This story was written for the hp-friendship fest over on LiveJournal, and I had such an amazing time writing for this fest. I think that platonic relationships in fiction (and fanfiction) get unfairly overshadowed by romantic relationships, and I think we ought to do everything we can to change that, because platonic relationships are just as important, if not more so, as romantic ones. To me, Neville and Ginny exemplify this. I had such a good time writing these two and exploring their friendship!
This story connects in with previous explorations of Neville and Ginny's friendship that I've done - Not Like a Stone and A Growing Up. Same characterizations, same universe, if you happen to be interested. :)
Huge thanks has to go to my beta, Maggie, for spending literally hours (like, two, but still. Plural) on the phone with me when I was writing this, or trying to write it. I'd be remiss if I didn't let everyone know that the direction this eventually took (writing Neville into Harry's void) didn't entirely come from her. I was floundering. She threw me a life raft, and saved the story.
I was asked for dancing, adventures, Ginny and Neville doing what they're good at, Ginny and Neville making each other into better people, and above all, Ginny and Neville as Equals. I hope I delivered.
What Always Has Been
A few years after the war, The Daily Prophet ran a series of "looking back" articles that revealed more of the truth surrounding prophecy and 'what if' scenarios than had ever been released before, articles which spent their entirety calling him "The Boy Who Might Have Been." Harry was embarrassed and Ginny was incensed, but Neville just took it in stride.
"Ginny, it's really not a big deal," he told her during one of their weekly lunches at The Leaky Cauldron.
"Not a big deal?" she repeated incredulously, slamming the paper down on the tabletop. "Neville, this is humiliating! After everything you've done, to constantly and continuously hold you up next to Harry and only judge your accomplishments in comparison to his is reprehensible! It was reprehensible when they did it five months after the war, and it's even more reprehensible five years after the war! It's an insult!"
Neville shrugged. "Not a very insulting one," he said. Ginny sputtered, and Neville reached across the table for her hand. "Ginny, seriously, it doesn't bother me. There are far worse people to be compared to."
"But that's just the point, Neville," Ginny said, quieter but no less upset. "You shouldn't have to be compared to anyone. The things you did should stand on their own."
"And to the people who were there, they do," he said simply. "That's all I need. Let the world think what it wants. The people I most care about know the truth." And then with a squeeze to her hand and a smile, he stood and gathered his things. "I'll see you tomorrow," he said.
"What, is there something going on tomorrow?" Ginny asked wryly, and was rewarded with an arched eyebrow and an amused smile. "I'll see you then," she said, and then he was gone.
Ginny sat on her own at the table for a long time, tracing the grain of the wood with one hand, staring off into the distance, lost in thought. She was troubled and upset over the whole ordeal and Neville's apparent nonchalance, and though it took her a while, she was finally able to pinpoint why. She kept coming back to the article's final paragraph.
Had Harry Potter truly been killed in the Battle of Hogwarts, could Neville Longbottom have taken his place and defeated the dark lord Voldemort? These two boys who shared a potential fate so early in their lives, but walked such different paths before the end – could Longbottom, the Boy Who Might Have Been, have stepped easily into the place meant to be held by The Boy Who Lived? The world can only speculate. We will never know.
But Ginny did know, and that was what bothered her. Ginny did know. She knew that Neville had been stepping into a void made by Harry for her entire life. It was just that the void he so easily filled wasn't the kind that anyone but she would really notice.
She couldn't believe she'd almost told him. Told Harry, of all people! And she would have, too, if Percy hadn't come. She couldn't tell Percy, she just couldn't, not after Penelope. And now she was out here by the greenhouses, almost in tears, she was so upset. She was afraid, she was desperate, she didn't know what to do. Ever since Professor McGonagall had made the announcement that the Petrified people would be woken up soon, she'd been so terrified she'd been hyperventilating. Because what if she was right? What if she had been the one attacking everyone? What if those people knew it and identified her? What if they searched her and found the diary?
She hated it, but she couldn't hold the tears back any longer, which is how she came to be sitting in the weeds by the greenhouses, crying desperate, terrified tears.
Someone would be looking for her soon. She knew that. With all the security, as soon as breakfast ended, someone would notice her missing. Was it too much to hope, she wondered, that it might be Harry? That he'd have noticed how upset she was when she left and come out in search of her?
"Hey there. Are you all right?"
She nearly jumped a mile at the unexpected voice. Standing behind her, just a few paces away, was Neville Longbottom, a pudgy boy from Harry and Ron's year. She knew him, but they'd never spoken before. And a few paces behind him was Professor Sprout, far enough away that she wouldn't be able to really hear any conversation, but the fact that she was there was intimidating enough to Ginny. What if she started asking questions? She couldn't bear the thought.
"I'm fine," she choked out, struggling to her feet and trying to wipe away any traces of tears. She knew she wasn't succeeding. Gulping, she looked anywhere that wasn't into Neville's kind and awkwardly sympathetic eyes. Her gaze landed on the tiny white flowers growing in abundance around the outside of the greenhouses.
"Pretty, aren't they?" Neville asked then. "Professor Sprout thinks they're a nuisance because they aren't really useful, but I love them. You should see them at sunset."
"Why?" she asked, grasping at the relatively meaningless conversation with both hands.
"Because at sunset, they glow," Neville told her. "They're called duskbloomers. I always thought someone should have a wedding just at sunset, and carry these in their bouquet. I think it would be really pretty."
Through her still lingering tears, she gave him a strange look. "You think about weddings?" she asked, and for the first time, he looked awkward.
"I — think about flowers," he said then, almost apologetically. There was a longish pause, and then he said, "They're gonna be all right, you know," and for a moment, she was confused. "The Petrified people? They're gonna be all right. If that's why you were down here. That's why I came down here. To check on the Mandrakes with Professor Sprout. We're going to wake them up, and they'll catch whoever's been doing this."
A tendril of fear shot through Ginny once more. "What do –" She swallowed. "What do you think'll happen to them?" she asked nervously. Neville shrugged.
"Be taken off to Azkaban, probably." Another stab of terror.
"What if – what if it's a student?" she managed to get out. "Would they really g-go to – p-prison?"
"No, probably not," Neville said after a moment's consideration. "But they'll be expelled for sure. So don't worry, okay?" His smile was so reassuring and his words were so well meant that she felt even more guilty for feeling so much worse after he'd said them.
"Come along, you two," Professor Sprout called then. "Almost time for classes to start."
She knew it was silly, foolish even, but she'd worked out in her head exactly how she wanted Harry to ask her to the Yule Ball.
He'd come into the Common Room after classes and immediately seek her out. In front of all her girlfriends, he'd ask if he could speak to her privately in the hall, and then he'd lead her out to a secluded part of the castle. He'd tell her that even though in the past, he'd only thought of her as Ron's little sister, he'd started recently to see her differently, and that while he knew she was only a third year, he wanted her to accompany him to the Ball, and that he would be honored beyond belief if she'd say yes. And she would say yes, of course, and then he'd ask permission to kiss her —
And that's where the daydream had to stop, or her ears would go so red that everyone would know what she was imagining.
But even though she knew it would never happen, the daydream was so strong that when Neville Longbottom stood in front of her, awkwardly asking if she'd like to go to the Yule Ball with him, as friends, she very nearly turned him down, because what if Harry did ask her?
But Neville looked so heartbroken in anticipation, like he fully expected her to refuse and was already braced for it, that she couldn't bring herself to say no. Neville's asking you, she told herself firmly. Harry hasn't. He hasn't even thought of it. Are you really going to refuse an invitation to a Ball you won't otherwise be able to go to just because the "right guy" isn't asking?
"I'd love to go to the Ball with you," she told Neville.
"That's all right," Neville said glumly. "I didn't really expect – wait, what?" His head came up in confusion once her reply had registered, and she smiled at him.
"I said, I'd love to go with you, Neville," she repeated.
"Really?" Neville asked in disbelief. "I mean, I know you'd rather go with—"
"I'd rather go with you," she interrupted firmly, her ears going red at the thought of him finishing that sentence. She hadn't really been that obvious, had she?
And after that, her daydream changed. She started to imagine Harry asking her to dance at the Ball, coming over just as a slow song started to tell her that he couldn't stand seeing her here with someone else, and it had forced him to realize how wrong he'd been not to have seen her earlier, and would she please ease his heart by dancing with him?
After Ron made the offhand suggestion that Harry go with her as a last resort because he hadn't found someone, and Harry's eyes had lit up, hoping it might be that easy, Ginny decided that when he begged her to dance with him, she'd say no and stay with Neville. Just to show him.
But at the Yule Ball, Harry didn't ask her to dance at all. He just sat in his corner looking miserable, not enjoying himself one little bit, and certainly not noticing her. She knew this, of course, because she watched him from her seat at one of the round tables, Neville sitting awkwardly beside her as they attempted to make small talk.
"Have I – have I told you how pretty you look?" Neville asked at one point, and Ginny smiled. Neville really was very sweet. She was sorry she'd never noticed it before.
"Yes," she said, pulling her attention back to him. "Three times now. But that's okay. I don't mind hearing it," she assured him when he colored, embarrassed. Her eyes drifted back to Harry then; she couldn't help it.
"I want to thank you for coming with me," Neville said then. "I know you really wanted to be here with Harry." She felt guilty then, and gave Neville her full attention.
"Harry didn't ask me," she reminded him. "You did, Neville. Harry didn't have the courage." It wasn't technically true, but it seemed to make Neville feel better. "And anyway, look at him over there. He looks miserable. I wouldn't want to be at the Ball with that. You and I are going to have a much better time."
"We are?" Neville looked startled by this pronouncement, and that's when Ginny made up her mind.
"Yes," she said, standing and holding her hand out to him. "Now, come on. Let's dance."
He stared at her outstretched hand like she'd just asked him to go for a walk through the Forbidden Forest. "That's okay," he said, leaning away from her. "Trust me, you don't want to dance with me. I'll – I'll fall down, or step on your toes – or something awful like that."
"Neville," Ginny said in her most no-nonsense voice. "Don't be ridiculous. Come dance with me."
"O-okay," he agreed reluctantly, and she took his hand and led him out onto the dance floor. Once out there, though, it was clear he didn't have the slightest idea what to do. Hiding a smile, Ginny reached for his hand.
"Here," she said. "This one goes on my waist." Neville swallowed noticeably, and Ginny rolled her eyes with good nature. "It's okay, Neville," she reassured him. "You can touch my waist. It's not a big deal."
"And the other hand?" he asked nervously.
"The other hand goes in mine." She took it and rested her hand on his shoulder, and they revolved like that for a little while, a good deal of space left between them, Neville's arms stiff as boards. "Did no one ever teach you how to dance?" she asked finally. Neville shrugged.
"No," he said. "I mean, it would have been Gran, who doesn't do such things, or Great-Aunt Enid, who has arthritis in her back. Who taught you?"
"My brother," she told him. "Bill. We had a cousin who got married a couple summers ago, and he said I should learn. He said everybody should know how to waltz, foxtrot, and swing dance."
"And . . . that's what this is?" he asked, and Ginny had to laugh.
"Goodness no," she said. "This is you with your hand on my waist and me with my hand on your shoulder revolving in place. Bill would say this isn't real dancing at all."
"Oh." Neville looked so disappointed after that, that Ginny made up her mind then and there.
"Here," she said, dropping his hand and shaking the other off her waist.
"What – what are you doing?" Neville asked nervously as she reversed their positions – her hand on his waist, his on her shoulder.
"I'm going to teach you to waltz," she said with a smile.
And that's exactly what they did. It was clumsy and sometimes awkward, and they cut a wide path through the dance floor, but by the end of the night, Neville was dancing a passable waltz, far better than Ron could, and he'd only stepped on her feet three times. She'd also taught him the foxtrot, but said that swing dancing should probably wait for another time. "But don't forget, Neville," she'd said with mock seriousness. "You owe me a swing dance. And I'll hold you to it!"
"Deal," he said with a smile.
They stood in the Gryffindor Common Room around one in the morning, equal distance between the stairs to the boys' and girls' rooms, both a little uncertain how to end the evening.
"I want to thank you for coming with me," Neville said finally. "I know you wanted Harry to ask you, but I'm glad you said yes when I did."
"And I know you wanted to go with Hermione," Ginny told him, matching truth with truth. "See? We both know each other's secrets. But for the record, I'm glad I said yes, too. I had a better time with you than I would have with Harry." Neville smiled shyly.
"I feel like I should give you a good night kiss or something," he said then, "but I don't know if that would be weird." Ginny considered.
"It would be a little weird," she finally said. "But only if it was a romantic kind of kiss. A kiss between friends would be okay."
"And – what would a kiss between friends look l—" Before he could finish, she stood on tiptoe and gave him one quick peck on the lips. Grinning while he stood there looking stunned, she said, "Like that. Thank you for a lovely evening, Neville." And she turned and ran up the stairs to the girls' dorm, ready to relive every moment of the night.
Once, on the way to a DA meeting with Harry, he'd tried to take a certain passage on the ground floor. Panicked, Ginny had stopped short and said, "No!" without realizing what she was doing. When he'd turned to look at her, puzzled by the outburst, she'd said the first thing that had come into her mind. "Myrtle made a mess of that hall," she'd told him. "Let's go this way." And Harry had shrugged and accepted the lie and never said another word about it, even after he'd had to realize that there hadn't been a bathroom flood to worry about.
But when she tried the same trick on Neville later that year, it didn't fly. "No, she didn't," Neville said, confused. "We'd be able to see it from here if she had."
"Well, this way's shorter," Ginny tried to reason, panicking slightly the way she always did when she got near this corridor. She gestured toward a little used stairway on her right. But Neville just looked at her, still puzzled.
"No, it isn't," he countered. "Even I know that. The fastest way to the Room from here is down this hall, and we're already late, Ginny."
"I just – I don't want to go that way!" she insisted, her voice edging toward shrill, and Neville laughed a little in his bewilderment.
"Why not? There's nothing down that hall except—" He suddenly stopped, and she heard the intake of breath that meant he'd gotten it, figured out what she had worked so hard to keep anyone from figuring out, and she couldn't look at him, couldn't stand to see the pity in his eyes. "Ginny," he said gently.
"Can we just go this way, please?" she pleaded, cutting him off, looking anywhere but at his face.
"Of course," he said softly, and inadvertently, her eyes met his. But she was stunned to see that his eyes held no pity, just a sympathetic understanding that made her feel, if anything, even more embarrassed about the whole thing. "Come on," he said when he realized she'd lagged behind, and it was the second shock in as many minutes for her to realize that he had no intention of talking any more about it. Grateful, relieved, and soundly surprised, she followed him up the rickety steps.
Even after the DA, the Ministry, and the fight at the end of her sixth year when Dumbledore was killed, Ginny was never let in on any of their battle plans. It didn't bother her that Harry, Ron, and Hermione were their own close-knit trio, entirely independent of her, even after she and Harry started dating. It also didn't bother her that Harry told Ron and Hermione more about his mission and his plans than he told her. What bothered her was that most of the time, they didn't even consider that she might have something to contribute. What bothered her was that when they did remember she was there, at the fringes, they all saw her as someone they had to protect from the harsh reality of the fight against Voldemort.
It was ridiculous, and she hated it, but there was nothing she could do to dispel it. The minute she'd seen them disappear into Ron's bedroom after Harry's birthday that summer, she'd known that none of them were coming back to school in September. She just wished one of them
had bothered to actually tell her, directly, as a courtesy.
She was a talented witch. Not only was her spellwork, both offensive and defensive, strong and quick, she had a mind for strategy and a keen eye for observation. She'd been one of the quickest learners in the DA, and she'd held her own in not one, but two battles against Death Eaters, a broken ankle the worst injury she'd sustained, which couldn't be said of Hermione or her brother.
And yet, somehow, Harry and Ron, and even Hermione on occasion, all seemed to forget that when they looked at her. She reveled in the irony sometimes that it was the few people who knew the whole of what she'd struggled against and overcome her first year who saw her as someone to be protected, while the people who knew only that she'd been taken as a prisoner saw her as a strength within their midst. Was it really so much to ask that the few people she considered her closest friends acknowledge the things she was capable of?
When all was said and done, and the so-called "Golden Trio" was off on their grand adventure, and she was back at a Hogwarts run by Death Eaters that looked nothing like the school she'd left two months before, she wanted to say she was lonelier than she'd ever been, but how could she, really? Yes, the three people she'd spent the most time with the last few weeks of the past year were gone, but she'd always been on the fringes of that group. After all, when her boyfriend had gone offwith Dumbledore, possibly to his death, he'd stopped to tell his two best friends and say goodbye to them, and then left them to tell her.
That bordered on unfair, and she knew it, but it didn't stop her thinking it.
That year at Hogwarts defined itself in the first few hours, and by the end of the first month, Ginny knew she couldn't live a whole school year like this. That was the night that Neville and Seamus found her in a corner of the Common Room just after curfew.
"So, Seamus and I have been thinking," Neville said in an undertone. "We need a new trio." He locked eyes with her. "You in?"
She held his gaze for a long moment, then asked, "Why me?" Beside her, Seamus snorted.
"You're kidding, right?" he asked her.
"Ginny," Neville said, completely serious, "who else would we ask? Who on earth in this school would be our first choice before you? You're the most capable witch walking these halls; we'd be idiots not to know it."
Ginny hid a smile, touched. To the boys, she said, "I'm in."
Harry was interestingly contradictory when it came to the events of Ginny's first year. On the one hand, she knew that at least half of his overprotectiveness came from the fact that he'd rescued her and saved her life when she was eleven. But on the other hand, he seemed to forget it had ever happened most of the time. Maybe in light of everything else he'd been through in the years since, that wasn't surprising, but after her embarrassing inability to walk down a corridor, she'd expected some kind of confrontation or questions at the very least. She'd braced herself for his realization. But it hadn't come, and while she was glad she'd dodged the bullet, she'd found it curious.
Neville, on the other hand had not only remembered the events of that year and figured out why she couldn't walk down that corridor, he'd held onto the information for two years until he could help her do something about it. She'd been completely blindsided.
It had been Neville's idea, painting messages around the castle in the dead of night. They'd planned it carefully – six pairs of students, chosen for the strength of their Disillusionment Charms – each assigned a different area of the castle. Ginny had been paired up with Neville, and it wasn't until they were almost to the corridor that she realized where he was taking her. The castle looked different at night.
She stopped short. "No," he said, not bothering to keep her voice down. She felt dizzy, panicked, hurt.
"Ginny," Neville said, reaching for her hand. She snatched it away.
"No, Neville," she said in a slightly strangled voice.
"Do you trust me?" He asked it in so straightforward a manner, so simply, that she was torn in her panic and didn't know how to answer.
"I can't," she whispered, shying away from him, aware even as she did so how ridiculous this reaction was, five years later, after everything else she'd been through. And yet, she couldn't help it. "I can't do this, Neville."
"But you have to," he said then, and the intensity of his voice was startling. He came back to where she stood, taking both her hands and looking her square in the eye. "Don't you see that you have to, Ginny?" It was a plea, and entreatment, and she didn't understand it.
"Ginny, you can't have a place in this castle you're afraid to go," he said bluntly then. "You can't avoid this corridor forever. It's the writing on the wall, right? That's what you can't bear to see, the messages you left?" Closing her eyes against the words, she nodded. "So make them go away."
"How can I?" she demanded. "They won't come off! Filch has scrubbed for five years! Whatever I wrote them with, I can't erase those words any more than I can change what happened that year, what I did that year!"
"And I'm not asking you to!" Neville said insistently. "I would never ask you to forget what happened that year. All I am asking you to do is to see it as a strength, not a weakness. Isn't that how you want other people to see it? You sat on a roof with me and told me that. You decide your legacy, Ginny. Is that the mark you want to leave behind? Do you want future generations to ask whose skeleton will lie in what chamber, or do you want them to ask something else? Maybe you can't erase the words, but you can write over them. You can change what people see."
She opened her eyes and met his gaze, firm, concerned, insistent. And something passed between them in that moment, and a hard, blazing look entered Ginny's eyes, and she held out her hand. "Give me the can," she said.
And with a smile, Neville handed over the can of Muggle spray paint they'd smuggled in through Fred and George so that the vandalism couldn't be traced back to a wand. Ginny took it and marched away down a corridor she hadn't walked in years.
She stood before the writing on the wall for a long moment, her sixteen-year-old eyes taking in her eleven-year-old's words, forced onto that wall by someone else. And then, setting her jaw and gripping the can tightly in her hand, she lifted her arm and wrote a new message: Dumbledore's Army: Still Recruiting.
When it became clear that the battle was soon to begin, Ginny had expected Professor McGonagall to evacuate the younger students. But she was disappointed that the line between older and younger had been drawn along such an arbitrary measurement as who was technically "of age." As if there were any children left in that school. As if being three months shy of seventeen meant she was any less of a hardened warrior.
And when the members of the Order began arriving to help prepare for the fight, she had expected her mother to try and send her home. She hadn't expected Bill to take her mother's side, though, and that had stung. Nor had she expected Fred and George's defense of their decision to take her along to be so easily silenced.
But it was Harry's reaction, Harry's insistence that she tuck herself away somewhere safe and sound that really hurt like a punch to the gut. She stared at him in shocked betrayal, tears stinging the corners of her eyes at the unfairness of it all.
Not that it mattered. Nothing and no one, no Professor, no Mother, no Chosen One, was going to keep her away from this fight. If it came right down to it, she knew plenty of temporary jinxes that would allow her to get away without taking out any valuable fighters permanently, and those insisting she leave the fighting to the "grown-ups" would surely underestimate her. She had no doubts as to whether or not she would make it to the fight. It just hurt that she had to think along those lines at all, that not one person was willing to stand up and claim that she had damn well earned her right to stand and defend her family and school, more so, indeed, than many others who had come.
In the end, it was easy. Even if Harry hadn't given her the perfect opportunity, she'd have been able to slip away with no one the wiser until it was too late, since everyone's level of underestimating her had included leaving her on her own with no one to ensure that she stayed put. But she was still seething by the time she found Neville.
His eyes lit up in relief when he saw her, and he was at her side in an instant. "Thank Merlin," he said. "I knew you'd find a way back here."
"You mean, you aren't going to go send me off with the evacuating children to keep myself safe and sound like a good little girl?" she asked bitterly.
"Are you kidding me?" he asked flatly. "Ginny, when the fighting starts, I want you at my back. You are one of the best wands we have, and anyone who tries to send you away is a bloody idiot."
She managed a smile. "Thank you," she told him with the sincerest gratitude she could muster. He smiled, and clapped her on the arm. "Do me a favor, Neville?" He looked at her expectantly. "Try not to get killed, okay?"
She tried to make light of it, but there was a lump in her throat. She knew there was a pretty high likelihood that one or the other of them wouldn't come through this night alive, and though they were both aware of that cost, in that moment, it seemed too high a price to bear.
"I'll do my best," he told her quietly.
And when the battle was over and Tom Riddle lay lifeless on the floor, nothing more than an empty shell, and everyone in the Hall converged on Harry, Ginny did not. Ginny did not seek the arms of the boy she loved. Instead, she headed straight for Neville, for the arms of the boy who had always been there, her best and dearest friend, and she let him wrap her in the tightest embrace of her life. And in the midst of the tumultuous celebration happening around him, their own celebration was much quieter and more bittersweet, a painful awareness of the fact that they were surrounded by the bodies of those who could never celebrate with them, a wordless acknowledgment of the fact that they were both still alive, if a little less whole than they had been a few hours before.
"You want another one of those?"
The voice broken Ginny out of her memories. "I'm sorry?" she asked, looking around distractedly for the speaker. It was Hannah Abbott with her usual cheerful grin.
"The butterbeer," she said, gesturing at Ginny's empty mug. "You want another one?"
"I—" Ginny frowned and considered. "Yeah," she said finally with a nod. "Yeah, I've got a letter to write before I head home."
Hannah picked up the empty mug and wiped the table top underneath with a rag, and that was when her eyes lit on the paper. "I take it you saw the article, then?" she asked, and Ginny sighed.
"Yes. Harry's writing a letter to the editor. He's completely embarrassed. But Neville seems entirely unbothered by it."
"Of course he does," Hannah said with a little laugh. "He's Neville. Sometimes I wonder if he truly doesn't see just how extraordinary he is, or if he stubbornly refuses to see how extraordinary he is."
"You have an incredibly modest fiancé, Hannah," Ginny said then, and Hannah's smile turned inward and private.
"Yes, I know," she said softly. "And I love him for it, dearly, but . . ."
"But, it'd be nice if he was a little more willing to stand up and claim his own accomplishments?" Ginny finished for her, and Hannah gave her the What can you do? shrug.
"Don't stay too long," she said then. "Big day tomorrow." Ginny wrinkled her brow.
"Really?" she asked, feigning confusion. "Is there something going on tomorrow I should know about?"
Hannah laughed and gave her a small shove. "Yes, there is, and don't you dare miss it!" Ginny grinned.
"Wouldn't dream of it," she promised.
As Hannah went back to the bar to refill the mug, Ginny's thought turned once more to the newspaper beside her as she tried to figure out the best way to write what now needed to be said. She reached for her bag and pulled out a quill. Halfway through pulling out a sheet of parchment, though, she stopped and reconsidered. She let it slide back in the bag after a moment, and pulled the newspaper to her instead. When she began to write, it was over the words of the article, in clear, bold letters easily read.
This article is complete and utter tripe, and I'm writing this letter over it because someone has to rewrite your legacy, and it might as well be me. You are my best friend, but you are so busy being you that you have no idea how utterly unprecedented you are, so I'm going to point it out for you.
Neville, you have always been there for me. Back when Harry thought of me as nothing more than Ron's little sister if he thought of me at all, you were there. The duskbloomers. The Yule Ball. The Quidditch matches, the Herbology essays, the extra DA practices, the writing on the wall, the shoulder to cry on when I broke up with Dean, the shoulder to cry on when Harry broke up with me, the rebellion, the night on the rooftop, the battle – I could keep listing things all day, but this article is only so long, so I don't have a lot of space left, and I need to say this:
I love Harry with everything inside of me, with all my heart, but I do us both a disservice if I pretend that the relationship we grew into after the war was the relationship we had in the beginning, back when he was so focused on being the Boy Who Lived that he didn't really have time for me. And your role in bringing a better relationship between us into being aside, this is the truth that you most need to understand:
You saw me as an equal in your life long before Harry saw me as one in his. And I will be indebted to you for that, my friend, for as long as I live.
The next day, Ginny Weasley married Harry Potter in a ceremony that took place at sunset, and just as she started down the aisle, the flowers in her bouquet began to glow.
The wedding was large and public and well-publicized because he was the Boy Who Lived, the Savior, and she was hardly less important in the eyes of the wizarding world. But the reception was private, only for closest friends and family. Which was not to say it was small; most of Harry's Aurors were there, and everyone from the old DA had come to celebrate the marriage of one of their leaders to the Chosen One.
Once dinner was finished and the dancing had begun. Neville was finally able to make his way over to the happy couple. "Beautiful ceremony," he told the both of them. "And congratulations to the both of you."
"Thank you, Neville," Harry said, clapping him on the arm. "And thank you for the flowers."
"My pleasure," Neville said, sharing a smile with Ginny.
"And, look, I'm sorry about the article—" But Neville waved away the apology.
"Don't worry about it," he said sincerely. "Especially not today."
"I suppose you're right," Harry said. And with those words, Harry turned to Ginny, and the two of them indulged in a display that they got away with only because it was their wedding day.
They were interrupted a moment later by a young man Neville recognized as an intern in Harry's office. "Auror Potter?" he asked nervously. "I'm really sorry to bother you, but the office just got a missive from White Ferret, and the Minister wanted you to see it personally."
Harry sighed and pinched the bridge of his nose. "Wilson," he said then. "What day is it?"
"Your wedding day, sir," the young intern said miserably.
"That's right," Harry said. "It's my wedding day. And what was the instruction regarding work on my wedding day?"
"That it stays at the office," Wilson said. "But sir—"
"Wilson, like it or not, I am leaving on my honeymoon tomorrow and I will be entirely out of touch for two weeks, and you are all going to have to find a way to manage without me."
"Harry," Ginny said gently, touching his arm. "Go ahead. It's all right."
"Ginny, it's our wedding day. This day of all days, I am not going to be interrupted by work."
"Harry, this isn't from some random underling, this is from Kingsley. It's probably important."
"I rather doubt that," Harry tried to argue, but Ginny just continued over his protest.
"And if it is important, you'll probably find out before we leave, and you'll feel guilty for not taking the time to delegate now. I know you, love, and I'd rather you disappear for five minutes at our reception than fret for the next two weeks."
"If it makes it any easier," Neville broke in, "I was going to ask to steal her for a dance, anyway."
"See?" Ginny said, gesturing to Neville. "I'll even be occupied the whole time you're gone."
Harry looked back and forth between the two of them for a moment, then sighed with a smile. "All right," he said. "I know when I'm beat. But I'll be back in five minutes." And he stole a kiss from his wife and let Wilson lead him from the room.
"He's trying so hard to get them to be able to function without his constant presence," Ginny said as Neville led her out to the dance floor. "But I keep telling him it's going to take longer than the few months he's been working on it, especially with all the overhaul he and Ron have been putting in place."
"Then your honeymoon should be good for them," Neville said as they revolved slowly.
"It will be very good for them," Ginny agreed with a nod. "And it will be good for him, too. But enough talk about the Aurors. Shouldn't you be telling me how beautiful I am? It is my wedding day." Neville grinned.
"Could have sworn I already mentioned it."
"Yeah, but I don't get tired of hearing it," she said with a twinkle in her eye.
"Gin, I want to thank you for your letter," he said softly then, turning their conversation more serious. "It meant a lot."
"I meant every word, you know," she said.
"I know," he said with a nod. "Though I do have to point out that being indebted to me for seeing you as an equal kind of negates the equality."
"Only if you assume you're not indebted to me for a whole host of other things," Ginny said with a raised eyebrow, and Neville had to laugh and concede the point.
They revolved in silence for a few moments, then Ginny asked, "Neville, do you ever wonder 'what if'?"
There was no hesitation from Neville as he answered, "No," and punctuated it with a shake of his head. The answer caught Ginny by surprise.
"Really?" she asked. "Why not?"
"Because what if doesn't change what is," Neville said simply. "And I learned that lesson when I was eight. It's an unanswerable question, Ginny. Whatever the scenario, there are too many variables to be considered, and so it's an unanswerable question. I assume you're really asking if I've ever wondered what my life would have been like if Voldemort had chosen me over Harry, and I can't say the thought never crossed my mind. But I never dwelt on it for two reasons. One, I wouldn't have lived Harry's life. I'd have still be with Gran, if somehow my parents had died but I had survived and that part of the story played out as it did with Harry. I would have grown up much the same way that I did, and into much the same person that I did. Except I would have grown up knowing I was famous, and who knows how that would have changed things? There are too many variables.
"And second," he continued, after giving her a moment to consider that, "I never wanted Harry's life, not once. It's why the article doesn't bother me, Ginny. If other people want to waste their time pondering what ifs, I can't stop them. But while they're dwelling on the life they mistakenly imagine I might have led, I'm more than happy to move forward living the one I've got. Because when all's said and done, scars and all, it's a pretty good life."
Ginny looked up at him with a newfound appreciation. "That's . . . an enlightening perspective," she finally said.
"I'm glad you think so. Now then, if we're done with philosophical matters, I believe, Mrs. Potter, that I owe you a dance."
Ginny laughed. "And what exactly are we doing now?" she asked. There was a mischievous twinkle in your eye.
"I believe you once called it 'me with my hand on your waist and you with your hand on my shoulder revolving in place, which is not proper dancing at all.' Although, I do hope you have noticed that I am doing even this with more ease and coordination than I did back then."
"I did notice," Ginny said with a nod. "Hannah sign you up for ballroom dance classes?"
"Funny you should mention that, actually," Neville said with a secret smile before gesturing to the band. They immediately started into an upbeat jazz number, and Neville looked at Ginny with raised eyebrows, a question unspoken. She stared.
"Neville, I – no!" she said immediately. "I haven't been swing dancing since Bill's wedding, and that was six years ago! I'll mess up the steps, or – or –"
"Nevertheless," Neville spoke over her protests. "I owe you this dance, and you did say you'd collect. And as for the rest of it, as you once said to me, don't be ridiculous. Dance with me." And then, she had no choice, for Neville had given her arm a tug and pulled her into the dance.
Because Hannah had suggested it and because Neville had remembered what Ginny had said to him when he was fourteen, they had signed themselves up for an eight week ballroom dancing course at a Muggle facility in London, and swing dancing had always come hardest for Neville. But he had practiced and practiced and practiced, putting as much time into learning the steps and the rhythms as he had once put into learning curses and hexes. All so that when the time came for him to claim his swing dance with Ginny, he could, for once, avoid being the clumsy Neville with two left feet.
It hadn't been easy, but he'd finally become proficient, and as he had, he'd discovered that there was something incredibly satisfying about learning to swing dance well, about guiding a partner through the wild, upbeat dance combination, not planning anything out, just picking the step that felt most natural to come next. And he had Hannah had gotten to the point where she could almost read his mind, the slightest pressure or pull in just the right place sending her exactly where he wanted her to go.
It wasn't quite that easy with Ginny – she didn't know the signals and she hadn't been practicing like mad for the past two weeks and she was wearing a dress quite a bit fuller than the one Hannah was usually in – but she was laughing even as she stumbled, thrilled, stunned, and carefree all at once, and being able to bring that look to his best friend's face was a magic all its own.
He took charge of the dance in a way he very rarely took charge of anything, twirling her under his arm, spinning her into his embrace and back out again, guiding her through the steps without pause even when she went the wrong direction or moved too stiffly or, once, stepped on his toes. And then Neville heard one of her brothers – Bill, he thought – shout, "Ginny! Let him lead!" And then, all of a sudden, it got easier.
It was the most fun he'd had with Ginny in ages, and from the exhilarated grin on her face, she felt it, too, especially as she found the rhythm and remembered the steps and caught on to his signals. And as the song built to its finale, he spun her once, twice, three times, and dipped her so low her hair nearly touched the floor.
As a crowd they hadn't even noticed gathering began to applaud their display, and Neville set a grinning and out of breath Ginny back on her feet, he felt a tap on his shoulder, and turned to meet Harry's arched eyebrow.
"Hasn't anyone ever told you not to upstage the groom at his own wedding?" Harry asked, but he was grinning, too.
"Sorry, Harry," Neville said with a grin of his own. "If it's any consolation, I give you full permission to upstage me at my wedding."
"Deal," Harry said with a laugh, holding his hand out for Neville to shake. He took it, and then took Ginny's as well, and brought them together, clasping gently in both his own.
"Be good to her, Harry," he said.
"I will," Harry said, his eyes on his wife.
The warm glow that filled the space between them was all Neville needed to see. With a nod to Harry and kiss on Ginny's cheek, he stepped away and let Harry take his place.