A/N: I know I've been semi-MIA. Things have been a little difficult these past few months. But I didn't want to disappear completely, so I thought it was time to post this small bit of fic. It was written during a fun little informal celebration of Shell Cottage among some of my best friends in R/Hr fandom, dubbed ShellFest. If you want to drown in Shell Cottage tonight, and if you haven't references to this around yet, search "shellfest" tags on Tumblr! There's some good shit in there.

I haven't read this fic through since I wrote it several months ago, so if you notice any typos, I will totally not be offended and would really be thankful for you to point them out, so feel free!

Oh! And now that I'm officially posting this, I can share the music that I listened to while writing this and the one song in particular where a couple small details from the story emerged. Lower the Tone by Rae Morris and rely by flor got a lot of repeat plays, Fallout by Young Summer provided the title "skip," and the first song I was hitting up on loop was Better Off by Handsome Ghost, which supplied the lovely lyrics "you'll be the truth when I try to confess, and I'll be the tear at the edge of your dress."

I hope you enjoy this borderline AU smut, my friends x


Why did they have to leave tomorrow? It wasn't a real question, of course - he knew the answer. This was what they'd been planning, for weeks. It was the reason they'd stayed, in relative safety, becoming reacquainted with regular meals and long baths… newly acquainted with sitting up late at night, in Hermione's bed, talking and laughing, her pyjama-clad leg pressed casually against his…

Why hadn't he told her? But that wasn't a real question, either. He'd had fairly good excuses, before. Maybe they didn't seem quite so airtight in retrospect, but they weren't nothing. Now… these past few weeks? He was a prat. A scared git who couldn't stand the thought of dying whilst knowing she didn't return his feelings. So, just to be safe, maybe he'd kept them at arm's length, as he'd already done for so long, letting her slip past the curtains for brief glimpses, if she tried… but never looking her in the eyes for long. Never telling her. Tosser.

Why couldn't he sleep, out here pacing through the sand at bloody two o'clock in the morning, the night before one of the most intimidating things he reckoned he'd ever been faced with actually doing before in his life? Yet again, he'd answered his own stupid question, twofold. This mission was sodding daunting. And… he was a liar, if he faced it head on. What was he really out here, worried about? She was the most intimidating thing.

She winced as a floorboard creaked under her bare foot, frozen as she looked in through the doorway to the sitting room, where Harry and Ron were meant to be fast asleep. She spotted Harry's curled form, mop of black hair sticking out from the top of his sleeping bag. But, Ron…

She swallowed as her heart lodged halfway up her throat. His sleeping bag was rumpled on the floor, unused. And he wasn't there. She continued moving silently through the room, headed for the front door. She hadn't slept at all yet, so surely she'd have heard him if he'd gone up to the loo, and she'd passed by the empty kitchen, moments ago…

She was too focused on the heavy thud, thud, thud of her heart as she slipped outside into the cool night air, hardly blinking as she scanned the beach for him. Her wide gaze sought a glint of ginger hair in moonlight, where so many colours faded to a dull sort of black and white and gray, like an old moving picture. On some other night, the water below the cliff would have been peaceful, the lulling motion of the waves gently crashing on packed sand. But, tonight…

She stepped away from the porch and turned the right corner of the house, heading up a slope through drifts of sand, the occasional broken shell and dry, overgrown grasses clumped together in wind-bending tufts. And, at last, there… there. She spotted him, hands in his trouser pockets, facing away from her, scuffing bare feet through the sand.

"Ron," she called out, relieved, her voice floating through a salty breeze.

He turned around, eyes finding hers. And he smiled.

"I was worried, when I couldn't find you," she admitted, as she moved up the slope to join him in the dune that dipped down the other side, partially blocking them from view of the house.

"You were? I'm sorry."

His eyes skipped down her moonlit body, and he wrinkled his nose, suddenly confused.

"What are you wearing?"

It was a short, black dress, a bit of lace around the low collar and bottom hem that rested halfway up her otherwise bare thighs. But why? It was the middle of the night… and he'd never seen her wear anything like it before.

"Oh." She cleared her throat. "After supper, I asked Fleur if she had a black dress I could use. You know… for B-Bellatrix. Is it alright, you think?" She turned slightly sideways and glanced down, showing him. "I've got some old robes as well, from Grimmauld Place, and I'll lengthen the dress to my ankles, in the morning…"

In the morning. Just before dawn, they would leave this place, and maybe… maybe they'd never come back. He was too deeply invested in that thought to stop it before it consumed him. He glanced down her body again, on the pretense of inspecting her dress, but he was lost in an endless sea of thoughts.

She was so… something. So many things, really. Though it almost felt trite, pretty came to mind… brave, comforting, amazing were stronger choices. And he wished, for the millionth time with her, that he was better at this.

Why couldn't he have told her? Why was it so damn difficult to imagine facing her reaction?

She shivered slightly in a chilly gust, hugging her arms across her chest. Her scar from the Manor still shimmered silver, cutting down the centre of her sternum, disappearing in black. He didn't want to go. He wanted to stay right there, freeze time and stay with her. Or… skip to the end, to another day, some other place. Safe.

He was suddenly rambling, and he couldn't stop.

"I just- can we really leave, tomorrow? Shit, are you okay? It hasn't been that long since…" He paused to swallow, watching her take a small step closer, silent. "I should be doing something else. What can I do? I know you've got it all straight, and we went over this how many times? The dress is good." He gestured toward her thin form in that deep, gothic black. "I mean, fucking hell. I'd be her, for you, but… You're gonna do a better job, I'm sorry."

Her warm eyes held his cool blue ones, and she licked her bottom lip.

"It's alright. I'm not afraid."

"You're not?"

"Right now, I'm not. With you… I-" She cut herself off, and he noticed her chest heaving over the top of her dress… He really couldn't help it.

"You should try to sleep," he suggested, weakly, taking his own step closer to her, actions betraying his words.

"I could say the same to you."

"Just needed some air, and I thought you-"


"I thought of going up to your room first, but I didn't want to wake you." That was another glimpse for her, he reckoned, but it wasn't enough. It would never be enough. Unless everything changed.

He was so… something. She couldn't think of a single word to cover it all. There was the way he looked to her, the colour of his eyes and hair and stubble, the glow of his skin, coated in too many freckles to count. But she wanted to try, anyway

There was the way he cared for her, like no one else in the world. She wouldn't dare call it what she had been wondering, for the last few months, if maybe… maybe it really was. She recognised the way it looked, reflected back at her, how she imagined it might have looked to him, coming from her, if he was paying attention.

"I wish…" she started, sniffing, angry at the mere thought that she could be close to tears. She didn't want them there. Not just then. "I wish we had more time."

"Do we need to talk to Harry?" he asked, concerned. "If you're not ready, we could-"

"No, I didn't mean- …not like that."

She moved closer, close enough that she could reach out and touch him. She wouldn't do it yet… but she could.

"I meant… I want to stay here, just… just a little while longer, with you," she explained softly, watching his expression change. She'd wasted it, she feared, the time they'd had there, together. It had felt like it might last forever, as much as she now knew how ridiculous that had been.

"Yeah," he said, in a suddenly rough voice. "Me, too."

She'd noticed how he'd grown quite a bit more comfortable with touching her, since the Manor. No, since the previous summer, she corrected, though she'd nearly forgotten. She'd arrived at the Burrow, two short weeks after the train from Hogwarts, and she'd fallen apart. He'd held her for almost an hour as she'd cried over her parents, told him what she'd done, and he'd listened to every word, told her everything would be alright, and it hadn't mattered that he'd had no way to promise her such a thing. It had helped, more than she'd ever found the courage to tell him. But, in all the mess and ruin of the Ministry and splinching and starvation and the bloody locket, she'd let those memories drift quite far into the background. She'd never wanted them to, and she'd called them up on a few restless nights, waiting for him to come home, fearing he never would… never could.

But, tonight, he reminded her again.

He reached out and took her hand, a little bit tentative, eyes focused on her fingers as he linked his between them.

Glimpses… just a little more. Sod it, he wanted her to know, before they left. If he made too much of telling her, it would only get worse, as it had done for months now. If he left it because he thought he might die? Well, then he was accepting that very real possibility. He wasn't supposed to do that.

She squeezed his hand, breathing through parted lips, shifting her feet through the sand, closer to his.

"Are you afraid?" she whispered.

"Yeah," he said, opting for the truth. "Yeah, I am."

He reached up with his free hand, ran a bit of the lacy coating of her dress between two fingers.

A flash, that was all… nothing he'd ever act on, blimey. She'd lift her arms, and he'd tug the dress over her head, drop it to the sand…

He shook his head, internally cursing. Prat.

She let go of his hand, and he thought she would leave him, but then she did something much better… She brushed her hand along his side, around to his back, stepping forward until the front of her body would press against his if he just breathed deeper.

"Don't think about it anymore," she said, in a strangled voice. He didn't have a sodding clue what she meant.

"Don't think about what?" he asked, in a scratchy whisper. She smiled, evidently taking his question as a joke, meant to make her see he had forgotten… that he had chosen to.

But her smile faltered, her eyes darted down to his lips… She had obviously lied, before. She was terrified. Only… maybe he'd assumed the wrong thing. Maybe she hadn't been thinking about tomorrow.



She answered without words, pushing up to her toes, bringing her face an inch from his jaw… closer. Her shaky breath wafted across his skin. His eyelids fluttered before he tilted his chin down, their lips suddenly so close.

What the hell was happening? A cool sea breeze blew past again, through their hair, her curls tickling his neck. She searched his eyes like she was reading the tiniest print in the most important book.

The push and pull was warring so furiously inside of her that she thought she might be physically ill. Why was she here? She hadn't come outside to find him for this. But… but something had pushed her closer. Now, his hand was hovering behind her back. She could feel the heat of his body, anxious breath sucking through his expanding lungs.

Why hadn't she come for this?

There were two options - she had misread him, all this time… or she hadn't, and he wanted what she did.

But there had always been two options, hadn't there - the first one, that had kept her from acting, and the second one, that had pushed her, just then, to grip the back of his shirt, as she waited to see if he'd move next.


Maybe there were a thousand words, buried in her name. He twitched, just the smallest gesture, exhaling against her mouth. And then… his hand moved behind her, spreading across her lower back as he pressed his parted lips to hers.

Warm, electric awareness flowed through her body as she let go of his back and looped her arms around his neck, clinging, her stretched torso pressing flat against his strong chest. He was kissing her. He was actually kissing her!

She heard herself moan against his mouth, and his arms circled her waist.

It could have been minutes, much more likely a matter of seconds, before things were moving at lightning speed. They had mere hours left here, and it suddenly felt urgent, like she had to make up for months and months of lost time. Her hands moved down his sides, fingers slipping beneath the hem of his shirt, nearly crying again when she felt his hot, bare skin against her palms. His nose brushed past hers as they changed angles, panting air between devouring lips.

He let go of her waist, and, suddenly, both of his hands were shakily cupping her face, mouths still joined, and this wasn't just snogging with adrenaline the night before robbing a bloody bank. When they finally skipped to the end, they'd still have this.

Wouldn't they?

Everything he'd been thinking about before she'd come out to find him was now reduced to an insignificant, fleeting memory. His focus was on a razor's edge, feeling so much more than he'd thought a single person was capable of feeling.

The physical act of kissing had been an image of mouths colliding, teasing from your mates in Hogwarts corridors, a marker in someone's life that separated before from after. But there was no before, anymore, now that it was Hermione, like an instant addiction, sliding one hand back from her cheek, into her hair, tangling in curls he'd desperately dreamt of touching, just like this.

Perfect would be a laughable word to describe it.

He knew that snogging the person he'd fancied for years and had loved for who could be sure how long would not be simple… by the simple fact that there was never going to be enough. Not that a single molecule of him was unsatisfied. Only the contrary. Only this could satisfy…

Her ankle was locking behind his calf, and she was basically climbing up the front of his body. Her hands were inside his shirt.

He had to sit down before he passed out.

"Ermynee," he mumbled against her mouth, watching her swollen lips gasp in a breath as he took her hands in both of his and tugged her down to the sand. On their knees, they could be so much closer to the same height, and her lips crashed against his again, both hands on the sides of his face until her fingertips curled around his ears. He actually grinned against her mouth, pulse escalating at how desperate her movements felt.

Grinning… until she was pulling him down on top of her, lying back in the soft sand, her dress riding high up her legs as he steadied himself with a knee pressing between her thighs. Their lips separated as he stared down at her, hidden in the dark shadows cast by the ridges of the dunes.

His lips wavered on a word, though he wasn't sure which one. And he could have sworn she mouthed an urgent please. He moved so fast to kiss her again that his teeth cut into her upper lip, but she only tugged him down tighter.

His entire being was rolling down hill too fast to see where this would end. Her hands were all over - in his hair, nails scraping the back of his neck, rushing down his chest and stomach.

Sod it. He copied her. His fingertips moved down between her breasts, and he almost choked as she arched closer. But his left hand wandered to the tempting bottom edge of her dress, that uneven hem that had ridden up so high it wasn't even fair to call it leg, anymore.

She bent her knee up by his hip, and this was suddenly not an innocent place for his hand to be, long fingers wrapping around the back of her thigh. Though he reckoned they'd moved well past innocence, anyway. Their mouths met at uneven intervals between frantic touches, until he noticed that the thin straps of her dress had fallen down her arms and her breasts were trying to spill out from the top. He shouldn't have been able to tell in all that black lace, in that middle-of-the-night cloak of a starry sky overhead, but she wasn't wearing a bra. He caught a glimpse of puckered pink flesh in a semicircle on the left side, and his mouth hungrily forged a path down her neck, toward it, wincing as she pulled his hair roughly, but she followed it almost simultaneously with a breathy apology.

Her dress bunched up her hips, his left hand now gripping a tight handful of fabric, knuckles digging into her arse, through it. She was breathing so erratically that he would have been concerned if he didn't know exactly why she was… Why. It was him. Him.

He tried to swallow, but his throat was much too dry. So he dizzily stopped, frozen in place, his rough, stubbly chin just shy of her right breast.

"What… what are we doing?" he panted, as if suddenly surfacing from the middle of the deepest ocean.

Her heart thumped madly, and her teeth briefly chattered together, beyond nervous for a second, before she could speak.

"Don't you w-want me?" she trembled.

His eyes widened, and he actually laughed, which would have flushed her cheeks a deeper shade of red was she not so exposed to the cool night air and already about as flushed as she expected she could get without passing out.

"Are you fucking joking?" he said, voice low and raspy.

She could feel him pressed hard to her leg through his trousers, an obvious indication of the absurdity of her question, but she couldn't help it.

"Ron…" she shivered.

"I'm sorry. It's just…" He licked his lips and sighed, turning to press his cheek to her bare shoulder. She was filled immediately with pure love again, shy hesitation skipping away for the moment as she ran her fingers through his hair. "Of course I bloody want you."

Relief bloomed inside of her, and she closed her eyes.

"Then what are you waiting for?" she whispered.

"I don't know," he laughed again.

Was he actually going to come apart about this? What more could he need? He was half-lying on top of the half-naked girl he loved, and she was nearly asking him to shag her.

Right, maybe that was taking it a little far, but…

But maybe it wasn't.

Her fingers were threading through his hair, and if he tilted his face down, he could kiss her chest, exactly where he'd been heading, before…

Why did she want him?

He shook the thought free and attached his mouth to that curve of pink flesh still exposed above her dress. A heavy, shaky sigh blew out from her open mouth, through his tousled hair. She pulled him between her parted legs, and he instantly knew what had made him stop. But it wasn't going to make him stop again.

She knew this wasn't just physical for him, he told himself. She had to know.

She widened her legs, and his right hand slid around to the inside of her thigh. His knuckles brushed wet knickers and his teeth dug into her breast as he clenched his eyes tightly shut, overwhelmed. He could feel her hardened nipple under a single layer of the lace that decorated the deep neckline of her dress, but she squirmed underneath him, pressing closer to his hand between her legs.

He would give her what she wanted. He would always.

Suddenly frantic, he reached further up under her dress and tugged her knickers down, rolling off of her as they both scrambled to free them from her bare legs and feet. Blue. They were a deep, royal blue, and, now, he would have only ever seen them on the ground… She accidentally kicked sand over them in her efforts to pull him back down on top of her, and as he moved his shaking hand to where it had been seconds earlier, he immediately encountered hot, wet skin and her tight opening.

"Fuck," he breathed, kissing her again.

When his lips separated from hers a moment later, she kept her eyes tightly shut and pressed her head back, tiling her chin up. She briefly considered how annoying it was going to be to clean all the sand out of her hair, but then his fingertips where nervously touching her, and her muscles tightened in anticipation.

"Please, please tell me to stop," he said urgently, "if you want me t-"

"I don't want you to," she panted, cracking open her eyes to look at his beautiful face.

He swallowed before inhaling deeply, ducking to drag his mouth along the side of her neck. And, very slowly, one long finger slid inside of her.

"Oh, God…" Her eyes snapped shut again, pleasure pulsing through her, and he moaned against her neck in response.

He moved his finger tentatively inside her, sliding out and back in, kissing his way down her neck, collarbone, stubble roughly catching on lace as he moved lower. His body dragged her dress down, just enough to expose her left nipple. He paused briefly, but he didn't look up at her face, finally moving with determination to cover her nipple with his mouth. She used her next shuddering inhale as an excuse to arch her back off the sand, encouraging him by pressing her chest tighter to his mouth.

"Ron…" she breathed, closing her eyes again, focused on so many unbelievable feelings and the rumble of his voice against her skin.

A year ago, she'd have wanted to talk first, sort out what it meant and what they were to each other before moving to this. Now, she didn't give a damn, as long as he wanted her, tonight. She didn't really think that's all it was for him, and it certainly wasn't for her. But there was no room out here for a perfectly planned out life. Tomorrow was always uncertain, and the next day… even more so. Now was what mattered most. This second, everything she could feel and see, his hair still glowing copper in muted moonlight.

As perfect and wonderful and beautiful as it was, it wasn't quite enough. She tugged his shoulder, and he lifted his face from her chest to look up at her. His hand stilled between her legs.

"You're- you're…" he stuttered, shaking his head. "Bloody hell, you're amazing."

She felt her cheeks warm further, something she'd thought impossible at this point, and she tugged him higher up, his finger sliding out of her as he readjusted on top of her. She lifted her head from the sand, seeking his lips, which crashed down to hers the moment he understood what she wanted. She swiped her tongue against his, feeling his body tense, then shake as he groaned… feeling him through his trousers, against her inner thigh. She reached down between them with both hands to undo his belt, and he froze, open mouth still lightly touching hers.

"What-" he panted.

"Help me?" she asked in a tiny voice, her cold fingers working on his buckle.

He licked his lips, which caused the tip of his tongue to brush her bottom lip, still so close. And then he looked down between them, briefly pressing his forehead to hers as their hands worked together to free his belt, button, and-

He moved the zipper down at the same pace that her hand slipped inside to find the warm cotton of his pants.

"God," he breathed. She was immediately a familiar combination of fascinated and terribly nervous as she felt him. "Oh, fuck… Ermynee."

He cut himself off from further swearing by kissing her again, but his muffled voice continued to vibrate through her as she frantically pushed down his trousers and pants.

He was living in some kind of dream, where she was snogging him breathless and wrapping bare legs around his waist. He'd never been anywhere close to this turned on, in all his years of fantasising and wanking to sleep.

But, at the same time, his ears were ringing with reality. He was about to shag Hermione Granger, in the sand, in the middle of the night, at his brother's house.

"Do you know the charm?" she mumbled against his lips.

Goddamn charm. His heart was racing, and he'd almost forgotten about the bloody charm.

"No," he managed, seizing with regret. Oh, how he wished he'd learned-

"You don't remember it?" she asked as he moved his face back far enough to look into her curious, trusting eyes.

"Never learned it, did I," he sighed. "Bloody wish I-"

"Wait," she gasped, interrupting him. "You never learned it? You- you mean you never used it?"

"What?" The world was spinning, and he couldn't put her words together.

"Nevermind," she cried, smiling and grabbing his face in both hands, drawing him down to her lips again.

She kissed him fiercely, enough to make him forget why they were going to have to stop. Mad thoughts were swirling through his mind, and maybe Fleur had a potion in the loo, upstairs?

"My wand's in my hair," she muttered against his mouth.

"Hm? Oh." He pushed up on his forearm and reached behind her head as she tilted forward, removing her wand from her curls. But he'd told her already. He didn't know the charm, so why-

"Thank you," she whispered, taking the wand from him and aiming it down between them. "Proprieque dicitur masculum. Proprieque dicitur feminam." She closely studied what she'd done before reaching up under his shirt and pressing her hand low on his abdomen. She paused briefly before reaching up under her dress to feel her own. "It worked."

"You… bloody hell. You knew those?"

"Had to be sure I did, just in case you didn't."

He couldn't work it all out, just yet, but he suddenly had no doubts that they were about to lose their virginity to each other. And that, just maybe, she'd always wanted it to be with him.

"W-Won't this hurt you?"

She shook her head, but he didn't believe her.

"Ron…" she said, in a voice that was barely audible, and there was no way in hell he was going to resist her. "If you really want me, ple-" He covered her mouth with his again, cutting off her words as he reached down and clutched her waist through bunched layers of skirt.

Her hammering heartbeat was back, full force, and their teeth scraped together as they kissed without restraint. She felt him at her opening, and all it would take would be one, steady thrust or a tightening of her legs around him.

She doubted whether she'd ever wanted anything more in all her life. Her eyes were watering, and she silently begged them not to spill over. What horrible things might he think if he saw her crying?

She shifted underneath him, and he reached between her legs. Do it, she thought. And then… he did.

She didn't mean to scream, but the sound rushed out of her as he filled her.

"Shiiit," he hissed tensely, shaking on his arm, clearly overwhelmed by how it felt. "Oh my God. Are you okay?"

She nodded frantically and clawed at his back.

"Fucking hell."

The pain was there, but it was so much more intricate than that. She could never put it into words, how much she'd wanted this, even now, and even knowing before that it would hurt her. She had lied to him, of course, and she felt a pang of guilt. Only she couldn't bring herself to regret it, as he moved inside her. She knew he wanted to be gentle, but everything had escalated with such increasing passion that she also knew how hard it would be for him to hold back. And she didn't want him to.

She gripped the back of his neck and pulled him down to kiss her again, moving her tongue against his and wordlessly prompting him to go faster. He pressed her into the sand, her body arching under him, no space left at all between their torsos, and his mouth broke away from hers, sweat beading on his temples as she heard herself making tiny, squeaky noises each time he thrust into her.

"Hermione, I lov-" Her hand flew instinctively over his mouth, but she was staring hard back at him, and he didn't stop, though she felt his body go a bit rigid. What was he thinking? She desperately wanted to know, and yet… she had silenced him.

Oh God, but she felt it, too. He was everything. She could die on this beach, tonight…

He couldn't focus on the fact that she'd frantically stopped him from telling her he loved her while he was currently experiencing he most amazing feeling of his life. He hadn't even planned to say it… it had just sort of started to slip out. Not that he didn't mean it. But maybe… maybe that was the whole point.

He just couldn't wrap his mind around it all with her heel digging into his arse and her hot breath wafting across his jaw, and he realised how quickly this was going to end. Her eyes held his gaze, and he could clearly see how watery they had become, her hair a chaotic mess across the sand, tangled curls escaping over her bare shoulders, adorably sexy sounds softly exhaling from her swollen mouth.

"I- I…" he started, thinking perhaps he ought to warn her, but it was already too late. "Fuuuck."

He pressed his forehead to hers as he came inside her, gripping a handful of sand on her left and an equal handful of her hair on her right. For several seconds afterward, he just stayed there, breathing… until she shifted slightly underneath him, and reality hit him hard.

He'd just shagged Hermione.

They were leaving in several hours to rob a bank.

His hand was tightly tangled in her hair… and he was crushing her.

"Sorry," he muttered, rolling off of her to his back and awkwardly tugging his pants and trousers up. He was trying to ignore his fiercely blushing face and neck in the hopes that it would just fade away with the cool night air. But then, all of a sudden, Hermione was climbing on top of him, sitting firmly on his lap and bending forward to kiss him. He moaned with surprise, placing his hands gently on either side of her neck.

Seconds later, she straightened up again and slid off his lap to the ground, adjusting her dress back into place, cheeks a lovely shade of rose. He breathed unevenly as he sat up in front of her, gaze drifting down… skipping to the red mark he'd left on her chest, just peeking over her low neckline. His gaze dropped again, and he winced.

"Reckon this is my fault." He reached for the torn hem of her dress, on the left side, recalling how he'd clenched the material in his fist.

"It's alright," she said, a bit hoarsely. "It suits her." He swallowed as he thought of Bellatrix again, pulse quickening with memories of Hermione's screams.

And, suddenly, all the lust he'd felt earlier was smoothly replaced with a need to care for her. Not that she needed his protection, but she had wanted him with her, those first few nights, after the Manor, when she'd been tossed into nightmares and pain. She was doing much better now. But did that mean his excuse was gone, he couldn't hold her hand? No.

He reached out and tucked a tangled coil of her hair behind her ear, then drifted his fingertips down to the left strap of her dress, which was still hanging off her shoulder. He pulled it up into place, feeling her eyes on him as he dropped his hand back to his side. But she didn't let it stay there for long, taking his much larger hand in both of her small, cold ones.

She was quite sure that no part of her had fully comprehended what had just happened. The most noticeable evidence was a slight soreness and the way her whole body seemed to be radiating an oddly comforting sense of heightened feeling.

Was it normal to kiss someone for the first time and then shag them minutes later? But she really didn't care about normal.

She didn't want to part from him, but they had to try and get some sleep, as much as she feared that could be impossible for her now. She ran her fingers across his knuckles, his gaze on their hands as she looked up to study his face.

"We should go in," she finally whispered, and he nodded, still looking down. But then his forehead creased and the corner of his mouth wavered up. He let go of her hand and crawled to her left, digging something out of the sand.

"Pretty sure these belong to you," he said cheekily, holding her knickers out toward her.

She pressed her lips together and took them from him, wadding them up in her fist as she collected her wand from the ground with the same hand. But her gaze lifted to his flushed neck as he stood and hitched up his trousers, buckling his belt.

"Ron…" she started, quietly. "Thank you." She felt instantly ridiculous for those two words, and he half-smiled quizzically down at her.

"Don't reckon that should be the other way round?" He held out his hand, and she took it, letting him pull her up to her bare feet.

"No. I don't," she said, quite sincerely. He kept on holding her hand, and she slid her fingers between his, wondering if she was imagining how nervous he seemed. After what they'd just done, surely holding hands was nothing…

Then why did she feel it, too?

He kept holding on as they walked back to the house, not letting go until he reached for the door and held it open for her. She slipped under his arm, acutely aware of the silence inside. She spotted Harry, still sleeping on the floor, and Ron led her to the foot of the stairs, careful not to make too much noise. She took two steps up and turned around to look at him, eye to eye.

"Well. Try to sleep," she whispered weakly, her face so close to his.

"You, too," he mouthed back.

But she couldn't take it, standing so close and not touching him, wondering what he was thinking. So she threw her arms around his neck and ducked her head over his shoulder. He responded by holding her tight around the waist, pressing his face to her sandy hair, and she sighed, a bit relieved. She could feel his strong heartbeat against her chest, and she closed her eyes.

The hall was so silent, as they stood there, holding each other, and the tick, tick, tick of the large, wooden clock behind him sounded quite disruptively loud. She finally lifted her head from his shoulder, and he let go of her.

"Goodnight," she whispered, lingering for one more moment to softly kiss his cheek, noting with a stomach flutter that he closed his eyes as her lips touched him.

When she pulled back, she watched his eyes dart down, and she wasn't sure what he was going to do as he moved closer… until his lips touched the tip of her nose.

"Night," he echoed afterward, smiling shyly before backing away from her a bit. But he waited until she'd turned around and begun to ascend the stairs before walking back out to the sitting room.

He lay there silently, in the dark, atop his sleeping bag, and he tried not to care that she'd halted his admission. That they were leaving at dawn and that she still didn't know everything. That they'd bloody shagged, and yet she hadn't wanted those words.

Trying not to care wasn't working very well.

He felt like a pathetic git, worrying about all the possible reasons why she hadn't let him say it. She'd wanted him. He'd wanted her. And he probably shouldn't be thinking about anything else.

He heard Harry turn over and sigh, probably awake, but he didn't look to find out. He closed his eyes instead, hoping sleep would take him soon.

She'd charmed the sand from her hair and was pacing her dark room, in her pyjamas. This shouldn't be keeping her awake - it was her own fault - but she couldn't stop worrying that she'd made a mistake. She'd lied, of course - she was certainly afraid about tomorrow - and she might have given up her only chance to hear him say it. If they were caught at Gringotts in a few hours, what the hell did it matter if he'd only felt that way about her because of what they'd been doing outside?

Why did she have to bloody think so much?

Thinking hadn't been the way she'd wound up shagging her best friend. And she would never regret that.

Right. Unless he did. Unless she'd hurt him by stopping his words. Unless-

Thinking didn't lead her to the door, either… and she wasn't even sure what she was going to do, only that she knew she had to see him again, before dawn. So, she tugged the door open, and she immediately gasped, face level with his chest.

"Blimey! Sorry," he whispered taking a quick step back.

"What are you doing?" she asked a bit shrilly, staring up at him in surprise.

"Yeah, m'sorry," he said again, running a nervous hand through his hair. "Dunno, I tried to sleep, but I… I wanted to see you again. Wasn't sure if you were still awake."

Her gaze softened, and she somehow felt even worse. He'd come here for her, just as she was about to do for him. He was obviously worried, too.

"Come in here," she requested, backing up so he could follow her.

She shut the door behind him and, immediately, a strangled cry slipped out. He was standing at the foot of her bed, watching her closely. And she sensed that he was about to speak, but she got there first.

"I'm so sorry."

His lips parted, and he shook his head slowly, confused.

"I wish I hadn't stopped you," she explained, and she wiped her hand roughly across her watery eyes, sighing.

She could tell he knew exactly what she meant, even though he tried to cover for it. His eyes had flashed with understanding, then melted to an artificially casual dismissal.

"It's fine," he muttered. Now who was lying?

"No, it's not," she said firmly, gathering courage. "I wanted to hear you say it. So m-much. You have no idea."

"Then…" He cleared his throat. "Why-"

"I was afraid you were only saying it because of what we were d-doing. Any other time, I'd never have stopped you." She sniffed loudly and wiped her face dry again. "I can't sleep. And I lied to you. Of course I'm bloody afraid. If we're caught, they'll take us to Azkaban, and it'll be over. We'll never get out of there to finish it. Ron… you're the reason I'm still alive. You're the reason I can do this at all."

He took a small step closer, forehead creased with worry as he watched her.

"Would you stay here?" she asked tentatively, not waiting for him to respond to everything she'd said. "Just for a little while."

"I'll stay all night, if you want… what's left of it, anyway."

She laughed with nervous relief, crossing by him to the right side of the bed and crawling in. He followed her, their legs meeting under her blanket as she rested on her side, facing him.

Had he actually been worried for nothing? The obvious answer to this question should probably no longer surprise him, but he reckoned he wasn't going to get used to that for a while…

It was somehow so intense, just to look at her, faces inches apart across her pillow, eyes locked. But then, she closed hers, and, all of a sudden, he was clinging to needing more again, to accepting what she wanted him to say. She'd wanted him to be sure… sincere. Bloody hell, he'd never been more sure of anything in his life.

Then why was it so hard to say the words now, after everything they'd done?

The soft features of her face slowly gave him strength, and he repeated the words several times over inside his head before inhaling to say them aloud, reminding himself that she wanted to hear them.

"I love you."

Her eyes opened wide, and she sucked her lip between her teeth, refusing to blink.

"Believe me now?" he added shakily, when she didn't say anything back.

She freed her lip from her teeth to smile, nodding as she half-laughed, half-cried.

"I love you, too," she whispered.

He grinned and cupped her face as she slid closer, magnetised. Her lips softly touched his, and he stopped breathing, for a second. Moments later, she pulled back just enough for him to speak.

"When this nicking from a bloody Gringotts vault shite is over, could we go on an actual date or something?"

She laughed, burrowing her face against his shoulder.

"Where would we go?" she muttered, heavily muffled by his shirt.

"Dunno," he smiled, closing his eyes and holding onto her. "There's got to be some Muggle village where no one would spot us."

"Hm." Her short sound was sceptical enough to remind him how much danger they were really in.

"Bloody war." He opened his eyes and sighed. "You reckon Harry would bugger off and leave us the new tent for a few hours?"

"Sure… if you ask him just like that." He could sense her grinning, her mouth still muffled against his shoulder, and he laughed, tugging her tighter against his chest. "What would we do in the tent, alone?" He could almost hear her blushing.

"I have some ideas." His lips twitched as she pulled back and met his eyes.


"First of all," he said, as a wave of heat rushed up the back of his neck, "I was way too nervous outside to do that right."

"I disagree…"

"How would you know?"

She blinked at him, then shook her head against her pillow, playfully rolling her eyes.

"What were you meant to have done differently?" she asked quietly.

"I haven't even seen you naked."

"I haven't seen you, either!"

"Okay." The tips of his ears were surely on fire. "But I've read-" Her eyebrows shot up. "Uh, I mean I have a few things to try… if you want me to."

"You read a book… about sex?"


He watched her swallow, and her eyes darted down to his lips.


"Summer," he admitted in a pinched voice.

"While I was learning contraceptive charms."

"That should have been what I was doing…"

She smiled shyly, but then her expression fell blank.

"I thought you slept with Lavender."

A fist seemed to tighten inside his chest with alarm, and his eyebrows shot up.


"It was stupid," she said, softly. "I heard her say something about sex to Parvati, just before Christmas, but I didn't wait around to hear the details. I guess I just assumed…"

"Hell no. Never got anywhere close to that. Blimey, you thought I'd done that and you still learned the charms?"

"You broke up with her."

"Yeah. Shit, I never wanted to be with anyone but you."

"Me either."

A long, sleepy silence fell over them, soft smiles and noses almost touching. But she heard his watch ticking, as loud to her then as a siren wailing. She reached for his wrist, glancing at the time, against better judgment. They were running out, way too fast.

"I should take this off…" He shifted to free his other arm from around her, and he unfastened his watch, awkwardly twisting backward to set it on her bedside table. When he turned back to face her, her eyes were swimming with unshed tears.

"Promise me we'll have that date, even if you don't really believe it."

"'Course we will," he said, right away. She nodded and tugged his hand, flipping over so her back was against his chest and his arm was draped over her waist. He bent his knees up tightly behind hers, and she could feel him breathing warmly, through her hair.

She closed her eyes, willing her pulse to slow, her constricting throat to relax, and her obsessive thoughts to release her. His fingers moved mesmerisingly between hers, eventually stopping with his thumb pressed to her palm. She gripped his strong arm with her free hand and breathed deeply.

"Whatever happens," she whispered, "tonight was the best night of my life."

He must have been much closer to sleep than she'd realised, because his voice was thick and raspy when he spoke.

"Mine, too."