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Title: The Hat Trick: Epilogue
Author name: Icarus
Author email: email@example.com
Sub Category: Het
DISCLAIMER: This story is based on characters and situations created and owned by JK Rowling, various publishers including but not limited to Bloomsbury Books, Scholastic Books and Raincoast Books, and Warner Bros., Inc. No money is being made and no copyright or trademark infringement is intended. Copyright © 2005 by Icarus Ancalion. All rights reserved. This story may not be reproduced in whole or part without the author's explicit permission. Ask, guys. I'm easy to reach and usually quite generous.
The pub was a little noisy and crowded and Ron couldn't see Harry anywhere, but hell, he was usually late anyway. The cheerful Friday night chatter sounded like celebration to him, even though no one here knew why he felt so good. Well, not good exactly. Done. Relieved. Finished. Ron signaled the bartender for a well-deserved pint. He was treated with normal brusqueness. Which also felt good.
They'd all know tomorrow when they read The Prophet, if they read far enough. Over the years of court battles the story had drifted from the front page to page twelve of the Quidditch section. Towards the bottom. A little paragraph now and then.
Penny had warned him it would take a while.
They'd cut a deal with the authorities the morning he turned himself in: Ron's testimony -- and years of personal hell -- for a 'get out of jail free' card. Ron sometimes wondered if six months in prison might not have been the better bargain. Though that wasn't why he did it.
Ron glanced curiously over the row of drinkers and caught a heated argument about last night's Winbourne game. He smiled and chuckled. Some things never changed. That was a bad call by the referee, but what could you do?
A foamy pint was dropped in front of him with hardly a glance, and Ron debated whether he should find a table or brave the elbows at the bar. He scanned over the hovering game of wizard's cue -- some bloke was poised underneath the cluster of balls for an impossible shot. Waitresses ducked around young sweaty wizards with unkempt ties and five o'clock shadow, their trays of drinks zipping far above the crowd. There was a burst of laughter and clapping as the wizard made his shot.
Not one of the tiny tables was free. Elbows it was then. Ron blew on his beer.
He'd been grateful when the mess had faded from the news and people stopped recognising him. Blokes he didn't know, slapping him on the back as if they were mates, the Howlers about his 'ruining Quidditch for children!' -- as if he'd invented gambling. Hell. It was Ministry spin control, trying to blame him for their own corruption. Penny had warned him about that, too. He didn't think people could be that gullible, except he'd been, hadn't he? Ron snorted at his younger, more innocent self.
It was a surprise to discover he didn't like either the good or bad side of fame, though it was rather nice that Lawrys at Intrepid Quidditch Supplies had been impressed enough to offer him a job.
He was doing well there now. Not too much pressure, got to talk about Quidditch all day. Harry hadn't minded when Ron lost his job, but sponging off him that first year had grown a little old.
Ron winced at that memory. He should have quit the Floo repair before the distractions, what with the press, the Howlers, the crazy articles about him and Harry being 'gay lovers' after Hermione left, had made him really fuck up. He was willing to bet no one had ever roasted fourteen Floo connections in one day. Though technically it was only the one; he just wasn't fast enough to stop the backfires since he'd - er - forgotten to disconnect the Floo from the network. Small mistakes were the worst.
Ron startled at a hand on his shoulder.
Harry grinned at him. "Welcome back. Where'd you go?"
Ron knew what he meant, and chuckled with a shrug. "Just thinking."
"That could be dangerous from a 'subversive influence' like you."
They laughed. That particular article had been one of Skeeter's better efforts.
"Aren't you afraid to be seen in public with your 'gay lover'?" Ron picked up his pint and followed Harry through the crowd. Sure enough, a little hovering ball of light marked a table 'reserved.' There was a difference between Harry's fame and Ron's infamy. Not that it kept anyone from sitting there. Two young witches slunk away.
"I'll have you know that it actually improved my sex life for a while." Harry pulled out a chair. "You'd be surprised at how many women think it's kinky."
"Well, it didn't improve mine."
"You don't have a sex life, Ron." Harry wrinkled his nose at him.
"Fuck you!" Though it was true. He'd tried the whole 'dating' and 'night life' thing Harry did, and... it just didn't seem to work. He'd end up in the corner of whatever club, with some brown-haired girl talking about... but Hermione was gone, so there wasn't any point. Ron struggled to revive his good mood.
Harry borrowed his beer and looked around the pub. He brightened and waved at someone Ron didn't see. He didn't glance at Ron when he said, "Um. I have something for you. Or rather, someone."
Ron took back his beer. "No, not another one of your fix-ups, Harry."
"You'll like this one, I promise you." Harry looked a little guilty. "I might have been, er, telling her about you."
"Not some bullshit 'hero' story." Ron rolled his eyes, exasperated. "Harry…."
"She wouldn't believe anything but the truth. Trust me." Harry finally met Ron's eyes across the table. "Promise you won't be mad at me?" His face was suddenly open and vulnerable, and more than a little worried.
"Oi, what have you been telling her?" Ron couldn't help but laugh. Though Harry still looked concerned, so he reassured him. "Look. Who could be mad at their 'gay lover,' right?"
Harry still cringed as he got up. "Well, there may be a spectacular 'lover's quarrel' in the paper tomorrow."
He stood and waved someone over, who hesitated in just that way, and her hair was up but he'd recognise her anywhere, even before the tall bloke moved aside… and Ron's heart dropped to his toes.
He was going to kill Harry.
After he killed her.
Though he was going to have to wait till his stomach settled down first. Harry mumbled something as he made a quick retreat, his hand patting the table uncomfortably as he left.
"Um…" she said, hesitant.
She was nervous. Good.
"Hermione." And that was supposed to come out calm and cool -- damn his voice for cracking. And damn all the lovely women that were supposed to be draped all over him when he saw her again. Where were they?
"Can I - can I sit down?" she asked, with that familiar little worried frown line between her brows.
He used to kiss that little frown, and tell her not to worry so much. And he wasn't supposed to be remembering things like this when he saw her again.
Sit down? No. Absolutely not.
"Sure," he said gruffly.
She toyed with a napkin. "Um. Harry told me you'd won your lawsuit. The second one, I mean."
"Harry who? You mean the dead man who just left?" Whoops. He wasn't supposed to say that out loud.
She choked back a little laugh and swept an escaped strand of hair off her face. It slid right back down, as he knew it would.
"He's been telling me… as things went. I asked him to, Ron. Please don't be mad at him."
It wasn't Harry he was mad at. "Why do you care?" Ron folded his arms.
Hermione's face fell and her little mouth worked in shock. "Of course I care!"
"Funny way of showing it." Good. That he meant to say. It was far better than the stammering 'But honey --' he'd managed when she walked out. "Did it get too rough for you?"
"I stayed through the worst of it!"
And she had. The first court case was over and done with -- a draw -- by then. He hadn't decided to pursue the slander charges at that point. Those were so blatant even the judge shook his head during testimony. It was almost funny.
"Except for the 'gay wonder' article," he said pointedly. Which was also true.
He was in rare form tonight. He might just win this argument for a change.
Hermione's eyes were wide and dark with emotion and she slumped a little. "I didn't - I didn't know they were going to do that! That's not my fault, I didn't realise that it would taken that way."
No, of course she didn't. But she was lying, he knew she'd blame herself and he felt instantly guilty. So easy to hurt people you care about. He said quickly, hand reaching slightly across the table to forestall… something. "No. I know." He gave her an emphatic look. "Honey, it's not your fault. Really."
She blinked a little.
Whoops. She wasn't 'honey' anymore, was she?
He covered for his slip with an earnest, "Really."
A little wan smile hovered on the edge of her lips, and he knew he could get another smile if he worked at it. The words were just waiting, right there. But he stopped himself, and there was an uncomfortable silence.
She fidgeted and looked down at the table. And swallowed with a little sound.
"I'm… look, Ron, I'm sorry." She took a deep breath. "I said that I left because you weren't honest with me. But. That wasn't true.
"I've had some time to think."
Ron just blinked at her. It wasn't like Hermione not to be honest. Totally, awfully, horribly honest. He hadn't told her about a lot of things; he could see why she didn't like it. He just wished she'd left in the beginning of the whole mess when he was ready for it, and not right after he watched Dennis slime out on some sweet back-room deal. At least he was removed as Commissioner.
"You'd had this whole life without me, right under my nose. It made me feel so… stupid and blind." She chewed her lip. He said nothing. What was there to say? It didn't change anything. She still left. "But I thought it would be wrong of me to leave you when you were in trouble."
"What? You were of no help whatsoever!" he gasped. "'Have you checked Penny Clearwater's qualifications?' 'Wizard Legal Eagle & Review said this and that.'" Not to mention the alternating lectures and stormy silences, but that went without saying. "'There's this wonderful Muggle solicitor' I should call for advice?"
"She did lose," Hermione pointed out, and quickly ducked her head.
"Augh! That was politics, not law. Ask Percy."
"I'm sorry…" she said, wincing, "I - I just wasn't handling it very well."
"You think so?!"
"I felt left out!
"Oh, and I was really motivated to include you in the future!" A few people glanced in their direction with irritated glares. Ron ignored them.
"Were you planning to face any more jail time?!"
"It was only six months!" Ron said. "One Quidditch season -- and I could get the scores in jail. I could handle that."
Hermione goggled at him. Then sort of sputtered with a little giggle, her hand over her mouth.
"You-- was that really your main priority? Missing Quidditch?"
"Mostly," he admitted. Phrased like that it did sound rather strange. But other things would still be there when he got out.
She started laughing weakly. "I want an autopsy of your brain. I'm sure there's a Snitch buzzing around in there."
"That and two Bludgers no doubt." He grinned broadly at her, leaning back in his chair with a triumphant stretch. "There's a reason I was so good."
Hermione weeped with laughter, her head in her hands. Ron remembered his beer and took a sip cheerfully, watching her wipe tears from her eyes and shake her head. He beamed. Knew he could get a smile. Which wasn't his aim when he started, but smiles looked so good on her.
He liked it better with her hair down though.
There was a long satisfying silence, as the noise of the pub continued around them. They both sighed.
"So. You were checking up on me." Ron didn't try to hide his smirk.
Her face fell. "Only to see that you were all right," she said defensively.
Uh-huh. He smiled. "That's good," he said as he set the beer back on the table, and left it at that. "So, would you like a drink?"
She shook her head, and sat up a little primly and changed the subject. "Um. I understand there's a new Commissioner?"
Ron nodded, his expression wry. "Kurt Lamphreys. The owner of the Magpies."
Hermione frowned suddenly. As she ought, at that name. "Magpies? But… isn't he the one who asked Dennis to have you removed in the first place?"
Ron gave a grim smile. "Yep. The one and only."
"But - but he's worse than Dennis!"
Ron shook his head in disgust. "The more things change, the more they stay the same."
"Oh. I'm so sorry, Ron." And she meant it. Even though she didn't give a damn about Quidditch.
He made a face as he buried his face in the beer mug. "Don't be. Nothing surprises me now. They have their little club and they're gonna keep it. It doesn't change Quidditch." He took in her doubtful look and shrugged. "Not where it matters."
Ron finished his drink and spotted Harry hovering in the background, his back leaned against a wall, his head bobbing to some music Ron knew he hated. He was carefully not looking at them -- and doing a piss-poor job of pretending he wasn't watching. Ron snorted.
Hermione stirred uncomfortably, swiping at her skirt. She rose.
"Well. Um. I'd best be going. I've a double shift at St. Mungo's tonight. I… I just wanted to congratulate you. On winning, I mean. I… Harry refused to deliver the message." She looked at the table, making a visible effort not to cringe. "He said that you probably wouldn't listen."
Ron tried not to smile at that, knowing it was very true. She turned to leave, and he stood a little when she was just a few feet away, almost out of reach.
"Um -- Hermione -?" he called after her.
She turned and paused with a mildly surprised expression.
"It was good to see you again," Ron said. He meant, oh, so much more.
She smiled brilliantly.
She was gone by the time Harry sidled over cautiously.
"So… um… how did it go?" he said, shifting from one foot to another, slightly nervous. "I heard you two shouting from the men's room." His eyebrows raised.
But Ron was still beaming after her. "I think it's gonna be all right," he said, gazing mindlessly at the door where she'd left moments before. Annoyingly, people were walking back and forth, blocking his view. Ron edged over so he could see around them.
Then he blinked and remembered this was Harry Potter he was talking to -- you know, that dead man, who couldn't warn him before bringing by his ex? "But don't you ever pull anything like that again!"