For Sandy Keene, in the improv ficlet challenge.

Disclaimers: Everyone here belongs to J. K. Rowling.

Starfish and Stick
by Lesa Soja
 

Harry kisses Ron for the first time just after they win their match against Hufflepuff. Everyone's hugging and smacking each other on the back, Andrew gives Katie a wet smooch on the cheek, and when Ron throws his arms around Harry, Harry pulls in close and kisses his mouth. It only lasts a moment, but a shiver goes through Ron, and when he meets Harry's eyes, he knows. It's real, this trail of looks and grazes and half-sentences they've been leaving each other since the summer, or maybe earlier. It's not just him. Harry meant it.

They can't do anything more about it right then, of course, because they're the Gryffindor Seeker and Keeper, and they have a victory party to attend. Still, Ron keeps catching Harry's eye across the room while they're raising their butterbeer mugs high, and he thinks, later. When they get some time alone. And shivers again.

When the party winds down at last, Hermione starts making noises about Charms homework, but Harry says, "Tomorrow, 'Mione, okay?" He takes Ron by the hand and pulls him out of the common room. Ron isn't quite sure where they wind up, some disused classroom or storage room or something; all that matters is that a door closes behind them, and then Harry turns to him with avid eyes and says, "Ron," and kisses him. Ron kisses back, Harry's lips get softer and less tentative, and Ron lets his hands roam over Harry's back, because he can now. They can. He feels Harry's fingers in his hair, on his neck, and sighs deeply into Harry's smile.

They make out for a while longer, and that's pretty much all they do that night, get used to this, to each other like this. Also they're both sort of tired, having played a full Quidditch match earlier, and stayed up late doing D.A. practice the night before. It's not without regret that Ron lets Harry lighten the kisses and ease Ron's hands back up to his shoulders, but the important thing is that they have kissed. So it's official, now; they've begun.

The next day they really do have to tackle those Charms essays. It takes them a while to get started, and Hermione pretends to glare at them and says, "You two! Are you planning to tell Flitwick 'I couldn't finish the assignment because I had to make eyes at my new boyfriend all afternoon'?" Harry blushes a little, and they all laugh, and then they settle in and really do some work.

Monday they have classes, and Harry has an Occlumency lesson in the evening and gets back late. He gives Ron a quick swiping kiss in the dormitory room after they brush their teeth, and Seamus calls out, "Ooh, free show! Neville, come watch!" and they stop and go to bed. Tuesday they both have Quidditch practice, and Wednesday a D.A. meeting; they don't get to talk much, but at least they're working together, and that's something.

Thursday Ron has to go to a prefects' meeting. Malfoy is preening because his father's back, released from Azkaban; the terms are a bit unclear, but there was some kind of announcement from the Ministry and since then Malfoy's been more insufferable than ever. "Don't let him get to you," Hermione whispers, and Ron thinks about the underside of Harry's chin instead, and the noise Harry made as he tipped his head back. When they get back to the Gryffindor common room, Harry is asleep on his Herbology textbook with his quill dangerously close to his nose. Ron doesn't bother waking him up properly, just pulls him upstairs to the dormitory and pushes him into bed with one soft kiss on the mouth.

Friday morning, Ron sits down next to Harry at breakfast and gives him a nudge in the side with his elbow. "So," Ron says, "you free tonight, Potter? 'Cause if we're seeing each other now, I would really like to, you know, see you sometime." Harry laughs and says yes, of course, he wants to see Ron too. So that evening they go down to the Quidditch equipment room, which Ron thinks is more than a little laughable, but it'll do, it'll do, especially when Harry's got him backed up against a wall with one thigh between Ron's. Harry's hand inches over Ron's hip towards his cock, a little anxious but quite determined, and Ron kisses him encouragingly.

"Have you ever...?" Harry says, and Ron nods. A little with Parvati once, a little more with Dean, not much, but yes. Harry, he thinks, has kissed Cho once, and that may well be it. Harry's life was so fucking crazy last year, even before the disastrous conclusion. Inexperienced or not, though, Harry is definitely hard now, and Ron pulls him in and kisses him somewhat more roughly. Harry gasps, and Ron gets his fingers into Harry's waistband. Harry's dick feels perfect in his hand. Ron loves touching him. Then Harry jerks Ron off too, getting the hang of it pretty quickly, and Ron keeps kissing him, holding onto Harry's face with both hands while Harry's hands work on him below, and it's such a rush. Him and Harry. Afterwards Ron reaches for his wand and says a spell he learned from Dean, and they kiss again, grinning at each other, and head back upstairs.

The next week goes much the same as the last, except that Harry gets detention for mouthing off to Snape on Wednesday and has to reschedule the D.A. meeting for Friday. They're all on edge because more Death Eaters have been released and nobody knows what the Ministry is thinking. Surely after last spring Fudge must understand that Voldemort really is back. Harry says "Voldemort," and Ron does too, steeling himself, to please him. They practice hexes and countercurses until late into the night. On the weekend Hermione insists they absolutely have to do some studying, and she's right, of course she's right. Ron and Harry steal kisses in their bedroom when they can, but not all that often because Seamus still whistles and catcalls every single time he sees them, plus Ron doesn't want to do it too much in front of Dean. Not that things didn't end fine between him and Dean, or between Dean and Ginny, for that matter, but still. So they don't get much time.

Sunday night Ron wakes up once and hears Harry tossing and turning, mumbling a little, in the next bed. A dream, and not a good one. Ron lies there for a few minutes wondering if he ought to try to wake Harry up; Harry having nightmares again could be a really bad sign. Then again, anyone can easily have a nightmare these days. Harry subsides into quiet again before Ron decides, and Ron is tired enough to fall back asleep pretty quickly too, despite his uneasiness.

In the morning Harry is grumpy, and Ron doesn't try to kiss him, even when they're the last ones in the room before going down to breakfast. Harry has to see Snape that night too, for his lesson, and Snape keeps Harry even later than usual. Ron is already in his pajamas by the time Harry comes back with a deep scowl on his face.

"Come on," Harry says, grabbing Ron's wrist.

"Where?" Ron says. He manages to snatch up his school robe and drape it round his shoulders as Harry drags him out the door and down the tower stairs.

"I don't care," Harry says, and in fact they don't go far, not even a storage room this time, just some kind of closet with no windows and an achingly bright light that pops on when they cross the threshold. The light won't go off again, either, at least not with the few attempts Ron mutters out before Harry pushes him down to sit on a wooden trunk, and then Ron forgets about it anyway when Harry drops to his knees in front of him.

"Harry," he says, with Harry's hands shoving his robe aside, and Harry surges up and kisses him and kneels back down. Not like this, Ron thinks, not because of a day like today, but he doesn't have it in him to actually say no, not to Harry, not now. Oh, Harry. Harry's mouth is hesitant and rather clumsy, but he mostly manages to cover his teeth, and Ron is weirdly turned on, dusty boxes across from them and his pajama pants hiked down around his shins and Harry's scar glowing faintly through his bangs. "Harry!" Ron says, startled, and then he comes and Harry pulls off awkwardly, wiping at his mouth with the back of his thumb. "Harry, your scar!" Ron says again. Harry reaches up and touches his forehead.

"My head hurts," he says, bemused, and his voice sounds so childish that Ron feels almost a little queasy as he gathers Harry into his arms and kisses his cheek. He should, under other circumstances he would get Harry off too, but it's just too weird right now. Besides, he doesn't think Harry is even hard anymore.

"You should tell Dumbledore tomorrow," Ron says, and Harry nods on his shoulder. "Come on," Ron adds after a minute, "let's get some sleep." He stands up, and Harry lets himself be led back to the dormitory.

Harry does go see the headmaster on Tuesday, and Dumbledore keeps him so long that he misses half of Quidditch practice, though when Ron asks afterwards what Dumbledore said to him, Harry only shakes his head. "What he always says. To be careful, and work harder on my Occlumency, and tell him if anything else happens."

"And be vigilant," Ron suggests.

"Vigilant, yeah," Harry says, and smacks a Bludger down into its case. Ron frowns and they go back to try to do some homework.

Malfoy is almost silent at the next prefects' meeting, for a change, but he looks so smug that Ron can hardly enjoy it, wondering what Malfoy knows that can stop his mouth like this. He says as much to Hermione in the corridor, and she agrees reluctantly that it seems like more than just reinvigorated family pride. When they get back, they find Harry in the common room practicing counterjinxes with Neville. The two of them are going at each other hard, but Harry looks more relaxed than he has for a few days. Ron decides not to mention Malfoy's odd behavior to him.

The next weekend is a Hogsmeade visit. Ron wakes up to find Harry sitting on the edge of his bed, toying with a corner of his sheet. "Harry?" Ron says. "What's wrong?"

"Nothing," Harry says quickly. "I mean, um. Nothing new," and he flicks Ron a wry look. "I just. I remembered that when, that Cho, she wanted to go to Hogsmeade together, she wanted me to ask her, and. um. Did you want to go?"

Ron laughs. "Of course I want to go to Hogsmeade, Harry, but I don't need you to be a complete git about it."

Harry grins, relieved. "Good," he says, "that's all right, then. Because I don't actually think I'm up for holding hands over a teapot right now, to tell the truth." He looks pained then, and Ron sits up and kisses him. Harry's lips are a bit chapped. Seamus says, "Hot stuff, baby!" behind them, and Harry rolls his eyes and goes to get dressed.

They go all the places they always go in Hogsmeade and buy everything they always buy, and it's fun even though the people around them are rushing through the streets with more anxious, darting glances than usual. "It's a climate of fear," Hermione says importantly. Ron wrinkles his nose.

"I don't know why," he says, "it's not like anything's actually happened here." Afterwards he wishes he hadn't said that, because not two minutes later there's a scream from the far end of the road and then an enormous hubbub and all the students are herded back to Hogwarts, double-time. Some Ravenclaw third years saw a Dementor, they hear on the way. No one was hurt, some people claim they don't believe it, but the professors are brooking no dispute, and no one really wants to stay out any longer anyway.

Later in the evening Ron finds Harry curled up in one of the window seats tucked into the stairwell leading to their dormitory. He has one hand pressed to his temple, and he doesn't look up when Ron sits down opposite him and touches his knee.

"Harry," Ron says.

"I want to talk to Sirius," Harry says.

Ron gets up and goes back down to the common room and drinks a bottle of butterbeer someone left out on one of the tables.

Harry and Hermione decide to add another set of D.A. meetings every week, on Friday evenings. Everyone's learning a lot, and Harry reports that Dumbledore is pleased with their progress. But it doesn't seem to make anyone feel much easier. Also their next Quidditch match is coming up, against Slytherin, so they have extra practices all the time, during which the whole team's teeth seem to be constantly gritted. Ron grabs the sleeve of Harry's robe once after practice and keeps him in the changing room after everyone else leaves, blowing him there on the narrow bench while they've both still got their kits on. Harry looks hot in his gloves and bracers, plus the knee pads really help on the stone floor. Harry moans appreciatively and jerks Ron off afterwards with beautifully rough fingers. But he's silent and distracted on the way back to dinner, and Ron can't think of anything to say to him.

Early in the morning on the day of the Slytherin match, Ron wakes up to Harry screaming in his sleep. "Harry!" Ron shouts, jumping out of bed. He shakes Harry's shoulder, still shouting at him, till Harry's eyes open and blink and focus, and both he and Ron finally shut up. The scar makes a shimmering green twist across Harry's forehead, and Ron, breathing hard, can't stop staring at it. "Harry," he says more quietly, and reaches his arms out, but Harry tenses away from them.

"I have to -" he says, and he slides out of bed, pulls his cloak on, and leaves the room. Dean and Neville and Seamus look at Ron, wide-eyed.

"Shouldn't y- should we go after him?" Neville says.

Ron presses his lips together. "No point," he says, "he'll have gone to Dumbledore."

"Oh," Neville says faintly.

At the Gryffindor table in the Great Hall, Ron eats breakfast silently. Neville and Dean fill Hermione in on that morning's ruckus. She throws Ron some troubled glances but doesn't try to bother him, for which he is grateful. After breakfast he goes down to the changing room with his teammates. They circle up and go over their strategy for a bit, but really they all know what to expect from Slytherin by now, so there's not all that much to say.

Harry comes in just as they're starting to dress. Ron looks at him, and then away. Harry comes over though and says, quietly, "Can I talk to you?" Ron nods and finishes buckling his shinguards. Then he follows Harry out and around the corner of a dusty side corridor.

"Ron," Harry says, and his voice is very carefully calm. "I'm - really sorry, and especially for doing this now, but - I don't think I can keep seeing you. And it's - it's because of now, and how I - not -" His tone is rising now, slipping out of control. "it's - I wanted - Ron, you know I really liked you!"

Ron looks at Harry's face and feels like his own features are carved of stone. He's not surprised, he's not; he really did know this was coming, but it's official now. It's over. "Yeah, Harry," he says at last. "I liked you too."

Harry keeps looking at him, mouth painfully pinched together, but doesn't say anything else.

"We should go get dressed," Ron makes himself say.

Harry gives himself a shake. "So, ah," he says.

"It's all right, Harry, let's go," Ron says. Maybe more heatedly than he would have liked, but at least Harry nods and turns to lead the way back to the changing room, and Ron can stop having to look at him.

Ron puts on the rest of his uniform slowly and with great attention, tying his laces carefully and settling his robe just so across his shoulders. Then it's time, and he follows Andrew and Jack out to the pitch. The stands are packed as full as they well can be, Gryffindor red and gold on one side and Slytherin green on the other. Some of the Slytherin team are already circling in the air, garnering cheers as they swoop past their House mates. The day is cloudy, and Malfoy's slicked-back hair looks more gray than blond in the uncertain light.

Ron throws a leg over his broomstick and lifts off himself. The wind hits his face with brisk energy, Lee's voice booming incomprehensibly below. Alicia shrieks by with her hand up, and Ron puts his own out just in time to clap her a rough, satisfying smack. He feels energetic suddenly, out of nowhere. Awake and itching to play. He digs his legs in, puts some muscle into his flying, and then he speeds off to the end of the pitch and prepares to defend his goals.
 

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