Watery sunlight filtered into the room between the blinds, casting elongated shadows on the floor. Pansy stretched her arms above her head and smiled sleepily – this had always been her favorite kind of weather, ever since she was a small child. She loved the way the air smelled after a heavy rain; the way the rain cleansed everything and washed the old away to reveal the new.

She rolled over and wrapped her arms around Neville’s sleeping form, snuggling as close as she could possibly get. Sometimes, she thought wistfully, she wished she could just crawl inside of him and disappear. Neville was much stronger than people gave him credit for, and for a long time, he had been Pansy’s strength, too.

She squeezed her eyes shut as tightly as she could, willing the tears not to come as she remembered the capture of her parents. The trial had been an horrific ordeal for her – the Ministry had interrogated her repeatedly, though she knew nothing of her parents’ involvement with Voldemort. How could she? She was never at home long enough to know anything about them – hell, she couldn’t even remember what her own bedroom looked like, she’d seen it so few times.

And through it all, her Slytherin friends had kept their distances from her. They were afraid of guilt by association, and after seeing what she’d undergone, they’d deserted her. When the crowd of Judases had fled, there stood Neville Longbottom, offering his hand in friendship, and a shoulder to cry on, if she needed it.

At first she hadn’t understood him, and hadn’t understood why he of all people would offer to stand by her, when even the most loyal of her friends had deserted her, so she’d turned on him. She’d been a spitting, clawing, vicious bitch to him. She winced as she remembered him taking all of her abuse, no matter how stinging it was, and waiting patiently for her to come around.

Which she had, approximately one month after the trial.

Things had gotten progressively worse for Pansy after her parents had been imprisoned in Azkaban. Though the Ministry had officially cleared her of all charges, that didn’t mean that they’d left her alone to be on her merry way. No, they had been following her for a long time, just waiting for her to screw up.

Once the pressure had gotten to her and she didn’t know where else to turn, she’d turned to Neville, who’d opened his door to her, no questions asked. She’d spent that first night on his sofa, crying so hard that her eyes became red and swollen and her throat ached. He hadn’t judged her; instead he’d brought her a soothing potion for her throat, made her a poultice to stop the swelling of her puffy eyes, and had made her soup for dinner.

He’d made her soup.

That had been the proverbial nail in her coffin. The man had not only comforted her and let her rant and rave for however long she needed to do it, he’d also made her dinner. No man had ever made her dinner before. She’d been wined and dined, and men had sent her jewels and pretty trinkets, but no man had ever thought her worthy enough to give her something of himself. Neville had done that selflessly the entire night.

She’d known before the sun had even risen on the next day that she’d fallen in love with him. She didn’t give a damn what any of her supposed friends had to say about it, either. She smiled as she pressed several light kisses to the bare skin of his shoulder, and he sighed in his sleep. Neville was, quite probably, the best thing that had ever happened to her.

“Pans?” his sleepy voice interrupted her reverie.

“Yes, love?”

“What are you doing awake so early?”

“I was just thinking.” He rolled over to face her, and she bit back a giggle at his heavy-lidded eyes. He tried to open them to focus on her, but was still in the arms of sleep.

“’Bout what?”


“Good thoughts, I hope,” he mumbled, clumsily throwing his left arm over her and pulling her closer to his chest.

“Are there any other kind?” she teased lightly. He smiled softly.

“I love you.”

“I love you, too,” she whispered back, tears springing to her eyes again. “More than you know.”

“Hey,” he said, the wavering of her voice waking him up. “What’s wrong? Are you okay?”

“I’m fine,” she said, resting her forehead against his chest. He was silent for so long that she thought he’d fallen back asleep.

“Thinking about your parents again?” he asked gently. She nodded against his chest, and felt his arm tighten around her. Neville was exceptionally gifted at knowing her moods; he knew when to press and he knew when to quit talking and just let her be.

It was just one of the many reasons that she loved him so much.

~*~ ~*~ ~*~

Hermione awoke to a loud crashing noise coming from the kitchen. Wand in hand, she rose slowly from the sofa and tiptoed into the other room softly, not wanting to alert the intruder to her presence. When she saw the raven hair and furious green eyes behind his glasses, she sighed in relief and dropped her wand to her side.

“Harry, thank heavens – I was so worried about you.”

“Where is it?”

“Where is what?” she asked, startled by the anger of his words. He glared at her.

“You know perfectly well what I’m talking about, Hermione. Don’t play stupid – it doesn’t become you.”

“I honestly have no idea what you’re on about,” she said, her confusion apparent on her face.

“The picture,” he snarled, rifling through another drawer. “Where is that picture?”

Hermione’s heart plummeted inside of her chest. So that was where he’d been yesterday – following Ginny again.

“I don’t know,” she said flatly, turning on her heel and moving down the hallway, towards the bathroom, intent on taking a shower. She’d fallen asleep on the sofa waiting for him to come home, and she hadn’t changed out of her clothes, either. She wrinkled her nose as she peeled her shirt off, and had just started to remove her jeans when Harry burst into the room.

“You knew about the picture, didn’t you?” he demanded, grabbing her arms roughly. Her eyes widened, but she remained silent. “And I’ll even bet you knew who was in the photo, and you didn’t tell me.”

“Harry, please let me go.”

“Why didn’t you tell me?”

“You’re starting to scare me,” she whispered. He blinked and let go of her arms, his face expressionless. “Yes, I saw the picture. Yes, I knew who was in it.”

“Why didn’t you tell me?” he repeated flatly.

“Because it’s none of my business,” she replied, sliding her jeans off and turning the tap on. Water began to fill the bathtub and fogged the surface of the mirror over. Hermione thought, very briefly, that it looked very much like a foe glass. She nearly laughed when she caught Harry’s shadowy outline in its reflection of her, and then turned back to the bathtub.

“And I suppose you’re going to tell me that it’s none of my business, either,” he said, not bothering to hide the enmity in his voice. She shrugged.

“I’m not going to tell you anything.”

“Why not?”

“It’s not my place to, Harry. It’s your life.” And if you want to spend it pining after something that you’ve given up, then you’re going to lose what you’ve got.

“But why would she –“ he fumbled for the right words. When he found none, he simply asked, “Why him?”

“Maybe she didn’t mean for it to happen,” Hermione rejoined softly, testing the water temperature with her hand. She poured in a capful of purple liquid and inhaled deeply as the scent of jasmine filled the air. “Maybe it was an accident. Maybe she was drunk. Who knows?”

“How can you be so flippant about it?” he asked, his cheeks flushing with something other than anger as he watched her struggle with her bra clasp.

“I’m not saying I’m not concerned for her,” Hermione said, annoyed. “I just said that there could be any number of explanations for what happened in that picture, and we aren’t privy to them.” Harry reached forward and unhooked her bra, sliding it down her arms. She sucked in a deep breath and turned to face him, her cheeks pink with her bravado.

“Let’s talk about something else,” he suggested throatily, his fingertips skimming lightly down her sides and making her shiver, despite the steam in the room. “Or better yet, let’s not talk at all.”

She barely managed to remove his glasses before his lips came crashing down onto hers.

~*~ ~*~ ~*~

“Nev,” Ginny began tentatively, “do you think I dress to get attention?”

Neville laughed, until he saw the serious look on her face. He frowned. “Now who in the world has been accusing you of that? You’ve been dressing a little more… outlandishly than you normally do, but no, I don’t think that you’re doing it on purpose to attract attention.”

“Thanks,” she breathed, playing with the straw from her empty glass. Her eyes were focused on it as she spoke, and Neville was beginning to worry about her. She’d barely made eye contact with him at all since they’d sat down to lunch together, which was very unlike her. In fact, the whole conversation had been subdued today, he realized.

“Gin, what’s going on?” he asked gently. She shrugged.


“You’re a terrible liar, do you know that? Look, if you don’t want to talk about it, just say you don’t want to talk about it – though personally, I think talking about things makes you feel better. It always helps to get it out. You keep something inside, and it eats away at you.”

“I know.”

“It’s like I always tell Pansy, you have to-“

“I slept with Malfoy,” she blurted, her cheeks burning immediately. Neville was effectively silenced. “And before you ask, it was consensual, and it was more than once.”

Neville sat speechless for several minutes, and then his lips curved up into a wicked grin. “Was it that good?” Ginny’s eyes widened in surprise, and then she burst into laughter.

“Leave it to you to poke fun at me to make me feel better,” she murmured, looking into his eyes for the first time since they’d met that afternoon. “I was really worried about how you’d take it.”

“How could you have been worried?” he asked, slightly surprised. “I mean, you caught me off guard, but I have to admit that it wasn’t totally unexpected.”


“Pansy has been insisting for weeks now that you and Malfoy share some mutual attraction,” he admitted, shaking his head. “I told her she’d gone round the twist, but I guess she was right.”

Ginny dropped her straw in disbelief, and glanced around to make sure that no one was listening. She leaned forward and hissed, “So Malfoy told her that we’d done it?”

“No, no,” Neville denied. “You don’t understand. It’s some women’s intuition thing, or something. She’s been predicting that it would happen since the first party you came to.”

“What?” she demanded, her eyes widening. “Then how do we know that it wasn’t some sort of bet between the two of them, or something?”

“Please,” he said, rolling his eyes. “Pansy does not bet. You know her better than that. Besides, every time she’s talked to him about you, he either shoots her down or changes the subject.”

“Why is she talking to him about me?” she asked, her eyes narrowing.

“Pansy is all about the matchmaking, you know that, Gin,” he said, sighing. “When none of your dates with those other blokes panned out, she just took it as a sign from a higher power that you were meant for Malfoy.”

Ginny snorted at this. “Since when does Pansy believe in something more powerful than herself?”

Neville’s expression clouded over. “She believes in a lot of things that you don’t know about.” Ginny blinked in surprise.

“Gods, Neville, I didn’t mean anything by that, I was just kidding.”

“I know,” he said, rubbing his face with his hands. “Let’s just say that it’s been a long morning.”

“A long, exhausting morning?” Ginny supplied, wagging her eyebrows suggestively. Neville grinned.

“That too.”

“I heard that she shags you rotten before you go out in public,” she commented offhandedly, peeking up to gauge his reaction. He gaped at her.

“Who in Merlin’s name told you that?”

“Who do you think?”

“I know it wasn’t Pansy!”

“You’re not denying it,” she pointed out, smiling. He sputtered.

“And – and you’re not answering my question!” he retorted, his cheeks turning scarlet. “Is it me, or is it getting warm in here?” He reached for his glass of water.

“So it’s true, then,” Ginny affirmed. He nearly choked on the liquid in his mouth, and Ginny shoved a napkin at him.

“Really, come on, now. Who told you such a thing?” he asked, when he’d gotten his breath back.

“It doesn’t matter. All that matters is that now I know it’s true. I was told that she doesn’t want you even thinking about other women, and that’s why she does it.”

“Everyone has insecurities,” he said defensively.

“Even you?”

“Me more so than anyone else, probably,” he said, taking another [smaller] sip of water. “Well, except for your ex, I mean.”

“What does Harry have to do with this?” She asked, confused. “And how would you know what his insecurities are?”

“He’s been sitting at that table in the corner over there since before we got here,” Neville said, not looking up from his drink. Ginny let out a low hiss.

“Maybe he’s just here eating, like us,” she said, frowning.

“Gin,” he said, lifting his eyes to hers. “At some point and time, you’re going to have to address this issue with him. He’s been following you to our lunches every week since you married him.”

“Why didn’t you ever tell me?” she fumed.

“At first I thought it was sweet. Now I think it’s a serious control issue. He doesn’t want to be with only you, but at the same time, no one else can have you, either. It’s a dangerous mindset to get into, you know?”

“He’s not here with –“ she couldn’t bring herself to say Hermione’s name. “Someone?”

“He’s alone.”

“He took a picture of me and Malfoy,” she whispered. Neville’s eyes widened significantly.

“And Malfoy’s still alive to tell the tale?”

“I don’t think he knew who it was in the picture with me,” she said, shifting uncomfortably in her seat, and refusing to meet his eyes. “It was kind of hard to see his face.”

“I’ll ignore the implications of that and just ask how he couldn’t have recognized Malfoy’s hair. It’s nearly white; how can you not know who it is when you see it? No one else in the world has that hair color.”

“That’s what I thought,” she said, her cheeks still burning. “But when he showed me the picture and confronted me about it, he wasn’t nearly as mad as he would’ve been if he’d known.”

“Do I even want to know what you were doing in that picture?” Neville asked warily.

“He was kissing me,” she said, still not looking at him. He narrowed his eyes at her.


“And what?”

“There’s something you’re not telling me. You’re being very dodgy today, did you know that?”

“Fine – he was… er, touching me. Let’s just leave it at that.”

“Groping?” Neville supplied.

“You’re just fishing for information now, aren’t you?”

“You didn’t deny it,” he said, his eyes sparkling as he threw her own words back at her. She smiled and shrugged.

“No, I didn’t.”

“And what happened with the picture?”

“I took it from him, and then Malfoy came to look for the watch he’d lost, and he saw it. Then I burned it.”

“Whoa – whoa,” he said, holding his hands up to stop her. “Let’s walk through that last statement. You took the picture from Harry.”

“Yes, I took it, and I shoved it down in my knickers, right by my hip.”

“I won’t even ask why you put it there,” he said, shaking his head. “And then?”

“Then Malfoy showed up, saying that he’d lost his watch at my flat the night before.”

“He spent the night?”

“No, he just – he was just there for a few minutes.”

“A few minutes? Poor form, ferret.”

“Honestly, can we move on to another subject?” she begged. “This is giving me the willies – especially with Harry in the same vicinity.”

“Unless Harry can read lips, we’re fine. He’d only be able to see my half of the conversation, anyway. So then Malfoy showed up?”

“Yes, and I found his watch for him. I guess when I was bent over looking for it, he must have seen the picture poking out of my nightshirt.”

“And he wanted to see it?”

“Yes. He tricked me and pulled it out of my knickers.”

“I don’t even want to know how that happened. What did he do when he saw it?”

“He wanted to know who took it.”

“Did you tell him?”

“In not so many words, yes. And then he flipped out, and I had to trick him to get the picture back, and then he left.”

“Again, I won’t ask about the tricking. So when did the burning come about, and why?”

“I got to thinking about it, and the more I did, the more I realized how dangerous that picture was. Anyone could find it-“

“In your knickers?” he interrupted, scandalized. She ignored him.

“Anyone could find it and blackmail me with it.”

“I’d be willing to bet that he was more concerned that they’d blackmail him with it.”

“Apparently, but I’ll get to that in a minute. So I burned it in my kitchen sink.”

“And then?” he prompted.

“And then I got a very expensive looking piece of jewelry in the post, and I took it to give back to him.”

“What made you think it was Malfoy who sent it?”

“It was very expensive,” she repeated, as though her reasoning was obvious.

“So? Harry has money too, you know.”

She slapped her forehead with the palm of her hand. “Merlin! I never even considered Harry! Malfoy kept denying that he’d sent it, and I thought it was odd. I mean, normally when he does show-offy stuff, he likes to be recognized for it.”

“What did you do with the expensive jewelry?” he asked curiously.

“I left it with Malfoy. He caught up to me yesterday and told me that he thought he knew who’d sent it, and I told him to keep it, because I didn’t care who’d sent it.”

“And I suppose that brings me up to speed on your love life, then, does it?” he asked, amused.

“Please, when you’re referring to my shagging him, do not use the word love in any capacity.”

“Do you at least like him? Because I’d hate to see you give yourself to someone you can’t even stand, just for the sake of convenience.”

“I’ve never really talked to him, so how can I know if I like him or not?”

“You haven’t talked at all?”

“Well… yesterday he did talk to me for a bit, but then it turned into another argument.”



“Ah. I think I’m beginning to see now.”

“Look, I’m not searching for a replacement for Harry,” she began. “And I’m not looking to get married, or engaged, or even date, for that matter.”

“Then why are you even bothering with him?”

“It’s not like we plan it when it happens!” she said defensively. “One thing just sort of leads to another, and… I hate it. I feel like I have no control over myself when he’s around. And sex is all I think about when I look at him.”

“You just got out of a committed relationship. It’s natural not to want to rush into another one straightaway, Gin. But you’d better stop and think about what your affair means to him.”

“Affair?” she asked, recalling Malfoy’s words the night before. “I don’t pretend that he feels anything for me, because I know better.”

“Do you? Nobody likes to feel used – you know that better than anyone else. Maybe you’d better ask him.”

“Even if it did mean something more to him than sex, he wouldn’t tell me,” she said, shaking her head. “He’s too proud. And besides, I’m not sure I want it to be more than sex.”

“But you do want the sex?” Neville asked, frowning.

“Neville, it’s nothing like it was with Harry,” she confided, her voice so low that he could barely hear her. “It’s so good, it’s scary.”

“And you don’t want to ruin it with feelings, right?” he guessed.

“I don’t – I mean, I don’t know –“ she shook her head in frustration. “I don’t know what I want right now! All I know is that I feel like a loose cannon around him, but when we get physical, I never want it to end.”

“And when it’s over?”

“I feel guilty and used.”

“Why guilty?”

“Because I feel like I’m betraying Harry,” she admitted.

“We’ve been over this,” he said firmly. “You’re the betrayee, not the betrayer.” She giggled.

“Thanks, Nev. You always make me feel better.”

“What else are friends for? So are you going to see him again?”

“I don’t know. I don’t think he wants to – and even if he did, I think it’d be dangerous.”


“If Harry is following me, then he might follow me somewhere with Malfoy. And Malfoy said yesterday that he was tired of keeping our affair secret.”

“Surely he wouldn’t go public with the fact that – well, let me think before I speak. No, he would do it.”

“But why?” she asked, desperation in her voice. “He hates my family, and thinks we’re lower than the dirt beneath his shoes, remember? Why would he willingly tell people about us?”

“That’s simple – Harry.”

“He’d tell everyone just to get back at Harry,” she said dully, shaking her head.

“And I for one think that you should let him do it.”

“What?” she asked, her head snapping up. “Why?”

“If you’re out and about with Malfoy, at least you’ll be with a man who will protect you. Even if he’s doing it just to make Harry jealous, and even if he protects you only to keep making Harry jealous, at least you’ll be with someone when you go out. I know it’d make me feel better.”

“But that would be using him!” she protested.

“And what you’re doing now is any better?” he asked gently. Her shoulders slumped in defeat.

“You’re right. I know you’re right. Do you really think that Harry would attack me, given the chance?”

“I think his actions are bordering on stalkerish right now, and I don’t even know if he follows you all the time,” Neville said, his voice low and serious. “Better to have Malfoy with you and let him exchange some nasty words with Harry than to get caught out alone and have no way to escape.”

“And I’m sure Malfoy would delight in every second of every confrontation,” she sighed. “But who’s to say he’d actually do any of what we’re talking about? What if I go back to him and he refuses to have anything to do with me?”

“Then Pansy and I will start accompanying you places.”

“He won’t make it easy on me.”

“So make it seem as though it’s his decision. Twist things so that he thinks he’s the one in control. Pansy does that to me all the time.” Ginny smiled at him. “And consider the sex a fringe benefit, or your reward, or something.”

“I don’t think it really counts as manipulation if you know about it and you continue to let her do it.”

“Yes, but she doesn’t have to know that.”

“I love you, Neville.”

“Do you know how incredibly lucky I am? Two of the most beautiful women I’ve ever met have told me that, and both in the same day.”
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