A/N: This fic is one of three that I wrote for a little "festival" of Shell Cottage fic I participated in with some good friends in R/Hr fandom. You can find a lot of those glorious works by searching "shellfest" in the tags on Tumblr. And if you feel inspired to produce Shell Cottage related content, tag shellfest so I can check it out! Hope you enjoy x
They were sitting round a lantern-lit dinner, listening to Fleur softly complain about Griphook's refusal to come down for meals while Luna gave Dean an account of a creature she suspected was inhabiting the sea close by. But all Ron could think about was the person sitting across the table from him, who he'd known since he was eleven, who was the reason he knew what it felt like to be in love.
This wasn't the first or second or hundredth time it had happened, of course. But it was in the lower count of occasions when he thought he might finally do something about it. Not to mention the note in his pocket, which he should have been casually passing to her, but he was overanalysing it for a while first, instead.
She took a bite of her bread and glanced across the table at him, smiling almost shyly. It was that new smile, the one that made his pulse race. He smiled back, reminding himself that Hermione Granger was one of his two best friends, she knew him better than anyone, possibly even Harry, and that he ought to be able to give her a scribbled note with five words on it without blushing.
He shoved in a mouthful of potatoes and went for it, suspecting that his best moves were often made when he feigned a bit of confidence and just acted. Her smile faltered, and she eyed him suspiciously, but the timing was good, and no one was paying attention to them, so he pressed his palm to the table, with a torn and folded scrap of parchment underneath it, and pushed it across to her. She stared at it for a second before sliding it off her side of the table, to her lap, glancing back up to raise her brows at him as he shrugged and tucked back in to his dinner.
He tried to tune in to something Harry was saying to Bill, but curiosity quickly got the better of him, and he had to watch as she stared down at her lap, clearly reading his note. Yet her expression remained blank, an edge of tension possibly moving in as she sniffed and looked back up to catch his gaze.
He should have been more specific, he reckoned. He was hoping for a curious smile, but now it really dawned on him that of course she had no idea what his reason was, only those five words.
Meet me outside at midnight.
He was standing by the fence at the edge of the cliff, watching the waves foam in the sand down below. He didn't actually think she wouldn't come, and maybe that was a positive aspect to the vagueness of his note. On the other hand, he reckoned she'd have come even if he'd explained that it was nothing.
He'd surprised himself - where had that bit of optimism come from? But then he recalled the familiar, chanting words inside his own head. She was his friend. If he knew nothing else, just then… well, he certainly knew that.
The door to Shell Cottage opened behind him, and he turned around to watch her quietly approaching him, through the dark, in her pyjamas.
"What is it?" she asked immediately, voice slightly tense and eyes wide with questions.
"I hope this isn't disappointing," he sighed, "but I've literally got nothing. Just wanted to see you."
She stopped walking half a metre away from him, and her expression changed from madly curious to a mixture of amused and relieved.
"We see each other constantly," she pointed out.
"I know. But we're up in that room with Griphook most of the time, planning, unless we're eating or sleeping. And it feels like I haven't talked to you about anything but bloody Polyjuice potion and Gringotts security for ages."
"I wasn't complaining," she clarified softly, and there was that shy smile again.
He laughed lightly and ran his hand through his hair as she moved closer, leaning against the top of the fence and looking out at the beach below the cliff for a moment.
"So…" she started, glancing sideways at him.
"Yeah… Now that you're here, I dunno what to talk about," he confessed, resting his forearms on the fence as well, close enough that he was almost touching her.
"We don't have to talk." Her cheeks coloured the prettiest shade of pink, and he was trying to work out if he'd imagined the nervous suggestions buried in her sentence.
"Is that a challenge," he teased, "who can go the longest without saying anything?"
"Yes, alright," she laughed back. Then she nervously licked her bottom lip. "But we have to keep looking at each other."
His single word agreement must have initiated the game, because she turned further toward him and wordlessly stared. He immediately wavered between confidence that he would win this and fear that there was no chance he could withstand the tension.
Well, at least one problem was solved. He didn't have to worry she'd catch him staring - she'd asked him to do just that. This revelation was instantly quite freeing, and the sharp edges of apprehension sanded away, leaving a sort of lightheaded, giddy feeling as he looked back into her eyes for the longest time in recorded history.
She sniffed and her nose wrinkled adorably, and his lips twitched as he narrowly avoided a fond smile. Her eyes darted between his then, and he was quite sure this was making her as nervous as he'd felt at first.
As an ironic distraction, he let himself fully take in the familiar details of her face - the warm amber of her eyes, the gentle upward curves of her lashes, the arches of her brows. A salty breeze blew down the coast, and a few thick curls of her hair tangled at her neck and brushed her cheeks. She reached up and pushed them back over her shoulder, still staring at him. But her gaze slowly began to descend from his eyes to his cheeks to his jaw, and he was just beginning to wonder if she was breaking the rules when he realised how silly that was. Anyway, she was still looking at him. They'd never specified where they had to look.
He allowed his own gaze to move to her lips, sliding down the curve of her neck as she stepped the tiniest bit closer. She drummed her fingers nervously on the top rail of the fence before looking further down, pausing and breathing quite visibly for a moment. Her chest moved anxiously with two shaky inhales, and then her fingers crawled toward his.
His eyes darted immediately down to where they were suddenly touching. Just the tips of her fingers against his. He stared at her small hand, the warm tone of her skin, darker than his own milky white. But his hand could easily cover hers. He recalled what it had felt like to hold her hand while they'd slept, at Grimmauld Place. He wanted to feel that again. And he bitterly wondered how the hell it had been so long, many months ago now, and yet here they still were.
How was it possible that looking down at her hand this way was actually making his heart hammer faster than it had done when he'd been gazing into her eyes? He had to do something, so he walked his fingers over hers, softly floating across her knuckles. He heard her breath catch as she watched closely, and he stopped when her fingers moved under his. She flipped her hand over and picked his up, then sucked in a breath to speak, narrowly stopping herself in time. He smirked at her, and she bit her bottom lip, shaking her head.
But what she'd been about to say became quickly apparent through her actions as she aligned the palms of their hands, proving how much larger his was. He smiled and curled his fingertips over the tops of hers. They stared in what was becoming a blissfully exciting silence, and everything felt exactly right as she slid her fingers between his, finally looking back up at his face.
He had almost forgotten where he was, the dark shore to his right and the whitewashed house to his left, only in his periphery. He wasn't going to lose this game, still looking at her, hardly breathing.
Was he imagining it, or could he feel her trembling? He desperately wondered what she was thinking, until she moved suddenly, as if she couldn't take it for another moment, letting go of his hand and wrapping her arms around his waist, resting her cheek against his chest. His body momentarily tensed… then fully relaxed as he looped his arms around her neck and rested his chin on top of her head, bushy tendrils of her hair tickling his nose.
He couldn't believe his own thoughts, but he really didn't want to ruin this. He could kiss her… it probably wouldn't be that hard to do now. But God, she felt amazing, and his arms were still firmly around her, and he could feel her heart beating against his chest. She made no signs of wanting to move away. In fact, she pulled him closer.
That was when he realised, grinning.
"I think you lost."
"No, I didn't," she whispered back, shifting to lift her head off his chest and shyly smile up at him.
Her arms were still around him, and he really didn't care about the bloody game.
"I was still looking at your arm," she explained anyway, glancing at his bicep, very close to her face. He wasn't letting go first.
She laughed, flushing lightly as she rested her cheek on his chest again, and he sighed, closing his eyes.
"New game," he said in a surprisingly scratchy voice. "Longest hug."
"Get ready to lose again," she replied, smiling voice muffled in his jumper.