The next night, Ron and Hermione made ready to go to the Co-Op grocery in Norton Saint Philip. Ron had offered to go alone, preferring to leave Harry and Hermione safely behind the wards, but Hermione had insisted that it would be faster with the two of them. Besides, she could Apparate them directly to the store since she'd been there and Ron would only be able to do line of sight hops to get there. Ron reluctantly agreed and got the list.
"We'll be back shortly," Hermione told Harry, as Ron pulled the Invisibility Cloak over them. They'd been blessed with another clear night and the shop was long closed at this hour. They should be able to make it there and back in no time.
Ron took her arm and a deep breath as he always did before Apparating, only this time, he dropped his head just a bit, and took in the scent of Hermione's hair. He'd missed that scent. It was spicy and a little sweet. Cinnamon, he thought, with notes of vanilla. He assumed that was her shampoo, but beneath that there was something warmer, that was just her, and it made his pulse throb. He'd smelled it in the Amortentia sixth year and found it profoundly disturbing at the time, but now, he just took comfort in it.
They landed behind the shop and Hermione made quick work of the back door with Alohomora. Ron pulled the cloak off and they went into the shop. They were both under glamor charms because Hermione said the shop might have cameras set up. Ron didn't understand how that would work, but he trusted her, because she'd been raised a Muggle and knew these things. She moved quickly through the aisles, counting as they put bags of potatoes, onions, rice, and several bags of dried beans in her beaded bag. They moved to the next aisle and got dried onions, cinnamon, more salt and pepper, a big bottle of cooking oil, two bags of sugar, two tins of powdered milk, and four large containers of instant oatmeal porridge. Then they went to the tea section and got four boxes of tea, and three tins of powdered hot chocolate mix, and another large jar of instant coffee. Ron looked at her when she dropped it in the bag. "It's useful for staying awake, she said, and it'll be there when we run out of everything else." As a splurge, they got a dozen eggs, a bag of oranges, and a packet of Hobnobs. They went over to the toiletries aisle and stocked up on toilet paper, which was so much better than transfiguring stacks of leaves. The also got shampoo, conditioner for Hermione, and bars of soap. "Let's go," Hermione said, as she pulled pound notes from her bag and left them next to the till. At the last moment, she put down another bill and picked up all the different newspapers the shop carried.
Ron thought it was ridiculous that she still insisted on paying for everything and he didn't see the point in picking up Muggle newspapers, but he wasn't going to argue about it now. He had no idea how much Muggle money she had. She'd told them that she'd withdrawn all her money from her Muggle bank but hadn't given an amount. They went back outside, Hermione relocked the shop door, and Ron pulled the Invisibility Cloak back over them. She Apparated them again to just outside the wards around their tent. She cast a quick spell to open one section and they crossed inside, as Ron pulled off the cloak. Harry had been sitting by the fire, but got to his feet. Hermione immediately turned around and reset the barrier.
"Come see what we got," Ron said and they all went into the tent. Hermione started unpacking the food from her bag.
"Tea!" Harry exclaimed. "And Hobnobs!"
"I thought we deserved a treat," Hermione said. "Put the Kettle on, will you?
"I've got it," Ron said.
"Oh, hey, you brought newspapers," Harry said, with excitement in his voice. "Fantastic."
"What's the point in Muggle newspapers?" Ron asked. "It's not like they're covering our war."
"No," Harry said, "but they'll cover when it spills over into there's. Besides, it's nice to have something to read instead of just spell books"
"And there's often a crossword puzzle," Hermione added. "My dad and I used to do those in the Times."
"A what?" Ron asked.
"It's a type of word game," Harry said.
Ron poured the tea and brought the mugs over while Harry opened the Hobnobs. "What are these?" Ron asked, reaching for one.
"Chocolate covered oat biscuits," Harry said.
"That sounds delicious," Ron said, taking a bite. "These are fantastic!"
They split the pack three ways, and this time Hermione did eat her whole portion. A quiet fell over the table as they enjoyed their biscuits and drank their tea. Harry pulled over a copy of The Guardian. Hermione took the Times. Ron looked at the unfamiliar papers and took one called The Sun. "Bloody hell!" he said after a moment and closed the paper.
Harry looked up.
"Did you know Muggles put naked ladies in their newspapers?" Ron asked. He couldn't believe it. Even the Daily Prophet at its worst never stooped so low.
"Found page three, did you?" Hermione said dryly.
"You knew about this?" Ron said, his voice higher than he would have liked.
"Yes. It's a sexist tradition dating back to the seventies," Hermione said. "And they're not naked, they have on knickers."
"Does your paper have naked ladies then?" Ron asked.
"No," Hermione said. "And, strictly speaking, neither does yours."
"Right," Ron muttered. Harry remained quiet behind his copy of The Guardian. Ron decided it was prudent not to ask him what he was looking at. He sighed. It was difficult enough being out here with Hermione without having photos of topless women about. At least they were Muggle photos and didn't move. That would have probably done him in straight away.
"Ah ha!" Hermione said. "Found the crossword." She stood, taking her tea with her. "I'm going to go work this outside while I do my watch."
She went to get her coat and stepped out of the tent. Ron watched her and stood. "You want some more tea?" he asked Harry. "I'm going to reuse this bag."
"Nah," Harry said. "It's late. I should go to bed. I won't sleep if I have more tea."
Ron reconsidered and sat back down.
"There's a disaster mentioned in here that might be magic based. I wish I knew," Harry said.
"Let me see," Ron said.
Harry slid the paper over and Ron read an article about a bridge collapsing and killing three people. "Seems like it might be magic to me," he said. "The bridge was relatively new and there hadn't been any problems before."
Harry sighed. "I know. We've got to stop him."
"We will," Ron said. "We've just got to find the next Horcrux and destroy it." Ron tried to stay cheery, especially since it was quite clear that his absence had been very grim for Harry and Hermione. Harry had said she'd cried a lot, at least the first week, and probably after but she'd tried to keep it hidden. He'd said they often went long periods without speaking. It made Ron's heart sink to think about how they might have filled those hours. Was it all doom and gloom or had they eventually reached for comfort from each other? But if they had, it was his fault. He opened The Sun back to page three. "I can't believe they put pictures like this in their newspapers."
"Since when do you not like photos of half-naked women?" Harry said, arching an eyebrow at him.
Ron closed the paper and leaned across the table and whispered, "Since I'm living in a small tent with Hermione and trying not to walk around sporting my own tent pole, you prat."
"Yeah, yeah," Ron said. "It's all funny to you."
"Nah," Harry said, sobering. "I know it's tough."
"It's so much easier for girls," Ron grumbled.
"Is it?" Harry asked.
"Please, their feelings aren't out there for the whole world to see. They can hide their attractions, can't they?"
"That's true," Harry said, "But we're all in the same boat managing them, aren't we?"
Ron's mouth dropped open as he realized what Harry was saying and that Harry's awareness of that likely came from discussing the matter with either Ginny or Hermione and he didn't want to think about either of those possibilities. "Stop," he said, holding up his palm.
"Stop what?" Harry said.
"Stop talking. I don't want to know how you know that."
Harry snorted a laugh as he stood and picked up his tea. "I wasn't planning on citing my sources, but you said so yourself, Ron, it's a small tent. I don't expect there's much the three of us don't know about each other's habits, do you?"
Ron grabbed Harry's arm as he went to move past him. "What?"
Harry sighed and shook his head. "You really are a sound sleeper, aren't you? She dreams and not always quietly, so do you, and likely, so do I. It's pretty obvious, when a certain sort of dream is followed by a muffling charm, to know what's happening, don't you think?"
Ron dropped Harry's arm. "Do you think Hermione knows?"
Harry gave him a withering look. "She's eighteen, Ron, not eight. Of course, she knows, she's not an idiot."
Ron pressed his face to his hands. "I did not need to know that."
Harry picked up The Guardian and clapped Ron on the shoulder. "Sorry, mate." He went behind the curtain to their bunks.
Ron sighed and refilled the kettle, casting a charm to make it boil. He walked outside to where Hermione was sitting in front of the fire writing. As he approached, she set down the paper.
"I didn't mean for you to stop," Ron said. "I just thought you might like a refill."
Hermione raised her eyebrows and held up her cup. "Thanks. I'm done actually. I just did the quick puzzle."
"Right." He cleared his throat, desperately trying not to envision what she might do in her bunk at night. "I thought I might set up some wards down by the creek in the morning after my shift and see if I can catch some fish for tonight. Seems a shame to waste the opportunity since we don't always camp near water."
"Sounds good," Hermione said.
Ron nodded and went back inside, trying to school his thoughts. Back in the tent, he dug out the fishing pole and flies left by the previous occupant.
"What are you doing?" Harry asked from his bunk.
"I'm going fishing in the morning."
"Need some help?" Harry asked.
"No. No. I'm good. I'll set up wards."
"Oh, I see," Harry said casually. "Need a little private time?"
Ron could feel himself blush. "Oh, shut it."
The next morning, Ron trudged back to camp with three large gutted graylings on a string. Harry and Hermione were sitting by the fire drinking their morning tea. Harry grinned at Ron. "Feel better?"
Ron grunted at him and Harry chuckled. Hermione looked confused but didn't ask for clarification, which Ron found disheartening. Generally, she hated not being in on the joke or not understanding something.
"At least you caught some fish," Harry said. "I thought fishing was for spring and summer. That's when Uncle Vernon used to take Dudley."
"Nah," Ron said. "You can pretty much fish year-round if you know what you're trying to catch. Grayling are good this time of year. I cleaned them down by the water. I just need a suitable log." He started pawing through the wood they'd stacked. Earlier, he and Harry had found a whole tree that had fallen and had used their wands to cut it into logs. Ron took a couple of logs, pulled out his wand, and split them in two. "Perfect," he announced. He went inside the tent and came out with a bottle of cooking oil. He lightly coated the insides of the logs and then cast a sticking charm to hold each fish in place and set the logs near the fire. "Won't be long now," he announced happily and took the oil back inside and returned with three cups, one of which had forks in it, stacked on three plates and passed them around. He noticed Hermione watching him, but didn't comment. He felt like she had to be approached carefully, if at all. Things had been going, if not exactly well, then at least better between them.
It didn't take long for the fish to cook, and Ron popped one on each plate and they tucked in. "Watch for bones," he said. "They aren't filleted."
"This is amazing," Harry said. "Best breakfast ever. I can't believe you're such a good cook now."
"Well," Ron said, "I knew I had to get back here and I wanted to be able to contribute something when I did."
"What are you talking about?" Harry said. "You contributed before."
"Not really," Ron said. "After we left Grimmauld Place, I spent most of my time whinging."
"You were hurt," Harry said. "That wasn't your fault."
"No," Hermione said quietly. "It was mine."
"No, it wasn't," Ron and Harry both said.
"It was that bloody Death Eater's fault," Ron said firmly.
"You saved us," Harry added. "With a very impressive double jump."
"Not impressive enough," Hermione said.
"But you did it," Ron said. "No hesitation." He gave her a pointed look.
"Yes, and we see where that got you," she said grimly.
"You mean alive?" Ron said. "Yes. Thank you."
"In pieces," she added.
"One little piece missing," Ron said. "Not bad for the circumstances. I can barely manage to get all of me someplace by myself in a single jump."
Hermione didn't seem to hear him. "There was so much blood," she said in hollow whisper.
"But you got him patched up," Harry said. "And look at him now, he's fine."
Hermione glanced at Ron. "Right. I don't think I can finish this. You two should eat it. I have work to do." She handed her plate to Harry.
"But we were going to have oranges for dessert," Ron said plaintively.
"I'll eat mine later," she said, walking toward the tent.
"See that you do," Ron called after her. "You don't want to get scurvy."
"Scurvy?" Harry said, raising his eyebrows.
"I don't know," Ron said, shrugging. "She said something about not getting scurvy when she picked up the oranges. Some Muggle thing, I guess."
When Ron went inside a few minutes later to put away the dishes and get oranges for him and Harry, he saw that Hermione had her potions equipment set up on the table and was stirring a cauldron on the stove. "What are you making?" he asked as he cast the spell to clean the dishes.
"Some potions we need," she said. "I've already got Essence of Dittany cooling."
Ron put away the dishes and picked up two oranges. There were two cauldrons on the table. One was empty and the other was set to the side. He could tell from the smell that was the Dittany. She was crumbling something into the cauldron that she had going on the stove. Ron leaned over her shoulder to look at what she was doing. "Need any help?"
"No, I've got it," she said without looking at him.
"What's this one then?" he asked, sniffing at the cauldron. It smelled faintly of raspberries.
"It's for me," she said.
"Why? What's wrong? Are you sick?" Ron asked.
"No. I'm fine. I just need this and I'm almost out," she said, glancing at him, a slight flush appearing on her cheeks.
"But what is it?" Ron persisted. Now he was worried she had some condition she was taking a potion for that he and Harry didn't know anything about, but then, maybe Harry did know.
"Oh, for heaven's sake," she grumbled. She turned to face him and he could tell she'd gone from somewhat embarrassed to angry. "It's a contraceptive potion. Okay?"
Ron's mouth dropped open as all his worst fears about what had gone on between her and Harry were suddenly realized. She'd said she was almost out of it, which meant she'd been taking it, and now she needed more, which meant... "Oh," he gasped. "Isn't the charm easier?"
"The charm doesn't stop me menstruating," she explained. "I don't need to deal with that out here."
"Right," Ron nodded. "Of course, not. Carry on." He didn't bother asking what the third cauldron was for. His face felt like it was on fire and he couldn't get out of the tent fast enough.