This story is dedicated to my Hubby, who actually did give me some of the items mentioned in this story, as Christmas presents. I'll leave you to decide which ones! (However, in his defence, he rarely has time to go shopping, and I must say that he is getting better.)
Thanks to: Imogen for brainstorming gift ideas (I hope her hubby isn't as bad as mine), Jo for thinking up the name of the restaurant, RG who shared his speech making expertise, and Sherry who not only suggested the ‘a' line in Hermione's acrostic poem, but also made time to do a last minute beta-read (two versions!!) for me.
Special Note: This story has given me a far greater appreciation of the differences in language and ideas between the US and UK. I never thought I'd get to do two editions of something – what a hoot! (But hey, if JKR can do it, why not me?)
Ron peered around the dusty interior of his father's shed. Surely there must be something worthwhile here, he thought. Something that would get him out of the desperate straits in which he found himself. Something that would stop him from being the soon-to-be-deceased Ron Weasley.
Muttering to himself he began sorting through a box of bric-a-brac. Flinging some things to the left (possibilities) and others to the right (yuk!) he soon had a pile that looked promising. It was lucky his father labelled many of the Muggle items that came his way – Ron would have had no idea what some of the things were otherwise.
The time pressure of having to provide a present was getting to him; luckily Hermione was working later than he tonight or he'd have really been up the stream without an oar. It had been much simpler when they'd still been at Hogwarts. In the good old days Sugar Quills or a box of Chocolate Frogs would have been acceptable. And if he forgot to get anything, he could always blame Pig for not delivering the gift on time.
He spied a clump of pieces of paper held together with string. They looked around the size of Muggle money, but had shimmery bits on them. Pulling one out of the wad he saw the words ‘Gift Certificate' with '20' and the squiggly symbol he knew to be the 'pounds' sign. No, he thought decisively. Hermione might just spend them in a bookshop, and he wanted his gift to be nothing to do with books, as much as he knew Hermione liked them.
With extreme caution he placed to one side a box with assorted round objects entitled ‘Scented Bath Bomb', ‘Fizz Bomb' and ‘Bubble Bomb'. While it was already nicely gift wrapped, he didn't think Hermione would like something that exploded her bath water. After all he could never even induce her to play Exploding Snap. Even if the box did proclaim ‘Skin softening', he wasn't certain how it would soften anything. However they sounded just up the twins' alley. He just hoped the bombs didn't do too much damage to his mother's newly refurbished bathroom; she'd been quite upset when Fred and George had destroyed it whilst experimenting with two way mirror magic.
As he hunted, Ron muttered about the perfidy of friends. Only the night before he'd been to see his best friend, expecting some sympathy and a little help, but what had he got? Laughter. Harry Potter had laughed at him.
"Just remember she's a girl, mate." Harry had advised in between chuckles. As if Ron could forget. Harry had of course bought Ginny the perfect gift weeks before. Bugger it.
As Ron left, seething and still clueless, Harry had flung a suggestion. "Don't get something useful, try a lingerie shop or something."
Lingerie shop? Fat lot of good that had been, Ron thought, sourly, discarding an ironing board cover. (Even he knew that would not be received with anything resembling joy). He'd ventured out into Muggle London, for one of his first-ever shopping expeditions. He'd even set foot in a lingerie shop called ‘Knickerbox'; one foot, but barely anything else. Funny, that was precisely what the models were wearing - barely anything. Harry could have told him he'd be seeing half naked women and lacy… things. Yes, he'd love to see Hermione wearing some of them. One particular frothy lace confection had caught his eye before he'd blushed furiously and backed straight out again. Besides, what if her mother – or even worse, her father - was present when she opened the gift and they thought it was too risqué?
This gift giving was too difficult. Firstly he had to please Hermione. Secondly it had to be parent appropriate. Thirdly he had to be romantic, since it was Valentine's Day for goodness sakes. And how was he to compete with Romeo-personified Harry Potter?
Maybe he should just get her a nice singing card.
A box of assorted ecklectic plugs and what-knots caught his eye. His father was obsessed with plugs – obviously they must be darn useful. Perhaps Muggles could never get enough plugs, and Hermione might like a nice set? He tilted his head consideringly at the multi-coloured wires coming out of the plugs. While the red wire was nice and Gryffindor-ish, the green and black reminded him too much of Slytherin. Pulling out his wand and muttering under his breath he changed the offending strands to gold. Much better.
A couple of purple boxes were tucked behind a doll with a big skirt (which on inspection was hiding a toilet roll. That went straight in the ‘possible gifts for Mum' pile). With the doll now out of the way he saw the boxes proclaimed "Lil-Lets – The Best Protection". Nothing showed love more than wanting your girlfriend to be safe, did it? He picked up the boxes for a closer look. Yes, that had definite possibilities.
Now which box to give? One was labelled Light to Medium, the other Medium to Heavy. On the one hand, with all the trouble he, Harry, and Hermione got into, heavy protection might be best. But what if Hermione was insulted that he thought her fat?
He turned the boxes over. "Medium to Heavy. Proven the best protection. LIL-LETS Tampons give you our best ever protection and are easy and comfortable to use."
Making a decision he put the two boxes with his plugs. If he gave both of them, Hermione could make a decision about how much protection the situation warranted.
Adding a few more likely prospects to his pile, Ron glowed with manly pride. This was going to be great – a Valentine's Day to go down in history; Hermione would no doubt consider him the best boyfriend she'd ever had. Not that she'd ever had another one, but that was beside the point. He was certain he now even could match Harry for romanticism. After all, he had five gifts to Harry's measly one!
A familiar white owl tapped its beak against the window as Hermione gazed out unseeingly in an uncharacteristic daydream. Hermione was usually the most conscientious of research clerks in the Department for the Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures; her ultimate goal being to have the rights of enslaved beings and beasts addressed by the Ministry of Magic.
Today she couldn't help but be a little pre-occupied. Tomorrow was Valentine's Day, and from the furtive glances Ron had been giving her recently, plus the specious excuse he'd made for not joining her tonight for their regular Thursday night dinner at a local pub, she knew he was trying to find a gift for tomorrow.
Opening the window and letting Hedwig in, she saw Ginny's writing on the note. Obviously Ginny had borrowed Harry's owl once again. Maybe they weren't coming to the pub either? She hoped they were – she didn't feel up to sitting at home alone this evening. But then, watching Harry be the perfect romantic boyfriend wasn't on her list of sights needing to be repeated with monotonous regularity.
"Don't push so hard... ow..." Hedwig obviously didn't like Hermione ignoring her and the letter, and Hermione was left nursing a pecked finger. "All right, I'm reading it!"
Unfolding the note she began to read.
Harry just told me Ron came to his flat last night asking for advice on V. Day presents. Harry suggested lingerie – can you believe it? Since Ron doesn't know a C Cup from a Quaffle, I think we may need to get together for ice cream and a whine after the gift giving.
Where are you and Ron going for dinner? Harry won't tell me where he's booked us to go - he says it's a surprise, but I have to be ready by 7.30.
P.S. My bloke is so transparent. You don't need to be brilliant at Divination to ‘See' he's got me jewellery. As if I need another necklace or pair of earrings. How many ears does he think I have?
Hermione giggled and Hedwig rubbed against her trying to see what was so funny. "Stop that!" Hermione laughed. "It tickles!" Picking up her quill she scribbled a quick reply, Hedwig hooting approvingly as she read along.
Ginny, my bet is on a ring box. For you, that is. As for me I'll be content with an Omniocular replay of Ron browsing a lingerie shop. You may be on for tomorrow night – Ron's sneaking around isn't making me feel optimistic.
I don't know where Ron and I are going either. He's picking me up at about ¼ to 8.
Giving Hedwig an owl treat and sending her on her way with the note, Hermione went back to looking pensively out the window.
Valentine's Day was almost over and Hermione was feeling peevish. The report in front of her called for an impartial view on whether ‘beasts' should be allowed to teach at the various wizarding educational facilities in Great Britain, including Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. As a good friend of hers - who had also been one of her favourite teachers - was classified under the confines of her department as a ‘beast', she was finding neutrality to be somewhat difficult.
To add to her mood, the office was resplendent with floral offerings. None of them were for her.
Owls had been zipping in and out delivering red envelopes containing not the usual Howlers, but romantic cards filled with passionate poetry sung in varying degrees of tunefulness. "Drivel!" muttered Hermione, trying to pretend she didn't care that so far no owl had stopped by her desk.
"Men are very strange creatures," she grumped. "I'm not even sure if they should be classified 'beings' but rather get 'beast' status."
Her quill seemed to take on a mind of it's own and she began doodling on the parchment in front of her. Glancing down at what she'd written, she blushed and hurriedly scrunched it up and shoved it in the pocket of her robes, in case one of the cleaning staff saw it lying on her desk.
Getting to her feet, she gathered her things together. It was pointless staying at her desk any longer; she wasn't getting any work done, and besides, everyone else had left fifteen minutes earlier.
Her peevishness was quite dispelled the minute she opened the laundry cupboard door (set up as an Apparation point – the one place in the house no-one was likely to lurk) and stepped out into the hallway of the home she still shared with her parents.
A series of badly wrapped and interestingly shaped gifts lined the hallway table. One of them was squeaking, which probably accounted for the way Crookshanks was eyeing the parcels with what could only be described as lustful intent.
All was revealed a few minutes later.
Hermione looked around in bemusement. Her mother was giggling hysterically, her father was attempting to be calm, but every time his eyes lit upon the boxes of tampons his lips would quiver with suppressed mirth. Crookshanks had once more chased the magically animated toy mouse under the refrigerator, and was skulking dangerously, awaiting an opportunity to pounce.
"Do you think Ron actually knows what this is for?" queried her mother, indicating the gold coloured toilet brush and cylindrical holder. There was a tag attached reading ‘Long-handled Toilette Brush'. "For use as a back scrubber, perhaps?"
Hermione's father wrenched his eyes away from the now-dangerously altered electrical plugs and snickered. "Maybe it's for someone with long hair to get the tangles out in those hard-to-reach areas at the back?"
"I'll give you hard to reach!" Mrs Granger waved the toilet brush threateningly at her husband.
"Help, I need protection!" he exclaimed. "Should I use medium or heavy?" As he spoke he accidentally knocked a packet over, spilling white cylinders on the floor. Crookshanks immediately began a new game of Toss-The-Tampon. The three Grangers fell into spasms of laughter.
"Well dear," said Hermione's mother, wiping tears from her eyes, "that boy of yours certainly is original!"
"He is that," sighed Hermione. "Well, I better go have a shower – Ron will be here soon."
Ron surprised not only himself, but the Grangers as well, by being early. Good time keeping – except on the Quidditch Pitch – was not one of his strong points. He was so early in fact, that Hermione was not quite ready. She was quite flustered when he suddenly appeared in the living room, as she was clad only in a floral cotton dressing gown with her hair in curlers. Thankfully the mudpack had been washed off only minutes before.
"Ron!" she gasped, clasping the gaping neckline of her dressing gown to her chest. "You're early," she added inanely.
Ron felt his ears go red. "Uh-" he uttered, trying to look anywhere but at Hermione's chest.
"I'll go get ready," said Hermione, and fled up the stairs.
Ron's face was still flaming as he looked around the room, trying to find something to stop himself from watching Hermione's cute little…dressing gown… disappear up the stairs. A piece of paper lying on the floor caught his eye. Reaching down he picked it up and was about to throw it in the nearby rubbish basket when he saw the word ‘prat'. Realising anything written in Hermione's writing with that word on it, had to be about him, he decided to read it.
Unfolding the crumpled piece of paper, he saw an acrostic poem that filled the page in front of him.
Ridiculously tall with raging red hair
Only a mother could love
Negligent, nincompoop, unromantic
Absolutely asinine at all opportunities (cute though)
Loud and obnoxious - absolute prat
Does he ever think of anything but chess and Quidditch?
Why do I love him, anyway?
If Ron's ears hadn't already been red, they would have been now. It wasn't the fact that Hermione had obviously been a trifle angry with him when she'd written it – he could tell by most of the words: although he wasn't certain what ‘asinine' meant, he gathered it wasn't complimentary – he was also amazed by the last line. She loved him. Ron Weasley. Despite the fact he was an unromantic redhead obsessed with Quidditch. He'd been fretting lately that it wasn't the case – but now he knew for certain. It felt… good.
"Ron," Hermione - now immaculately dressed – descended the stairs to stand beside him, "where on earth did you get that?" She distinctly remembered throwing it into the rubbish bin.
"It doesn't matter," smiled Ron. "I love it: straight from the heart, and to the point, just like you. We better go, though. Our Portkey time is at five past eight; with all the traffic expected this evening I had to reserve a time in order to arrive at the closest arrival point to … where we're going." He winked. "I didn't think you'd want to go by Floo and get soot everywhere."
"Where are we going?" asked Hermione, reaching out to grasp Ron's hand.
The Portkey suddenly activated and they were pulled into a maelstrom of swirling wind and colour, before coming to a sudden stop. Slightly dizzy, Hermione held onto Ron to re-orient herself. Looking around she saw they were in a tucked away corner of one of the smaller lanes leading off Diagon Alley. ‘The Lonely Hermit' proclaimed the sign, dripping in pink and red roses.
A silver-clad wizard showed them to their table. It was obvious that the restaurant took its name seriously – each table would more comfortably seat one than two. However the ambience was conducive to a romantic interlude, with soft candle lighting and red roses in abundance.
Pulling out a chair, Ron gestured for Hermione to sit. She sighed and glanced around her. "Oh, this is fabulous, Ron! How ever did you hear about this place?"
"Harry told me about it," said Ron, taking his seat.
Hermione winced, inwardly. Harry again. Of course he'd know the most romantic spot to be on Valentine's Day. The wizard at the table behind them adjusted his seat, knocking into Hermione's.
"Sorry," he mumbled. It seemed that the restaurant, generally seating only one per table, was not ideally sized for double the quantity of chairs.
"There they are," Ron nodded towards a couple holding hands at the next table, heads bent towards each other. Harry's unruly fringe seemed in danger of catching alight from the candle.
Ginny glanced up and saw them watching. She smiled and waved, Harry turning slightly in his chair to see whom it was she was greeting. He fell sideways to the floor as his chair legs entangled those of the woman behind him.
"It's nice here – but a little cramped!" he exclaimed, getting to his feet.
"Maybe we should combine the tables – we'd gain a little floor space," suggested Ron.
"Good idea," agreed Harry.
They stood and placed their chairs to one side just as two waiters arrived, each carrying a silver tray upon which rested a velvet bag.
"Mr Potter?" queried one.
"That's me," said Harry, taking the bag and putting it on the centre of his table.
Ron took the other bag from the proffered tray, and placed it next to the vase on his and Hermione's table, before moving the table a little more towards Harry's. As the men re-arranged the seating so they had least chance of bumping against other patrons, Hermione and Ginny busied themselves adjusting the candlesticks and place settings.
As they took their seats once more, Ginny glanced around happily. "This is so much fun. We should go out more often to nice places. The Leaky Cauldron just isn't as peaceful as this – everyone stopping by to say hello, nothing private."
Ron looked up from his menu. "It depends what the food is like. At least at the Leaky Cauldron you understand what the food is going to be when you order it. What's…" he scrunched up his face and tried to pronounce something in French. "Terrine de Saumon aux Epinards?"
"Salmon and Spinach terrine," Hermione translated. "I was thinking of getting that."
"Spinach?" groaned Ron. "I don't know how you can eat that!"
Their orders taken by a wizard waiter, the foursome sat and sipped their champagne, all enjoying the conviviality of a night out together.
"Shall we open our gifts?" suggested Ginny, just a little tipsy.
"Yes, let's!" agreed Hermione. "You first."
Ginny reached for the jewellery bag resting near Harry's elbow, and opened it with ill-concealed excitement. The bag yielded a small domed box that Hermione was not surprised to see looked remarkably like a ring box.
Flipping the lid open, Ginny squealed in excitement. "Yes, Harry. Oh yes!" He looked rather startled as she sprang to her feet and fair leaped into his lap, kissing him soundly. "It's beautiful," she held her hand so the candlelight made the diamonds sparkle. "It –" she began once more.
Harry glanced quickly Ron, then down at Ginny's hand. "Yes, I know it goes with my eyes," he muttered, and then grinned. "Glad you like it – and my ‘fine eyes' – though."
Hermione was nearly one hundred percent happy for Ginny and Harry. After all they were obviously in love, and the ideal couple. But she had to admit that her stomach had sunk rather. Why did Harry have to be so perfect? And – looking at the ring gracing Ginny's hand – did the ring have to be so perfect as well? The emerald set between two smaller diamonds was exactly what she would have loved for herself, if… She shook her head. She loved Ron, and despite his inability to choose a romantic gift, he had tried.
"It's beautiful," she said honestly, getting up to hug first Harry, then Ginny. "Not another pair of earrings, I see," she whispered.
"Emeralds are supposed to bring security in love," said Ron. "But they're quite brittle, so the jeweller put on a strength enhancement charm…"
Ginny and Hermione looked at Ron in surprise.
"Uh-" he flushed.
"Ron was with me at the jewellery shop," Harry interjected.
"Oh, of course," said Ginny with a smile and a significant glance in the direction of Hermione's gift.
Hermione reached for her parcel, wondering what Ron might have selected in a jewellery shop. She opened the velvet pouch and pulled out a domed box that was slightly bigger than Ginny's. Ron's hand suddenly covered hers. "Let's leave it, shall we?" he suggested softly, tilting his head at his starry-eyed sister and best friend.
Raising his glass, he spoke. "To Ginny and Harry. You deserve each other. After all a star Seeker always needs a Chaser to back him up...and we know how long Ginny has been chasing." He mock-glared at Harry. "But you better look after her, or you'll be coughing up slugs on your honeymoon."
"You do that, and I'll have you peeing pink for a year!" threatened Ginny.
"See what I mean?" Ron looked at Hermione in aggrieved sorrow. "They deserve each other. Every bit of trouble I've got into in my life has been as a direct result of either of these two."
Hermione smirked into her glass of champagne as Ginny bonked Ron on the head with her purse.
He winced. "How about ‘the best sister and best friend a bloke could wish for'."
Ginny's eyes misted over, and Harry clapped Ron on the shoulder. "You'll be my Best Man, of course?" he queried.
"Who else would you have?" said Ginny.
"Well Hermione is my other best friend…"
"But I don't think she'd look as good in a Morning Suit as in a Bridesmaid dress," laughed Ginny.
There was general laughter and chatter, during which noone noticed Hermione take a surreptitious glance at her present. Gasping, her eyes fell upon a gift of great significance, a gift she would treasure forever, although she would never wear it. It was an exquisite pair of earrings, each gold hoop hung with a diamond encrusted initial – the letter G – which perfectly matched the necklace currently gracing Ginny's slender throat.
Her eyes met Ron's across the table, and he grinned ruefully at her, shrugging. If his choice of rings were anything to go by, her man had a touch of romance in his soul after all.