Ron sat in the doorway of the old tent, absentmindedly tracing a bruise on the back of his left hand with the tip of his wand. It was so old, he couldn't remember where he'd picked it up; of course, a lot of his cuts and scrapes were that way lately. Just as being perpetually hungry had become a fact of life for them while on the run, so had being constantly injured. Heaving a sigh, he readjusted his legs beneath him and resumed his watch.
His thoughts drifted to Harry, who was asleep on the lower bunk. How he managed to do this without fear of capture or death was awe-inspiring to Ron. He had been given what essentially amounted to a death sentence—running around the country, escaping Snatchers, Death Eaters, giant snakes, and Lord Voldemort himself…and Dumbledore had trusted his two best friends to do it with him…
Ron's insides writhed and burned in shame. How had Dumbledore known that he would abandon what amounted to his brother and sister in a time of need? What had he been thinking? He supposed he'd thought that his actions that night were justified by his pure, undiluted rage and jealousy. But then he remembered the terrifying thing that had come out of the Horcrux: Harry and Hermione twisted together, one being, indivisible…
"It's not real!" he told himself angrily, leaping to his feet, speaking aloud without realizing it.
Why did he still have to think this way? Harry, his best friend, loved his little sister. He'd seen it in the way Harry obsessively gazed at and tracked Ginny's ink-labeled dot on the Marauder's Map, as if simply by staring at her name he could tell her what he was thinking. There was no reason for him to be jealous of any relationship between Harry and Hermione. Jealousy was what had torn them apart last time! He was being bloody ridiculous, yet a stubborn voice in the back of his head said that he could not let the feeling go.
Ron froze suddenly—had someone heard him shouting? He had heard a noise—yes, there it was again—like a pair of feet coming toward him. He spun around, wand raised, ready to cast the first curse that came into his mind, but stopped when he saw who it was.
Harry was coming toward him, wrapped in a gray sweater, the red weal where the Horcrux had tried to strangle him standing out even in the midnight gloom. He looked…older, tired, as if the weight of the world had come to rest on his shoulders.
"Something wrong, Ron?" he asked, whispering so he wouldn't wake Hermione. "I heard you shouting."
Ron shook his head, sitting back down amid the blankets in which he'd been keeping watch. "I was just thinking."
A trace of a smile played across Harry's lips. "Right—thinking out loud, because that's always smart when we're on the run." He eased himself to the floor of the tent beside Ron.
"Shouldn't you get some rest, mate? I mean, you nearly died today…" Ron trailed off.
Harry laughed. "In my life, it's considered abnormal not to have a few near-death experiences every day. All things considered, today was actually fairly regular."
Ron rolled his eyes, but couldn't help himself from grinning. "Sure, Harry."
"So, really, what were you thinking about?" asked Harry, his piercing green eyes boring into Ron's blue ones. "You never call out during the night. That's my job."
"Harry, I swear, if you make one more attempt at a joke—"
"Answer the question, Ron."
"All right, all right—I was thinking about the Horcrux. The thing that came out of it, I mean. How—why did it happen to be—what it was?"
"Well, the bit of You-Know-Who's soul in the Horcrux was trying to torture you with your worst fear—which was obviously not being wanted, not being cared about."
"It wasn't just caring," Ron mumbled before he could stop himself.
Harry looked knowingly at him. "Spit it out, Mr. Weasley. You're in love with her, aren't you?"
Ron blushed. "Well…yes. But I can't believe it took me running away from you two like a bloody idiot for me to realize that I couldn't stand it—being away from both of you."
"Glad to know I'm valued, as well," said Harry with a smile.
"I love you, Harry."
Ron reached over and hugged the man who was not only his best friend, but also his brother. Harry returned the gesture, his face buried in Ron's shoulder. After a moment, they broke apart, and Ron was surprised to see that Harry was laughing.
"What's so funny?" he demanded.
"You can say it—it's easy! All you need to do is change the name. She's right inside…"
Ron grinned, shaking his head. "Shut up, Harry."