Rating: PG/PG13ish for brief nongraphic sexual content
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
Distribution: Ask first, please.
Summary and Author's Note: Written for LJ's Harry/Ron FQF. Challenge: Ron is very conflicted over why Harry's touch seems to affect him more than Hermione's. Post-HBP. Many thanks to Lissanne, Merin and Cynthia Black for beta services and general feedback.
The first place Harry wants to go is Godric's Hollow.
"You ... you don't think there's a Horcrux there, do you?" Hermione asks, uncertainly.
"No," he replies. "But it's where things began. Or ended. Or something." He shrugs. "I just want to see it. It's where I spent my first fifteen months and where my mum and dad.... Look, maybe there's a clue, and maybe there isn't, but it can't hurt to go."
Ron claps a hand on Harry's shoulder. "This is your quest," he says. "If it's important for you to start there, then we'll go."
Harry turns his green eyes in Ron's direction. "Thanks, mate."
Ron's breath catches; he doesn't know why. Maybe it's just the intensity he sees in those eyes, the importance of this errand, of the entire quest. His hand slips off as Harry turns to consult a map, but his fingers remember that warmth.
Ron expects it might upset Harry to visit the tattered remains of his first home. He doesn't expect the trip to upset him, too - perhaps even more than it does Harry. There isn't much actual 'house' left by now; what wasn't destroyed by Voldemort has simply eroded away through the weather and neglect of years, leaving just the crumbling foundation, low bits of wall, and fragmented possessions which somehow survived the passage of time. His friend moves slowly and deliberately through the shattered remains of his infant life, sometimes stooping to pick up some shard, or using his toe to nudge aside some boards which have stubbornly clung together, but his face never takes on an expression more emotional than 'pensive'. Ron doesn't know if it's just a veneer, or if Harry is truly in control of his feelings, but he's impressed, nonetheless. Looking around at the remains, all he can think of is how easily someone could destroy the Burrow just as thoroughly, and how much he would lose if it ever came to that. What if this were his childhood home, with all memories, all cherished objects, all inhabitants - annoying though they sometimes could be - gone forever? He doesn't like to think about that. Not at all.
They come to stand quietly beside Harry when it seems like he's had his fill of looking around; Harry slings an arm companionably over Ron's shoulders as they survey the wreckage a final time. Ron shivers.
Harry peers over at him. "You okay?"
Ron nods, praying the dwindling light will hide the flush he can feel creeping inexplicably up his face. "I'm fine," he manages. "It's just ... uh ... I didn't know it would be like this," he finishes lamely.
"It's all right, Ron," Hermione says, lacing her fingers comfortingly through his on his other side. "I understand - I feel the same."
Ron remains silent, his left hand in Hermione's, his right shoulder still blanketed by Harry's arm, and wonders if anyone, least of all him, really understands what he is feeling.
Although they have officially left Hogwarts, Hermione convinces Professor McGonagall to let them use the library facilities as needed; she also drags them into Muggle libraries for the more mundane maps and charts - trailing possible Horcrux locations - and old newspapers to compare Muggle descriptions of events that might be linked to Voldemort's Horcrux-creating murders. Any information at all that might help them on their quest.
Ron finds that Muggle and magical libraries alike, for all their cavernous appearances, tend to be rather narrow structures in reality. At least, it seems to him that he's constantly bumping into Harry as they pull books off shelves or bend to read titles, and his large feet keep accidentally banging against Harry's as they sit at innumerable little research tables. Hermione always gets so many books and charts for herself that she often has to sit at a separate table entirely, and thus is spared this ignominy. Ron glances over at her and smiles at the familiar sight of her buried in work, but then gets distracted as Harry takes a turn in accidentally bumping their arms together as he opens a book.
"'S'Okay," he mumbles, and doesn't try to move his chair over to make more space.
When, after months of research and exploration, they think they've finally, without a doubt, determined the location of one of the Horcruxes, it's an incredible moment. Harry grabs him in an enthusiastic hug, nearly crushing the air from Ron's lungs in the process, and Ron clings back, just as tightly. But they're all hugging each other, of course, and before Ron can think, Hermione is spinning him around for her own embrace; he gives her a quick kiss and a squeeze, then lets her go and tries not to be jealous as he watches Harry hug her next. He wanted me first, he thinks, then squelches the thought before it can wander into territory he's having increasing difficulty ignoring.
Ron wants to love Hermione, he really does. Isn't this what he's waited years for? Fought over Krum and Lavender, McCormick and Fleur and everything else for? He knows he does love her, in a way. She's everything he's not - brilliant and patient and comfortable in her own skin - and he likes how that rubs off on him when they're together. And even if she'll never challenge a Veela for beauty, she's certainly quite pretty. More amazingly, she seems to care for him, even though he's not entirely sure what he can offer in return; she talks to him and kisses him and takes his hand. His mother approves of the match, which is lucky because they've been using the Burrow as their base. He has nothing to complain about, nothing at all. So why does he feel something is missing?
Harry runs out for some Chinese takeaway to celebrate, leaving Ron and Hermione collapsed on the sofa. The house is quiet; Mr Weasley's still at work and Mrs Weasley is making her weekly don't-you-ever-clean-this-place visit to the twins' flat in Diagon Alley.
Hermione curls against his side, reaching up to kiss him with a mixture of elation and fatigue. "I can't believe we did it," she murmurs against his lips.
"I know," he responds; he knows he should take advantage of their rare moment of privacy, so he kisses her back, sliding his tongue in gently, the way she likes. This is apparently the right thing to do, because he feels her arm come up around him and then she's leaning back against the cushions and pulling him after her.
"We're alone," she whispers, echoing his thoughts; as if to prove her point, she takes Ron by the hand and slides his palm under her shirt, up to her breasts. Something must show on his face, because she makes a point of smiling gently and adding "It's okay" in reassuring tones.
But he's not sure it is okay. They've done this before, of course, but not too often; as expected, Mrs Weasley makes them sleep separately, and during the day there's hardly any time when Harry's not with them. He knows this should be the pinnacle - well, almost - of every boy's dream, especially as Hermione has very nice breasts, not overlarge, but round and a perfect fit for his hesitant hands. Yet she is almost always the one who initiates this; he assumes it's because he's always believed he hadn't a right to touch anyone so intimately, and even with such a blatant invitation, Ron finds it a hard prohibition to get past. But then he has a sudden memory of Harry in the showers after a Quidditch match, casually handing over the soap and turning so Ron could scrub his back. Ron shuts his eyes, trying to shut out the vision of water running over Harry's bare torso, of his own hands, lather-slick, sliding easily and, yes, intimately over wet skin. His breath hitches.
The front door clicks open and Ron yanks his hands away. Hermione hastily pulls her clothing back into place and Ron even more hastily excuses himself with a muttered "Be right back," knowing he won't last two minutes at dinner unless he has a quick wank first. But it's not Hermione's curves which flash in his mind as he comes with a strangled gasp shortly after barricading himself in the downstairs loo.
He cools his face with a damp flannel and straightens his clothes before going to help dish up the chicken lo mein and won ton soup. They sit and talk about their success and what they want to do next. But Ron, seated between them, privately realises that he has no idea what he wants - or needs - to do next. He needs Harry in his life more than ever - but he's not sure he likes what his subconscious seems to be saying about that. Blokes aren't supposed to feel that way, are they? And Hermione is a perfectly nice girl, far better than he deserves, really. But Harry is ... more.
How much more?
[11 April, 2006]
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