The corridors were lonely this time of day. The setting afternoon sun peaked in through the windows, putting the stones and those who passed through in sharp relief. Occasionally, a ghost would float through the wall, but then he or she would see how bright the sun was and hurry away as if it physically hurt them to be somewhere so bright. Every now and then, a teacher would walk briskly by, muttering something about Peeves, and Ron cursed himself for being missing in action for the poltergeist's latest prank. But he had to do this. He couldn't just sit back and watch everything Hermione had done for him slip away. He stared at the tiny red T on his paper, swallowing hard. After all the times Hermione had done his homework for him, this was how he thanked her? By throwing away his grades for Lavender Brown? It was her fault, after all. They'd been snogging in the common room when Ron had remembered he had a paper due the next day that he hadn't done. Rather then letting him go, Lavender had insisted that he keep on snogging her. She only let him go when she felt like going to bed, and Ron had been forced to stay up all hours doing his homework. Now that he reread it, he realized that there were several mistakes. And apparently, Slughorn had noticed, too.
Not for the first time, Ron wished he was still friends with Hermione. She easily would have caught the mistakes he made, and then his paper would be brought up to an E. He'd been getting Es and As all throughout his school career. And now he knew why. It was all because of Hermione. She'd helped him more then he'd ever thought. Merlin, how he missed the days when he could get her to talk to him just by saying 'spew' instead of 'S.P.E.W'. To this day, he still didn't exactly know what that stood for. Maybe 'Seriously Pathetic Enamored Weasleys'. That would make sense.
He missed everything about her. He missed her doing his homework. He missed her talking to him as they did prefect duties, because those had become thoroughly awkward since they had started fighting. Or, really, not fighting. That was another thing he missed. He didn't have anyone to bicker with now! A few weeks ago, he had the excuse to stare at her while she got all angry at him. Now, he didn't have any excuse at all to stare at her at all. With the added non-bonus of the fact that Lavender mentally killed him every time he so much as glanced in Hermione's direction. And Lavender wasn't as hot as Hermione when she got mad. When Lavender got mad, she'd yell with her face screwed up in anger. When Hermione yelled, she'd get all passionate about it. Her hair would fly out of its ponytail or bun, her eyes would blaze and smolder, and her hands would fly around as she tried to explain why Ron was totally and completely wrong in whatever he did.
It was unbelievably sexy.
A month ago, if you had asked Ron to choose between snogging some Gryffindor girl that he didn't particularly have any chemistry with, or having a little bicker-fight with Hermione, Ron would have immediately picked the former option, not the latter. But now, he'd jump at the chance to have option B. Ron had always considered himself a person who had a reasonable appreciation for snogging. He'd always wanted to have his share of it, and that was one of the reasons why he'd started snogging Lavender. Albeit, a small one. But now he was getting bloody sick of it. It had absolutely lost its fun. His current girlfriend wanted to snog him every second of the day, and he knew absolutely nothing about her. He didn't even think he knew her middle name. Either that, or she'd told him and he hadn't been listening. But why listen when he didn't care? He didn't care about Lavender Brown, he cared about Hermione. And that was that.
He'd reached his destination. Ron cleared his throat and knocked before peaking his head into the room.
"Excuse me, I'm looking for-"
But he stopped short. None of the teachers had noticed that he'd poked his head into the room. Instead, they were all turned towards Professor Trelawny. Ron raised his eyebrows. What was she doing down here? She never came out of her tower. Apparently Sprout was wondering the same thing.
"Cybil, what are you doing down are? You never come out of your tower."
Trelawny coughed and drew her scarf tighter around herself.
"Yes. Well, my inner eye has told me that my paycheck is down here, and I am most eager to retrieve it. I need to buy some more... things. Usually, a House Elf brings it up to me, but it can take some time, and I am afraid my sherr... sharing can not wait."
The other teachers stared at her in a bit of a shock for a few moments before Professor Slughorn broke the tension.
"So, how about that Granger," he said, beaming around at all the teachers. "I haven't given her any less then an outstanding on a paper all year!"
Ron mentally promised that he'd repeat all of this conversation to Hermione before remembering that they weren't talking.
"Lately, she's seemed rather distracted, though," said the woman who taught Ancient Ruins.
"Mmmm," said McGonagall. "Well, you know why, don't you?"
The other teachers nodded. Slughorn didn't.
"No, I have no idea. Why?"
McGonagall drew herself up and permitted herself a smile. She seemed to enjoy being the center of attention.
"No!" Slughorn drew back, looking surprised. "He's... well... so sub par. She could do ten times... I thought for sure she and Harry...?"
Ron's blush turned into anger. He stuck his middle finger up where Sluggy couldn't see it.
"Not at all," said Sprout, now enjoying the conversation. "It's always been those two. They've been so amusing to watch over the years."
"But he's dating Miss Brown," Flitwick squeaked. "So Hermione's been terribly upset. It hasn't effected her work at all," he added fondly.
"No, it hasn't." the other teachers agreed. Silence. Then,
"When do you think they'll get together, Minerva?"
"Oh, I don't know," McGonagall said with the air of someone who didn't want to seem like they were too interested in the conversation.
"I think by the end of this year," Sprout said.
"Oh, I agree." several teachers said.
"I'd bet on them being together by last year," Flitwick said bitterly. "Lost five sickles."
"It's alright, Filius," McGonagall said bracingly. "We all lost a lot of money betting on them for the yule ball."
"Stupid Viktor Krum," Sprout muttered, and Ron felt a growing fondness for the woman.
"Stupid Weasley, I'd say," Flitwick said. "He wasn't man enough to ask her."
"Their lives would have been different if he had." McGonagall agreed.
"Oh, please!" Trelawny burst out. "I have known their fate for some time now. They were never destined to get together at the yule ball. And if any of you had come to me during that time, you would have lost a lot less money."
"Alright then, Cybil," McGonagall said briskly. "If you know so much about the story of Weasley and Granger, please, by all means."
Trelawny looked caught between a rock and a hard place. Her eyes swiveled back and forth through the crowd of expectant teachers. Finally, she nervously cleared her throat.
"All right. There's going to be a big battle at this castle in the future. We will all be apart of it, including students. Especially Weasely and Granger. They'll fight hard, try hard. And then someone will aim a curse at Weasley. Granger will leap in front of it and take the curse from him. She shall slowly sink to the floor, and Weasley will run after her. The whole battle will seize to watch him weep, and her hand will slowly find his cheek as she says 'I've always loved you'. He will confess that he has always loved her, and then she will die in his arms."
Ron gulped. How could that...? No...Hermione! He knew Trelawny predicted total crap, but it was still frightening to think of her dying in his arms in the heat of a battle with everyone watching as he cried over her.
"Weasley will avenge her death by killing the person who killed her, but at a terrible price. He will be forced to chose between avenging Hermione and saving Harry. Potter shall die, and Weasley will spend the rest of his life in a drunken stupor until he kills himself so that he can join his one true love at last."
Ron and the professors stared at Trelwany long and hard, their mouths all open. Only McGonagall seemed unruffled.
"Nonsense," she said, standing up and directing her wand into a teapot. They all heard a jet of water come out of her wand and into the kettle.
Trelwney drew herself up.
"Alright, Minerva. If you're so smart, if you know so much about the inner eye, why don't you tell us how Weasley and Granger are going to get together?"
It was a battle of the professors. McGonagall, a known hater of divination, drew herself up to her fullest height and said,
"At this same battle you claim Miss Granger will meet her end, I say she and Weasley will share their first kiss. It'll be in the heat of the moment, and they'll both be thoroughly embarrassed about it later, but never regret it, and that kiss will be what leads them to being together forever."
Several female teachers clapped, and McGonagall looked quite proud of herself.
"What do you say to a bet?" Slughorn asked around. "I bet they'll be together by the end of this year!"
"I'll go in," Flitwick said. "I'm betting on Minerva's scenario."
This was too much for Ron. He slowly backed out of the room, his head buzzing. He felt a little sick. Who would ever suspect that the teachers at Hogwarts were such gossips? He never would have. His grades seemed so unimportant in relation to what he had just heard. All these years, the teachers had been watching them and betting on him. And they didn't think he was man enough! It was ridiculous. He was a man! Had they not seen him snogging Lavender? He wasn't exactly hiding it, they did kiss in the great hall. Then again, Ron realized, maybe that was what was making him not a man. Instead of confronting Hermione about feelings he'd known he had for two years, Ron had just started a meaningless relationship with someone else. It was a babyish ploy to make her jealous, obviously. And he suddenly felt like more of an arse then he had ten minutes ago.
The sound of bubbling potions greeted Ron as he made his way down the stone steps. He was late. Again. And it was all Slughorn's fault. For the past week, Ron had been hating his classes. Potions especially. He'd been late to most the his lessons because he'd start thinking about what all the teachers had said. Their words and phrases kept flitting through his mind. McGonagall's scenario, Trelawney's scenario, and everything about him not being man enough to confront Hermione. He hated potions the most because he knew that Slughorn had thought Harry and Hermione were meant for each other. Every potions class, he'd brood over the words about Hermione being too good for him. Ron had already thought these things himself, but to hear it all coming out of someone else's mouth was worse then when it entered his own thoughts. She's too smart for you, she's too mature for you, she's too pretty for you... and still, Ron always held hope that Hermione would defy the odds and still consider him, instead of just defaulting to Harry. Maybe she could look past all the reasons she shouldn't be with him and concentrate on the reasons why she should. There were plenty of those, right? Like... Oh, god. He couldn't even think of reasons why the girl he was falling in love with should be with him. How pathetic. He was most certainly a Seriously Pathetic Enamored Weasley. Sighing, Ron pushed the door to the potions classroom open. Everyone looked up as he walked in.
"Ah, Weasley. Come in!" Slughorn said jubilantly. Harry and Hermione both raised their eyebrows. They couldn't understand Slughorn's sudden ability to remember what Ron's last name was. Ron, however, did know. And it did not improve his mood. In fact, as he took his place beside Harry, he decided that it made him even grumpier. He sat there, fuming silently, as he went over Slughorn's words in his mind. He's... well... so sub par. She could do ten times... I thought for sure she and Harry...? He could feel Harry staring at him, trying to figure out what was wrong, but Ron simply shook his head and went on daydreaming until he felt a sharp jab on his shoulder some time later. Everyone in the class was staring at him. Ron swallowed and turned to Slughorn, who was looking at him expectantly.
"Come again?" Ron said, lost.
"I said," Slughorn told him pointedly, "Go. Work. With. Granger. I've paired you all off, see."
Ron swallowed again and turned towards Hermione. She was glaring at the wall ahead, not moving at all. As Ron moved to the stool next to her, he noticed that it looked like she wasn't breathing. He considered waving his hand in front of her face to check, but ultimately decided that, if she was, in fact, alive, it would be in his best interest not to do anything to provoke her. The mystery was solved, anyways, when Slughorn told the class that they could begin, and Hermione made a dive forward for the student store cupboard. She came back as fast as she could and started speedily working on the potion.
"So- er- what are we doing?" Ron asked in a falsely cheery voice, rubbing his hands together to show enthusiasm. Hermione, in return, grabbed her copy of Advanced Potion Making, threw it in front of Ron, and jabbed the page with her wand. It lit on fire, and Ron was forced to put it out with the water charm they'd just learned in charm's class. Then he glanced down at the page. The potion was called... well... something he couldn't pronounce, and it had many difficult and complicated steps. Ron, without thinking, mumbled something about not understanding. Hermione looking up, probably to yell at him, but Slughorn sidled over to them almost immediately.
"Weasley, have you ever wished you could turn back time? Wished that you could have done something differently or something could have simply happened differently? And then you would be able to see the outcome change?"
With a side glance at Hermione (who was blushing furiously, Ron thought, but it may just have been the fire from the potion), Ron nodded.
"This potion will enable you to relive that time you most desperately wish could have gone different, and see what would have happened," Slughorn said, his eyes twinkling mischievously. "It makes most men go mad, but it betters some, too. This is as much a test of character as it is a trial in potions class." He checked his watch. "Now, chop chop! If you start now, you can finish by the end of the double block and start tonight."
This didn't seem like it would be too much of a problem, since Hermione was already working feverishly. Her hair was puffing up in the fumes, and Ron resisted the urge to lift his hand up and tuck it behind her ear. Still and all, he was staring at her fervently, and after a while Hermione turned to him with raised eyebrows.
Ron quickly turned back to his- her- book.
"Nothing," he said hurriedly. "So- er- what do you want me to do?"
He smiled tentatively at her. She did not return the grin. His vanished almost immediately.
"Just..." Hermione looked around the desk. "Chop these."
Ron obediently took the nut-like shapes she offered him and started cutting. Hermione seemed slightly surprised that he was obeying her orders so well, but accepted it without comment. They worked in silence for several minutes, with Ron chewing the inside of his cheek every time he had the urge to talk, stare at Hermione, or push a piece of her hair back in place. Finally, he decided to test the waters. He cleared his throat and made a stupid, offhand comment about the weather. Hermione said nothing in return. Ron groaned inwardly, cursing himself for ever going anywhere near Lavender. He so desperately wanted to tell Hermione that, while it had been fun at first, he would rather be her best friend then anyone else's boyfriend.
Although, judging on what the teachers had said about Hermione's feelings towards him, he could possibly, possibly be getting both. Then again, they hadn't been too encouraging about it. And they'd blamed everything that had ever gone wrong in his and Hermione's relationship onhim. Ron felt that, yes, Hermione was too good for him, and, yes, he'd made the majority of the mistakes in their strange little relationship, but no, he was not entirely to blame for how strained their situation was. For example, a few minutes ago, they'd both reached for the mandrake root at the same time and their hands had bumped. Five years ago, this would have gone totally unnoticed by Ron and Hermione. By the end of third year, they would have noticed, but not really reacted except for a little broadening of their grins. Now, however, they weren't exactly used to being around each other anymore. Hermione blushed, Ron's ears turned red, and the brunet instantly jerked her hand away. Ron took the root and proceeded to pound it while repressing a large grin that was threatening to stretch across his face.
By the time the class finished, Ron and Hermione had concocted themselves a lovely little potion, purple in color with hints of orange and blue.
"Hey, it looks like the color of the dress robes you wore to the yule ball," Ron observed unthinkingly, pointing to the periwinkle blue in the potion. Hermione, who was already surprised at the discipline and knowledge Ron had displayed while working on the potion, let her moth pop open in surprise. Ron wanted to ask her if she had really thought he wouldn't remember after all that had transpired that night, but he didn't. What was he supposed to say, anyways?Yes, I remember, Hermione, because that was the night I realized that I had feelings for you. That would never happen. She'd laugh in his face and then tell him that she was with Harry, and how had he not noticed that before? Was he really that thick? Just the thought made Ron bang his head against the table. Noticing, Slughorn came over. He carefully inspected the colors of their potion before looking up to question them. He first asked them why the potion was purple. Hermione's hand instantly shot up, hitting Ron on the cheek. Her eyes widened, and she lightly placed her hand on the spot she'd hit.
"Oh my god, are you okay?" Hermione asked in a high voice, meeting his eyes for the first time in a month. Ron's blue eyes stared doe like back at her as he silently savored her touch. "Ron?" Hermione questioned, her tone pleading now.
"Er- right. Yeah, I'm fine." he said quietly.
"Okay," Hermione replied, and, blushing, she removed her hand from his cheek. Slughorn chuckled.
"Miss Granger, you needn't raise your hand in a group of two. Mr. Weasley isn't likely to answer a question anyways."
"Yes, right," Hermione said, and she cleared her throat before saying, "The potion will turn whatever color the lock of hair placed in is. In the event that multiple pieces of hair are put in, the potion will turn the color of all those pieces mixed together. This is why the potion is usually brown, but Ron and my hair put together is actually quite a nice color, so our potion is a pretty purple."
Slughorn, seemingly impressed, awarded her several points, and Hermione, looking proud of herself, sat back.
"What type of a person must put a lock of hair into the potion?" Slughorn questioned.
"Only those who wish to take the potion without poisoning themselves put the lock of hair in," Hermione recited.
"Quite right," said Slughorn happily. "Which is why you and Mr. Weasley would do well to label this cauldron, lest you drink someone else's and be poisoned by it. Although-" he looked around the class, "I don't think anyone else has a potion quite this color. Nonetheless... so, Miss Granger, what are the randomly placed colors in the potion?"
Hermione squinted at the colors.
"They have to do with-"
"-The image we'll be seeing when we fall asleep after taking the potion," Ron finished as the answer dawned on him. Hermione was so unsettled and surprised at the fact he'd answered a question, she didn't reprimand him for interrupting her.
"Very nice, Weasley," Slughorn said appreciatively. "Twelve points."
Now Hermione frowned. That was two more then Slughorn's highest praise for her. Slughorn, still beaming, handed both her and Ron a small black composition notebook.
"Here is your dream diary. All sixth years will be getting one. You'll take the potion every night and write down your dream in here. You must write down everything you dream, even if you don't want me knowing about it."
"Well- will you be reading them?" Ron asked.
"Oh, yes." Slughorn told him.
"That's really private!" Hermione burst out. "Dreams are the one thing we can't... control."
"I understand that, but... well, I put a dream tracking spell on you while you were working. So if you lie, I'll know."
Hermione and Ron stared at him.
"Don't worry, it's not illegal!" Slughorn said cheerfully in response to their silence. "Anyways- just to warn you- your dreams should have continuity. It'll be like a story that continues every night, and you must take it every night, or else your grade will lower. And, once again, I shall know. By the way, the dreams will continue to have the same storyline, if you will, as long as you take the potion. And, unless something happens that either you regret more or you get closure on the subject your dream is about, you might keep taking the same continuous track forever."
"So, theoretically, if we chose to make the potion in fifty years, we could have our dream right where it left off?"
"Right. But people usually don't choose to make the potion again. I mean, sometimes, the dreams are good, sometimes they're bad. We never know why things happen until we see what could've been. It can really drive a man crazy." Slughorn checked his watch. "Time to go! Your glasses will be next to your beds when you go up to sleep. Good luck! Have fun! Write it down!"
As if they had a bloody choice.