Hello all, and welcome to the madness that is 'When Your Life Is an Epilogue.' Allow me to preface this with a bunch of notes, and then I promise I'll just let you read the fic from here on out. This fic is a project I started as an anti-stress agent in the midst of undergrad projects and papers. Feedback will be greatly appreciated, as I no longer have an oppurtunity to write anything for edit other than research papers (bleh). Let me know what you think and I will do my best to keep up with this as time allows.
Rating: It gets a bit angsty, and some of my themes will deal with more mature topics (nothing explicitly sexual or anything; that area will stay teen appropriate). For this reason, the rating is a very firm T.
Proper Summary: The war has drawn to a close and the wizarding world is at peace at long last. However, after spending more than two years cut off from society (except when gracing the halls of St. Mungo's, and the ever so welcoming homes of various deatheaters), the trio must learn to integrate themselves back into society in the face of their inner demons, and worse (if you're a bloke), face their emotions (I know, I can hear Ron stammering like an idiot already). Couples include the usual: Ron/Hermione, Ginny/Harry primarily along with some others in the background. I should warn you now that this fic has an extremely loose plot. I won't say it doesn't exist because it's there... if you squint and tilt your head to the right, I'm sure you'll see it. Like I said, this fic is to keep me sane this semester, so it won't be intensly plot driven. The prologue takes place before the defeat of Voldermort to set up some character development and background for the rest of the fic. Everything after that will take place post-war.
Disclaimer: Harry Potter and the world he lives in is a creation of J.K. Rowling. The grammar errors and meandering tone that leaves you wondering what the point of the sentence was... that's all me.
Thank you for listening to me ramble. Now, on with the prologue.
Ron Weasley's brow wrinkled as he scraped at a stubborn bit of porridge at the rim of his dinner bowl. He was no stranger to washing dishes the muggle way, but washing dishes the muggle camping way was a bit trickier. He knew he should have just done it before they had headed deeper into the woods; he should have done it while they knew they weren't within deatheater magical detection boundaries. But he hadn't. And now the porridge was refusing, point blank, to cooperate with his lame excuse of a sponge.
"Scrape it off with a knife," Hermione offered, trying to keep the amusement out of her voice.
Ron frowned and dug in his pocket for the muggle Swiss army knife that Hermione had ingeniously thought to buy for each of them. Ron had thought they were a bit silly, but none of them had known at the time that they would need practical, non magical tools.
It had been nearly 26 months since the trio had headed out on their horcrux hunting excursion. To say that a lot had happened in those 26 months would be the understatement of the century. Harry, Ron, and Hermione had headed out a week after Bill and Fleur's wedding and after 20 St. Mungo's trips, 23 books on healing, countless duels with inner circle deatheaters, and at least 50 howlers from Mrs. Weasley demanding they return to the burrow rather than only seeing the distraught woman from a cot in St. Mungo's, only one horcrux remained. The process of finding the blasted things was painstakingly slow, and actually retrieving one usually ended in a near death experience for at least one of them.
Still, they had been successful this far, and they had learned things that Hogwarts never could have taught them. Professors hadn't been kidding when they had called Hermione the brightest witch of her age. She could do things with a wand that actually scared Ron and Harry occasionally, though neither would ever admit it. The two boys usually consoled their wounded egos with the reminder that Hermione was rubbish on a broomstick no matter how many lessons they gave her. Flying had become quite integral to their missions and Hermione had no choice but to use a broomstick.
Shivering against the freezing air, Hermione settled herself on her sleeping pallet and pulled the blanket tightly around herself, smiling at how Ron's ears were beginning to go pink in agitation. She wished she had something to occupy herself with. She hated this part of their nightly routine.
The trio had been trailing a group of deatheaters for over a month now, and every night they had to go through the same process. The deatheaters almost always had a base of some sort. Harry, Ron and Hermione had figured out that if they followed any given deatheater long enough, they would be led right to one of these bases, and could gain heaps of information by spying.
The bases, however, were protected with several spells. None were as inconvenient as the magical detection ward. They had discovered, the hard way, that the use of any magic whatsoever within the bounds of the ward would alert the deatheater camp immediately.
Hermione had found a way to detect the ward's perimeter, but the only way to actually see where the border was located was in the air. Basically, one of them would cast the helpful little spell that Hermione had found god knows where, and one person (mostly Harry or Ron) would fly around the area under the invisibility cloak, looking for the faint silver line that became visible due to Hermione's spell. The process usually took about two hours, as they could never be sure where they were in relation to the detection ward's barrier and had to cover several miles to be sure they were either in or out of it. The spell only worked because it was linked to the magic involved with the ward in the first place, and therefore didn't 'sound the alarm' whenever they cast the spell. Hermione had attempted to explain this to Ron and Harry but had received blank stares in response. It was through this process however, that they usually found the heart of the base.
Tonight it was Harry out on his broom. Hermione hated the waiting, and tried in vain to block out the cold that was beginning to make her teeth chatter. She looked back over at Ron, who had an almost boyish look of triumph on his face.
The change in Hermione's best friend was the hardest thing for her to swallow since this whole war had started. She had once claimed that Ron had the emotional range of a teaspoon, but she had never been so wrong about something in her life. She had come to realize that the mess of emotions that made up Ron Weasley was actually the reason he had so much trouble expressing them. He would get himself so passionate about one particular emotion that being able to feel another emotion simultaneously would indeed probably make him explode. It seemed as though the red headed Gryffindor had matured out of no where. Hermione had told him this several months ago, mostly as a joke, and had received a rather unexpected response.
Ron suddenly became very quite and nodded, looking away from Hermione and out over the ocean. Harry was once again out on recognizance and the pair had been left to sit and wait yet again.
"It was sort of this defining life moment for me Hermione."
Hermione stayed very quiet and stared at Ron's profile. She had wondered about the change in Ron for some time, but she had figured that basically, everyone had to grow up eventually. He was still Ron and all, just more…well, just more. She waited silently as Ron knit his eyebrows together and continued to look out ahead of them.
"You know last time we were at the burrow? While you were recovering from whatever the hell it was Lucius cursed you with? Harry and I, we… he… he told me a lot of stuff I'd never really known before. I mean, I knew his parents were killed. I knew the Dursleys were foul. I knew he'd seen death in a way I never have. I just… I never really got it until then. Stuff like… I mean… did you know that before Hogwarts, the Dursleys kept him in a cupboard under their staircase?"
Hermione inhaled sharply. She did in fact know this. Harry had confided it to her while they were at Hogwarts. Boys, she knew, simply didn't talk about these things with other boys.
"I just…" Ron trailed off and shook his head.
Hermione reached over and placed her hand on top of Ron's. She had meant to give it an encouraging squeeze and then let go, but Ron unexpectedly twisted his hand around to hold Hermione's properly. Had it not been for the seriousness of their conversation, she might have had the chance to be shocked by his actions. Ron had matured, yes, but his communication and behavior with girls was still absolutely laughable.
They sat in silence while the events at the burrow replayed in Ron's memory like one of those muggle movie things Hermione and Harry had told him about.
"They kept you where?"
Harry just shrugged in response. He stood in the center of Ron's room, looking more broken than anything Ron had ever witnessed. In that moment, something inside of him shifted. The whole world suddenly tilted a little differently for Ron Weasley. His best mate of nearly 7 years was standing in front of him looking both 5 and 50 years old at the same time, fighting the inner battle between manning up and shrugging his pain off and pleading with himself to just let go for once—to grieve for the first time in his life.
In any other moment of Ron's life, he would have left the room; allowed Harry his peace. But something in this moment was different. Harry wouldn't have peace simply because Ron left the room. What Harry needed was Ron's permission, anyone's permission, to simply let go. He had been denied that right as a child from the people who were supposed to love and care for him. He had been denied that right as an adolescent from the social norms of being a male.
Ron decided (and why he decided this, or even why Ron knew any of this, Ron would probably never know or understand) that Harry would not be denied that right anymore.
In one fluid movement Ron stood in front of Harry and gripped his shoulders firmly, forcing Harry to meet his gaze. For the first time, Ron saw the emotion trapped behind Harry's green eyes, and once again, something in Ron shifted.
"You great prat Harry. You shouldn't keep things like that from the people that truly care about you."
Ron didn't wait for a response as he pulled Harry towards himself in a strong embrace. It wasn't a motherly embrace—or really any other type of embrace Ron had ever given someone or received himself. It was the same embrace George had given Fred when he found out Angelina would probably never walk again after a deatheater attack. It was the same embrace Charlie had given to Percy when the younger Weasley had at long last cracked at the animosity some of his siblings still carried towards him. Ron didn't know he even had the ability to give such an embrace, but here he was.
Ron released Harry and stood back for a moment. It was all Harry needed. The dark haired boy sank to the nearest bed, held his head in his hands, and wept for what he would later realize was the first time in his life. Sure, he had cried before, but weeping like this was something entirely new to him.
Ron stood next to him, hesitating awkwardly before finally sitting down next to his friend and placing his hand on Harry's trembling shoulder.
They had never talked about it. They didn't need to. He didn't relive the whole story to Hermione, but he didn't have to do that either.
"It's like I saw everything for the first time Hermione," he said softly. "It made me realize why I'm even fighting against evil like Voldermort. People like Harry don't deserve lives like this. People like you don't deserve to be told you're worthless. People like Fred don't deserve to watch the person they care about most suffer so much."
Hermione only nodded, knowing exactly what Ron meant. She had experienced similar moments herself. She gave his hand a gentle squeeze and the pair sat in contemplative silence for some time afterward.
"You awake over there Hermione? …Hermione?"
Ron arched an eyebrow at the nearly indistinguishable lump of blanket and set the now clean bowls to the side. Hermione mumbled something from beneath her blanket but didn't move.
"You ok in there?" Ron asked with a hint of concern in his voice.
The blanket moved again and Ron took that to mean yes. He mentally cringed at how tiny Hermione looked. Harry and Ron both knew that they would have been dead long ago if it hadn't been for Hermione. The two boys were astounded by how practical thinking simply escaped the pair of them from time to time. They had thought they were all ready to leave when Hermione had brought up food, shelter, water, and other supplies that quite frankly hadn't even crossed Harry or Ron's minds. It had been Hermione that made sure they ate everyday. It had been Hermione who made sure they had a way to get fresh water, even when they couldn't use magic. It had been Hermione who figured out how to get into the heart of the deatheaters' bases undetected.
So when Hermione ended up in St. Mungo's from malnourishment and extreme weight loss, Ron and Harry had nearly been sick with guilt. (Or more accurately Ron had actually been ill while Harry stared at the ceiling all night long and denied himself proper sleep). They hadn't even noticed that Hermione ate drastically smaller portions than they did.
To compound the emotional drama, Hermione had felt utterly stupid about the whole thing. She hadn't meant to start starving herself; she had just been so preoccupied and worried that she hadn't even realized she wasn't eating.
Hermione had only just been able to ease her best friends' guilt in the past month or so. Or at least she had convinced them it wasn't their fault enough to make them stay quiet about it anyway.
Ron peered down at Hermione and cringed inwardly. Not knowing Ron had come over to her, Hermione had curled into a tight ball in a desperate attempt to get warm. She was shaking so hard Ron was convinced her teeth were going to chatter right out of her head.
"Hermione?" The concern in his voice was no longer subtle.
Hermione jumped slightly and snapped her eyes open to look up at Ron.
"Are you ok?"
Hermione attempted to smile but it came across as more of a grimace. "F-fine. I'm to-to-totally fine."
"Like hell you are," Ron muttered. He scanned their tiny campsite, biting his lower lip. He looked back down at Hermione who had resumed her fetal position. He really wished they could start a fire muggle style, but the deatheaters would come to check out where the smoke was coming from. They'd learned this the hard way as well.
"I-is it wrong I-I almost wish we h-hadn't made it to the b-base?" She said, trying her best to make light of the situation.
Ron ran a hand through his hair and continued to gnaw on his lip.
"I'm re-re… uhg! I ca-ca-can't even talk!"
That was it. Ron kicked his shoes off and did the only this he could think of. He lifted the blanket and curled up behind Hermione, snaking his arm around her tiny waist and wrapping her ice cold toes between his much larger feet.
"What are- are you doing?"
"Keeping you warm," he answered simply. "Besides, I forgot to un-shrink mine and Harry's blankets."
Hermione rolled her eyes but smiled all the same. After 10 minutes or so, her teeth stopped chattering and she forced herself to relax. Physical intimacy had never been Ron's forte, and how he could relax with his arms wrapped around Hermione like this was rather surprising to her.
"Ron," she said quietly, her body finally relaxed enough to allow normal speech.
"I hate this part."
Ron didn't say anything for a moment and wrapped his arms tighter around Hermione, nuzzling his face into her hair slightly.
"He'll be back before you know it."
"I know. I just… I still hate it."
Ron sighed and absently twirled a loose strand of Hermione's hair. "Why do you hate it so much?" he asked softly, "He's completely invisible. Nothing's going to happen."
"I know. I just…"
"Just can't stand to be too far away from me," Harry's voice interrupted. He appeared seconds later from under his cloak, broomstick and all.
Ron was up in an instant, wand out, crouched protectively over Hermione.
"Dumbledore was the first chocolate frog card I got," Harry began to drone in an almost bored tone, "Hermione is the one who taught us the alohamora spell."
Ron had lowered his wand slightly but was still watching Harry warily. They hated doing this, but it was necessary for their safety and they knew it. Seeing that Ron was still holding his wand, Harry took a deep breath and continued talking while he put away his cloak and broomstick.
"In our first year at Hogwarts, Hermione used a full body bind spell on Neville," Ron was still holding his wand. "The farthest you've gone with a girl…"
"Alright!" Ron glared at Harry and pocketed his wand before sliding back down under Hermione's blanket.
Hermione laughed and rolled her eyes as Ron resumed his snuggling antics (which Hermione was still baffled with considering it was Ron).
"I don't know why you always react like that when he says that. It's not like you haven't already told me yourself that all you've done is some snogging. And goodness knows I've witnessed that display along with the rest of Gryffindor."
Ron's ears instantly began to burn as he muttered something about that being completely beside the point.
Harry shook his head, still smirking at his two friends. "Anyway," he said, changing the subject, "we're just inside the border. So for goodness sakes Ron don't forget in the middle of the night and accio yourself some toilet paper." Harry completely ignored the rude gesture Ron gave him while he double checked that his cloak and firebolt were safely tucked away. He turned around and looked at the lump of blanket that made up Hermione and Ron and tilted his head in confusion. "What on earth are you two doing anyway?"
Ron grinned and poked his head out from the blanket. "Trying to keep skin and bones over here warm."
At this, Hermione groaned and twisted around in Ron's grip to bury her face into his chest.
"Mew mew mr mo meee noo mee."
Harry burst out laughing as Ron looked down at the mass of hair in front of him with a rather impressed expression.
"You don't seriously expect us to have any idea what that's supposed to mean do you?"
Hermione's face appeared from beneath her curls, scowling up at Ron.
"I said you two are so mean to me."
Ron shrugged and gave her a lopsided grin. "Yeah, well… I'm keeping you warm at least, right?"
Hermione rolled her eyes yet again. He was hopeless. She twisted herself around so she was completely facing Ron and could properly curl up to him, strictly for his warmth she told herself firmly, and dug her still icy toes in between Ron's ankles.
Ron winced mentally as her cold toes made contact with his warm skin but didn't move away from them. It was partly his fault her body didn't have enough fat to keep warm anyway no matter what Hermione tried to tell him.
"C'mon mate, this is the one blanket we've got tonight," Ron told Harry, giving him an apologetic look.
"You forgot to un-shrink them again didn't you? On the coldest night of the year no less."
Ron nodded sheepishly as Harry peeled his trainers off and pulled his robe over his head and draped it over Ron and Hermione for what he hoped would be extra heat. He shivered as the cold night wind whipped through his t-shirt and he quickly shimmied himself under the now rather crowded blanket.
"This is ridiculous," Harry announced after a few moments.
Ron snorted and Hermione began to giggle.
"Behold, the almighty trio, the wizarding world's only hope for a brighter tomorrow!"
Hermione and Ron were nearly howling with laughter as Harry went on to describe how the great trio had hoodwinked the deatheaters and Voldermort with a single blanket and a pile of howler ashes.
"Enough," Hermione chocked out, "I can't breath Harry."
The three settled down once again and tried in vain to get more comfortable.
"So, what's the plan for tomorrow Harry? Just snoop around the deatheaters' camp and hope to get some info on where that bloody snake could be or what?
"Don't have to," Harry answered Ron, "Nagini is there."
Ron's head snapped up at this and even Hermione craned her neck behind her to look at Harry.
"You might've thought to mention that," Ron told him, still a bit too surprised to be annoyed.
Harry shrugged. "I um… I didn't really want to think about it."
"Harry, are you sure it was Nagini?" Hermione asked, "I mean, Voldermort never seems to let that ruddy thing get too far…" Hermione's voice trailed off and she twisted around to look at Harry properly.
"I know," Harry said, so softly that Ron and Hermione almost didn't hear him. It was all Harry had needed to say to tell his friends everything. They were here. They had found Voldermort himself.
The three sat in silence for a moment before Harry spoke again, the tone of the conversation much more somber than it had been only moments before.
"We know Nagini is a horcrux. Just… just kill her somehow. We've talked to McGonagal enough about it; Voldermort's soul can't survive if the host dies. As long as the snake is dead…"
Harry let the statement hang in the air. There was no need to finish it. They had talked about this a million times, so now that the moment was almost here… there really wasn't anything else to say.
Harry rolled over to face his two best friends and inched his way closer to Hermione. Hermione reached behind her and grabbed Harry's hand, pulled it across her waist, and continued to hold on to it as Ron instinctively moved his arm from Hermione's waist to her shoulder to make room. Harry tensed for a moment before relaxing and burying his face in Hermione's hair. Ron gave him a gentle pat on the arm before wrapping his own arm back around Hermione's shoulder.
None of them would be cold on this night.