Chapter 1 : Operation Won-Won
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The mission is top-secret. The plans are classified. The recruits are stealthy. They have one objective: infiltrate one truly irritating love triangle.
It was Valentine's Day, and Harry was alone. He was alone for two reasons: first, because Hermione, in a foul mood, had taken to stalking the halls looking for reasons to tell off first- and second-years in order to vent her frustration. And the second reason that Harry was alone, was the very thing that had also flipped the switch on Hermione's temper: Ron and Lavender had become little more than a mass of red and blonde hair and tangled arms in a remote corner of the common room.
But Harry, appreciating the rare occurrence of peace and quiet, found that he didn't care too much at the moment. He had been thumbing through his Potions book for several minutes when the soft sound of someone clearing her throat interrupted him.
"Hey, Harry," said Parvati. "Do you mind if I join you?" She aimed a significant glance in the direction of Ron and Lavender's chair.
Even Harry could see that Parvati had been lonely for the past few months. It had occurred to him this kind of situation – the Ron and Lavender kind – weighed differently on female friendships than it did on male friendships.
"Sure," he said. He went back to perusing his Potions book, thinking that Parvati intended to do the same.
"It's a little embarrassing, isn't it?" she offered unexpectedly a few moments later. Harry glanced up and shrugged noncommittally.
"I feel bad for Hermione," she pressed.
Harry looked at her warily. "Why?" he asked.
Parvati rolled her eyes and abandoned all pretense. "You've known them for five years, so don't play dumb. This whole thing – it isn't right, and you know it as well as I do."
"Seems alright for Ron and Lavender."
"Well, no offense to Ron, but it's fairly obvious he's not that happy with her. Half the time they're doing this," she jerked her head in the direction of Ron and Lavender's corner, "but the rest of the time he looks bored. And as her friend, I'd like to see her with someone who wants to be there – really wants to be there, as in all the time, not just for these generous displays they put on for the whole school."
She held up her hand to silence Harry as he started to interrupt in Ron's defense. "I'm not passing judgment on him, Harry, because I know why he's like that. And it has everything to do with Hermione, so don't argue about it with me. And if you hadn't noticed, Lavender is a bit boy-crazy. She only likes the feeling of being in love, and there are lots of other boys she was interested in besides Ron…and I'm sure some of them would really appreciate her for who she is."
Harry had no idea why Parvati was spilling some of Lavender's secrets to him, and more importantly, he had no idea what she was talking about. So he continued staring at Parvati, hoping that somewhere in her stream of consciousness she would say something that he could understand without a girl-to-boy translation dictionary.
"Harry, I think we need to do something about it."
Except that. Anything but that.
"I have a plan," she continued.
Harry had seen enough of girls' plans in his young life, and he knew right away that he wanted nothing to do with it.
When he told Parvati as much, she responded, "No, listen! We've just got to attack it from three sides. We get people to help us – everyone knows what's really going on anyway. We have to plant the idea in Ron's mind that Lavender's not good for him and Hermione is. We have to get Hermione to give Ron a chance and actually own up to her feelings. We have to convince Lavender that Ron's not good for her and that there are a bunch of other boys who like her – which there are. And then it all comes together and" – she clapped her hands together – "success!"
Harry stared at Parvati for a full ten seconds.
"Well, that doesn't sound complicated at all," he said finally, looking at her as if she had lost her mind.
"It's not! It's very simple, and we – "
"We?? I don't want any part of this. And you can't work on Ron with just a bunch of girls. It'll never work."
"Who needs girls when you have these idiots?" she asked, gesturing to Seamus and Dean, who had just entered the room.
"Seamus! Dean!" Parvati waved them over, lowering her voice again once they had obliged. "I'll do your homework for a week if you help me get Ron and Hermione together."
They regarded her thoughtfully.
"Two weeks," said Seamus.
"One and a half."
"Throw in a date with your sister."
"Twelve days, and you leave my sister alone, you creep."
"Excellent, I'll be in touch. Don't say anything to anyone!" she hissed as the two grinning boys walked off towards the dormitories. Then she turned back to Harry and gave him a satisfied look that was frighteningly similar to Hermione's patented "I told you so" stare.
"If you don't want to help me, so be it. But if you say anything about this to them, I will hex you so terribly you won't know which way is up." She gathered her things and gave Harry a mischievous smile before she departed. "Now, sit back and learn from a master."
* * * * *
At lunchtime four days later, a combination of smug condescension and morbid curiosity provoked Harry to ask how the plan was moving along. But after hearing Parvati's response, he wasn't sure he really wanted to know.
Operation Won-Won, as Parvati had dubbed it, seemed to encompass half the sixth-years in the entire school, as well as a healthy number of fifth- and seventh-years. The massive operation was comprised almost entirely of girls, including Ginny Weasley, Luna Lovegood, Padma Patil, Hannah Abbott, Susan Bones, Demelza Robbins, and Katie Bell – the female Quidditch players were, apparently, vitally important, since they were the closest thing to a female friend that Ron had, with a certain obvious exception. There were several names Harry did not recognize well, and there was even a fifth-year Slytherin Prefect named Ava Greene participating, as she was supposedly on decent terms with Hermione.
Harry found himself involuntarily fascinated and awed by Parvati's ability to mobilize such a large group of people. He pulled himself together just enough to tell her it would never work anyway, but felt the patronizing smile slide off his face when Hannah walked by and gave Parvati a furtive thumbs-up that seemed to indicate something had just been successfully carried out.
* * * * *
Operation Won-Won, Day Four.
"Luna was asking me some very odd questions about Ron," said Hermione as she looked over Harry's Transfiguration essay. "I don't know what that's about. Do you?"
It was then that Harry realized it would be difficult hanging around Hermione for the next several days. In direct contrast to how Ron worked through his confusion (by making two statements and then falling silent), Hermione worked through hers by asking question after question after question. And that practically invited Harry to say something stupid that would blow the whole scheme.
Harry decided that, from then on, he would only talk to Hermione when there was food nearby. Then, when she asked a question to which he perfectly well knew the answer, he would grab the nearest edible substance and shove it into his mouth, thus making it impossible to say anything at all.
* * * * *
Operation Won-Won, Day Five.
"You know what my sister said to me today?" asked Ron as they entered their dormitory. "She reckons Hermione is jealous of Lavender and me!"
Harry froze. "Oh," was all he managed to say.
"Yeah, I couldn't believe it! I mean, it's totally ridiculous – don't you think?" Ron sounded as though some part of him, buried just underneath the surface, wanted Harry to vehemently disagree.
"Um…well…I think Ginny would know more about those things than I would." That sounded neutral enough.
It was at that moment that their other three dorm mates entered the room, and Harry was spared the agony of talking about it anymore, as Dean and Seamus rose to the task Parvati had given them.
"So, Ron," said Seamus in an offhand way as he dug through the piles of clothing scattered on the floor around his bed, "how're things with Lavender?"
Ron sighed. "I dunno. Weird."
Dean laughed. "She does seem like a bit of a handful, mate," he said sympathetically. "I feel for you." Harry noticed that Dean was a much better actor than Seamus.
"You know," added Dean a moment later, "I hear rumors there's someone else who likes you." Seamus laughed and wolf-whistled and made suggestive facial expressions, probably to make sure the conversation didn't sound too girly.
"Really?" Ron's brow furrowed.
"Yeah, who?" asked Neville, genuinely confused. "You're…you're not talking about Hermione, are you?"
The room fell silent, Ron's face turned bright red, and Harry briefly considered throwing something at Neville. This, he realized, was why more girls than boys were enlisted in Parvati's scheme.
* * * * *
If Harry thought Dean and Seamus' ill-fated contribution was indicative of how the rest of the plan was working out, he was sorely wrong. Because, in the few days that followed, he noticed several things had already changed.
Lavender, for one, was spending much of her time staring at certain boys who were not Ronald Weasley – owing, no doubt, to the careful investigation and hint-dropping by Parvati's recruits who had been assigned to the L Division of Operation Won-Won. And each of those boys, without fail, stared right back.
The R and H Divisions must have been doing something right, as well. Besides the fact that Ron and Hermione were now on speaking terms – albeit awkward and hesitant speaking terms – Harry noticed that there was a great deal of blushing from Hermione, smiling from Ron, and sideways glances from both of them.
The most disconcerting part of the whole scheme, was how utterly disciplined and dedicated everyone involved was. Harry couldn't pass any members of Operation Won-Won in the corridors without receiving some kind of wink, nod, knowing smile, or thumbs-up. And he had actually come across Parvati in the common room one night, consulting a piece of parchment that had various symbols and names connected by lines and arrows. It looked like a battle plan.
* * * * *
Operation Won-Won, Day Ten.
As they sat waiting for their Charms lesson to begin, Parvati took advantage of the fact that Ron was uncharacteristically engrossed in something academic that Hermione was explaining and Lavender was absorbed in something very funny that Seamus was doing. She pelted Harry with a crumpled-up piece of parchment, which he opened to reveal a note that said: How shall you repay me for accomplishing this? A lifetime of servitude, maybe?
Harry grinned and scribbled: If you actually succeed at this, I'll be impressed. What's in this for you, anyway? Upon reading that, Parvati shrugged her shoulders and smiled enigmatically. Then she mouthed something that looked distinctly like, It's fun!
* * * * *
Operation Won-Won, Day Thirteen.
Harry knew something big had happened when Ginny grabbed him by the sleeve of his robes – apologizing to Hermione and promising she would bring Harry right back – and tugged him over to where Parvati was doing her Divination homework.
"The hippogriff has landed," said Ginny.
"Amicable?" asked Parvati.
"Aye-aye. Proceed with Project Hermes."
"Does Cupid have a target?"
Ginny made a face. "Finnegan," she said. Then she was gone in a flourish of long, red hair.
"Um…" Harry looked helplessly at Parvati. "Translation?"
Parvati beamed at him and lowered her voice to just below a whisper. "Ron and Lavender have had a friendly breakup. Lavender's setting her sights on Seamus – ugh, I guess he'll do, he's liked her for ages anyway. And now we can proceed to the final phase."
"There are phases involved??"
Parvati stared at him as though he had just asked whether there were really twenty-six letters in the alphabet. "Um…obviously, Harry." She rolled her eyes.
Then, extracting, two pieces of parchment from her bag, she said, "Now we deliver these notes, and the rest of the pieces fall into place."
Harry took the two notes from Parvati and examined them. It was clearly Dean's handiwork. Nobody else could forge handwriting like he could. The first letter, in a perfect imitation of Hermione's handwriting, read: Ron, meet me in the common room at 1:00 tonight. The other, in "Ron's" handwriting, was addressed to Hermione and said the same thing. They were both unsigned.
"Yeah, right," said Harry. "You're not really doing this, are you?"
"Of course I am."
"What if there are other people in the common room?"
"There won't be."
Harry should have known. If Parvati could organize a covert operation under the nose of her own best friend, she could certainly clear out a common room if necessary.
"And if this works…won't Lavender be upset?"
"No, because Lavender was the one who made the decision to break up with Ron. I guarantee she's over it."
"But…how do you know this is going to turn out right?" he asked. "They both come down here, see each other, realize they didn't write each other's notes…and then what?"
Parvati's eyes sparkled. "And then what, indeed…"
* * * * *
Operation Won-Won, Day Fourteen.
For the rest of his life, Harry would never understand how she did it. But she did.
When Harry entered the common room that morning, the first sight that greeted his eyes was of Ron and Hermione, hand in hand, sitting at a table by the fireplace. Ron's right hand holding Hermione's left, of course, so that her right hand was free to write her Charms essay. As she wrote, she grinned giddily to herself. Ron, on the other hand, was staring at their entwined fingers with a farcical expression of shock on his face – every so often, he would look up at Hermione, as if making sure she were still there, and then a new look of amazement would register on his face as he looked back down at their hands.
Someone nudged Harry playfully, and he looked around to see Parvati, who had just come downstairs from the girls' dormitories. He looked at her in bemusement.
She laughed as she passed by him on her way to join Lavender.
"Honestly, Harry, it was so simple. What have you been doing for the past five years??"