Ephemeral

"Alas, Posthumus, Posthumus, the fleeting years are slipping by."

Horace, Ode 2.14.

"Tempus edax rerum - Time, the devourer of all things."

Ovid, XV, 234.

A.N: Written for the Ron/Hermione Spring Images!Fic Challenge

*~*

Lives are made of goodbyes, or so my mother had always told me. You meet someone, fall in love, and with a blink of an eye, a lifetime passes you by.

Just like hearts drawn in the sand – fragile and ephemeral.

*~*

You draw its shape perfectly, obsessively, immortalizing your love in the sand. Sometimes you even go as far as to write initials in it, singling your heart out from the other ones drawn long before at that same beach.

You draw hearts in the sand, expecting them to last forever.

But a sudden wave comes crashing through your plans and washes it away; the heart, the initials, all the effort you had put into it.

And you're just left standing there in the sand, powerless and astounded, resenting the sea.

*~*

His hands feel warm and comfortable wrapped around mine, and everything feels easier, effortless, now. I can breathe properly again – we're safe, we're alive.

We survived the war and the losses we suffered. There's no more blood, no more urgency, and for the first time in years, we don't feel like a bomb is about to explode, destroying everything in its wake.

Time is on our side now, the immeasurability of the unknown future staring right into our faces. We don't have to battle for our lives anymore, and it's wonderful, but scary as well.

Being like this, together, makes everything easier.

He looks into my eyes, his own twinkling in the sun, of a blinding blue. The possibilities I see reflected in them take my breath away as we walk hand-in-hand down the beach on a glorious spring day, hope burning within our hearts.

"I love you," he says for the first time, and grips my hand a little tighter.

Even though we already knew what was in our hearts, it still feels good to say it, to let the other know.

"I love you, too."

And that's all there is to it.

He brings me closer and we share a long, tender kiss, unable to stop smiling against each other's lips. I decide I want to draw a heart in the sand, and Ron looks for seashells to decorate it, to mark this heart as ours.

He manages to find only one within walking distance, a rosy and graceful seashell. After the ocean washes the heart away, and I'm a little disappointed by how quickly it was gone, but Ron points out that the shell still remains there.

"Just because we can't see it anymore," he says, "it doesn't mean it's not there."

I put the pink seashell in my pocket as a souvenir and we make love on the deserted beach as the sun goes down.

We shiver in each other's arms when the night gets even chillier, and Ron suggests we head back to our hotel.

He slips a beautiful engagement ring onto my finger as he takes my hand in his again.

It fits perfectly, as if it was made for me to wear it all along.

In certain ways, it was.

*~*

Our house in Bournemouth, Dorset, has a long, wooden porch, and the ocean view from the backyard is fantastical. It costs us a great sum of money and many sleepless nights to buy a piece of land there, then to get authorization for construction, protection and anti-Muggle spells. It's all worth it, though.

Our little piece of heaven is right there in the two-floor, red brick house with blue curtains and a conservatory where Ron and I spend most of our spring nights. Sometimes I read a book or work on my latest case there, while Ron deals with some Auror paperwork or listens to the Wireless.

Mostly we just lay on the sofa, our bodies entwined, his red hair mingling with my brown curls as we listen to the endless motion of the waves crashing on the beach, its sound a calming symphony to our agitated lives.

We try to guess every sound we hear – is the sea restless? Is this the song of a whale? Do the footsteps on the sand belong to young lovers making promises and painting their future bright with their words, their dreams?

Time slows down and ceases to exist on these spring nights.

In these first years, we fall asleep in each other's arms and wake up to the first ray of sunlight, spooning on the small, uncomfortable sofa, with cricks on our necks.

We agree to buy a new, bigger sofa, but we always forget to. Deep down, we don't mind the discomfort, not really.

Clothes come off and pool on the floor on these mornings. Our bodies join and move without hurry, the sounds we make nonsensical and still filled with meaning, murmured against our skin, spilling from our lips in the midst of it.

Did they try to guess?

Did the lovers, the ones we thought we'd heard walking on the beach, listened to the sounds of our love and tried to make sense of it?

*~*

When our lovely Rose comes, then our beloved Hugo, we don't have enough time to listen to the sounds of the ocean anymore. We are always busy running around with them, juggling our jobs and our family, living our lives.

Our time revolves around them – the babies' first words, first signs of magic, Rose's first heartbreak, Hugo's latest detention.

The nights on the sofa no longer belong to us, but to them.

Our daughter reads her favourite books there. Our son loves to take a nap there, exhausted after jogging on the shore with our Kneazle, Cosmo. It is where he does his school assignments, where Ron catches Rosie snogging Scorpius Malfoy for the first time, where old Crookshanks lies down and never gets up again.

*~*

Having children feels a lot like walking around with your heart outside of your chest: completely powerless and exposed, fragile and vulnerable to chances and accidents, to people and their intentions.

Time passes by quickly and suddenly we are dropping our daughter off at King's Cross, watching as she takes our peace of mind to Hogwarts with her.

Then it is Hugo's turn, and our beachside house belongs to Ron and me again. The sofa we used to love so much is used and spent, randomly coloured, patches of it stained purple from when Rose had painted her nails there, other parts coloured orange from whenever Hugo spilled pumpkin juice and was too lazy to perform a Tergeo on the marks.

*~*

On a certain spring morning after my baby boy had moved away, I find my first gray hair. Ron laughs at my appalled expression. His hair is turning fair, the red a little less vibrant than before, but still just as outrageous.

I curse him and his good genes, thinking how wholly unfair it is that men age so well while women get the short end of the stick. I'm getting saggy and decadent instead of dignified and handsome like Ron.

I stand in front of the mirror for the longest time; analyzing every imprint that time has unkindly left on my face, amazed at how fast they had appeared. I say goodbye to the old me - young, face smooth, stomach taut, breasts peaking.

Ron comes into the bathroom, wraps his hands across my waist and smoothes the wrinkles around my eyes, kissing every one of them.

"You're beautiful," he tells me and keeps on telling me over and over again until I start to believe him.

We start to spend our nights on the couch in the conservatory again.

*~*

Suddenly we're over fifty years old, and Rose and Hugo have gotten married and decided to start their own families.

Ron looks up at me in amazement when he holds our first grandchild, a beautiful baby girl with big blue eyes just like his.

His expression tells me he's also wondering how we got here when only yesterday we were holding hands on the beach, feeling like the weight of the world no longer rested on our shoulders.

Time spiralled and slipped away from our control – where has it gone, and how come we never really noticed until now?

He hands me the baby, our little Grace, and I caress her soft, brown hair. My husband rests his chin on the top of my head, and as I close my eyes and smell that delicate baby-smell of our granddaughter, I let the tears I've been holding back stream freely down my face.

*~*

"I thought it was time for a change," my husband says and points to our new sofa, a bigger and newer model. It doesn't have the stains our children made on it, nor does it have the tore-out patch of fabric where Cosmo used to chew.

When I sit on it, it doesn't feel right. This sofa doesn't smell anything like the old one: a mix of the baby powder we used to use on the kids, Ron's cologne, books and the ocean. I wrinkle my nose and Ron sighs, understanding everything.

"I'll ask Harry over so we can move the old one back."

*~*

He never does.

Three weeks later, as he's picking some new books for me at Flourish and Blotts, his heart just gives out, and he's gone.

Ron is everywhere in the house – the kitchen (where he loved doing the dishes the Muggle way), our bed (his smell poignant on his pillow). His favourite cloak lingering by the door, like the last time he'd put it there.

I can't escape him.

The only thing that doesn't assault me with memories of him is the new couch in the conservatory; the one Ron was supposed to move.

I start to sleep there every night.

*~*

One year rolls into five, then into ten. I read even more books than before, travel around the world like I've always wanted to and take up photography as a hobby.

Keeping track of time stops making sense to me.

Now that Ron's gone, what's the point of counting the days, weeks, months of my life? The milestones are all gone, and I only find joy in my children and their family (Rose has two more babies after Grace, and Hugo has two boys).

My hair is completely white now, trimmed short, always up in a bun. Ron loved when I wore my hair down and wild, curled around my face.

I don't let it grow pass my shoulders until a fifteen-year-old Grace looks at me and asks me to let my hair grow out, just so she can see what I'll look like.

"There are pictures," I tell her, but she refuses to give in.

"You look different in them."

"That's because I was younger," I point out.

"It's not that," she protests, deep in thought, and the wrinkle just above her left eyebrow is his too. "You just look more alive in them."

I give in. The next time we meet, she yelps with delight and runs her willowy fingers through my hair, marvelling at how much prettier I look now that it's longer. She wants to braid my hair and I let her, even though I feel very silly sitting there while she does it.

I could never deny my grandchildren anything, especially my Gracie with those big, oceanic eyes that belonged to the one I loved so much.

*~*

We're sitting at the beach on the warmest spring day of the year. I'm sitting under a sunshade, Hugo's redheaded boys playing lively by my side.

My son-in-law and my son are playing Quidditich with my two other grandsons while Rosie and Elizabeth, Hugo's wife, are basking in the sunlight.

Elizabeth's stomach is stretched and large; she's expecting a set of twin girls by the end of July. She winces when one of them kicks, and rubs her belly.

I'm sick. I have been for a long time.

I feel like I'm slowly fading away, turning into a shadow of myself. It all began when my nose started to bleed profusely and constantly. The Healers told me I should rest a lot, leave my papers in order and say my goodbyes.

Rose and Hugo know. I suspect Scorpius and Elizabeth know as well, and I can feel she wants me to hang on until the babies are born, but I don't think I can.

I'm not sure I even want to.

Where the ocean should be, I can see Ron smiling at me, waiting. It's been almost nineteen years since I've seen him, and I can hardly contain my anticipation. I'm almost there,I want to whisper in his direction.

My lips are chapped, my face ashen, my eyes are hollow. My hair keeps falling away, and my body feels emaciated and thin.

Time weighs down on me and wears me out.

Most things do these days.

"Grandma!" It's Grace, and she walks determinedly in my direction, dragging a dark-haired young man with her. She graduated Hogwarts last September and works in the Department of Mysteries now. Such an intelligent girl.

She blows her fringe out of her eyes, her brown hair half-tied into a ponytail. The dark-haired boy is red in the face, and not from the sun.

"Grandma, I want you to meet my boyfriend. Duncan, this is the most important woman in this world for me. Grandma, this is the bloke I told you about."

His face reddens even more, but he keeps his composure, shaking my hand firmly but gently. I can tell he's nervous about this moment, so I smile at him.

"Hermione Weasley, pleased to meet you."

"It's an honour, Mrs. Weasley." He smiles back. "I've always admired your work, especially the laws about equal rights for any type of ancestry, magical or not. I'm Muggleborn, you see."

"So am I."

Gracie beams at us, and after some polite conversation about politics and Duncan's position at the Ministry, she hauls him away from her father's watchful eye and her uncle's threatening smile.

They stroll down the beach hand-in-hand, and my heart aches when I remember a younger couple doing this so many years ago, almost a lifetime.

Gracie bends down and draws a heart in the sand while her boyfriend lovingly watches on. The waves approach the heart frighteningly fast.

Part of me wants to get up and tell her to watch out, to live and enjoy every moment of her life, because it goes by so fast that you barely notice it. But I don't want to steal the sweetness of this moment away from her, so I keep quiet.

Even if I wanted to get up and run after this couple, to remind them not to waste any time, I can't. My head is heavy, and my heart beats erratically in my chest.

Ron's smile grows wider.

I close my eyes and let time wash over me, trying hard to remember the contours of the pink shell Ron decorated my sandy heart with over forty years ago.

He feels closer now, and I fall into his arms, crying with joy. I rain kisses on his face and our lips meet in desperation and longing. I feel healthy again, stronger, younger. When we break apart, Ron hands me my seashell.

We walk hand-in-hand into the sunset, the water gently touching our feet, the wind blowing my hair wildly in every direction.

It's forever spring in our hearts.

*~*

A.N: This story is inspired and dedicated to my Grandparents, who taught me by example about the endurance and resilience of a true love story, and how time can part but never diminish it.

Many thanks go to Lisa, for being the awesome beta she is.