A/N: Hand-covering-mouth and chest-to-back dedicated to my napchic, who wrote my favorite fic of all time and burned thousands of images of its perfection forever inside my mind. x
They woke just past dawn and blearily got out of bed to begin organising for their departure. They'd inventoried their supplies and discovered they had enough foraged food for two more days on current rations, just enough to either find a new suitable place to buy from, nick from, or give up and come back to the mushrooms.
Once important belongings were secured and Hermione's beaded bag was packed, they began dressing for the anticipated colder weather. Ron wordlessly handed Hermione one of his jumpers as he was layering his own, and she smiled gratefully, pulling it on over her other two. She added her cloak, wrapped an extra scarf around her neck, and nodded at Harry and Ron.
"Alright. Let's go."
The air was deadly still when they arrived in an overcast meadow, a fair distance north from any of their previous hideouts. Hermione said they could have seen the coast, if they'd walked a mile farther, but they turned west, instead, making for the closest treeline through the greyish green landscape, muted by the blank canvas of a fully cloud-covered sky.
None of them spoke again until they were under barren tree cover, a sort of eerie silence making Ron's heart beat just a little bit faster.
"The village must be on the other side of these trees," Hermione speculated, as they stopped to make camp.
"I can see the edge of the woods from here," Ron pointed out, dropping his rucksack. "Have you got those what's-its from before, with the lenses where you can see far off-"
"Binoculars?" she smiled, clearly amused.
"Yeah, yeah, them," he chuckled back. "What? You're the one who said I was good at remembering things."
"I may have misspoken," she teased.
"Well. Give 'em here, and I'll go have a look while you and Harry get the tent set up."
A flash of fear crossed her face. "But-"
"You'll literally be able to see me from here, and we haven't got the wards up yet anyway. I'll be back in five minutes."
She stared at him for a lingering second before giving in. "Five minutes," she repeated, reluctantly reaching into her bag for the binoculars and handing them to him.
"Cheers," he said, brushing his fingertips across her hand as he walked away.
It turned out to be a bit farther off than he'd reckoned, but he could still hear Harry and Hermione chattering away about where to place the tent until he'd nearly reached the edge of the woods. It was a flat bit of land, even beyond their swath of forest, and he could make out a cluster of slate roofs along a dirt path if he squinted.
He crouched and held the binoculars to his eyes, surveying. He could find no signs of activity, though a barn and chicken coop on the opposite side of the road caught his attention. Alright, at least they could steal more eggs if he could convince Hermione. His stomach grumbled with insistent anticipation.
He lowered the binoculars and glanced around again, noting patches of snow still frozen here and there. He hunched his shoulders slightly, tips of his ears already a bit numb. It was early yet. Perhaps the weather would turn, though the clouds suggested it would happen in the wrong direction. And if one of the buildings he could see was a shop that simply hadn't opened yet for the day, they might be able to buy a few things. He chewed his chapped bottom lip for a moment in contemplation. What kind of a cover story would they need? What reason would they have to be out here, in the middle of bloody nowhere?
He turned to head back and consult the other two. By the time he reached them, they were standing outside the already assembled tent, watching his approach.
"What'd you see?" Harry inquired, as Hermione shivered next him.
"There's a barn and a chicken coop," Ron relayed, and Harry nodded his approval. "Can't tell about the rest. Nobody's out just yet."
"H-How many buildings?" Hermione asked.
"Five, I think. It's really not much. Got a dirt path going through, instead of a proper road."
Hermione's brow furrowed with contemplative stress.
"Let's go inside," Harry suggested. "We'll have to wait anyway, if no one's around."
"Unless we nick some eggs," Ron said slowly, gaze darting toward Hermione as she tutted and turned to lead them inside the tent, but Harry paused with Ron at the entrance.
"If there's a way to get food without speaking to anyone," Harry started quietly, so only Ron could hear him, "that's what we should do."
"Yeah, we'll convince her," Ron agreed. "She's still got that Muggle money to leave behind."
Hermione perched on the edge of the sofa as Ron and Harry joined her.
"We could try someplace else," she suggested, weakly.
"Give it a few hours," Harry shrugged. "You think we could manage a fire here?"
"No," Hermione answered immediately, almost before the question was fully voiced. "I'm not sure if the wards would hold the smoke, and we'll easily be seen this close to the town if they don't."
Harry sighed and leaned back heavily on the sofa, staring up at the canvas ceiling.
"What should we do in the meantime?" Ron asked, scratching his jaw through his beard.
"If we put the wards up now, we could nap at least," Harry suggested, more out of boredom than exhaustion, Ron assumed, though the dark circles under Harry's eyes were quite prominent.
"I can do that," Ron suggested, honestly just for something to do, but Hermione got up with him.
By the time they'd finished, Harry was actually asleep, but Hermione seemed too preoccupied by the cold to either go to bed or open her books. She sat back on the sofa, hugging her arms across her body.
"Extra jumper's not helping?" Ron asked, sitting beside her and rubbing his gloved hands together.
"It is, thank you," she said hoarsely, as if she could barely muster the energy to form a full sentence.
Clearly, it wasn't helping enough. He raised his wand and aimed it toward the bedroom.
A pause, and several came zooming toward him.
"Oi!" Harry shouted sleepily, from bed, and Ron laughed as Hermione bit her smiling bottom lip.
Ron tucked Harry's blanket under his arm and got up to return it.
"What was that?" Harry asked, glasses off and hair mussed from sleep.
Ron handed the blanket up to Harry's bunk and shrugged. "Laziness."
"Right…" Harry flopped back down and pulled the blanket up to his shoulders, already drifting back.
As Ron returned to the sitting room, he encountered Hermione now sitting on the floor in front of the sofa and cuddling up hilariously under the remaining blankets, all gathered around her like a nest.
"Cozy?" he asked with a grin.
Her half shrug was interrupted by another shiver, and Ron toed off his boots.
"Got room for one more in there?" he asked as he sat on the floor beside her. She nodded and he burrowed his way under layers of wool until he found her jumper-padded arm, resting his head on her shoulder, his mismatched, sock-covered feet sticking out the bottom of the blankets.
"I p-planned so poorly, Ron," she said with a sad shake of her head. "I can't believe I didn't p-pack more food when we left for the Ministry break-in."
"You thought we were coming right back," he rationalised, but she sighed.
"It doesn't matter, does it. We have to be prepared for anything, for any d-day being the last we might have in the same place, the last we might have with anything to eat if we don't plan right."
"Nah, can't plan that much." He shifted his head on her shoulder, arms tucked across his chest. "What's prob'ly rubbish is me and Harry both acting like you're supposed to know everything. You usually do know everything, but still…"
She laughed lightly and tipped her cheek against the top of his head.
"I don't like stealing," she added after a pause.
"We'll leave the Muggle money again."
"I still don't like it."
"I know. So stay here. Maybe I'll even take Harry with me if he keeps under the cloak the whole time."
"It doesn't bother you?"
He cleared his throat and shifted his legs closer to hers.
"What? Nicking eggs? Not really…"
"No, can't say it does…"
"Well," she huffed, but she didn't move away, "it should."
"The Muggles aren't gonna starve 'cause we took a dozen eggs, are they. But we might, if we don't."
"We won't starve…" she said fretfully, and he turned his body further toward hers to drape an arm over her waist.
"Mm, we won't," he agreed with a muffled hum against her shoulder.
She slowly reached for his hand, fingertips dancing over the leather of his fingerless keeper's gloves.
"Are these warm?" she asked, sliding her fingers across his knuckles.
"Eh, they're alright."
"You know…" but then she paused for too long, and he finally lifted his head to look at her flushing profile.
She shook her head dismissively, but curiosity gripped him, and he sat fully up, dragging his hand across her stomach.
"What?" he asked again.
She licked her chapped bottom lip and took a shallow breath.
"I packed them because I like the way they look on you."
One of his eyebrows arched up, and he lifted his hand from their blanket cocoon to examine it. She glanced sideways at him.
"Oi," he grinned, recalling something, "is this the same reason you packed the tight jeans?"
"No!" she shouted indignantly, eyes going wide. "How was I supposed to know you'd outgrown them? They're jeans! I can't tell the diff-"
He covered her mouth with his gloved hand.
"You'll wake Harry," he laughed, and she closed her eyes.
He let go almost immediately, but she reached up to take his hand in both of hers. Her thumbs pressed to his palm as she examined him, worn leather to the second joints of his fingers where pale, freckled skin emerged.
"Your hand is warm," she said in a vaguely dazed voice, and he tried to swallow, no longer laughing.
Half-mesmerised, he reached for the side of her neck, and her hands dropped away. He slid his leathered palm against her skin, underneath her hair, and her eyes fluttered shut again. She slumped fully back against the base of the sofa, and his hand trailed downward, thumb brushing a bit of bare collarbone just above the stacked necks of the multiple jumpers she was wearing.
He could have stayed there for such a long time, his bare thumb on her perfect skin, but he found himself leaning forward to bury his nose in the stormcloud of hair that had bunched over her ear, and she slid down further so she was lying on the rug. His fingers squeezed her arm gently and dragged all the way to her wrist, until he was lying on his side, next to her, blankets tangled at their waists and feet. She deeply breathed in, eyes still shut, and the action exposed the tiniest strip of flesh between jumpers and jeans.
His hand was inches away anyway, so it wasn't too much of a stretch to glide over, working slowly, heart-stoppingly, underneath layers to find bare, warm skin.
He fully flattened his gloved palm to her stomach.
"We won't see each other tonight," she breathed, almost a whisper, a reference to their opposing shifts on watch. "H-How long do you think Harry will sleep, right now?"
"Dunno," he said gravelly, a million thoughts about what she could want him to do suddenly racing through his mind. "A while," he added, deliriously.
"M-My jeans are all twisted…"
He froze, staring at her still-closed eyes. She shifted her legs and vaguely moved her hands toward the button-
"Do you mind-"
"No," he heard himself rasp out, more of a groan than a proper word.
She unbuttoned and unzipped with obviously shaking hands, lifting her hips to slide her jeans off with his hand still resting on her stomach. He seemed to only just realise this, and that he was impeding her progress, so he removed his hand, stunned and trying not to stare at her pink cotton knickers.
She pushed halfway up with a sigh of frustration as she tried to kick her jeans free to finally tangle in the mess of blankets half covering them.
A howl of likely frozen wind gusted past their tent, half muffling the tiny whimpering sound she made as she stretched out flat on her back, and he covered her bare stomach with his large hand again. Gooseflesh spread mesmerisingly from where he touched her.
"Won't you be cold now?" he asked with immediate regret, but she cracked open her eyes to look over at him.
"Maybe not… if you take yours off, too." She sounded nearly strangled, as if the words were fiercely difficult to string together.
He moved to do what she'd suggested before he could let himself deeply comprehend or overthink it. Denim pooled at their feet, and he turned onto his side, half hovering over her.
"Could I… borrow your right glove?" She blinked up at him.
"Yeah…" he said slowly, unsure where this was going. He removed it and handed it to her, and she slid it onto her own hand. "Bit big for you, innit," he smiled.
"Looks better on you," she concurred, and he lightly shook his head.
For a moment, they simply stared at each other, and he could hardly decide where to look… her eyes, the curve of her small nose, her mouth...
"Do you want me to-" he started, already reaching up to touch her face with his left, still-gloved hand. His thumb brushed her chapped lower lip.
She didn't answer him, but he didn't need her to. The tips of his bare fingers skimmed back and forth across her cheeks, then down over her jaw. She very slightly arched her back as he moved further, but oh, he noticed. He held his breath and dragged his hand down over the centre of her chest, just feeling the shape of her breasts through so many jumper layers.
When he reached her bare stomach again, he paused… until she bent up her right leg, thigh coming so close to his wrist. Fuck it. He moved across a thin strip of knicker fabric at her hip, then over her bare thigh, and it was such a strange feeling to be separated by leather, only his exposed fingertips contacting her skin.
She reached across to hold his forearm in her own gloved hand, warmed leather over his jumper sleeve. As his fingers dug lightly into the side of her leg, she rolled inward, and his hand slid back, resting just below her arse. Her own gloved palm wrapped around the side of his neck, and she was staring at his parted lips.
"Okay. It's okay," he muttered nonspecifically, as her eyes seemed to be filing with tears. She shook her head and ignored him, pushing him over to his back, working her hand under his jumper, and half lying on top of him. Her bare stomach met his and his eyes briefly rolled shut as his hand moved up over her arse, apparently of its own accord.
He shoved his whole forearm under the back of her jumpers to keep himself from fully groping her arse, too focused on the feeling of her legs sliding against his, her knee bending between his thighs.
It might have startled him, had he realised in that moment, how little he cared where this was going, how he couldn't have even been bothered to speculate. She felt perfect, amazing, beautiful, he loved her, they were there, they were together. It was all he could think.
She leaned even further into him and pressed her lips to his neck.
"I want you, I want you," she slurred at barely a whisper. "I'm sssorry."
He quite suddenly registered wet tears on his neck, and she lifted her head, brow furrowed down at him as she locked on his lips again. She was sorry. She was sorry? She was going to-
A breath away from his mouth. So fucking close.
He moved so quickly, pushed her off his body and just caught a glimpse of her confused and nearly hurt expression before he flipped her all the way over, her back toward him. He shoved his hand up the back of her jumpers again to lift them higher as she gasped, and he pressed his bare stomach to her bare back.
Her whole body shuddered with shock, and he tucked his knees behind hers so they were thoroughly touching, all the way down, his very obvious erection hard against her arse. He moaned out his next breath.
She took his hand before he could move it where he'd meant to go, but she guided him there and further anyway, over her hipbone, across soft knicker fabric, til his fingertips were nestled between her thighs, clenched together.
"Fuck," he breathed into her thick curls.
He lightly squeezed her leg, clamping his eyes shut so tight.
He couldn't move. For a long moment, neither of them seemed capable. The angled joint of his thumb was so close to her knickers that… well. There was nothing to do. He'd gotten them both into this now, hadn't he.
"I'm sorry," she breathed, in an entirely different tone of voice from before.
"It's fine," he rasped back. "God, you don't know how close I was to letting you."
"This is so hard," she whispered, and he pressed his lips together as he thought of something entirely different that she could be referencing…
Her arse shifted almost imperceptibly against his crotch.
"Maybe we just shouldn't be, y'know, looking at each other when we…" He trailed off without a clear word choice.
"Yes, you're right." Her voice was far too prim for someone who had a bloke's hand still trapped between her thighs… and he wasn't entirely sure if he wanted to be right. "Can you hear Harry snoring?"
He winced. "No."
She breathed heavily for a few more seconds, her back expanding against his chest with each inhale. The wind howled again outside, sounding as frozen as he knew it would feel.
"You should… go soon," she suggested in a way that sounded physically painful, "before it starts raining or… or snowing."
He couldn't muster a response, but it was really then or never if he had any hope of reclaiming his hand and leaving the warmth of her body for the icy task he had to do now. He reluctantly slid his fingers out from between her legs, but she caught his hand and dragged it up to her mouth, pressing his exposed fingertips to her parted lips for just a second… another… before she let him go.
Nicking the eggs was the easy bit. Escaping back the way they'd come when a burly, thickly-bearded man emerged from the main house and began chopping firewood several metres away from their exit was the tricky part…
"Suppose you could grow your beard just like that?" Harry teased under his breath, mouth so close to Ron's left ear that the words could be felt nearly as much as they were heard.
"Shut up," Ron whispered back, double and triple checking their full cover under the invisibility cloak. "Walk slow. I'm too damn tall for this now."
They shuffled out from behind the chicken coop quite comically, Ron's knees bent and head ducked forward to keep his muddy boots hidden. It was desperately slow progress to clear the main barn and make a pass for the dirt road. And, even then, it seemed unwise to reveal themselves. They glanced at two boarded shop windows with disappointment as they walked by.
"Was hoping for a sweets shop," Ron muttered, only half joking, and Harry shook his head.
"I hardly remember what chocolate tastes like now."
"I'll never forget," Ron said solemnly, and he had to poke Harry hard in the ribs when he laughed too loudly.
Finally, they reached the treeline and carefully uncovered themselves. Ron awkwardly stretched his cramped back as Harry led the way with his wand raised cautiously, and Hermione brought the wards down as they approached, evidently having been waiting outside the tent for them.
"No problems," Ron assured her immediately, and she led them both inside.
She'd prepared steaming mugs of weak tea, which they gratefully drank as they handed off the rest of the Muggle money and a half full rucksack of eggs. She nodded once, silently taking them through to the kitchen, and Ron watched her go before settling on the sofa with the rest of his tea.
"Reckon the shops are all closed for the winter," Ron told her later that night, as she was layering clothing for her night watch.
"And you only saw one person?"
"Yeah, the bloke chopping wood by the barn."
"I'm glad Harry went," she sighed. "I think he does better when he can get outside."
"He shouldn't, if we move close to a bigger village."
"Wouldn't mention it to him again, but…"
She tied a third scarf around her neck and Ron sniffed, speculatively.
"Sure you won't freeze out there?" he asked her softly.
"No." She glanced up to meet his eyes. "But I've got a few more bluebell jars tonight. It'll be alright."
"Sit in the entrance by a lantern. It's warmer in here."
"But that would let the cold in."
"Harry and I can take it," he grinned lopsidedly. "I'll climb up in his bunk and give him a cuddle if it gets too bad."
She shoved his chest playfully, but he caught her gloved hand and squeezed it.
"Come and get me if-"
"I know," she smiled.
She stared at him for a moment longer, pushed up onto her toes, and pressed her lips to his jaw. It was far too fleeting, but he'd recall the feeling on his bearded skin over and over, through the long night, even in his dreams.