In her books, scavenged from her grandmother’s collection, whenever people go off to war, they always talk about how hard it is for the soldier when he leaves. They talk about his lover, worrying at home as she sees him off, and they talk about the tragedy of when he comes home in a body bag.
They never talk about what happens if the lover is a soldier, too.
Ginny is lonely. Harry is off fighting a war outside of Hogwarts, and she is fighting one within it. That’s what she tells herself, anyway, on the nights when it’s too cold to sleep. Sometimes she creeps downstairs, careful not to wake anyone, to the Gryffindor common room. It’ll be one in the morning and Neville will be waiting there and they sit and talk about the war and Harry and her parents and Neville’s Gran. They never talk about themselves.
At least, not until after Christmas, when Luna is snatched off the train coming back, and Ginny and Neville spend the night in a state of shock, on opposite ends of the couch in front of the fire, wondering who will go next.
He hugs her before they go up to bed, and it’s like hugging Harry but something stronger, and she pulls away from him in shock and rushes headlong up the stairs to her room. She doesn’t know how she hasn’t seen it before. She doesn’t know when it started or why or if it’s always been there or if it’s because they’ve bonded over being children in a war. Harry is not on her mind. She shivers in her bed until she falls asleep.
After that, it’s just a matter of time.
She could do what she did with Harry and dance around it, keep away from the heat of the fire, but she doesn’t. She waits until the next DA meeting, until she and Neville are the last people in the room, and she walks up to him as he’s putting things away. He refused to meet her gaze all evening, but she kept looking anyway.
“Neville,” she says.
He stutters out her name, in so quiet a whisper that she wonders if he even said anything at all.
“You’ve been avoiding me for three days.”
Now he says nothing.
“You fancy me.”
She decides to push on, monologue it like she’s in a Shakespeare play: “Well, I—have a bit of a thing for you too. And—and I know I’m supposed to be—I know I’m supposed to be Harry’s girlfriend. But I’m not. I don’t know right now if he’s alive or dead, and he’s not here, and we’re fighting this war on our own, and Luna’s gone and I don’t know who’s going next and—” She realizes suddenly that tears have sprung to her eyes, and she wipes them away and keeps going. “And I want to make the most of whatever time we have left here. One of us could disappear tomorrow. We could get hurt. And I would rather act on feelings than bottle them up.”
“You always have,” he says quietly, finally meeting her gaze. For a moment, she can’t breathe. She’s suddenly acutely aware of the space in between them. With Harry that space would swallow her up. With Neville, she is outside it.
Ginny Weasley doesn’t ask for things. It’s not that she takes them, either, so much as that she is just given them. But something tells her Neville is not the same.
“Please,” she says.
“Are you sure?”
“Yes,” she says, and the passion of the single word surprises her.
And so goes the dance, ignited three long days ago: they move closer together, slowly, slowly, until their mouths are an inch from touching. She’s suddenly overcome with a feeling of panic, and she whispers, “This is not an experiment in seeing how well we work. This is not an experiment in me and you.”
It’s a warning. She’s not sure who it’s for.
And then she kisses him, and it’s bright and blazing and melts some of the ice inside her chest. She feels herself relax for the first time in months. Their lips draw apart and they look at each other, at the other’s bright eyes and flushed face, and Ginny thinks, in that moment, that she’s made the right decision.
Like so many other nights, they don’t return to their beds until one in the morning. But this time it’s not because they stayed up talking.