "My memory isn't that bad, Gin."
There was a long, difficult pause, and she still didn't look up, her shoulders tense. "It was a hard time, Neville. That's all."
"You're not marrying him because you feel like you're supposed to? Or to make your mother happy? Or because I'm with Hannah?"
"Would it matter if I was?" There was a strange edge of accusation to the question, but he refused to back down.
"Yes, actually. It would matter a lot to me." He reached out, taking her arm and pulling it free from its tight lacing so that he could weave his callused fingers through her smaller ones. "You're my friend, and you were my first Lieutenant. I don't want to see you make a mistake."
"I did make a mistake, Neville." He could barely hear her at first, then her voice grew stronger, and she lifted her face, staring at him with abrupt boldness. "But it wasn't with Harry, it was with you. I should never have done that. It was wrong in so many ways."
"If you meant it...."
"I did, but that doesn't mean I still do," she said bluntly. "I did have a stupid little-girl hero crush on Harry, and when he turned out to be just a man, I tried to push it on you, but you didn't let me, and maybe that was the best thing you could have done, because it made me realize that if I was going to wait for a perfect hero, I'd die of old age, because they don't exist."
"Ginny...." Neville squeezed her hand gently, fighting the urge to reach out and touch her face that was such a simple gesture of comfort that could be so badly misunderstood. "You're nineteen. You don't have to --"
"Didn't you hear me?" Ginny pulled her hand away with a dark, impenetrable smile. "I said it was a good thing. You kept me from making a stupid mistake in pursuit of a ten year-old's dreams, and you left me with Harry Potter when I was ready to cheat on the Chosen One."
"But it's not him or me or nothing," Neville insisted. "Just because the gossip columns in the Prophet say so doesn't mean that you two have to be together forever or --"
"Except I do love Harry," she interrupted gently. "Harry; issue-ridden, full of himself, way too introspective, headstrong, brave, soft-hearted, loyal, responsible, smarter than he thinks, and very much in love with me and my vicious sense of humor, my messiness, my temper, my big mouth, my tendency to bulldoze people, and my being gone six months at a time for the Harpies."
Now it was Ginny who reached out in the gesture he had been afraid of, cupping his face in her palm with an oddly maternal smile. "Realizing you don't get a prince isn't so bad if you also have it pointed out to you that no matter what your Daddy and your brothers say, you aren't a princess. Thank you for saying no to me, Neville."
Neville looked at her in surprise, certain he had misunderstood. "I can't have been the first one."
"On something that really mattered to me," she nodded a bit sheepishly. "It hurt like hell. I can't thank you enough."
He chuckled nervously, not quite sure how he was supposed to feel about any of this, though relief seemed to be dominating. "Any time."
"Oh, not too often." She drew her head back, waggling her fingers to show off the ring with a sassy little wink. "Just because I'm not a princess doesn't mean I don't get what I want!"
The smile was real this time, and so was the laugh, deep with gratitude for a friendship still intact. "As long as you know what that is."
"It's Harry," Ginny said firmly, then the grin widened as she ruffled his hair with a laugh of her own. "And you as a friend."
She was quick, but what he lacked in a professional Seeker's speed, Neville made up for in her underestimation of him, dodging beneath her arm to muss her hair as well to a shriek of startled indignation. "Oi! I'm still your Commander, Lieutenant!"
"Watch it, Sir!" Ginny yanked back out of range, sticking her tongue out at him. "Or I'll make you a bridesmaid!"