Once Touched
by Allison E. Lane

You'll never know
How I watch you from a distance
How I wish I could find you alone
And say more than the hurried greetings
We sometimes exchange in passing
I treasure each brief encounter
I wish we could get to know each other
You're my friend, even though you barely remember my name...

I first met Percy Weasley the day we both started at Hogwarts: as two extremely nervous eleven-year-olds sitting beside each other in the little boat that would take us across the lake to the castle grounds. I come from a Muggle family, so naturally I was terrified the entire day. Nothing was familiar to me at all, and I felt very alone. It helped somewhat that the boy next to me looked as scared as I was. I stuck with him as all the first years journeyed up to the Great Hall--by then I felt a sort of kinship with him, he being the only person there that I knew to any degree at all, if only by virtue of having shared a boat.

I didn't know his name then, of course, but the Sorting Hat soon fixed that. I had been placed in Gryffindor, and sort of hoped that my red-haired boat buddy would be sorted into Gryffindor too, so I would have a familiar face. The next name Professor McGonagall read out from her parchment was "Weasley, Percival"--and the next thing I knew, he was seated at the Gryffindor table next to me. We shared a slight smile of recognition, and that was all.

The next day we had double Potions with the Slytherins. I walked in hesitantly--as I had done with all my classes so far--saw that we were meant to sit with partners, that Percy was alone, and even more hesitantly asked if I could join him. He nodded, I sat, and he extended his hand to me. I took it, and we shook in greeting.

"I'm Percy Weasley," he said, a trifle stiffly. "How do you do?"

I closely took in for the first time his neatly combed, flaming-red hair, horn-rimmed glasses, and sharp, studious face, and promptly fell head over heels in love.

From that day on we were friends, after a fashion. Harboring the affection for Percy that I did, I still never actively sought him out, the way the other first year Gryffindor girls did with Oliver Wood. (Fanatical though he was, Oliver definitely didn't hurt the eyes.) My parents were historians, and growing up I had surrounded myself with more books than people; I was simply too shy and unsure to make an out-and-out move to let Percy know how I felt. I was content to merely exchange the occasional greeting, study together on the odd blue moon, and silently bask in the kindness he never failed to show me.

Other people may laugh in disbelief at the idea, but Percy was always kind towards me. Yes, he could be pompous, at times arrogant towards others, and had a bit of a one-track mind, but beneath it all, he had a heart he seldom showed. He always treated me with kindness and--more important to me--respect.

I soon proved to be positively terrible at Potions. Professor Snape never missed an opportunity to humiliate me in front of the class and the Slytherin students loved to call me a 'useless Mudblood', but Percy never made me feel as if I were holding him back. Instead, he patiently guided me through the instructions for our potions until I understood them. He was too smart to defend me to the Slytherins, not with Snape in earshot, but more than once I caught him glaring at them. That sight never failed to cheer me up.

Slowly, I came to know him better. During our time in Potions, and whenever we happened to study together or find ourselves sitting with each other during meals, Percy told me about his family and how badly he wanted a position in the Ministry of Magic when he graduated. That Christmas, before he left for break, I gave him a book on the Ministry. He sent me The Idiot's Guide to Potions. And his brothers claim he has no sense of humor.

I said goodbye to Percy, in passing, on the train at the end of the school year. And as much as I wanted to, I didn't write him that summer. Despite my feelings for him, I wasn't sure if the nature of our friendship--not much more than being merely acquainted--warranted owling him. To this day I'm sure if he remembers me at all, it's simply as his Potions partner.

I was a little surprised, but definitely pleased, when Percy rejoined me in Potions our second year. I was friends with the girls in my year and could have partnered with any one of them; besides that, why would Percy still want to partner with someone as hopeless in the subject as myself? However, I deliberately left the seat next to me open in hopes that he would take it. Moments later Percy slid into his seat as he had all the year before, arranging his books and ingredients just so on the table before him. "Ready for the new year, are you? Did you have a nice summer?" he asked, in his typically formal way, and I couldn't help but smile.

Percy continued to partner with me in Potions all the way through our seventh year. I never did understand why he chose to do so, when I was easily the dimmest brain in the class. Maybe he sensed that I needed the help--certainly, if not for him, I never would have passed. Maybe he pitied my idiocy in the subject. Or maybe--maybe--he simply liked the company. I'd like to say it was the latter, but who knows? I just enjoyed his presence while it lasted.

As the years passed, I came to respect and admire Percy even more. There was so much about him that I found likable and interesting where others only saw a boring, stuffy killjoy. He was so intensely studious, always reading and working--he tended to spend almost as much time in the library as I did. He strove to do just as well in the classes he disliked as the ones he did like; my best subject was Charms, and while Percy found it tedious, he always earned equal marks to mine or better. And he never fell asleep in History of Magic. History was a special love of mine, but even I couldn't stay away listening to Professor Binns drone on and on. Percy always wanted to do right, and insisted that others do the same; when doling out punishments as a prefect, he was always fair. When teased--and it was often--he never showed anything but a brave front. And he was loyal. When his younger prankster brothers Fred and George came to Hogwarts, Percy spent a good deal of time in Potions muttering into his cauldron about how troublesome they were. But if anyone else spoke ill of them, he was always the first to jump to their defense.

Contrary to popular belief, Percy could let loose every now and then. He was an avid supporter of Gryffindor at Quidditch matches and cheered for his house team with the best of them. Once he played a game of gobstones with me. He rarely smiled, so it was a delight for me to see him grin after getting soaked by one of the stones. It was little moments like that that I lived for.

And so I watched, and admired, and loved, all from a distance, for five years. I never attempted more. Perhaps I should have.

Our sixth year, Percy and I were prefects together. I wasn't surprised about him--he'd been a prefect the previous year and done well at it--but I was rather shocked over my own appointment. I'd never thought of myself as exemplary. I was a good student; I did well in all my classes, excepting Potions; and I never caused any trouble. But I was never what you would call popular. Then again, neither was Percy. I met up with him as we both went to board the Hogwarts Express for the start of term, and he seemed pleased to see me wearing a prefect badge.

"You'll make a good prefect," he said to me as we made our way to the prefects' compartment at the head of the train. "Professor McGonagall was right to pick you."

I thrilled inside at his words and the confidence they gave me; he always seemed to know just what to say to boost my self-esteem. I smiled my thanks at him as he paused to let me pass ahead of him into the compartment.

Once all the prefects were seated, we introduced ourselves to each other. When Percy introduced himself to Penelope Clearwater, a new Ravenclaw prefect, I just barely saw his cheeks color light pink--and it wasn't from annoyance. My stomach involuntarily lurched. No one else had noticed; I had only because I watched Percy more closely than the others did. He likes her, I thought, feeling sick and somehow betrayed. I'd always liked to think of him as my Percy, since I was one of the very few people who never teased him. It had been incredibly stupid of me to feel that way, I knew, but... He likes her...

Why hadn't I ever made a move? I raged at myself. Why hadn't I done something before it was too late? And yet, as the year progressed, there were no more displays like there had been on the train. I never saw Percy and Penelope together save for at the prefects' meetings, and then Penelope never seemed to show anything but polite friendliness towards Percy. Percy was the same as he always was in Potions, if not a little more uptight due to the Chamber of Secrets scare. I began to wonder if I had imagined that blush, if I had only been seeing things, if it had really ever happened at all.

And then, amongst the fear and dread of that year with students being mysteriously Petrified, came the news that Penelope, along with Hermione Granger, had also been Petrified.

I don't think I'll ever forget the expression on Percy's face that evening as he sat in the Gryffindor common room, slumped down in a chair and enveloped in his own misery. I knew then that I had been right about him and Penelope all along, and my heart ached--for him. Watching him from my own seat near the fireplace, all thoughts of my own disappointment were swept away. I wanted desperately to go to him and say something--anything--that could help ease his pain, but I knew whatever I said would only come out sounding hollow and insensitive. I knew Percy wouldn't appreciate it in the least. So I merely sat there, helpless and indecisive, until he finally rose and wordlessly went to his dorm to be alone.

A week later I went to the infirmary for my right hand, which was covered in a mass of boils from a Potions assignment gone bad. Percy came with me to carry my books. It was a matter of only a minute or two for Madam Pomfrey to put a salve on the open sores and bandage my hand; when I turned to leave Percy was no longer behind me as I had expected. Instead he stood a few feet away, his profile facing me, staring fixedly at the bed where Penelope lay as if made of stone. I realized then that he had really accompanied me to the infirmary for a chance to see her, but strangely enough I didn't feel used... only sad. For him, not for myself. No one knew he was friends with Penelope, or that he felt for her the way he did, and since only the closest friends of the victims were allowed to visit them, Percy was unable to be at her side. I didn't even want to think about how that must be making him feel.

"It'll be alright," I said awkwardly, feeling very stupid indeed as I went to join him. "Professor Sprout will have the Mandrakes ready in no time."

Percy looked at me sharply, as if my appearance had startled him, and I wondered if he realized that I knew about him and Penelope. He seemed to forget himself for a moment, then cleared his throat and asked stiffly, "How is your hand?"

"It's better, thank you," I said, still awkward. "Professor Snape's sarcasm hurt worse, but I'll mend. Thank you for carrying my books..."

With an almost imperceptible sigh, Percy turned his back on Penelope's still form and began to head for the door, eyes steadfastly trained forward. I tried not to notice how painfully straight and tall he carried himself, or the shadows under his eyes. "It was no trouble at all," he replied, his voice uncharacteristically quiet and subdued. "Come on, then, I'll carry them to History of Magic for you."

Of course, Penelope and the other Petrified students were awakened at the end of the year, thanks to Professor Sprout's Mandrakes. Much to everyone's surprise, she and Percy went public with their relationship after that--for whatever reason they had been hiding it, I suppose they thought it was silly to go on doing so. The entire student body was staggered. No one had guessed that boring, pompous Percy Weasley would ever have a girlfriend, much less one like Penelope Clearwater.

Part of me tried to hate Penelope--she was pretty, well-liked, an ace student, and above all, she had Percy. But I couldn't ever bring myself to feel ill towards her. One look at the two of them together in the prefects' compartment on the train home was enough to dispel any evil thoughts I had. It was easy to see how happy Percy was when he was with her, how their eyes sparkled when they looked at each other.

It wouldn't have been hard for me to become jealous and bitter, but common sense told me that it would be a useless waste of energy. I had had more than my own fair share of chances to approach Percy, and had taken none of them. And I somehow doubted that I could make him as happy as Penelope did. Percy needed someone with just as keen an intellect as his, with the same drive to succeed, someone who would also help him to keep his feet on the ground and relax, to enjoy the little things in life. Someone with a sense of humor, and grace, and the ability to understand him completely. Someone like Penelope. When I was being truthful with myself, I knew that I simply didn't fit that bill. I would have been a fool to think otherwise.

In the end, I was content just to see Percy happy. Sometimes I amaze myself, remembering how unselfish I was then, but since I knew there was no chance for Percy and I to ever be together, what other sensible choice did I have but to share in his happiness?

To no one's surprise, Percy was named Head Boy our seventh year. Penelope, a year behind us, remained a prefect with me. That year was dominated by the matter of Sirius Black and the dementors, but consumed as I was with studying for my O.W.L.S, I barely noticed. The only subject I was concerned about was Potions, and Percy often took extra time to tutor me.

As final school years often do, time seemed to fly by without me. Almost before I knew it, I found myself in the dungeons for the final day of Potions, sitting next to Percy as usual. It struck me then that this would probably be one of the last times I would see him. We were both set to work with the Ministry of Magic, but since he was with the Department of Magical Cooperation and I with the Department of Historical Records, it didn't seem likely that our paths would cross much, if at all.

"Thank you," I suddenly blurted, softly, as I watched Percy carefully mix a powder into the cauldron before him.

I saw his hand flinch in surprise as he stirred; he was still concentrating on the potion. After a second, he looked at me out of the corner of his eyes. "Thank you? Whatever for?"

"For--for everything," I stammered, feeling utterly earnest and desperate and ridiculous all at once, the words spilling out in a babble. "For helping me in Potions all these years and encouraging me as a prefect and for--for just being around."

Percy had set down his stirring rod and was looking at me curiously. I just knew I'd said too much and made a fool of myself; my ears were flaming violently and I wanted nothing more than to crawl into the cauldron and die. This wasn't like me at all--and I think he knew it. "What's this all about?" he asked.

I glanced away. Something about his eyes made me uncomfortable; it was as if he could read my mind and knew how I felt about him. He always was too bright and perceptive for his own good. "It's just... I know we don't really know each other that well... but I've always thought of you as my friend, and I hope you consider me a friend too. And since I might not have the chance to talk to you after today, I thought I should thank you now for being a friend to me."

Percy regarded me for another moment, silently; beneath his collected exterior, I sensed that he was oddly touched, and didn't quite know what to say. "Why... thank you," he finally said, and turned back to the cauldron before Professor Snape had a chance to reprimand us for slacking.

In a way, I was glad he didn't say anything more. If he didn't think of me as his friend, I didn't want to know about it. But it was hard to imagine that a boy who'd so patiently led me through Potions for seven years thought of me with disdain. I know all the other Gryffindors--and Hufflepuffs, and Ravenclaws, and Slytherins, too, for that matter--believed Percy looked down on everyone. If he had ever become exasperated with me, I might have thought that, too. But he never did. And I know there were times I good and well deserved to be snapped at.

I didn't get a chance to speak with Percy at graduation. He gave a speech, befitting his status as Head Boy and recipient of a record number of O.W.L.S; I only half listened, choosing instead to focus on him standing there before the gathered audience, speaking confidently, his posture assured, everything about him perfectly in place. He was a good public speaker. There was no doubt in my mind that he would one day rise to become Minister of Magic. There was such a spark about him, such a fire, that few people ever bothered to see or even guessed at. Percy had a bright future ahead of him, I was sure of it. Part of me wished that I could be along for the ride--but no. I was content; I had made my peace long ago. I was content to simply be a friend to the shining star that was Percy Weasley, and to have had my life touched by him, if only fleetingly.

He gave me so much, Percy, he taught me so much, and he never even knew it. He showed me so many things about what it is to be loyal, and honest, and fair, and brave. He taught me to hold my head high, to never back down from what I knew to be right, to never be afraid to fight for my dreams. He gave me encouragement and support when I needed it. And he showed me one of the great fundamental truths of love: being in love is being truly, genuinely happy for your love's own happiness, even if it lies somewhere else--or with someone other than yourself.

I suppose most other people would never have let their first great love walk away with nary a word from their own lips. But I did, and I have no regrets about it. Why regret what could never be? Most likely Percy won't even remember me. But that's not important. I can say that I was once touched by his brilliance, and that's enough for me.


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