Disclaimer: I do not own Harry Potter or any of the characters created by J.K. Rowling. No money is being made from this story.
Rating: R for language and mild sexual content
Challenge: Ron kisses Harry so he doesn't say 'Voldemort' and get them all caught. Things get complicated and confusing in the ensuing days.
Summary: AU, takes place during DH. An impulsive kiss changes everything, and not just for the trio. In the weeks that follow, Ron comes to realise that even the smallest gestures have their consequences. ONE-SHOT.
Warnings: Angst, language, mild sexual content, secondary character death, hints of Ron/Hermione, DH SPOILERS.
Notes: Right, so…I've never written Harry/Ron before, and I only had one week to write this (for a H/R challenge comm on insanejournal), and it turned out differently than I thought it would, but I think I'm about as satisfied with it as I'm ever going to be. I hope everyone enjoys it.
Initial read-through and general blathering by Jesse Hayes. Brit picking and additional proofing by ScarletVampyre. Thank you both so much.
"Order! Phoenix!" Pause. "Order of the Phoenix!"
Ron heard someone snort and glanced over his shoulder, where he saw Hermione sitting cross-legged in the corner, balancing the Sword of Gryffindor in her lap. She had a small white rag in one hand and was using it to buff the rubies on the hilt of the sword.
"Something funny?" he asked.
Hermione glanced up at him, the corner of her mouth quirked up in amusement. "No, nothing at all," she said smoothly.
Ron frowned and turned back to the radio sitting on the floor in front of him. He'd been trying for the better part of half an hour to tune into PotterWatch, but hadn't had any luck with the password yet. It usually had something to do with the Order, but as Ron wasn't exactly a member of the Order, his guesses tended to be…well, guesses. And apparently they were terrible guesses, since he hadn't been able to hit upon the right password in months.
Something rustled just outside of the tent, and Ron looked up to see Harry's arm stretch across the gap in the tent flaps, then return to its original position. Harry had been on guard duty for the past three hours, which seemed to suit him well enough since it meant that he could brood in silence without Hermione interrupting him with an "interesting bit" from one of the many books she'd brought with them on their journey. When they were in school, Harry was always the one who'd managed a polite nod whenever she got particularly excited over something she'd read, but now it was Ron that had to do all the nodding, even when he didn't have a bloody clue what all the fuss was about.
Which was possibly why Hermione had started turning to him instead of Harry for direction. Ever since they'd returned from the Lovegoods' house, Harry had been particularly withdrawn and moody. He'd stopped talking about the horcruxes altogether and could manage only superficial interest whenever the other two brought up the subject. Ron knew that he was still thinking about the Deathly Hallows, about the stone that he couldn't touch and the wand that he couldn't find.
"Try some names," Hermione suggested, bringing him back to the present.
Ron turned back to the radio, squinting at the knobs. "Potter!" he whispered loudly.
"Something not so obvious, perhaps?"
Ron sighed. "Shacklebolt!" Nothing. "Kingsley!"
He went through almost every member of the Order, including his own family, before he remembered the most obvious name of them all. "Dumbledore!"
Ron let out a frustrated sigh. "Albus?"
Without warning, the radio let out a sharp whine, and the dial started running back and forth across the line of frequencies, searching for the appropriate channel. Ron's heart leapt in his chest.
"I've got it!" he exclaimed, vaguely aware that Hermione had practically thrown the sword to the side so that she could scramble over to the radio. "I've got it! The password was 'Albus'! Get in here, Harry!"
Harry pulled the tent flap to the side just as the first words burst through the tiny speakers. "…apologise for our temporary absence from the airwaves, which was due to a number of house calls in our area by those charming Death Eaters."
Hermione looked up, eyes wide. "But that's Lee Jordan!"
Ron grinned, thinking back to their Hogwarts days – not so long ago, he had to remind himself, though sometimes it felt like ages – when Lee gave commentary during Quidditch matches. "I know! Cool, eh?"
However, the excitement was short-lived. After preliminary introductions, Lee moved on to the news segment of the show, where he announced the murders of Ted Tonks and Dirk Cresswell, along with the disappearance of Dean Thomas.
"Blimey," Ron muttered, and the others seemed to feel the same. Hermione was chewing nervously at her bottom lip, and Harry was staring at the radio with a look of concentration that Ron had not seen in weeks. "Poor Dean."
Then there was the bit about finding Bathilda Bagshot's body, and though none of them were surprised at this piece of information, it didn't do much to buoy the mood.
"Should we send word that it wasn't just Dark Magic that killed her, but also the giant snake living inside of her skin?" Ron asked.
Hermione hushed him, yet again, with a withering glare.
The excitement returned when Kingsley and Lupin came on the air, and then again when the twins took the stage. Ron, who had gone ages without any word from his family and twice as long without hearing their voices directly, could hardly keep the silly grin off of his face. He could only imagine the look on his mum's face when she heard them quarreling on the air, with hundreds of people listening in.
Perhaps the best part was that even Harry was smiling. For the first time in weeks, he seemed excited, full of energy. Ron had almost forgotten what it looked like to see Harry smile, and when Harry actually laughed at one of the twins' jokes, Ron thought that it must have been the best thing he'd heard all week.
When the programme was over, Ron watched the radio lights flicker and die. The three of them sat there for a moment, grinning stupidly at one another in the semi-darkness. When they did finally start talking, all they could do was gush over how brilliant the whole thing was, how brave their friends were to stand up to the Death Eaters when they were in constant danger of being caught.
"But did you hear what Fred said?" asked Harry. He was sitting up straight now, and just as excited as he'd been during the radio broadcast. But it was a different kind of excitement than before. Ron recognised it from when they'd returned from the Lovegoods' house, heads filled with children's fairy tales and deadly quests. "He's abroad! He's still looking for the wand, I knew it!"
Ron felt his stomach clench up, but not entirely from wondering how Harry knew that You-Know-Who was still looking for the wand – after all, he'd been watching Harry closely over the past few weeks and knew that his scar was still bothering him, even though Harry hadn't said anything. No, what immediately bothered Ron was how fast Harry was speaking in his rush to get the words out. Harry had never been afraid to say You-Know-Who's name, and Ron was worried that it was just going to slip out, this time with consequences.
"Harry—" Hermione started, already weary of the conversation before it had even begun.
"Come on, Hermione," Harry interrupted impatiently, and with his heart hammering, Ron leaned forward like a wild animal ready to pounce. "Why are you so determined not to admit it? Vol—"
Both Hermione and Ron leaned forward at once, but Ron was quicker. He wasn't sure exactly what he was planning on doing, beyond hitting Harry in the mouth or perhaps tackling to him to the ground to make sure that he didn't finish the word, but in his panic his brain must have done something wonky, because instead of a push or a shove or a kick in the groin, what Harry Potter got was a very hard kiss on the mouth, with Ronald Weasley's tongue thrown in for good measure.
It didn't last very long, because, Merlin, how could it? Ron was hardly even aware of what he was doing before he jerked back suddenly, knocking Harry in the nose with his forehead. Harry must have closed his eyes to block the blow, because when Ron pulled back enough to look at him, Harry was sitting very still, with his eyes half-closed and his lips red and wet like he'd been sucking down cherry-flavored ice lollies. There was this split second when Ron had to stop himself from leaning forward to do it again, just to see if maybe they really did taste like lollies and he had just been too distracted to notice the first time.
And then Harry's eyes fluttered open – slowly, like he wasn't sure where he was or what had just happened (join the club, mate) – and he looked straight at Ron. Who, of course, panicked.
"You were going to say his name!" Ron exclaimed before Harry could say anything. "It's taboo! I had to stop you!"
Someone let out a little squeak, and Ron look over to see that Hermione was watching Harry with her eyes wide and her mouth hanging open just a little bit.
"I was trying to stop him!" Ron shouted, and Hermione turned to look at him. "He was going to—" But then he stopped, because there was something in her eyes that went beyond shock or even anger.
"It's fine," Harry said shortly. "It was my mistake. Thanks for stopping me." His words were conciliatory, but his voice was flat and devoid of any emotion. Ron glanced over at him quickly and found that his eyes were the same.
Ron blinked. "Right…no problem."
Harry nodded shortly. "I'm going for a walk," he announced calmly, rising to his feet.
"Harry, it's dark outside—" Hermione started, but Harry ignored her and swept out of the tent.
Ron turned to look at Hermione again, but she was still looking at the entrance to the tent. Even when she must have known that he was watching her, she still didn't look at him. "I'm going to stand guard…wait for him to come back," she said finally.
Ron nodded and watched her pull the tent flap back, then disappeared into the darkness. He spent a long while staring at the abandoned radio before he gave in and went to bed. He tried to stay awake for as long as he could, but the day must have been too much for him because he was asleep before either Harry or Hermione returned for the night.
When Ron woke up the next morning, the tent was empty. For one ridiculous, heart-stopping moment, he imagined that Harry hadn't ever come back and that Hermione had gone after him and they'd both been kidnapped by Death Eaters while he slept on, blissfully unaware. But then he noticed that Harry's sheets were rumpled and Hermione's bag was missing, and he knew that they'd at least been back to the tent since then.
Ron dressed quickly and found Harry sitting right outside of the tent drinking a mug of hot tea. The air was cold and heavy with rain, and Ron instinctively pulled his coat tighter against his chest. "Hey…"
Harry looked up quickly, surprised. "Hi."
Ron stepped forward awkwardly and lowered himself down onto the ground next to Harry. "Where's Hermione?"
Harry took another sip of tea. "Went into town to get some food. She left about half an hour ago."
Ron nodded and crossed his arms over his chest to stay warm. The two of them sat in silence for a few minutes while Harry drank his tea and Ron tried to wake up properly. Even when they were at school, he'd never understood how Harry could wake up so early, or how he could just roll out of bed and have actual conversations with people only moments after he'd opened his eyes. It didn't seem natural.
"Wish it weren't so bloody warm outside," Ron said lightly, when he'd finally managed to keep his eyes open without having to concentrate on the task. "Hermione forgot to pack my swimming cozzie."
He didn't see the smile, but he could almost hear it. "Bad luck."
"Might've gone swimming again, yeah?" Ron tried to sound cheerful, but wasn't sure if it was working or not. He tugged at his coat again, and his elbow brushed Harry's.
"Sorry," he muttered, though he was pretty sure he'd never felt the need to apologise for anything so simple before.
"S'okay," said Harry, and of course Ron couldn't tell what he was thinking at all.
"So, uh…" Ron felt his stomach clench up as he tried to form the words. "Sorry 'bout yesterday, mate. I was just, you know, trying to—"
"It's alright," Harry interrupted. "I understand."
"Okay, good," Ron said quickly, letting out a deep breath. "That's good."
Harry nodded, and the two of them lapsed into a semi-awkward silence again. Ron thought desperately for something to say and decided upon the one thing that was guaranteed to get Harry to talk these days.
"So, you, uh…you really think You-Know-Who's abroad?" he asked, emphasising the You-Know-Who part as a subtle reminder that Harry shouldn't use the name. Harry must not have been looking for a replay of yesterday's kiss, because he chose his next words carefully.
"I don't know," he said thoughtfully, looking down into his empty cup. "Maybe. He might be gathering more armies or…looking for something."
"Like the Elder Wand," Ron finished for him.
Harry gave him a sideways glance. "Maybe." He ran the pad of his thumb over the lip of the mug. "If he gets it, he'll be unstoppable, you know. If he isn't already."
Ron frowned. "Can't think like that, mate. We don't even know what he's after."
Harry didn't say anything to that, but Ron noticed the way his hand twitched like he wanted to reach up and touch his scar, and he knew what Harry was thinking. He also knew that if he brought it up, warned him against trying it, that Harry would only blow up at him and tell him to mind his own business. And the last thing Ron needed was another reason for Harry to be angry with him.
"Anyway," Ron went on determinedly, "even if it does exist, no one knows where the Elder Wand is. How is You-Know-Who supposed to find it if no one else has been able to?"
Harry thought about this for a moment, still running his thumb in circles over the edge of the cup. Ron watched him silently, taking in the thin line of dirt under his fingernail, the calluses he'd earned from six years of riding a broom. And on the underside of his thumb – not visible now, but Ron knew it was there – a small red scar he'd received from burning his hand on a fouled-up potion during their fourth year. Ron knew because he had a similar mark on his own thumb, earned on the same day.
"I'm sure that You-Know-Who has ways of gathering information," Harry said finally. "Finding people who might be able to help him and then…questioning them." He swallowed deeply, blinking down at the mug. "If only we could get to it first."
Ron knew he had to tread carefully here, or risk setting Harry off again. "More important things to find than just a wand, yeah?" he said casually.
"Easy for you to say," Harry muttered angrily. "At least you've got your own wand."
"Just barely." Ron reached into his back pocket and pulled out his wand, turning it over in his hand. "For a second there I thought it was gone forever." Thought a few other things were gone forever, too.
Harry considered this for a moment without speaking. Finally, he reached into his back pocket and pulled out the wand Ron had given him when he'd returned. "It doesn't smell right."
Ron frowned. "Smell right? What's that supposed to mean?"
Harry shrugged. "I don't know. It just…feels funny. Smells funny. You know." He wasn't looking at Ron, possibly from embarrassment. "When I hold it."
Ron looked down at his wand, remembering what it had felt like to use the Snatcher's wand to Disarm the man's friend and get his own wand back. He remembered the way his hand felt slimy against the polished wood, how his stomach had curled in just a bit when he'd muttered the spell, like the magic didn't want to go through something that had been used for so many despicable things. And how for a moment he thought he'd smelled something in the air, like burnt hair or spilt blood or something so terrible that he couldn't even identify it.
"I 'spect it has something to do with who I took it from, yeah?" Ron said quietly. "Nasty bloke."
Harry nodded stiffly. "Probably."
"But I'll bet if you used my wand, it probably wouldn't…it wouldn't be so bad." He held out his own wand for Harry to take. "Here. Take it. We'll switch."
Ron couldn't tell if Harry really understood what he was offering, because he didn't say anything. Nor did he take the wand. He stared at it for a long moment, considering, before he looked back down at the mug in his hands. Ron paused awkwardly, then stuffed the wand back into his trouser pocket.
"It's always here if you need it," he said, and Harry nodded.
Hermione arrived back at the tent about half an hour after Ron woke up, a loaf of bread and a bottle of milk cradled in her thin arms. The three of them ate in silence before Harry excused himself and went for a walk in the woods.
"I don't think it's safe that he does that," said Hermione when Harry was out of earshot. "If he gets hurt or caught, we wouldn't know what had happened until it was too late."
"Well, I'll let you be the one to tell him then," said Ron, swishing the last of the milk along the bottom of the bottle before he downed it in one gulp. He wiped his mouth with the back of his hand and tossed the bottle onto the ground in front of him, vowing to pick it up later. When he looked up, he saw that Hermione was watching him with a strange expression on her face.
"What?" he blurted, and she pursed her lips together in a defensive gesture. Her eyes flickered with some emotion that he didn't recognise right away, but when he did he felt the weight of it settle down in the pit of his stomach like a stone. "Oh," he said stupidly.
Hermione picked up the discarded milk bottle, turning it over in her hands, and Ron sighed. "We would have gotten found by the Snatchers," he said defensively. "He was going to say the name, and I had to do something."
"So you decided to stop him with your mouth?" Hermione finished for him, words tinged with acid. She was looking straight at him now, unflinching. "Brilliant, Ronald. I should have thought of that myself. Might've gotten you to shut up on more than one occasion."
He hadn't expected that. First of all that she would be so angry, and second that she had considered kissing him, which answered a fair few nagging questions he'd had about her behavior over the last year or so. It didn't, however, answer his own questions (which were many) or do anything to quell the confusion over his feelings for Hermione (which were, indeed, quite confusing). Because the truth was that Ron had considered kissing Hermione as well, and on more than one occasion. He had lain awake at night imagining what it would be like to feel her hair brush against his cheeks while he touched her breasts through the thin material of her sweater. But considering and wanting were two completely separate things, and for all of his imaginings Ron had never been entirely sure what he wanted where Hermione was concerned.
"Might've done," he agreed humbly.
Hermione's mouth was still pursed together in silent anger, but Ron's admission of guilt must have done something to deflate her, because her eyes softened and she let out a deep breath. "Possibly," she said tiredly.
Ron bit his lip and hazarded another glance in her direction. "So, are you, er…are you angry with me?"
Hermione's nose twitched dismissively. "For what, preventing us all from being kidnapped? No. That would be silly, wouldn't it?"
It was a lie, but it was a kind lie, and Ron accepted it gratefully for the effort it cost her. "Right."
Hermione looked up at him. "But I do have to ask," she said reproachfully. "Was it really necessary to use so much tongue?"
The next week passed in roughly the same manner as the week before it…which had passed in roughly the same manner as the week before that. The days blurred into one another in such a way that Ron could scarcely tell one from the other. Sometimes he would say something like, "Remember yesterday when you…" and Hermione would remind him that it wasn't yesterday but in fact two days previous, and then Ron would have to scour his mind to remember what had actually happened yesterday, if anything had even happened at all.
Harry seemed to be in slightly better spirits and didn't resist talking about the horcruxes quite as much as he had done. Perhaps it was hearing Lupin tell him to trust his instincts, or laughing at the twins' jokes, or just hearing that there were other people out there fighting just like they were. Whatever the reason, Ron was glad to see that Harry wasn't quite as depressed as he had been, even if he continued to spend a great deal of time by himself.
One afternoon while Hermione was on guard duty, Harry conjured a chess set and the two of them played a couple of rounds, with Ron feeling slightly guilty that they weren't doing something more productive, like reading about blood magic or practising defensive spells or sitting around on their arses talking about where on earth the last bloody horcrux could be. But Harry didn't really seem in the mood to talk about horcruxes, and Ron just wanted to see him smile again.
"Check," said Ron, moving his knight into position. Harry swore feebly under his breath and settled back onto his haunches.
"Wish we had some Chocolate Frogs," said Ron. "It'd be like back at the dorms."
A ghost of a smile flickered across Harry's features before he reached forward to move his king. "I think I'd prefer some pumpkin pasties."
"Mmmm," Ron murmured, both in consideration of his next move and in appreciation for pumpkin pasties. "Check," he said again, urging his queen to take out Harry's bishop. The queen whipped out a long sword and drove it through the bishop's heart, and the bishop toppled over, clutching the fragments of his chest.
Harry got his revenge by taking Ron's last pawn, and his knight let out a wild yell as he sliced the head clean off.
"Noisy bunch, this one," Ron observed. Harry reached forward to clear the pawn off of the chessboard just as Ron reached forward to move his queen again. Their fingers brushed together, and Harry jumped back, slicing open his finger on the knight's sword.
"Blimey, Harry, are you okay?" said Ron, leaning forward to get a better look. He reached for Harry's hand to see how bad it was, but Harry jerked it back before he could.
"S'fine," he said shortly, reaching for a clean rag from Hermione's never-ending bag of usefulness. He didn't look Ron in the eye. "It's just a cut. Your move."
Ron bit his lip apologetically and moved his queen into the position he was aiming for a moment before.
Exactly one week after its first airing, PotterWatch came on again.
Hermione was on guard duty, and Harry was lying on his sleeping bag in the corner, arms crossed over his chest like he was being laid to rest. Ron, who had made it a habit to try tuning into PotterWatch at least once every hour, nearly jumped out of his skin with joy when the dial started moving from side to side in search of a hidden station.
"Hermione!" he shouted. "PotterWatch is on!"
Harry jumped up and crawled over next Ron just as Hermione threw the tent flap aside and rushed in, squatting down next to them just as Lee Jordan's voice sounded from the radio's speakers.
"…another safe location, thanks to some loyal listeners."
"Just in time!" Ron exclaimed happily, and Hermione shushed him.
"Before we get started, listeners, we must remind you that you cannot say You Know Who's name. There have been several reports of innocent witches and wizards being taken away because they have made this simple mistake. Don't be one of them!"
Ron shot a quick glance over at Harry, who shifted uncomfortably and reached up to scratch his neck.
"…hear from Romulus in a few minutes, but first we must report the death of Muggle-born wizard Dean Thomas, who was a student at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry."
The atmosphere in the tent, once bristling with anticipation, froze over in the space of a second. Hermione let out a sharp gasp, but neither Harry nor Ron said anything. Ron couldn't even tear his eyes away from the radio, for fear that if he looked up at either of his friends then their faces would confirm that it was true, that he wasn't dreaming.
"Dean disappeared little over a week ago after the murders of Dirk Cresswell and Ted Tonks, fellow Muggle-borns. The worst was confirmed yesterday evening when a member of the Order found Thomas's body in an abandoned field just outside of London. Sources believe that he was kidnapped and murdered by Snatchers.
"Let us all take a moment to remember Dean Thomas."
Ron heard a sudden sniffle, and he looked up to see that Hermione was crying silently, hand over her mouth to muffle the sobs. Harry was still staring at the radio, his face stricken with horror. He looked like Ron thought he must have, too surprised and sickened to say a single word.
Neither of them spoke during the rest of the programme, which was shorter than usual. Remus came on the air to give additional news and safety tips, but the twins didn't return, much to Ron's disappointment. But with the way he was feeling after the news about Dean, he probably wouldn't have been able to enjoy it anyway.
Lee announced the next show's password ("Ravenclaw") and signed off. As the lights on the radio died, Ron looked up to see Hermione wiping the last of her tears off of her cheeks.
"Can't believe it," he said quietly. It was an understatement, of course. In some ways, the three of them had been preparing for this war for almost seven years, learning and training and fighting, but it had never felt as real to Ron as it did in that moment, knowing that someone who'd slept in his dormitory for six years, who'd told him dirty jokes and shared his Liquorice Snaps and argued with him about Quidditch teams, could be dead. No one had anticipated this during their years at school, and the fact that it was real felt almost like a betrayal, something that wasn't supposed to happen.
"His family," said Hermione, her voice low and gravelly from the tears. "Last week they said that his parents and his sisters were waiting to hear from him. They—" She cut off then, unable to continue the thought. Ron looked over at Harry.
Harry was still staring at the radio, but instead of looking shocked or saddened he looked almost angry. His mouth was set in a hard line, his eyes narrowed determinedly. Ron reached out to put a hand on his shoulder, and Harry jumped at the touch.
"You alright, Harry?" he asked.
Harry stood up so quickly that Ron's arm twisted awkwardly as it fell away from Harry's shoulder. "I'm fine," he said, looking down at Hermione. "I need some fresh air." And this time neither Hermione nor Ron could manage even a weak protest as he disappeared into the darkness.
Ron didn't know what to say after that. He picked up the radio and shoved the antennae down so that he could stuff the box into Hermione's bag again. It bumped into the portrait of Phineas Nigellus, who protested bitterly at the intrusion before Ron zipped up the bag.
"You can't blame Harry for this."
Ron turned to look back at Hermione, who was still sitting in the middle of the tent with her hands folded primly in her lap. She was watching him calmly, her eyes clear and dry.
"Why would I blame Harry?" Ron asked her.
Hermione didn't say anything.
Ron took a step towards her. "Do you blame Harry?"
"No," she said quickly, shaking her head. "I just…" She swallowed. "We need to focus on destroying the horcruxes or this war is going to drag on forever. Nothing can be done while anything ties You-Know-Who to this world."
Ron's throat had gone dry, but he managed a weak nod. "I know."
Hermione was still watching him very seriously, eyes large with worry. "You should talk to him. He'll listen to you."
Ron shook his head and swallowed the lump of bitterness lodged somewhere in the back of his throat. "No. He won't."
Another week passed, but to Ron it felt more like two, or maybe seven.
Whatever confidence or energy Harry had gained from the first PotterWatch programme had been lost in light of the second, which had taken that and then some. After the second airing, he'd started spending most of his time in the woods, doing things that Ron and Hermione didn't ask him about. When he wasn't off by himself, he took over on guard duty or slept. Whenever he wasn't doing any of those things, he sat by himself in the corner of the tent, turning the snitch over and over in the palm of his hand, whispering things that only he and the snitch could hear.
Ron and Hermione were concerned, and perhaps that was what brought things back to some semblance of normalcy between them. Because if there was ever a constant in their relationship, it was worrying about Harry, and after nearly seven years of practise, Ron figured that they were probably experts at it. But how to handle Harry's mood swings had always been a source of contention between the two of them.
"Just leave him be, Hermione. S'not like anything we say is going to help anyway. He'll just tell us not to worry and then disappear into the bloody forest again."
Hermione rubbed her eyelids with the pads of her fingers. "But if we don't do something, we're going to be camping for the rest of our lives and more people are going to be killed."
Ron sighed. "So, let's just think then, yeah? What else would You-Know-Who use as a horcrux? We've already got the locket…"
Ron hadn't exactly meant to take charge the way he had; it'd just sort of happened. Hermione seemed to be holding on by a thread these days, and Ron felt like he was mostly (if not entirely) to blame for it. Harry wasn't helping either, but at least he hadn't run out on them or kissed somebody he wasn't supposed to. So Ron had taken it upon himself to make up for all of the dumb things he'd done over the last few weeks by working as hard as possible to get them out of this mess they'd found themselves in, and by doing so had taken over in Harry's de facto absence. It felt strange to Ron, the youngest of six brothers, that anyone should look up to him for anything, especially since Harry was still around. He was used to Harry knowing what to do, and Hermione knowing how to get them out of it if and when something went horribly wrong, which it frequently did. So it was confusing and more than a little bit scary for Ron to find himself in a position of leadership.
"Harry thinks one of the horcruxes might be at the school."
Ron nodded. "D'you think he's right?"
"I don't know what to think anymore," said Hermione, reaching up to tuck a loose strand of hair behind her ears. None of them had bathed in months, and although they'd done their best with cleaning spells and conjured bath towels, they were all a bit manky. Hermione seemed especially frustrated by the situation and had, on more than one occasion, considered transfiguring a tea cup into a bathtub so that she could finally wash her hair.
"The question is where he would hide it," she continued. "If it was out in plain sight, it wouldn't be safe. Anyone could find it. He wouldn't want to risk that, would he?"
Ron shrugged. "Unless it was safe because it was out in the open. If it was something that no one bothered to touch because they saw it every day."
Hermione frowned. "That's possible. Like what then? What did we see every day but didn't touch?"
The two of them spent a few minutes listing off various items in and around Hogwarts, but couldn't think of anything that You-Know-Who would want to use as a horcrux.
"We need Harry to be here," said Hermione, letting out an exasperated sigh. "Where is he?"
"Where do you think?" asked Ron. "Taking a walk in the forest."
Hermione pursed her lips together in frustration. "I doubt he gets much walking done with all of the brooding he's doing." Her eyes flickered up to meet Ron's. "Did you two ever talk?"
Ron frowned. "About what?"
Hermione rolled her eyes. "What do you think, Ron? About you kissing him!"
Ron thought someone must have set fire to something right behind him, because suddenly his back felt all prickly with sweat and his face was hotter than one of his mum's casserole dishes. "What!" he blurted.
She let out a sharp breath that fell short of being a sigh. "Oh, please. I was sitting right next to you both, so it's not like you can pretend it didn't happen."
Ron didn't think he could get any warmer than he already was, but he was wrong. "I did it so he wouldn't say the name! I've already told you that!"
Hermione ignored him. "You should talk with him, you know. I'm sure he's just as confused about it as you are."
Ron let out a frustrated sigh, wishing the earth would just swallow him whole. She was right about his confusion, of course, but there was no way he could tell her that, not without telling her about the dreams he'd been having. Dreams about him and Harry doing things he'd never even dared to imagine doing with Hermione, even in his sleep. Dreams where Harry had Ron pressed up against the walls of the Quidditch locker room or their dormitory, with his eyes half-closed and his lips wrapped around Ron's cock. On those nights, Ron would wake up in a panic, drenched in sweat and other unmentionable bodily fluids, heart pounding so loudly that he was sure the others would hear it and wake up as well.
The worst part (besides the obvious inconvenience of having blatantly sexual dreams about your best mate) was that Harry had grown increasingly distant since they'd heard the news about Dean's death, especially from Ron. He hardly looked Ron in the eye anymore, even if they were having a rare conversation, and if Ron dared to touch him, Harry would jump like he'd been burned. Ron pretended that he didn't notice, but it was difficult with all three of them living in such close quarters; under those conditions, even the smallest of gestures was magnified to the point of it being impossible not to notice.
"Talk to him," Hermione repeated, more urgently this time. "It's only going to get worse if you don't."
Ron shook his head and started to stand up. "I'm not going to talk with you about this. S'weird—"
"Weird for you?" Hermione demanded, looking up at him. "As if I'm enjoying it!"
"So why did you bring it up then?"
"Because someone has to, and obviously neither of you are going to do it on your own."
"Maybe 'cause we don't need to!" Ron shouted.
"Yes, obviously!" Hermione shouted back, just as forcefully. "With two of you acting like scared rabbits, afraid to even sit down next to each other. Grow up, Ronald!"
Ron froze where he was, at the door to the tent with one tent flap trapped inside a curled fist. Her turned back to see that Hermione was still kneeling on the ground, her face twisted up so that it looked like she was crying, only there weren't any tears in her eyes, at least not yet. Those would come later, Ron knew instinctively, after he'd left.
"He's just as confused as you are," she said again, voice steady. "Must be confusing to kiss your best friend, especially if you think he didn't mean it."
"Why're you doing this?" Ron asked quietly.
"Because," Hermione whispered, and even if it wasn't an answer, it was, because Ron knew exactly what she was saying.
"Alright," he told her, and pushed the tent flap aside so that he could step out into the sunshine.
Ron found Harry leaning against a tree on the edge of the forest. He had the snitch out again and was turning it over and over in his palm like he'd been doing ever since he heard the news about Dean. Ron remembered when they'd first returned from talking to Xenophilius Lovegood that they'd discussed which of the Hallows they'd rather have, and how Harry said he would have chosen the Resurrection Stone. And for the first time since they'd talked about it, Ron felt like maybe he understood, just a little bit.
Harry jumped a bit, instinctively reaching for the wand in his back pocket, but when he realised it was Ron he relaxed and moved his hand away. "Hi."
"S'cold out. Don't you want a jumper or something?" Ron asked, noting Harry's bare forearms.
Harry shook his head. "I'm fine."
That seemed to be Harry's favourite response these days, which was nothing new or unexpected really. Fortunately Ron was used to it by now and knew well enough that he couldn't let Harry use it to push him away this time. "I thought maybe we should talk," he said, trying to keep his voice steady.
Harry frowned. "About what? Did Hermione say something? Because I already told her—"
"Hermione didn't say anything," Ron lied. "I just thought that maybe we should talk. You know, about…" He took a deep breath, trying to figure out the least embarrassing way to broach a very embarrassing subject. "…about what happened in the tent that night."
Harry narrowed his eyes in confusion. "What night?"
Ron's face flushed. "That night. The night you almost said his name and I…"
Realisation dawned on Harry's face, and Ron was somewhat relieved to note that he wasn't the only one blushing at the memory. "I already told you it doesn't matter," he said stiffly.
"Yeah, I know," Ron said quickly. "I know. But things've been a bit weird between us since then and I just thought…" He swallowed, wondering if it was possible to literally die from embarrassment and kind of hoping that he would. "…I just thought that we should talk about it, to make sure that we're okay."
"Well, we are, so we don't need to talk about it," said Harry, watching him closely. "I've already told you."
Ron shifted uncomfortably. "I know you did, but I thought that maybe there was something else to say. Something that hasn't already been said."
"Like what?" Harry demanded.
Ron opened his mouth to reply, but no words came out. Harry must have got what he meant anyway, because suddenly his face clouded over with anger.
"There's a war going on," he said bitterly. "Or haven't you noticed?"
Ron's cheeks flushed in anger. "Haven't noticed?" he echoed. "I'm not the one moping about in the corner all day, dreaming about Resurrection Stones and all that rubbish!"
"It's not rubbish! Dumbledore—"
"Dumbledore told us to look for the horcruxes!" Ron roared. "He told you, you stupid git! Or have you already forgotten why we signed up for this bloody camping trip in the first place?"
"He led us to the Deathly Hallows!" Harry yelled. "He gave Hermione that book with the runes! He gave me the snitch with the stone! He wants us to find them!"
"They aren't even real!" Ron exclaimed, admitting for the first time what he'd been thinking for weeks now, with Hermione's help. "It's just a kids' story, Harry. It's not real."
Harry shook his head determinedly. "No. No, they are real. You just don't have faith."
"You're right," Ron said flatly. "I don't."
Harry flinched like he'd been slapped, and Ron regretted his bluntness. "I didn't mean—"
"Yes, you did," said Harry. "You always do."
Ron closed his eyes briefly against a wave of guilt. "I'm just trying to help you, Harry. I don't want you to waste your time chasing after children's stories."
"They're not children's stories, I already told you." Harry let out a rough breath. "Dumbledore knew that. That's why he wants me to find them."
"Then why didn't he just tell you that in the first place?" Ron insisted, voice swinging between gentle admonition and angry impatience as if he couldn't quite decide which way to go. "Why didn't he just sit you down and tell you, 'Look, Harry, there're these things you need to find and they'll be bloody useful in the end.' Why didn't he just say that?"
Harry's jaw clenched in anger. "Maybe he meant to. Maybe he just didn't get the chance."
"But he had the chance to give us those other things, didn't he?" Ron pointed out. "Why go through all the trouble of giving Hermione the book without knowing if she'd translate it or not—"
"Since when would Hermione ever not translate a book that needed translating?"
"—and why didn't he tell us where the Elder Wand was—"
"Maybe he didn't know either!"
"—and why would he give you the Resurrection Stone if you couldn't even get to it!"
Harry screwed his face like he was angry or maybe trying not to cry, and Ron was reminded briefly of Hermione in the tent, forcing herself to say words she wasn't sure she meant. Harry's fist curled even tighter around the snitch as he pressed it against his side.
"I don't know!" he shouted. "I don't fucking know!"
There was one terrible moment when the two of them just stood there like that, staring at one another, before Harry turned quickly and started to leave. But Ron wouldn't have any of that. Without even thinking about what he was going to do (a dangerous habit, he was starting to realise), Ron reached out and grabbed him by the sleeve of his shirt, dragging him back. Harry retaliated by grabbing onto the front of Ron's shirt and dragging him closer, slamming him against the tree. And before Ron could think of a single thing to say or do, Harry leaned forward and kissed him. Hard.
Looking back, there were a lot of things that Ron couldn't quite remember about that moment. Things like whether or not he let go of Harry's sleeve right away or where Harry put his hands or how long it took before Ron realised what was happening and started kissing back. But there were other things that he did remember because there wasn't any way he could forget. Like how the bark of the tree cut into the skin on his back, or how Harry's lips didn't actually taste like cherry ice lollies at all, but were actually a thousand times better because they tasted like Harry, and somehow that taste was more familiar than Ron could have imagined it would be.
Suddenly Harry pulled back, eyes wide. "Sorry," he said quickly, taking a step backwards. "Sorry, I didn't mean—"
But Ron had known Harry long enough to know what he did and didn't mean, and he was pretty sure that a kiss like that could only come from someone who meant it. So without asking permission, Ron covered the gap between them in one step and kissed him again.
This time it took Harry a moment to respond, and when he did his movements were tentative, like he was afraid that he was doing something wrong. Ron didn't try to push him, just sat back and let Harry explore without pressuring him to go further or faster. They kissed until Ron's lips were swollen and Harry's breathing was ragged, and Ron hadn't even realised how tightly Harry was clinging to him until he finally pulled away.
There was a moment of careful quiet before Harry said, "There really is a war going on, you know."
Ron let out a snort that sounded a lot like relief. "So I've heard." He bit his lip. "Listen, Harry—"
"You were right," Harry interrupted, eyes flickering down to his shoes then back up again. "It's stupid believing in fairy tales."
"No s'not," said Ron. "It's not stupid."
Harry pursed his lips together with anger that Ron knew was directed only at himself. "I don't know what to do next," he admitted, voice a bit higher than usual. "It's all screwed up and I don't know how to fix it."
Ron reached forward and placed a hand on the top of Harry's head, slipping his fingers through the dark hair until he could feel the heat from Harry's scalp. "Stupid prat," he mumbled affectionately. "How many times do I have to tell you? You don't have to fix it all by yourself."
Harry looked up at him earnestly. "Together?"
Ron nodded and pulled him into hug, pressing his lips against Harry's ear. "Together," he whispered.
A/N: Feedback is always appreciated. Thank you for reading.
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