The more Harry thought about it, the more he realised that time really wasn't a quantifiable thing. Sure, cultures from all around the world had constructed their own calendars and methods of measuring it for thousands of years, and the length of a minute or an hour never changed. But the thing is; time is all about perception. It wasn't a pleasant thought.
The Battle of Hogwarts had taken place over ten years ago. The time since his school years had slipped by him, and he didn't know where it had all gone. Had he really been drifting for so long? The years between then and now seemed empty, measurable only by his time as an Auror. Back then he had thrown himself into his job in a mad fervour, trying to round up the remnants of Voldemort's followers, who had escaped and were still wreaking havoc on both wizards and muggles all across Britain. The Daily Prophet had labelled Harry a hero, a warrior, completely committed to bringing down the forces of evil and restoring peace to the Wizarding World once and for all. In truth, he had just wanted it to be over. He had spent most of his life running and fighting, with the shadow of the Dark Lord haunting his every step for years. He had – foolishly – thought that killing Voldemort would end the war permanently. Of course though, the Death Eaters that weren't already dead had to be recaptured and put on trial for their many crimes. He wasn't particularly scared of them, fear was something that he'd had to deal with on many occasions and he had become rather desensitized to it; and surely they couldn't be as dangerous as Lord Voldemort himself, especially scattered and leaderless as they were. But every one of them resented him for defeating their master, and it wasn't himself he was concerned about. All of his friends had been involved in the war, and most of them had played an instrumental part in the victory of the final battle. If the Death Eaters went after them and one of them got hurt, he didn't think he could live with himself. He had already lost so much to their hands.
He had thought that maybe, just maybe, he would finally be able to find some peace without the constant news of more deaths and the threat of being dragged into another war hanging over his head. So he had joined the Aurors of his own violation, preferring to fight on his own terms than eventually being forced into it again, and despite having seen more than enough death and bloodshed to last him the rest of his life. And he had quickly found out that he was good at it; even if he hadn't necessarily enjoyed it as much as he thought he would during his time at Hogwarts. He had been promoted to Head Auror after a remarkably short amount of time – just a few years – especially considering his age. But he had also realised, quite recently actually, that he hadn't done much else during those years. His job required a lot of dedication and responsibility, and before he knew it, he had pulled back from his friends and focused almost entirely on his work. Ron was also an Auror of course, a highly decorated one at that – but he had always managed to balance his home and work life well. It was just easy for him to separate the two, as naturally laid back as he was. Harry, on the other hand, found himself obsessing constantly on which enemy he was chasing at the time, even when he was supposed to be relaxing at home and winding down from his stressful job.
Now though, he was beginning to see some of the effects those years actually had on the people around him. His friends weren't quite what they were back then. They had all matured; aged, and it had happened so slowly, so gradually, that Harry hadn't even noticed it happening. The years had ingrained lines on their faces that simply weren't there before. They had grown into their features; Ron had gained quite a bit of bulk and was no longer as gangly as he had been as a teenager, making his height less noticeable, and his long nose was no longer nearly as prominent. The changes in Hermione had been less conspicuous, but still clear to all those who saw her on a regular basis. She had grown her hair out longer, the weight loosening her curls and making it a little less bushy, and her body had softened slightly as curves rounded out her form. Harry on the other hand, had barely changed at all. He had grown a couple of inches, but was still only just taller than Hermione, and much shorter than Ron. His hair was still as messy as ever, and his eyes just as bright and startlingly green. His jaw was slightly more defined, his body a little more toned, but he still looked very much the same as he did ten years ago. He was – not worried – but slightly concerned that he didn't seem to be aging as fast as his friends. They were in their early thirties (as was he), but he only looked to be in his early twenties. He couldn't be sure if it was his title as the Master of Death that had caused it, or perhaps good genetics (he had no family to compare himself with after all), or maybe just plain old good luck, so he had decided not to panic unless he still looked the same in another fifty years.
Still though, it was disconcerting to be presented with all of this evidence of the passage of time, but have nothing to show for it. A few scars, perhaps. Nicer clothes, yes (he had stopped wearing Dudley's rags at the first opportunity, and it had felt like freedom). But nothing significant had changed enough for him to fully comprehend how much time had passed. There was no defining moment to grab on to, no specific point in time for him to stand back and think, yes, that moment was important. He had been promoted, commended, given service medals and awards and honours. He had put countless Death Eaters behind bars, had an Order of Merlin, First Class, and yet he still felt that he had accomplished nothing since he had defeated Lord Voldemort all those years ago. And the most frustrating thing was that he didn't understand why. He had done so much, seen so much, and it all felt like it had amounted to nothing. He felt empty, or maybe just incomplete; he wasn't sure. Was he missing something? Maybe he was just restless and bored. Even life as an Auror had seemed rather dull compared to some of the adventures he'd had at Hogwarts with his two best friends by his side. It had been terrifying, yes, and most of the time he had absolutely no idea what he was doing. But those years were the defining ones. They had really meant something. Full of life and adventure, fear and sorrow and joy, they were both the best and the worst times in his life.
Some of that uncertainty and frustration had cleared away though, when Harry had fallen in with the Winchesters. He loved Ron and Hermione of course, more than he had ever loved anyone, except perhaps his parents. Sometimes though, he couldn't really confide in them. That was something that hadn't changed much since they were children. They just wouldn't understand, though they would try to. Hermione would be warm and sympathetic, and would probably consult half a dozen books on psychological disorders and depression, despite Harry knowing that wasn't what he was suffering from. Ron would probably be anxious and confused, but would do his very best to distract and cheer his best friend up, even if that was all he could do. They really were great together.
It was different with Sam and Dean though. It wasn't really any better or any worse, but they just got it. If it was bad they had seen it all before, and had been through it themselves more often than not. One look at Harry and they just knew straight away, no words needed. They didn't mention it, but it was comforting just to have somebody know and understand what he was going through for once, even if he didn't really understand it himself. And if he wasn't pressured to talk about it then that was even better.
Though he did notice little things they did for him when he was in one of his moods. Dean would coax him into the kitchen to experiment with food (cooking really wasn't the right word for it, although the food was edible more often than not), and Sam would distract him with well-directed questions about magic and those huge puppy dog eyes that he could never resist.
And whenever Harry noticed the two of them becoming more withdrawn or broodier than usual, he would return the favour – baking pies and treacle tarts for Dean, and showing off some of his flashier magic to entertain Sam. They never needed words, not really, and Harry thought that he would quite like to spend as much of his time as possible with them. If the Winchester's understood anything, it was pain, and if they cared about anything, it was family.
Harry didn't quite know quite when it had happened, but that's what they were.
AN: It's been so long since I updated! I have a bunch of half finished chapters lying around that I haven't gotten around to finishing, so hopefully I'll have another one posted for you relatively soon.
P.S. I'm so surprised at all of the follows/favs/reviews this story has gotten and I'm really flattered, thanks for all of the support!