Ron was sitting on the edge of his bed and scowling at his reflection in the cracked mirror.
Another Bloody Weasley wedding.
So soon after Bill and Fleur he was forced to have a haircut and put on itchy robes by his mother for Harry and Ginny. That was an annoyance in itself. It was expected for the oldest of them to settle down and get married but the youngest? And she was still in bloody school! Nobody had been pleased by Harry and Ginny's announcement but the giddiness of being alive to marry on Harry's part and the smugness of being the one famous Harry Potter wanted to marry on Ginny's had been impossible to argue with.
Seventeen and eighteen years old and getting married; Ron snorted and rolled his eyes. He and Hermione hadn't even got together properly let alone shagged. He couldn't imagine marriage. He couldn't even think ten minutes ahead let alone a lifetime ahead.
What if Hermione got on his nerves or him on hers? What if Harry became more famous and Ginny got jealous of being pushed to one side? After all, she was only something special in the Weasley family and not to the Wizarding world in general. Then again Harry might want to settle down to a quiet boring life forevermore and Ginny could want to flounce about town being Mrs Saviour of the Wizarding world, going to parties and being envied.
Percy had expressed a doubt that the marriage was doomed and everybody told him to shut up and he was a prat. Then the twins had opened the betting and every person who placed a bet betted against them. It was terrible really, the lack of faith.
Ron still put down a Galleon on it not lasting five years.
The door creaked open a little and a veil of silver hair swung through, followed by an angelic face with wickedly mischievous eyes.
"'Allo Ron," Gabrielle smiled, "are you dressed?"
"Yeah, c'in?" Ron nodded with a friendly smile.
"Well zere is no point if you 'ave clothes on!" The girl huffed before spinning around on her heel and moving back out to the hall again.
Ron laughed and threw a pillow at his sister-in-law's much more human sister. Not to say Fleur wasn't human, she was of course, but the older Delacour girl was like the sun. If you looked at Fleur for too long you would be rendered blind and wouldn't be able to see any other human being for at least a couple of hours. Gabrielle was beautiful but also very approachable and warm Ron assumed it came with the naivety of youth.
Yes, that was the difference between them, Fleur made you shiver and Gabrielle made you feel warm inside.
Gabrielle was also an unbelievable flirt for a thirteen year old!
While Fleur's way had been to merely exist in the presence of men and select the one who most took her fancy from the crowd that grew around her Gabrielle would always seek Ron out to make him blush. There was something else about Gabrielle too, she was the only person Ron had ever known who had ever been more impressed with him than Harry and that included Hermione.
He remembered reminiscing with her about the Second task of the Tri Wizard tournament once and she had smiled up at him with those wicked eyes, turned up at the corners just a little, and said something that had made him feel like a million Galleons.
'An 'ero must do impressive things, zat is why 'e eez an 'ero, but ze friend of an 'ero chozes 'es destiny and joins a fight zat was never 'is because eet iz a worthy fight...Zat is why I would razer 'ave one good friend inztead of a dozen 'eros!'
"Ginny looks very beautiful," Gabrielle said as she carried Ron's pillow back to his bed and sat beside him, "Zey will be 'appy together no?"
Ron looked across at Gabrielle and arched one of his eyebrows.
"You don't theenk?" the luminous witch asked him, placing a hand upon his thigh.
"Do you?" Ron responded to her question with another, it was his favourite way of avoiding blame in conversations.
Gabrielle seemed to understand, as always, they were on the same wavelength most of the time and Gabrielle was great at fine tuning the frequency.
"I theenk zat 'Arry iz only 'appy when 'e iz miserable and Ginny iz only 'appy when she iz ze most special person in ze room."
"Yeah," Ron nodded, "I think what you think."
"Does zat mean you are theenking what I am theenking?" Gabrielle grinned as she dragged her delicate little hand up Ron's thigh and leaned closer, tilting her head and parting her lips as she did.
"Um..." Ron said as he froze and found himself paralysed with fear at what this little girl was trying to do.
"Ron!" Hermione said from the doorway.
Ron jumped up from the bed and his ears glowed crimson beneath his hair.
"Gabs and me were just talking about Harry and Gin and-"
"I saw what you were talking to 'Gabs' about Ronald," Hermione fumed.
"I will go back downztairs and 'elp your muzzer," Gabrielle said as she tried to duck behind Ron and make a dash for the door.
"Yes," Hermione said fiercely at Gabrielle as she passed, "why don't you do that?"
"Hermione come on," Ron began to try to calm her temper, still very uncomfortable that he'd just been felt-up by a thirteen year old.
Hermione slammed the door closed behind Gabrielle and turned on Ron with wild eyes.
"You're going to tell me you didn't encourage that are you?" she seethed.
"What? Of course I didn't!"
She charged towards him and shoved him in the chest. Ron stumbled backwards a little unsteadily before righting himself and ducking his head from her fury.
"Look she's just a flirty little kid and besides," Ron knew he was making a mistake but he seemed to have this in-built gene that forced him to recognise a bad situation and say the perfect combination of words to make it even worse, "You were only fourteen when Krum first had his eye on you and he was practically an adult!"
"Well I admit I deserved that but..."
"Okay that really hurt Hermione."
"Will you stop bloody hitting me?" Ron yelled just as the bedroom door that couldn't stay closed let another uninvited guest inside...well to be accurate, two.
"Want us to hold him down for you Hermione?" Fred grinned with delight at seeing his little brother getting beaten up by a girl.
"Or we could join in if you like!" George chortled as he lifted his camera to his eye and clicked the shutter.
"Good idea George," Fred nodded, "Blackmail material."
"Get out!" Hermione screeched as she turned on the twins, making them both jump with the kind of dumfounded fear usually reserved for their mother's temper.
Ron fumbled behind him and felt a door knob. He turned it quickly and ducked inside the wardrobe to avoid any more of Hermione's blows.
Only everything was strangely quiet.
Molly straightened the covers of a bed that hadn't been slept in for years and sent her weekly cleaning charm around the orange walls with a sad sigh.
It was always best to keep on top of things in such a big empty house. If she had guests it would be so stressful to have to clean from top to bottom from scratch. If Bill bought his young family over for the summer with Gabrielle the house would seem full again.
Molly looked over to the old wooden cabinet in the corner of Ronnie's room. She did what she would always do when she found herself in his childhood bedroom and walked over the threadbare rug, holding her breath as she extended her arm, and opened the door.
Every other day she would look into an empty wooden cabinet and her heart would fall. She would close the door, dry her eyes and leave the room be for another week until it was time to dust away the cobwebs again. Ronnie couldn't sleep with cobwebs in the room.
Today was going to be no different.
Soon after Ronnie disappeared she had climbed into the cabinet and closed the door and wailed for Ronnie to come and take her with him. She wanted her baby to come back through that door or take her wherever it was he had gone. Arthur had opened the door and climbed inside with her, holding her to him and rubbing her back before leading her out and making her promise to leave the room idle for a month or two.
She was back the very next week, to clean – always to clean.
The door creaked open and Molly bit her lip, preparing for the heartbreak of seeing that empty space where her Ronnie should have been, and cursed the day she agreed to let that damned vanishing cabinet be hidden in her house. It was a way to keep Hogwarts safe, safe for Ginny she thought, but Ronnie had thought he was backing into his wardrobe that day and nobody had seen him since.
Molly's eyes were wide and she gaped at the lanky redhead in his dress robes, stooped inside the cabinet.
"No," Molly said meekly, aware that her mind was playing tricks on her.
Ronnie would be twenty three by now, she was looking at the same gangly nineteen year old that went missing on his sister's wedding day.
"Mum where's Hermione?" Ron looked over her shoulder and stepped out of the cabinet, "Fred and George...did I fall asleep in there?"
Molly began to shake as Ronnie's face fell.
"Oh Merlin I didn't sleep through the wedding did I? Ginny's gonna kill me!"
"Ronnie?" Molly said before lunging forward and grabbing handfuls of his pristine dress robes and running her trembling hands all the way up his slim body to his face.
"Mum, I'm sorry," Ron said sadly, almost cowering as he waited for what he thought was her impending explosion of rage, "I'm sorry I ruined everything."
He was going to be Harry's best man but the wedding had been postponed when he hadn't come back out of the vanishing cabinet. There was no wedding for two more years and Harry never replaced his best man, he went ahead without one.
"And I didn't touch her, Gabrielle, she's just a kid!" Ron was babbling but Molly pulled him down and closed her arms around his neck and squeezed him so tightly that he almost fell over.
"Shhhh," Molly said as tears streamed down her face and she gripped her youngest son as if he would dissolve out of her arms like smoke, "it's alright Ronnie, mummy's here."
"Mum what's going on?" Ron asked in a lost tone of voice.
"Not now Ronnie. Just give me a cuddle for now."
Ron clung to his mother and she could feel his unease but she didn't care. She had him back. She had her boy back.
"So what are you saying?" Harry demanded furiously while the stunned family stared at McGonagall as she came back into the kitchen of the Burrow and sat down with huff of disbelief.
"Is it really him?" Fred added.
"Is it true that he didn't age?" George said, speaking over his twin's words.
"Boys, please," Arthur said before turning to nod at McGonagall with a nervous smile.
"Did you find out where he went?" Ginny demanded, ignoring her father completely.
Hermione stood in the corner with her arms hugged tightly to her and none of the billion questions in her head managed to find a voice. Her throat was dry, her eyes were not.
"Mr Weasley, young Ronald," McGonagall began hesitantly, "is indeed very much the real Ronald Weasley. He is your son, your brother, your friend."
Molly beamed while her eyes shone with tears as she turned to Arthur and whispered that she had told him so.
"He is also still only nineteen years of age," McGonagall said as she looked down into her lap and shook her head.
"What?" The twins said in unison.
"He can't be," Ginny said, her eyes almost perfectly circular and her jaw hanging open, "He can't be younger than me!"
"He can and he is Mrs Potter," McGonagall said as she looked up again, "As far as that poor young man knows he climbed into that cabinet and moments later his mother opened it and became hysterical."
"I wasn't hysterical!" Molly protested before Arthur put an arm around her and squeezed gently.
"So he doesn't know?" Harry said as he sank into a nearby chair in shock.
"He knows now," McGonagall said with a weary sigh, "It took a lot of explaining but he seems to understand as much as anybody in his situation possibly could do."
"So what now?" Ginny asked.
"Can I talk to him?" Harry said as he pushed himself back up to his feet.
"In due time Mr Potter," McGonagall said before her narrow eyes focused upon Hermione, "but at the moment he would like to speak with Professor Granger privately."
"Yes Hermione," McGonagall, the headmistress of Hogwarts and Hermione's boss of two years nodded, "you."
There was a tentative knock on the door and Ron glanced at himself in the mirror and ruffled his hair before huffing and trying to pat it back down with little success. He looked back at the door and took a bracing breath.
The door opened and a curtain of bushy brown hair fell into view before the dark brown eyes and strangely familiar face of Hermione Granger followed and smiled nervously at him before stepping inside and closing the door behind her gently.
"Wow," Ron exhaled.
Hermione's cheeks flushed and she tried to straighten her shoulders and lift her head in a dignified manner.
"Hello Ron, welcome back."
Ron was still staring; he hadn't blinked since she had stepped into the room.
"Wow," he said again, his voice hoarse, "you're so grown up!"
Hermione smiled and stepped towards him.
"Oh thanks, does that mean I've aged terribly?"
Ron shook his head immediately.
"It's just...it's just..."
"Different, I know." She smiled sadly, "You haven't changed a bit."
"Apparently not." Ron said, barely audible.
He sat back down on his bed and leaned forward, elbows on his knees. Hermione hurried towards him. Dropping to her knees before him and taking his hands with both her own, looking up into his face with glistening eyes.
"It's going to be okay Ron; it'll be like nothing changed for you."
"You all changed!" Ron said as he looked back at her with a shattered expression, "You all carried on without me. How old are you Hermione?"
Hermione drew a shuddering breath and tried to laugh playfully.
"It's rude to ask a lady her age Ronald."
"Well how old am I?" Ron demanded impatiently.
"Nineteen, you're nineteen Ron."
"How old am I?" Ron said, leaning forward and staring Hermione hard in the eye.
"You should be twenty three Ron. You should have been twenty three in March," she answered sadly, clutching his hand and rubbing the back of it reassuringly.
Ron stared over her shoulder blankly before blinking and looking at her again.
"What month is it?"
"So you're nearly twenty four."
"I'm nineteen and you're practically twenty four."
"Yes Ron," Hermione nodded again, understanding everything Ron was understanding at exactly the same moment.
"But you always were older than me," he said, half hopeful.
"Not this much older Ron."
"But what's..." Ron squinted as he did the Maths in his head, "five years difference between friends eh? Bill's older than Fleur, years older tha-"
Hermione put her finger to his lips.
"You don't want me," Ron said, shoulders slumping and voice cracking.
"You have no idea Ron," Hermione squeaked back at him, tears flooding her eyes and flowing down her cheeks, "You'll never know how much I...all these years I've wished you would come back to me but..."
"I didn't do anything with Gabrielle y'know?" Ron said with a shake of the head.
"I know, Gabrielle is grown up too, she's about to take her N.E.W.T.s at Hogwarts, I'm her transfiguration teacher."
"Well McGonagall is headmistress and the Head never teaches full time so I'm the Transfiguration teacher at Hogwarts."
Ron put his head in his hands.
"This is not happening."
"Oh Ron I'm so sorry. I'm so sorry I misunderstood and drove you into the cabinet." Hermione began to crawl forward on her knees to pull him into a hug and weep onto his shoulder while his long arms curled around her and clung tightly, "I'm sorry my temper is so much that you felt you had to hide from me. I was so unreasonable an-"
Ron pulled back a fraction and pulled her self abusive list from her lips with a kiss. Hermione was rigid for a second before melting into Ron and sliding her hands into his hair, kissing him back with desperate enthusiasm.
There was a knock on the door and they jumped apart.
"Professor Granger," McGonagall's voice called out, "may I send Mr and Mrs Potter in now?"
Hermione sobbed as she wiped her face with the heel of her palm and scrambled to her feet. She ran for the door and flung it open, hurrying away with a muffled apology.
The Headmistress addressed the Professors in the staff room at the start of the new school year and Hermione sat in Hagrid's shadow so nobody could stare at her as McGonagall said her piece.
"Well before you all prepare to receive your students for another year I have one final issue that needs to be discussed. I have overheard some tittle-tattle and this stops now."
There were murmurs and Hagrid patted Hermione on the knee and gave her a warm smile.
"As you are already aware due to the gossip mongers amongst you," McGonagall said haughtily, "Ronald Weasley will be attending Hogwarts to complete his education and attain his N.E.W.T.s."
The murmurs grew louder.
"I take it none of you have any objections to a nineteen year old who was a part of saving this school and all your jobs getting the full education he deserves?" McGonagall said, almost piercing through the haze of muttered asides with her rapier-like voice.
The murmurs stopped abruptly.
"Of course not Headmistress," Lupin smiled, "It will be wonderful to have Ron back, he was a marvellous student to teach."
"'Ere 'ere!" Hagrid said proudly, making Hermione beam up at him.
"Indeed, I will go out of my way to see that he is comfortable with his new classmates," Professor Flitwick said chirpily.
"Well I knew I could count on the staff who knew Ronald before," McGonagall said with a slight smile and a nod, "There will also be some leeway needed when it comes to recent events and currant affairs, I'm sure none of you wish to make the boy feel excluded from a discussion because of his absence from Magical society for the past few years."
There were nods and utterances of agreement from all.
"And who will take his Transfiguration classes Headmistress?" a witch who seemed to be speaking through an immobilised jaw smiled smarmily.
"His Transfiguration teacher Professor Nash, who else?" McGonagall said with an arched eyebrow.
"Well I assumed that would be deemed inappropriate Minerva," Nash said through her falsely grinning teeth, "Mr Weasley may technically be a twenty three year old man but physically and mentally he is nineteen years old and if any other student in this school had a relationship with a student the professor in question would be fired."
"Stop stirring up trouble yeh twisted ol'..."
"Hagrid, please!" Hermione begged him and the half giant uttered some harsh words into his bushy beard and settled back into his seat.
"Correct me if I'm wrong professor Granger but do you or do you not have a framed photograph of yourself and Mr Weasley beside your bed?" Nash sneered.
"That kind of talk amongst members of staff is highly inappropriate and will not be tolerated from any of you. Is that clear?" McGonagall said sternly.
"I'm sure, considering your concerns for Mr Weasley's reputation as well as Professor Granger's," Lupin said to Nash with a pleasant smile, "that you'll keep information like that to yourself."
"Indeed," McGonagall said stiffly, "If I do hear students speaking of this or anything like it I will know whose door to knock upon."
Nash seemed to take this seriously and her smile faded.
"Of course Headmistress, I was merely voicing a concern many of us have," Nash gestured around herself but all the Professors around her lowered their heads, "for the reputation of the school."
"Professor Granger is well aware of the rule and the penalty for engaging in a relationship with a student at this school of any age, physical or technical."
Hermione lowered her head. Not only was it strange to think of Ron that way but it was officially forbidden to ever act upon any feelings until the following summer. She was a teacher and he was a student. He was an impressionable young man and she was a respected woman in authority who had to treat him as if he was just another seventh year studying for his final exams.
"So you will not be continuing your relationship with Mr Weasley for a year?" Nash said with a faux look of sympathy.
"There was no relationship with Mr Weasley to continue." Hermione said with as much dignity as she could muster.
Ron was an immediate hit with the school and Gryffindor house was especially proud that he was one of them. He was eligible to play for the Quidditch team and old enough to buy alcohol and, most importantly in the eyes of most of the young witches, an older man with a mysterious past.
Ron spent most of his classes, most of his time in general, with Gabrielle. She wasn't fawning over him like all the other girls and she was also willing to help him with his homework without hinting that he could buy her some Firewhisky by way of thanks.
Gabrielle had grown up; very well, she was as radiant as her sister had been at that age while still not nearly as intimidating. Gabrielle did have a reputation for going out with a boy just once before growing tired of him and deciding to be 'zingle' for a little while once again.
Since Ron had been back at Hogwarts he'd seen no evidence of her flippant attitude to relationships though. All he saw was a loyal friend and semi- sister in law who was a friendly face each day, saved him a seat at the table for meals, and sat with him at the back of every class.
At first Ron thought that Hermione's classes would be weird but it wasn't all that different from Harry leading DA sessions. He knew she was the best person to learn from and she made herself impossible to ignore.
One thing was strange though. She'd never talk to him if they found themselves alone. In fact she had practically run from the classroom as soon as the last student but him left. Ron confided in Gabrielle who suggested that maybe Hermione was trying not to give Ron the reputation of 'teacher's pet'. He liked to think of it that way,that she was looking out for him and not avoiding him, so he hugged Gabrielle and told her she was probably right.
That was something else. Ron had never been really physically affectionate before or after the horror show of over the top public displays of affection he participated in with Lavender but he hugged Gabrielle a lot. He used to hug her by way of thanks and she'd always take his hand when they were weaving their way through crowded corridors to class and soon they were hugging when there was no reason to and holding hands when the corridors were empty.
The moment Ron really realised that things had changed forever was during a Transfiguration class in the autumn. Ron had been weaving a single silvery hair from Gabrielle's head into a swan of spun glass before setting it upon the desk and changing the glass into sugar. Gabrielle had been trying to transfigure the scars on one of Ron's arms into a tattoo when Hermione hand snatched the young witch's wand away and given her detention.
"Do you realise that if you had performed that spell incorrectly Ro...Mr Weasley could have been scared for life?"
Ron snorted and shook back his sleeves to display both scarred forearms.
"What, like this?"
Gabrielle giggled and Hermione turned on her and gave her two weeks of detention and separated the two of them for the rest of the class for the sake of their concentration.
Ron hung back at the end of class and Gabrielle waited for him at the door. Ron smiled and waved a hand, shooing her away.
"Go on, I'll catch you up."
"You should both move along," Hermione said stiffly as she busied herself with her impeccably tidy desk as if it was a disorganised mess, "class is over now."
Ron looked back at Gabrielle and nodded for her to leave before closing the door and turning to face Hermione.
"Ron I said go!" Hermione said, looking incredibly uncomfortable to be alone with his for the first time in weeks.
"Hermione," Ron began.
"Professor Granger to you!" Hermione snapped and Ron straightened his posture and gave an insolent bow before continuing.
"Professor Granger I wanted to apologise and ask you if there was some kind of problem between you me and Gabrielle."
"Of course there isn't," Hermione said with a low hiss.
"Okay," Ron said as he took a step closer to the desk, "Is there a problem with Gabrielle?"
"No, now stop this nonsense and go to your next class."
"It's lunch," Ron said calmly before placing his large hands flat on her desk and ducking his head to look back up into Hermione's face, "Is there a problem with me?"
Hermione turned her back on him and grabbed her cloak from the cloak stand, flinging it around her shoulders.
"There are no problems in this class because I do not allow clumsy mistakes to be made such as tampering with magical scars for fun. Now please leave my classroom Mr Weasley."
"Sorry," Ron said, his voice almost a whisper, "I didn't come back to school to get in your way."
He made his way to the door and heard rushing footsteps behind him. Just as he turned Hermione flung herself at him and buried her face into his chest, choking back tears.
"Don't say that, don't even think that!" she sniffed, "I just need to stay professional until July, just a few more months Ron, please."
Ron tried to hug her and give her some reassurance but it wasn't the same as hugging Gabrielle. It didn't feel comfortable, like he was trying to write with the wrong hand or even worse...his foot.
"Don't cry Hermione, I didn't want to make you cry I just wanted to know that we were still friends. I didn't want you to think I was just putting you in the same pigeonhole as McGonagall. We're still us aren't we? Ron and Hermione?"
Hermione nodded against his chest and looked up, smiling and drawing a shuddering breath ready to say something to him.
"Just like we always were," Ron beamed down at he optimistically, "you me and Harry, best friends forever."
Something behind Hermione's eyes shattered and she pulled away from him, opened the door and shoved him out. Ron staggered before flinching as the door slammed shut in his face and sighed deeply. He had no idea what she wanted from him. They weren't to be boyfriend and girlfriend, they weren't to be friends...what was it she wanted to wait until July for exactly?
"Mr Weasley?" Professor Nash grinned that 'teeth welded together grin' of hers and Ron brushed down the front of his tear streaked robes before smiling amiably at the woman.
"Why are you skulking around outside Professor Granger's room?"
"Skulking? Me? I wasn't." Ron adopted his most butter wouldn't melt expression.
"Do you have to ask the Professor for something?"
"No," Ron shook his head rapidly, "I was just leaving. I just had a class here."
"And it was such a good class you find the need to stand outside the door irresistible?" Nash said as he moved closer.
"I just had notes to discuss," Ron said, shifting nervously.
"Did you really?" Nash smiled before knocking on Hermione's door, "Let me verify that with Professor Granger shall we?"
The door swung open and Hermione huffed and dragged Ron back inside the classroom and closed the door on the unseen Nash's face.
"I told you to leave me alone Ron! Don't you think it's hard enough without you pushing me like this all the time? And flirting in front of me with that diluted Veela...that's just plain cruel Ron. How could you do that to me after the way you vanished?"
"Hermphh!" Ron began to try and warn her that she was making a big mistake when both Hermione's hand clamped over his mouth and she carried on with her frantic rant.
"I know there was nothing between you and Gabrielle back then but now...you're practically the same age and it shows Ron! It shows how well you fit together and how much we don't. It shows and it hurts!"
Ron shook off Hermione's hands and grabbed her by the wrists, pinning her arms to her sides and leaning over her with a fiercely determined look on his face. Hermione lifted her chin and closed her eyes, her lips parting slightly.
"Nash!" Ron breathed into her face.
"What?" Hermione said as her eyelids fluttered open again and she realised that Ron hadn't been about to kiss her at all.
"Professor Nash knocked on the door, she caught me coming out," he said fearfully.
"Oh my God," Hermione went weak at the knees and Ron caught her and sat her in her chair just as the door creaked open and Professor Nash's face brightened with pure delight at what she saw as a lover's embrace.
Ron began fanning Hermione's face with one of his hands and called over to Nash.
"Fetch Madam Pomfrey please!"
"Excuse me?" Nash said, not expecting this at all.
"A...war flashback," Ron stunned himself with what he was saying, "she fainted, get some help, please!"
"Oh really," Nash began to snort before Lupin skidded to a halt behind her and pushed past her and inside the room.
"I thought I heard a commotion, what happened?"
"A lover's tryst!" Nash said, waggling her finger accusingly while Hermione played along and pretended to come round from her traumatised swoon.
"She knocked on the door and saw me come in here, how can that be a tryst when she's the one who...?" Ron yammered before Lupin hushed him and helped Hermione sit up in her seat.
"Don't upset yourself Ron, just hurry to Madam Pomfrey for me, there's a good lad," Lupin smiled knowingly.
"It was his scars, it brought it all back," Hermione was saying meekly just as Gabrielle reappeared.
"Oh my what 'appened?"
"Herm...Professor Granger fainted," Ron said before taking her hand, "come with me to get Madam Pomfrey."
"Wait a moment," Nash said as he stopped Gabrielle in her tracks, "you were in this class with Mr Weasley yes?"
"Zat is right," Gabrielle nodded.
"What was the last thing that happened between Mr Weasley and Professor Granger before you left them alone?" Nash grinned what Charlie used to call a 'shit-eating' grin.
"I...was given a detention for trying to alter Ron scarz," Gabrielle blinked and Nash's face fell.
"You see," Lupin said before glancing at both Ron and Gabrielle, "Both of you, go now!"
Ron and Gabrielle broke into a run and got away from the classroom as fast as they could.
"Eez a good job we are all such good actorz no?" Gabrielle panted as they raced around the corner.
Ron's eyes widened and he beamed at Gabrielle before picking her up and spinning her as they reached the stairs.
"You little minx!"
Gabrielle squealed and Ron set her down, gave her a peck on the lips and took her hand to race onwards with her and fetch the last actor for the great performance.
Hermione stayed at Hogwarts over Christmas for the sake of the students who were staying for the holidays. Ron and Gabrielle were at the Burrow, as were Bill and Fleur and the rest of the Weasley family.
Ron was soon scrapping with his brothers over their many jibes about him being the baby. Even Ginny would ruffle his hair and tell him he was at the bottom of the pecking order now he was the youngest. As the booze flowed more freely and everybody slouched lazily before the roaring fireplace things calmed down and Charlie had nudged Ron's foot with his fluffy Dragon slippers and smirked at him.
"Wasn't Christmas without ya Ron."
Ron smiled back just as the twins turned their heads to share in the moment, contented chuckles at the back of their throats, and Ron shifted under the weight of Gabrielle snoozing against his Christmas jumper.
"Don't think I've forgotten you lot have cheated me out of four Christmases worth of presents."
Bill threw a cushion at Ron's head and he ducked it, long nose burying deeply into Gabrielle's silvery blonde hair.
"You cheated us out of four years of prezzies from you too remember?" Bill's grin twisted his scars and his eyes glinted wickedly.
"Oh well," Ron mumbled, "we'll call it even then."
"I thought you might," Harry chortled.
Ron rubbed his face and blinked his eyes several times as he tried to focus on the book in front of him.
"Words don't make sense anymore," he groaned and rested his head upon the open book as if it was a pillow and closed his eyes.
Revision was the reason for most of the seventh years' state of exhaustion that spring and the teachers weren't taking it easy on them at all. Hermione seemed to be going very hard on Ron in order to prove to Nash that she wasn't showing any favouritism.
"Oh Ron," Gabrielle said as she shifted her seat in the library a little closer and reached around to massage Ron's temples with her fingers, "you must take a break before your 'ead explodes."
Ron chuckled lazily before sighing blissfully at the Veela massage Bill had always spoken about.
"Feel it all coming to ze surface Ron? All zat stress and all zose things blocking each other out so you can't see straight? It is all eezing away beneath my fingers."
"Oh I love you," Ron moaned deeply.
There was a loud bang on the table they were working at and Ron and Gabrielle jumped and looked up to see that Hermione had just dropped a rather weighty book on the table in front of them. She was scowling at the two of them and spoke through gritted teeth to Gabrielle before turning on her heel and storming out of the library with a swish of robes.
"Don't get too excited Delacour, he says that to every girl who helps him with his homework!"
It had taken a while but he finally felt as if he belonged in his own age group. The crowd were chanting Weasley is our King. Harry, Ginny and the twins had come to watch the final match of the season and for the first time in a long time Ron wasn't an oddball trying to mingle outside his age group.
This was his age group. He was this age. He was Ron Weasley, nineteen going on twenty four, and he had his whole life ahead of him.
He could leave school and be whoever and whatever he wanted to be. He could take a year off like some of the Muggleborns in his year were talking about doing. He could try-out for the Canons or take his Auror preliminary tests or become a goatherd. The Gryffindor seeker caught the snitch and the crowd roared. Ron avoided being hoisted upon people's shoulders, remembering the last time they almost knocked him out on the doorway, and leapfrogged over a miniscule first year to run to Gabrielle who was flushed in the face and sprinting towards him.
Several students slapped him on the back and two of Gabrielle's friends were trailing behind her and pulling sappy faces as if they were watching a romantic scene played out in a portrait. Three feet apart and Gabrielle took a running jump into Ron's arms and he staggered back a step before steadying himself and grinning so widely he could have fitted a dinner plate into his mouth.
He didn't though; instead he leaned forward and let Gabrielle in instead.
Gabrielle's friends whimpered and somewhere in the distance he heard the twins catcalling. He stood, sinking into the muddy ground, softened by the unpredictable summer rain, holding Gabrielle as she wrapped her legs around his body. They pushed their tongues past each other's to get deep into the warmth of the mouth tightly clamped against theirs.
He didn't want to act his chronological age. He didn't want to settle down and get married and have a family. He didn't want to take things seriously and get a job. He wanted live every one of those years he lost in that bloody cabinet.
He wanted to explore the free and Voldemort-less world with the woman in his arms.
He wanted...he wanted...
"Gabs," Ron panted as he broke the kiss with great reluctance.
"Yes?" Gabrielle beamed breathlessly back, wiping mud spatter from his cheek with her thumb.
"I've never been to France. I wanna see France."
Gabrielle kissed kiss lips enthusiastically and leaned back in his arms.
"I'll show you mine if you show me yourz!" she giggled mischievously.
Ron kissed her again as he threw his leg over his broom and kicked off from the ground, heading for the open windows of the boys dormitories in Gryffindor tower, Gabrielle clinging to him and squealing all the way.
While the celebrations continued and the people who had missed the lovers' flit were informed, with much exaggeration by the overly romantic girls and undersexed boys, of what they had just missed Harry and Ginny sat down on either side of Hermione in the empty stand.
She was watching the whooping and hollering peacefully, her Gryffindor scarf around her neck and her hands settled neatly in her lap, and didn't say a word. Harry put his arm around her and Ginny placed a hand upon both of Hermione's.
"Are you going to be okay?" Harry asked his subdued best friend.
"Yes, I think so." Hermione nodded.
"I know he would never have wanted to hurt you," Ginny said, her voice sounding strained, as if she was fighting to hold in her own emotions.
"He didn't." Hermione replied with a shake of the head.
"I'm so sorry Hermione," Harry said as he hugged her to him and rubbed small circles against her back.
"I lost him when he climbed into that cabinet Harry," Hermione sighed, "we never did get out timing right, he and I, not even when I had a time turner."
Ginny shifted to hug Hermione too.
"It would have been nice to have you as a sister." Ginny sniffed.
"It would have been nice to be a Weasley," Hermione said wistfully.
"You're already both," Harry whispered as the three of them held each other in the deserted stand overlooking the Quidditch Pitch.
Ron lay beneath a flimsy sheet with Gabrielle and finally removed his keeper's gloves.
"I was wondering if zey ever came off!" Gabrielle chuckled.
Ron flung them across the room and shifted onto his side, propped up on his elbow and hair windswept and mussed by Gabrielle's fingers.
"I just figured something out," he smiled as Gabrielle mirrored his posture and lifted his free hand to her lips to kiss the back of it.
"Yes? What is zat?"
Ron tilted his head thoughtfully and narrowed his eyes slightly.
"For so long I thought that everybody had gone on without me, left me behind y'know?"
Gabrielle nodded and her smile began to fade slightly. Ron's eyes grew larger and his smile returned as he squeezed Gabrielle's hand and kissed the back of it in the same way she had just done his.
"But what really happened was I was waiting behind for you. I was waiting for you to catch me up."
"I 'ope it waz worth ze wait," Gabrielle said as she wriggled closer to him and began to nuzzle at his neck.
"Oh definitely," Ron grinned.
Hermione bade the twins and the Potters goodbye and made her way back to her room, having declined Hagrid's invitation to tea and Lupin's plea to join him for a chat, and passed Professor Nash on the stairway without a word.
"Welcome to the spinster's club Miss Granger, your sort always ends up alone."
Without breaking her stride Hermione turned, swung her arm and thrust her fist into Nash's jaw, sending her backwards into the wall and sliding down to the floor in a daze, before continuing her turn to carry on up the stairs.
She called back over her shoulder breezily.
"Careful on these stairs Professor Nash, you could have a nasty fall."
She was still the old Hermione Granger deep inside.
Maybe...maybe in five years Ron would go through his sexy older woman phase.
She could wait.