Chapter 1 : Out of Touch
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February fourteenth gave a bright morning and only a couple of inches of snow still lingered on the grounds of Hogwarts after a bitter evening snowstorm. Gryffindor Tower was filled with warmth from the many fireplaces and Ron Weasley was sitting up in his bed, breathing heavily and trying to wipe the sweat off of his palms.
He crept slowly out of bed, trying not to wake the others, and drew open the doors of his wardrobe, staring at his clothes. Today was a special day, a bright Saturday that was going to give him the reason to do what his gut was trying to do for months. Ron picked out a green collared shirt and clean, ironed pants. He suspected the house elves did that since he couldn’t work and iron.
Ron ruffled his hair in the mirror. It looked like it always did. He wanted something different—something classy—and attractive. He wanted to be attractive. With a glance over at the sleeping Harry, he quickly messed it up.
He looked like a homeless bloke.
Ron swore lightly and stared at his reflection. He couldn’t chicken out now. Well, he thought, tilting his head to the left, he could chicken out. In fact, he could slide back under the blankets and fake an illness for the entire day.
Then someone would have him sent to the Hospital Wing.
This was a lose-lose situation. Ron groaned and pushed his hair back down. He opened the bottom drawer of his wardrobe and a rush of cold air met his face, forcing his cheeks to grow rosier than they already were. Pulling up a bouquet of roses, he closed the magically-frozen drawer and smirked at his own cleverness. Truthfully, he had asked Hermione for the spell, but he thought of using it to begin with.
He then grabbed the heart-shaped box of chocolates (Seamus told him it was a must) and a small velvet box he had been hiding in the top drawer of his night stand. Ron paused by the door one final time to check his reflection and stuffed the velvet box into his pocket.
“Did Eloise finally say yes to a date?” asked Seamus, groggily rubbing his eyes.
“Bugger off,” retorted Ron, pulling open the door and stepping out into the hallway.
The steps seemed longer than usual, a mountain of obstacles keeping his heart rate elevated far more than it should be. The common room was empty. He had not anticipated this. He thought for sure she would be down here by now. She was always in the common room early on Saturday mornings doing extra homework or reading a book or just being Hermione. Now if someone walked in he would look like a prat holding flowers for no one but the red chair in front of him.
Ron slid into a chair beside the fireplace, sighing as he let his guard down a little. He could relax until she got there. There was a large book beside him from one of the seventh year’s potion classes. He wouldn’t be able to relax if that book was anywhere near him.
Ron shoved it onto the floor just as the portrait hole opened.
It was her. Hermione entered, laughing about something. Her hair was bouncing around her face, her lips a fresh cherry from the outside, barely darker than the flush of her cheeks. She was wrapped in a violet sweater and she looked beautiful.
Ron’s words were caught in the back of his throat.
He swallowed them once he saw Cormac McLaggen walk in the portrait hole behind her, laughing as well.
Cormac was looking just as pompous as always, holding the portrait open as Hermione finished stepping through.
“I can’t believe you did that, Cormac!” Hermione said, giggling as she tried to hide her blush. “I had so much fun…what a lovely day—and it’s only nine!”
Ron sat, dumbfounded, in the chair. He was still holding the roses and the chocolates now rested in his lap.
“Well, I needed to teach that bugger a lesson—trying to kick ME off the Quidditch pitch. I’m a world class Keeper, doesn’t he know that?” Cormac laughed in a loud manner and then finally caught sight of Ron sitting a few meters away. “Oh, hey, Weasley. Got a date?”
Hermione’s hands flew to her mouth. “Ron! I didn’t expect you up so early, how lovely!”
Ron could feel his face grow hot. “Yeah…I, erm…”
“Who’s the lucky girl?” asked Cormac. Ron could feel Hermione’s eyes on him. Cormac was laughing lightly.
“I—I have to go meet her downstairs!” Ron leapt to his feet and picked up the roses quickly.
“Good luck then, mate,” Cormac added as Ron made his way toward the portrait hole. “I got a jump on that Valentine’s thing early this morning…took Hermione here on a broom ride…all sorts of romantic rubbish. Didn’t I?” He looked at Hermione. Ron looked at her too.
Hermione nodded, but did not say a word. She was just staring.
Ron forced a smile. “Good then.” He pushed the portrait open and found himself in the seventh floor corridor leaning against the cold wall. What was he going to do now—go find some Ravenclaw in the Great Hall and profess passionate love to her because he had some roses and chocolates that were probably half melted by now.
Knowing he couldn’t just walk back into the hall, Ron made his way downstairs, tossing the roses and chocolates into a passageway onto the way. The Great Hall had a few students scattered around the room, each one looking bummed about breakfast without a beau.
Ron took a seat at the end of the Gryffindor table and helped himself to some toast and strawberry jam. He didn’t know what to do. Finally, after months, he had found the courage to tell Hermione how he felt only to have his heart stomped on my a sorry excuse for a Quidditch Keeper—what happened to Hermione loathing Cormac? Did he hex her?
His head flew around and Ron caught sight of Parvati Patil. She was wearing a pink sweater and her hair was all down around her shoulders.
He smiled. “Hi.” Ron motioned to the empty seat beside him. “How’s your Valentines Day?” He hadn’t talked to Parvati in days and never really knew if she had a boyfriend. He never really cared.
Parvati frowned as she put some butter on a muffin. “It’s…well, it’s just another day. How’s yours?”
Ron shrugged. “Just another day.” There was a pain in his gut.
“You look nice,” she said quietly.
He blushed. Ron had forgotten he had been wearing the nice collared shirt and pressed pants. He must look ridiculous without a reason. “Erm, thanks.” People were staring from across the room. He knew it was because he was sitting with Parvati.
“Oy, Weasley—looking to wear a Sari for your wedding?”
Ron rolled his eyes at Malfoy. “Shove off,” he muttered as Parvati blushed angrily.
Ron groaned. As if this moment could get worse.
“So it’s Parvati Patil! You could have told us that!” Cormac slapped him hard on the back and laughed loudly. “I get you, Weasley!” He leaned down and Ron clenched his teeth. “If Hermione woulda turned me down, I’d be where you are.”
“You don’t even know,” muttered Ron as Cormac led Hermione to the other end of the table to talk to his large-boned friends. He watched her take a seat, her shoulders squared together and her lips thinned.
“I didn’t know Hermione liked McLaggen,” said Parvati, giggling.
Ron narrowed his eyes. “Neither did I.” He stared at his toast. “It was nice talking to you,” he said, getting to his feet. This was too awkward and Ron did not want to sit around and watch Hermione be wooed by bloody Cormac McLaggen. Instead, he made his way back upstairs and into the dormitory where Harry was putting shoes on in the center of the room.
“Hey, mate…did you do it?”
Ron rolled his eyes and fell onto his bed. “This is rubbish,” he muttered.
“I take it…it didn’t go well.” Harry paused for a moment and looked at Ron. “What happened? What did she say?”
“She didn’t say anything…except, I had so much fun, Cormac…what a lovely day, Cormac—and it’s only nine, Cormac!”
Harry gasped. “She didn’t…not McLaggen!”
Ron nodded. “Right now she’s probably going on about how wonderful McLaggen’s broom is and how much she likes his hair or some rubbish…” He was furious. “I don’t know what to do!”
Harry sat on the end of the bed. “Don’t worry, mate. He probably gave her some potion or something. You can’t give up because of that git.”
“What am I supposed to do? I’ve lost the only love worth fighting for!”
Harry slapped Ron. “Ok, now you’re just being dramatic. Just get down there and see what the hell is going on.”
“What do you expect me to do? Oy, McLaggen! What’ve you given Hermione so she’ll fancy you?” He snorted. “Give me a break, mate.”
“Then go do something else!”
“So you want me to off McLaggen?” Ron thought for a moment. It wasn’t a terrible idea.
It was Harry’s turn to roll his eyes. “You’ll think of something.”
Ron closed his eyes for a minute.
“I’ve got it,” said Harry. “We’re going upstairs.”
Ron wrinkled his nose. “Do you really think going through McLaggen’s boxers are going to find the answer?”
Harry chuckled. “Shut up, mate. The spell only lasts for ten minutes—we need to find something or we might have to go with the theory that Hermione actually…likes him.” He cringed.
Ron pulled open a few drawers and moved various clothes around with his wand. He only saw pineapple boxers and various t-shirts. He checked under Cormac’s bed and found some dust and books that hadn’t been touched.
“Hey, look at this.” Harry straightened up over by Cormac’s wardrobe and unfolded a piece of parchment. “You’re going to lose the bet. There’s no way you can get her to like you. Good luck, you have until midnight.”
Ron’s eyes widened. “He had to have given her something! I know he did, that bloody rat!” He paused for a moment and kicked Cormac’s bedside table. “Do you see anything around—even something that looks like shampoo?”
Harry stared at the bottles sitting on Cormac’s dresser. “The only one that would know that is Hermione…blimey.” He ran his fingers through his hair. “Ok. We need to go watch them now.”
“For what? So I can blow chunks watching him talk to her?” Ron groaned. He closed a few drawers and they made their way back downstairs.
“I wonder who’s handwriting that is,” said Harry as they entered their vacant dorm. He looked at the slip of parchment again. “That’s definitely a bloke. I don’t know any of McLaggen’s friends…so I don’t know who to pick from.”
Ron checked over the note and frowned, placing it under his pillow just in case Seamus and Dean decided they wanted to go looking for sweets.
“Are you ready to trail McLaggen then?” asked Harry, pulling open the door.
Ron nodded, making a sour face, and followed Harry down the spiral staircase and into the common room. There were a few people there and one or two blokes waiting to meet their girlfriends.
They found Cormac and Hermione outside by the lake, sitting in a rare snowless patch under a tree. He was telling a wild story judging by the way he was moving his arms and Hermione was laughing, her hands clasped together.
Ron stared. Hermione never did that.
McLaggen was going down.
Harry led the way, dodging behind large trees and ducking against bushes. They found a nice spot several meters away from the tree, hiding behind a large bush covered in a thin layer of snow.
Ron let his knees hit the ground, not caring that they would soon be cold and damp. He focused his attention on Hermione. She was giggling now and blushing. She reminded him of Lavender or Parvati. Ron’s eyes scanned her, moving from her denim pants to her sweater, then to the cloak wrapped loosely around her arms (which he supposed to be Cormac’s), and up to her neck and her flushed face. Then, of course, to her shining brown eyes.
“Strange,” whispered Ron, staring still into her eyes. “I’ve never seen her eyes look so…”
Harry nearly choked. “HE HAS HER UNDER THE IMPERIOUS CURSE!” he said loudly, but not nearly loud enough to carry to the couple. “Bloody hell, Ron! This is worse than I thought!”
“Why is she not fighting it?”
Harry shook his head, thinking. “Because, when done with charm, how is she supposed to know? He charmed her with silly romantic words and she has no idea.”
Ron’s teeth grinded together. “So how do we fix it?”
Harry looked over. “There’s no use if we just take him out. We have to expose him. We have to find out when the other bloke comes into play…when McLaggen wins the bet. We need information.”
“So we’re going to bloody let her tail him like a dog?”
Harry nodded. “We have to. We have to take him down.”
“I say we just off him,” muttered Ron, but he knew Harry was right.
The pair stood up and Ron, having no idea what ideas were going through his best mate’s head, followed Harry. They ambled over to Cormac and Hermione, trying to talk about something useless like Quidditch.
“Potter! Weasley!” Cormac boomed. “I didn’t expect to see you way out here—taking a Valentine’s stroll?” He was laughing. “I didn’t think Potter was your type, Weasley. Abandon Parvati?”
Ron bit his lip so hard it almost bled. “How are the two of you getting on?” he asked, tightening his stomach.
“Wonderful, right Hermione?”
She nodded several times, her hair falling into her face as she did so. “Yes, of course. It’s beautiful outside. The weather is charming.”
Ron had to use every muscle to stop himself from killing Cormac right there on the spot. Hermione hated sitting outside in the cold. She was always balled up by the fire reading a book instead of listening to rogue-ish stories from some prat. Ron also wanted to pull the brown hair out of Hermione’s face, placing it loosely behind her ear.
“Good, good,” said Harry, noticing Ron’s momentary pause. “What’re your plans for the rest of the day then? Got any romantic dinners or strolls planned?”
“Why?” Cormac laughed.
“I like to learn from the best,” said Harry through gritted teeth.
Ron almost puked as Cormac beamed. “Of course! Of course! Well, in a few minutes I’ll be going back inside to meet with a few friends, then Hermione and I are going into Hogsmeade for dinner. I think I might let her pick the restaurant.”
“Oh?” said Harry. “Hermione, where would you like to eat?”
“There’s a lovely place…goodness, I can’t remember the name. It’s quite lovely and romantic inside.” She was grinning as she spoke.
“Madam Puddifoots?” asked Harry quickly.
Hermione nodded again very heavily. “Yes, of course! I love that place! It’s lovely! I love it!”
It was Ron’s turn to smile. “Yeah, you’ve told me how much you like that place,” he lied. “I hope you have a good time.”
Cormac chuckled. “We will. Thanks, Weasley. Good of you blokes to stop by.” With that he turned back to Hermione and started talking even though Ron and Harry were still standing beside them.
Ron rolled his eyes and took hold of Harry’s shirt, steering him back toward the castle.
“All right. Now all we have to do is wait for him to bring Hermione inside to his mates. Then we’ll figure out who wrote that note and made the bet and we’ll be able to expose that git for everything he’s done to Hermione.” Harry sighed and they sat down on the front steps of the building.
Ron was freezing, but he didn’t care. He watched from a distance as Hermione continued to do things that seemed so unlike her. If she was that way in reality Ron would probably want nothing to do with her, sort of like his current situation with Lavender.
“I remember when you first told me you liked her,” said Harry suddenly, warming his hands by rubbing them together. “It was after we went to bed when Seamus and Dean and Neville were downstairs playing Exploding Snap. I remember that because we could hear poor Neville screaming about it. You just rolled over and blurted it out.”
“And then you sat there and bloody laughed. Don’t remind me.”
Harry chuckled. “I’ve seen it coming for years.”
“I’m not lying! You’re just thick, mate.”
Ron gaped at him. “Are you being serious?”
“WELL YOU COULD HAVE BLOODY LET ME IN ON IT!”
Harry shook laughing and thumped Ron on the back. “Watching you was a bit more fun to me. Next time, though.”
Ron was about to reply, but he noticed Cormac and Hermione stand up and begin to walk toward the castle. “I’m going to put Veritaserum in your drink tonight, Harry. I just want you to know that.”
The pair ducked inside and behind a statue while Cormac led Hermione inside. Ron noticed her eyes now more than ever as she clutched to Cormac’s elbow. Harry crept behind them and up the marble staircase.
It took a few minutes to get to the trophy room. Cormac was telling Hermione about the trophy they made for him for being such a well-rounded student. She was lapping everything up, even asking questions about color and texture.
“I’ll show you. It’s right in here. In fact, there might even be people in here admiring it.” Cormac beamed. Hermione giggled. Ron fumed.
Harry pressed the door slowly open behind them and Ron could hear voices coming from inside.
“McLaggen, bloody hell. I…I really didn’t think you could pull it off.” Ron closed his eyes to try and make out the voice.
“Didn’t you see us together all day? I told you I have charm. Hermione, how was our Valentine’s Day?” Anyone could hear the smirk in Cormac’s voice.
“It was lovely,” said Hermione. “We’re going to go for dinner at Madam Puddifoot’s!”
“A surprise, but you’ve done well, McLaggen. I suppose I’ll have to hand over the money then.”
“Thank you.” Cormac paused. “Well, Hermione. We should be off then.”
“Why did he give you money, Cormac? Wait, where’s the trophy?” asked Hermione.
Ron tried peeking a bit further and could barely make out Hermione craning her head, trying to find the plaque that said McLaggen’s name.
“Let’s go to dinner,” Cormac said, putting his hand on Hermione’s arm.
“What trophy, McLaggen?”
Ron’s eyes bugged out. Now that his head was in the door he could see the pale frame of Draco Malfoy.
Cormac laughed nervously. “I couldn’t really tell her…our deal. That’s ridiculous and rude.” He covered Hermione’s ears and she just stood there.
“So you told her…there was a trophy?” Malfoy laughed.
“Well, yeah. But we’re going to leave now. See you, Malfoy.” Cormac steered Hermione toward the door.
“Oy, Granger,” said Malfoy, raising a brow. “How exactly did McLaggen talk you into being his girlfriend?”
Hermione glanced back. “What are you talking about? Cormac is lovely!”
“Everything seems lovely today,” said Harry, who was standing just inside the door with his arms folded, leaning against the cold stone.
“Potter!” Malfoy said loudly. “What is Potter doing here, McLaggen?”
“The weather is lovely and Cormac is lovely and the one restaurant you loathe in Hogsmeade is suddenly also lovely.” Harry paused for a moment and Ron took the time to analyze Cormac’s dumbstruck expression. The bloke kept looking from Harry to Malfoy to Hermione and then back to Harry.
“What’re you getting at?” Malfoy asked quietly.
“Mind your own business, Potter. You’re just ruddy jealous,” Cormac spat.
“Potter’s got a girlfriend,” said Malfoy. “What’re you saying?”
“As much as I hate helping you, Malfoy, this time I have to.” Harry almost laughed and Ron chuckled a bit. “Hermione is in no way interested in McLaggen. In fact, if she was completely in control of herself she might vomit at the thought of not only everything he has forced her to say today but also spending her time with someone who is so unworthy of it.”
Malfoy cocked his head to the left. “McLaggen’s been…controlling her?”
“Imperious,” said Ron quickly, staring at Hermione’s glass-like eyes.
“Son of Merlin!” Malfoy cried, pushing Cormac aside and staring directly into Hermione’s eyes. She was staring back. “You’re right, Potter.” He paused. “All right, I never thought I’d say that.”
Harry snickered a bit and Ron entered the room. Cormac gaped at the pair of them.
“This is ridiculous!” he cried. “Hermione’s fine! She fancies me, Weasley! Bloody get off it!”
“I can’t believe you tried to fool me, McLaggen,” said Malfoy darkly. “Hand back over the money.”
“Sorry for asking, but since I did discover what was going on…why the bet?” asked Harry.
Malfoy thought for a moment and then responded, “This bloke’s been whining for weeks about Quidditch and I told him if he got Granger to fancy him I’d give him a bag of gold and free try outs for the Finches. Father knows them.”
“And if he couldn’t get Hermione to fancy him?” pressed Ron.
“Then I’d have brilliant essays for History of Magic for the rest of term.”
Cormac was growing steadily redder in the dim light. “This is rubbish. Just rubbish.”
Malfoy took the money back and thumped Cormac hard on the back. “The next essay is on one of those goblin rebellions. Hope you have enough ink.” He chuckled and walked out, nodding to Harry and Ron as he went.
“Why Hermione?” asked Ron quietly.
“Because Malfoy said she loathes me!” Cormac retorted, taking out his wand. “All of this is just rubbish…” He waved it unenthusiastically and Hermione toppled to the ground. “Bloody enjoy…” He stepped over her just as Ron rushed forward and made his way out of the room.
“I’m going to follow him and maybe off him,” said Harry. He smiled and walked out of the room in the same direction as Cormac.
Hermione’s eyes fluttered open after a few seconds and she flew up, spotting Ron, who was sitting beside her. Ron smiled warmly at her.
“Oh!” Hermione cried, quickly taking in her surroundings. “Where am I? How did I get here—Oh, Ron! What’s happened?”
Ron bit his lip. “Umm. You’re in the trophy room, Hermione. You got here by…walking…Ok, I can’t really keep you in the dark.” He thought for a moment.
“The last thing I remember doing is coming downstairs and picking up my book by the fire. Then…nothing.” Her eyes were clouding with tears as she started to shake.
“Cormac McLaggen put you under the Imperious curse and had you paraded around like his girlfriend on Valentine’s Day to win a bet with Malfoy for some gold and Quidditch try-outs,” Ron recited quickly.
Before he knew it, Hermione threw her arms around him, sobbing into his green collared shirt. “I…I can’t believe it! I…I always thought if I was cursed I’d be able to overthrow it! I’m so weak!”
“No, you’re not,” replied Ron, smoothing out her hair. Even though she had been with Cormac all day she still smelled like perfume. “He’s a twisted bloke and he charmed you into it, so don’t you think you’re weak.”
“Oh, Ron…and you spent your whole Valentine’s Day trying to help me. You’re so sweet, but you didn’t have to do that.” She sniffed.
“Well, you see,” said Ron, trying to think of something interesting to say instead of talking about how much he wanted to beat the pulp out of Cormac, “I woke up this morning with the goal of telling a certain woman I like that I fancy her.”
“Oh? Ron, I’m sorry. Did you get a chance to?” Hermione tried to dry her eyes on the back of her hands. She sat up again and looked at him.
“Actually, no.” Ron stared at her. Hermione’s eyelashes were sticking together because of the tears. “I should do that though, right?”
“You should. I’m so sorry.”
“Don’t be,” said Ron. He leaned in and kissed her gently, taking her brown hair and pulling it behind her ear.
After a second or two, he whispered, “I had roses and chocolates, but that didn’t work out exactly how I’d planned. Though I’m sure I could find a rubbish trophy if you want one.”
Hermione smirked, her eyes still barely closed. “I think this will do just fine.”
He reached into his pocket quickly and took out the velvet box he had grabbed from his room that morning and handed it to her. “I almost forgot about this, you know. You’re lucky.”
Hermione raised a curious brow and took it from him, opening it slowly to find a sapphire necklace on a silver chair. She gasped. “Ronald!”
Ron beamed as she kissed him and threw her arms around him again for another hug. “Do you like it?”
“Ron, I love it!”
“Cormac might have given you diamonds,” Ron chuckled. “I should have let him keep you under that curse for a bit, huh? You could have woken up in Madam Puddifoot’s!”
“Oh, he was.” He smirked and kissed her gently on the tip of her nose. “What a class act, that bloke.” Ron kissed her again, this time on the cheek. “I guess this is as good a place as any to tell you Happy Valentine’s Day.”
Hermione nodded. “Happy Valentine’s Day, Ron.” She fastened the necklace behind her neck and smiled warmly.
“You look like you’re thinking.”
She nodded again. “I’m trying to think of the perfect curse to get Cormac with. Perhaps I’ll get advice from Malfoy.”
Ron pondered it for a moment. “That might be a good idea.” He kissed her. “Just…let’s wait a little while first.” He kissed her again.
“You’ve convinced me,” she replied and kissed him back.