Ginny breaks things off with Dean and other players come into the mix. Does Draco have a reason to worry? The answer of course is up to Draco.
"It's been fun, but I think things are just not working out."
Ginny stood in front of Dean Thomas, her eyes wide and solemn, her face a picture of regret.
Dean turned and looked out the window. There were a few moments of silence and he shook his head.
"It's Neville, isn't it? I mean, not that there's anything wrong with Nev, good sort, salt of the earth and Gryffindor to boot, but...he's Neville."
Ginny stomped her foot. "I wish everyone would stop saying that."
Dean turned around and snorted. "Do you really find plants that exciting?"
"Perhaps I do. Perhaps it is no one's business." Ginny examined her nails.
"Well, given the amount of talking done about your extracurricular herbology tutoring, you might think it was everyone's business. And what a fool I look, being told that my girlfriend is preparing soil with Neville Longbottom when we are supposed to be going to Hogsmeade! Ginny, it's getting to the point where Ron is starting to notice."
Ginny blinked. "Ron's noticed? Oh, dear."
Dean snapped his fingers. "Ah ha, I was right. There's something going on!"
Ginny shook her head. "There's nothing going on, witch's honour!" Ginny held her hand against her heart. "Swear on my broom."
"You haven't got a broom, Ginny."
"You know what I mean. You're not angry, are you, Dean?"
Dean shook his head. "I still think you're a liar. Your big-eyed sulking doesn't fool me one bit."
Ginny continued, ignoring his words. "And to prove that there are no hard feelings, the offer still stands."
Dean raised an eyebrow. "Do you really mean it?"
Ginny grinned. "Only if you keep your promise to hang it up in the common room."
The air was thick, wet and warm in the greenhouse. During class, most students shed their robes. Ginny tossed hers vaguely in the direction of the cloakroom. Herbology classes rarely took place outside of daylight hours. The greenhouse was likely empty, barring a special study of night blooms. Ginny loosened her tie, striding past the first years' plots. She wondered if he was avoiding her; if he had heard the rumours.
She frowned. The blame could be laid at Ron's feet, really. A girl was allowed to have a boyfriend or two. That certainly wasn't a crime. And if Bill encouraged it-well that was practically a royal edict to go forth and conquer. Ron, however, seemed to think it was his duty to protect her. Everyone, well, almost everyone was good enough for Ginny. Ron was too earnest, poor boy. The way he nudged Harry towards her was so blatant, she'd nearly burst out laughing. But if Ron thought she and Neville were dating, then the whole school would believe it, true or not.
Neville stood in front of the plants, his sleeves rolled up, his cactus emitting the odd crooning noise, growing louder as she looked at it.
"'Lo, Neville. How are things?"
He lifted the branch of one seedling gently, staring at the trunk. Ginny stood next to him.
"I've broken it off with Dean," she said.
Neville nodded. He said nothing, snapping off dead leaves and branches carefully from the trunk.
"But I thought that we should still be friends, so I've kept my promise to him, you see," Ginny continued, the words spilling out of her.
"What promise?" he asked, still working, his attention focused on the plant in front of him.
"You remember, I told you! I'd sit for him. You know, nude. Models are impossible to find and expensive to boot. I'm doing him a grand favour."
Neville looked up, his eyes directly on her face. He stared at her for a few minutes and shrugged.
"Well, I haven't sat yet, if that's what you mean," Ginny said, licking her lips as she narrowed her eyes.
"No, not at all. It's just that Dean has high hopes for his art. I wouldn't want them to be dashed, that's all." Neville smiled slightly, his eyes still boring through her. He snapped an especially large branch, the crackling of the wood the only sound.
Ginny raised her chin. "I will sit for him, I promised. I hope you're not calling me a liar, Neville Longbottom."
Neville shrugged. "Whatever you say, Ginny."
Ginny bit her lip to keep the snarl from rising out of her throat. She stepped back and sat on a stool in the corner, holding her hands over her knees. Boys were treacherous, that's what they were. Even Neville was turning on her. Neville was different in the greenhouse. He wasn't what you would call graceful, far from it. He just was calmer-some inner tension dissipated when he was alone with the plants. He even looked taller today. Had he grown?
"No, you're still taller, but it can't be helped. Not all of us have Weasley genes. But I'm closing the gap. Ever the late bloomer," he said as he turned around to look at her.
"It's only an inch or two, Neville. And I am tall," she said, standing up next to him.
"He liked you a lot, Gin, go easy on him and don't tease him too much," Neville said, patting her on the shoulder, leaving a smear of dirt on her shirt.
"Neville, I feel like I'm talking to Hermione. Please don't scold me," she said, staring at the glass wall.
"Promise," he said. "Promise you won't," he said.
"Fine, fine, I promise. You're so stubborn, I vow," Ginny said.
He nodded and turned his attention back to the plants. Ginny held the trunk steady for him. They didn't speak for the rest of the afternoon.
The rumours tumbled and twisted through Hogwarts like its ever-changing hallways and stairs. Ginny now was evidently starring in an orgy with Dean Thomas for posting on the World Wizarding Web by Michelmas term. All of this she had done for her true love, Neville Longbottom. Ron, of course was not amused to learn of this.
"Who is that man that dares drag my sister's name through the mud?" Ron roared.
"Neville," Hermione said as she shuffled her notes into order. "And please stop roaring, Ron, Malfoy is going to be here any minute."
"She just broke up with Dean and already she's flaunting her latest, latest, latest...," Ron continued on the top of his lungs.
"I don't know that it's really any of your business, Ron. It's not as if Ginny ever quizzed you about Fleur," Hermione said.
Ron opened his mouth to continue his tirade. Hermione stepped on his foot, pointing to the couch in the common room. Neville sat on one end, absorbed his Herbology book, his mimbulus Mimbletonia crooning on the end table as Trevor glared at back at it, his eyes bulging more than usual.
Ron sat stiffly on the other end of the couch. Hermione sat next to him, looking daggers, her heel clamped down over his toes.
"Ron, I could hear you from the girls' quarters!" Ginny said as she bounded down the stairs.
"Move over, Neville, I want to have a word with my nosy brother," she continued, swatting Neville's leg with her foot.
"The cactus needs its light," Neville said, pointing to the window, never lifting his nose out of his book.
"Fine," Ginny said, sitting on top of Neville, her legs sprawled over Hermione. Hermione squeaked and scooted towards Ron, practically sitting in his lap. Ron proceeded to turn bright red and glared at Ginny, his jaw taut. Ginny however was occupied with settling herself into the couch. This apparently involved entangling her limbs as much as possible with Neville. Neville continued to read his book as if nothing had happened.
"So how are things, Ron?" Ginny said, reaching her arm over Hermione's head to flick Ron's ear.
"They were fine until the world decided to turn on me and prey upon my only baby sister," Ron said, darting dirty looks at Neville. Neville seemed to be reading his book diligently, but Ron saw no need for all that contact between Neville and Ginny. Ginny flicked Ron's ear again, harder this time.
"Ron, you and your hyperactive imagination need to go on a holiday. One too many Quaffle crack your skull? Or perhaps being prefect has overloaded your delicate sensibilities. I can only hope that Hermione has been a comfort to you. She's so organized, isn't she?" Ginny asked as she twirled a curl of Hermione's hair with her finger.
Ron snarled. Hermione glared at him. Ginny wondered how long it would take them to realize that they were practically sprawled on top of each other. Ginny felt Hermione stiffen against her. Ron's snarls suddenly turned into shallow breaths. She swallowed a giggle, glad for Hermione's infamous hair hiding her face.
A pin dropped.
"Oops, Padma," Lavender said.
"Shush, Lavender," Padma whispered loudly, grabbing the pin as they gawked.
The rest of the common room watched raptly. The bets being placed on Neville and Ginny, though intense, could not match the fervor of those placed on Ron and Hermione. There had been sparks between the two of them since first year, for Merlin's sake. The question of if, when and how were a source of great entertainment for the Gryffindors, if not all of Hogwarts. Ginny now bit her lip in earnest, the giggles threatening to spill over. Neville's hand grazed her temple as he turned the page. The cactus was humming more loudly now and Trevor let out a baleful croak. Ginny sighed and leaned her head against the couch. She wondered if Ron and Hermione would finally do something. Not that it mattered, really, but she had put down a whole galleon that she didn't have for a pulling in sixth year in a public place, damn it. She'd get 10 sickles if they pulled in the common room, and that was due to some sweet-talking and eyelash-batting at Lee. 10 sickles would be nice indeed. If something didn't happen soon, the room was going to explode.
"That's not Hermione's foot, mate, but mine," Neville mumbled.
"I didn't know that vicious predators could be so choosy," Ron said, snatching his foot away.
"Ron!" Ginny and Hermione chorused.
"Isn't this just a picture of domestic bliss?" a familiar voice drawled.
"Malfoy!" Ron said as Hermione and Ron struggled to get up, awkwardly fumbling each other in the process. Ginny opened one eye and peered up. Malfoy stood over her, his arms crossed across his chest, playing the pampered public school boy to the hilt. She could see her bloody reflection in his prefect pin. She wished she had remembered to put her socks on before she came dashing down the stairs, but she stayed where she was. Neville continued reading, twisting a lock of Ginny's hair.
"I wouldn't have barged in, but I've already wasted 15 minutes of my time listening to the fat lady's paltry attempts at flirtation," Draco said, his eyes darting ever now and then to Neville and Ginny, his nostrils flaring.
"I don't understand why this year's Head Boy and Head Girl decided we needed to start this Interhouse Relationship Development Committee," Ron grumbled as he shook out his robe.
"We have to learn to live with each other even if we don't like each other. There are more important things to do than perpetuate out-dated, petty rivalries," Hermione said, running a hand unsuccessfully through her hair.
"Some of us have better things to do with our time," Malfoy said. He flicked an imaginary piece of lint off his robe, still glancing occasionally in Ginny's direction. If Malfoy's nostrils flared anymore, Ginny would be tempted to stuff her wand up his nose just to see if she could.
"What is that infernal noise?" Malfoy asked, turning his head to and fro.
"It's the cactus," Hermione said, pointing to the end table.
"It likes the sun. Most plants do," Neville said.
"I suppose that's the sum of your Herbology expertise, Longbottom," Malfoy said, sneering.
"Draco! We're waiting!" Pansy said, her voice coming from the direction of the entryway to the rest of the school.
"Weasley? Granger?" Malfoy asked, swirling his robe as he turned around.
Ginny stuck her tongue out at Malfoy's retreating back.