It was a damp cold, and it seemed to have settled into Harry's skin permanently after his plunge into the pool just hours earlier. He'd volunteered to take first watch, though, mostly because he'd thought it best if Ron and Hermione had some time alone. So he sat at the entrance of the tent and shivered, pulling the old blanket more tightly around him. If he had a proper wand, he could at least cast a warming charm on it, but there was nothing for it now.
The stars were bright and cold and the sky was black; gone were the soft blue-grey the clouds usually cast across it. It made the world seem harder somehow, but Harry didn't mind. Ron had come back, exactly at the moment Harry had needed him most, and that changed everything.
As if on cue, there was a rustling in the tent behind him and Ron's shaggy red head poked through the flap, eyes squinting.
"It's fucking cold, mate. Can't you do the watch from just inside the tent?"
Harry smiled and scooted a foot to the right to make room for him. "I suppose. But I'm less likely to fall asleep this way."
Ron sat and wrapped his long arms around his knees. Clad only in his maroon pyjamas, he wouldn't be able to stay outside long. "Bloody hell," he muttered through gritted teeth. His breath frosted in the air.
Harry opened the blanket in invitation, feeling what little warmth he'd collected under it seep away in an instant. Ron moved closer and tugged the end around his shoulders, pressing against Harry. His body was pleasantly warm.
"You don't have to stay. It's too cold out."
Ron snorted. "It's chilly in there too."
Harry nudged Ron with his shoulder. "She'll come around. Give her time."
They both stared out at the stars for several moments, silent.
"Thanks for letting me come back," Ron said at last.
Harry turned to look at him. At such a close distance, the red stubble on Ron's face was clearly visible, even in the dim light. Harry couldn't remember the last time he'd cast a shaving charm on himself. Not since he'd broken his wand, anyway.
"Thanks for coming back. For everything."
Rom turned to look at him and Harry was startled to see emotion shining in his eyes. Ron looked away again. "I'm sorry about what happened with the locket. I should've just--"
"Don't worry about it," Harry said, making his voice as firm as he could manage. "I guess that bit of soul in it got to know you pretty well. It's not your fault."
"Yes, well." Ron paused, and Harry continued to watch him. He still looked troubled, despite all of Harry's reassurances. "The thing is, it knew me a little too well. I was afraid of what it was going to show next, and that's what finally drove me to destroy it."
"I can understand being afraid of what else it might show you."
Ron shivered and pulled the blanket more tightly around himself. "Actually, I was afraid for you to see what was coming next. And that made me realize that I have to tell you about that. I don't want to live in fear of You-Know-Who using it against me."
Harry wasn't sure what to say to that, so he nodded.
Ron swallowed and hesitated a moment more before speaking. "The locket showed me an image of you with Hermione. What did you think that meant?"
"What I said before. You're worried that Hermione might like me more than you."
"And that's true. But it's also true that I'm worried you might like her too. More than you like me."
Harry blinked at him. "You're my best friend. Hermione will never be that to me. I thought you knew that."
Ron's forehead furrowed. "Yeah, I do. But I mean…" He stared out at the sky, as if he wasn't sure what he was trying to say.
"What?" Harry asked after nearly a minute of silence.
"I must be mad," Ron said, and turned to Harry. He bit his lip and appeared to try to speak twice, but no words came out. He stared at Harry a moment more, and then leaned forward and kissed him.
It was a moment before Harry's brain caught up with reality, and even then he wasn't sure how to respond. Ron's lips were pressed against his, and he could feel rough stubble on his chin, and the warmth of Ron's breath on his cheek, and he had no idea what to do. Ron's lips moved and pressed against Harry's more firmly, and it was about at that point that his brain processed that he was being kissed.
Several seconds had passed by now, and Ron seemed to take Harry's lack of response as encouragement. He slid one hand around the back of Harry's neck and pulled him even closer, and then Harry felt a tongue sweep across his lips, and he opened his mouth without even thinking about what he was doing.
Ron deepened the kiss, and it occurred to Harry that Ron was a much better kisser than he would have guessed. He'd been forced to watch countless sloppy snogs between Ron and Lavender Brown the year before, but this kiss was completely different. It was strong and soft and warm and -- Harry felt a shiver roll through his stomach -- it was rather nice.
Harry pressed himself closer, resolutely not thinking abut the fact that it was Ron he was kissing. He tried to ignore the scratch of stubble against his face and the fact that the body pressed against his was distinctly masculine, because he wasn't ready to deal with that just yet. It had been a long time since he'd felt anything, and this felt very good, so good he was willing to overlook those minor details. He stopped thinking about anything but more -- more tongue, more heat, more contact. He managed to wriggle his hands under the blanket to Ron's waist, and found hot skin under his fingers.
Ron gasped at the cold touch and pulled out of the kiss, grinning. They stared at each other for a moment, and the grin on Ron's face faded.
"Shit," he said, and started to turn away.
"No," Harry said, fisting his hands in Ron's pyjama top. "Don't."
"I can't believe I did that. I'm so sorry. Fuck."
"Do I look like you should be sorry about it?"
"You look utterly freaked out, and I don't blame you."
Harry released his hold on Ron's pyjamas and sighed. "Maybe a little. But it doesn't mean I didn't like it."
Ron turned back to him at that. "Really?"
Harry managed a small smile. "Yeah. I hadn't really thought about it before, but… it wasn't bad."
"I've never kissed a bloke before," Ron said. "I mean, it's not like I'm…" He trailed off.
A sound in the tent behind them made them both turn and look, but it was just Hermione tossing in her sleep.
Harry swallowed as a bit of reality sunk in. "So… what about Hermione?"
Ron sighed. "I don't know. I like her, I really do. But lately, all I could think about was you."
Harry watched him for a moment. "Is this just about kissing me, or is it more than that?"
Even in the darkness Harry could see him blush. "Well, I… if you were up for a shag, I wouldn't mind."
Harry felt his cheeks heat. That wasn't what he'd meant, but he had no idea what to say after that.
Ron seemed to sense he'd gone too far. "But I'd settle for a bit of snogging every now and then, of course."
"Sure," Harry replied, though his mind was still wrapping itself around the idea of shagging Ron. "I just… what do we tell Hermione?"
"Nothing, I hope. For now anyway."
Harry nodded, though he wasn't sure that was the best plan. Of course, he wasn't even sure what he really wanted. Maybe Ron reminded him of Ginny, and that was why he'd liked the kiss. Maybe it was loneliness that made him want to kiss Ron again. Maybe he was so horny that anyone would do, even his best mate. Maybe it was a phase.
"It's fucking cold," Ron said, and disappeared into the tent. He returned a moment later with his wand and cast an engorgement charm on the blanket, and then a warming charm. The blanket fairly engulfed them now, and the heat was finally a match for the coldness in Harry's bones.
Or maybe it was the twinkle in Ron's eyes as he moved closer. His hands found Harry's waist under the blanket and pulled him so close Harry was nearly in his lap. "So, about the snogging bit. Every now and then?"
Harry felt a little shiver that had nothing to do with the cold. Ron's hands found their way under his shirt, sliding over his skin in a way that made him think he might melt. Whatever Ron had done with girls in the past seemed to translate well to boys. In all of Harry's fumbling with Ginny, he was sure he'd never had this sort of effect.
Ron was very close now, and Harry had to struggle to find his voice. "Yeah?"
"How about now?"
"Now is good," Harry said with a grin he knew must border on silly. He couldn't help it, though. Surely he deserved this, after everything he'd been through. A bit of comfort snogging couldn't hurt. Hermione didn't have to know.
Ron's smile was far more wicked than Harry had ever seen before, and he had a feeling things were about to get very warm under that blanket indeed.
~ fin ~