(Background: Neville and Ginny at the Yule Ball; they have just had their first dance; as a result, Ginny’s toes are now rather bruised and her feet are aching.)
Fortunately, Neville seemed to realise that her feet were at breaking point and he guided her off to the sidelines. He made sure he was seated, then hurried off to get them both some punch. Ginny tucked her feet under the chair and silently pushed off her shoes, relieved that Mum had insisted on her wearing something ankle length. She flexed her toes, biting her lip at the pain, and watched people swirl before her. Her only comfort was that Harry looked about as miserable as she felt.
“They had two kinds,” Neville said, making her look up. “There was fruits of the forest and sloe… I didn’t know which one you liked so I got us a cup each.” He held out two silver cups: one steaming crimson, the other steaming purple.
“Neville,” Ginny said, surprised. “You didn’t have to get both.”
“I wanted to give you the choice,” he answered, carefully sitting down. “So, which would you like?”
Ginny considered for a moment. “Forest,” she said, taking the red one. “I tried sloe gin once, it was nasty.”
“My grandad used to have that in the winter,” Neville said with a smile. “He always said it warmed him up better than a fire. Still, I don’t think this is alcoholic,” he added, glancing at his cup. “Madam Pince was standing over the punch bowl.”
Ginny giggled and took a sip. Despite the steam, the punch didn’t burn her mouth at all, but it warmed her right to her toes; there was a pleasant berry flavour and she licked her lips. Neville was drinking his own cup with obvious enjoyment. “It’s not bad,” he said, “it’s like… like plum pie made liquid or something.”
“Mind if I try a bit, then?” Ginny asked.
“Oh! Sure.” He offered her his cup and she offered him hers. They both took a small sip. Ginny could see what Neville meant: plums and damsons and sloes as well… the flavour was richer and darker than hers, lingering on the tongue.
“Fruits of the forest,” she said as they exchanged cups again. “I always wonder exactly what that means. All kinds of fruits grow in forests.”
“Probably berries,” Neville suggested. “Wild strawberries, raspberries, bilberries, blackberries as well, I shouldn’t wonder.”
Ginny laughed in surprise. “You know a lot about this.”
Neville blushed a bit. “I helped out my grandad in the garden and… now he’s gone, I do all the gardening when I’m at home. Vegetables, fruit, flowers…” He shrugged. “It’s not that impressive.”
“Are you kidding? That’s amazing, Neville! I bet you don’t have to worry about gnomes,” Ginny added, thinking of her own back garden, full of tussets and hummocks and holes where the gnomes had dug through.
“We’ve got a privet hedge, keeps them out. They don’t like the spines,” Neville added with a grin. Then he looked crestfallen. “Sorry. I’m monopolising the conversation, aren’t I?”
“You’re what?” Ginny repeated, baffled.
“Monopolising the conversation. Gran said that was the worst thing you could do on a… well, at a dance. She said I mustn’t go on about plants and Herbology or I’d bore you.”
“I’m not bored at all!” Ginny exclaimed. “I think it’s great you grow all those things, and my mum would love any tips on keeping gnomes out. I’m not bored, Neville, honestly.”
Neville still looked worried, his mouth turned down. “I know you’d rather have gone with Harry than with me,” he said.
Ginny’s heart sank. “Neville, who told you that?”
“Nobody! I mean… I heard that Ron was trying to set you two up before,” he added, looking down, twisting his cup round and round so the sloe punch slooshed from side to side.
Ginny put her own cup on the table and put her hand on his wrist, stopping him. “That’s because Ron’s an idiot. He didn’t even ask me if I wanted to go with Harry, he just started trying to set us up because he knows I had a silly crush on him.”
Neville looked up, frowning, his brows punching together. “Had?”
“Yes,” Ginny said resolutely, pushing down the burning in her heart and stomach. “It was just a silly thing… I don’t feel that way any more.” I’ll never feel that way again, not about anyone, she promised herself silently. Nobody is going to tread on me like that again.
Neville was still looking at her, forehead wrinkled. It was Ginny’s turn to look away. Her heart still burned with those words, crying out that it was a lie, it wasn’t silly, it wasn’t just a crush or a fancy or anything of those girlish things, it was bigger than that, deeper than that –
Shut up. SHUT UP. You don’t like him anymore.
“But you could have gone with someone else,” Neville began. “You could have had… more fun.”
Ginny didn’t want to talk about this anymore. She didn’t want to think about Harry. “You asked Hermione out before me, right?” she said.
Neville went red. “Well… yes, but…”
“It’s fine, Neville. I’m not hurt, really.” She smiled at him to prove it and went on. “You asked Hermione out before me but you’re not sitting around, moping that she's with someone else, unlike two other boys I could mention,” she added in a louder tone, glancing towards Harry and Ron. Both boys were sitting at one table, gazing at the dancers with glum expressions. The Patil twins sat on either side of them, looking bored and miserable. Ginny couldn’t blame them.
Neville followed her gaze. “They don’t look happy,” he said.
“That’s because Harry and Ron are too busy moping to be gentlemen and enjoy the evening with the girls they actually brought with them,” Ginny stated, turning away. She refused to let herself look at Harry in his emerald green robes. She refused to look at the way the icy decorations turned his skin snow white, bringing out the shadows under his cheekbones. If he was miserable, that was his problem. She wasn’t going to worry about him anymore.
She smiled at Neville. “Now I came with somebody who gets me punch and worries about me enjoying myself and who knows a great deal about the contents of our punch, as well as gnome prevention methods. What more could a girl want?”
“A better dance partner?” Neville offered sheepishly.
Ginny sipped some more of her punch, considering her answer. She was very conscious of being one of the youngest people in the room, of how small and thin she was compared to the other girls here. Thank God that she’d taken after Mum and started to develop early. At least she had something on top, she thought, glancing down at the bodice of her dress robes. “Well, it looks like they’re playing something faster now, we won’t have to hold each other.”
The rhythm was so catchy that both of them were tapping their feet. A crowd was gathering in front of the band; couples were breaking and reforming. Ginny saw Hermione and Krum briefly in the crowd. They looked like they were having a good time. Ginny was glad. She stole a glance at Ron, who had obviously seen the same thing, because he had a face like thunder.
Serves you right, she thought.
Neville drank the last of his punch. “I’ll try and stay at least a foot away from you,” he promised.
Ginny laughed. “I think you’ll have a job,” she pointed out, standing up. “We’re going to be crushed.”
“Then I will try and make sure that I am the only person who steps on your toes,” Neville said with dignity as they made their way over.
“Good,” Ginny said mischievously. “I think those Durmstrang boys would crush them!”
And here endeth the plot bunny.