In the Shadow of the Chosen One
Ron sat in the dingy tent in the middle of yet another forest, listening to 'Potterwatch' the locket lay gently on his chest. He knew that how he felt was only being amplified by the locket, but Ron wanted that feeling, he was fed up with accepting his lot. The youngest of six brothers, and by far the least significant, not to mention Ron had signed up to be in Harry's shadow too. The locket gave him permission to be angry, it made it okay, he wanted to feel that way, and he wanted it to come out. Ron was sick of keeping quiet about his lot, about how everyone prefers Harry, and how he just had to live with that.
He heard the mumbled chatter of Harry and Hermione outside, how they sat there together, whispering. That's what hurt the most because Hermione was the one person that he was supposed to matter too. She was the one person that he couldn't handle preferring Harry over him, and here, in the wilderness, that's all he saw.
"As much as I like your perfume, Hermione, next time just don't wear any," Harry could be heard just outside.
Ron surmised that they thought that they were out of ear-shot, that he couldn't hear them growing closer, that he wouldn't guess what Harry and Hermione wanted, how they wanted each other.
"Hermione," Harry complained, on a separate occasion. "I can't stand it, it sets my teeth on edge!"
"Well, it comforts him," Hermione whispered.
Ron could only assume what that meant, it keeps Ron quiet, it keeps Ron out of trouble, our of their hair! The feelings grew and invaded Ron's every thought. He felt minor relief when he didn't wear the Horcrux, but even then he watched how they sat together, how they made plans. Harry was not shy of pulling Hermione in for a hug. Watching it made Ron's skin crawl like Harry touched something that belonged to him. It wasn't like Ron dared to stand up and tell Hermione what he wanted. Ron knew what would happen, after all, why would Hermione want him when she could have Harry? All this had built up to this one moment, a moment that Ron would forever wish he could take back.
Hermione was trimming Harry's hair, he watched as her fingers entangled into Harry's messy locks. He saw how her fingers carded his hair affectionately, gently snipping the ends, then she leaned in and blew away the stray hairs. Harry's shoulders shivered at her touch, and Ron wondered why it wasn't him. She then settled with her trusty book, and Ron forced himself to focus on the radio, forced himself to concentrate on every name that belonged to someone he didn't know. That's when Hermione and Harry started talking excitedly, something about the Sword of Gryffindor.
"You are brilliant, Hermione," Harry gushed.
Ron sat up, finally paying attention. He watched as Harry grabbed Hermione's hand.
"Actually, I'm highly logical which allows me to look past extraneous detail and perceive clearly that which others overlook," she said smiling at Harry, her hand still in his.
That's when Ron took out his Deluminator, and all the lights in the tent went out. That was when Harry and Hermione noticed him no longer lay on the bed, but stood up and watching them. His face was worn, and there was a frown fixed at his brow.
"The sword was stolen - yea, I'm still here," he said in a worn down, aggravated tone. "But you two carry on, don't let me spoil the fun." Ron then allowed the lights to come back on with a flick of the contraption left to him by Albus. Even Albus gave him the 'booby-gift'.
"What's wrong?" Harry asked, turning to Ron. He practically squared off with him, his voice just letting Ron know exactly where he stood - at least, that is what Ron thought. "If you've got something to say, go on, say it. Spit it out," Harry continued to challenge Ron.
Ron was more than willing to answer it. "Alright, I'll spit it out! But don't expect me to be grateful 'cause there's another damn thing that we've got to find!"
That argument went on from there, Harry challenging about what Ron had signed up for, mocking him. Hermione said very little, Hermione - in Ron's mind - all but stood up for Harry. The argument got more and more heated until Ron had nowhere else to go, nowhere to hit Harry as hard as he hit him by getting so close to Hermione. He even took her, as much as they tried to deny it, Ron thought he knew the truth. So he said it:
"Do you know why I listen to that radio, making sure I don't hear Ginny's name, Mums-"
"You think I'm not listening? You think I don't know how this feels?"
"You don't know how this feels!" Ron yelled in a moment of rage, shoving Hermione away, who was desperately trying to remove the Horcrux.
"Give it to me, you wouldn't be saying any of this if you hadn't been wearing it all day!" she begged. But Ron ignored her and continued his verbal assault.
"Your parents are DEAD!" he continued. "You have no family!" Ron knew that was exactly where to hit him, after all, a family was the one thing that Ron had that Harry didn't. Harry had money, looks, fame, fans, and he even had Hermione. He wouldn't let him stake a claim to his family too.
It worked. Harry rushed straight at Ron grabbing him and knocking him to the ground. Hermione was soon pulling them off each other, stood between them.
"Go then. Go!" Harry shouted.
Ron didn't even hesitate, he removed the Horcrux and his bag, already packed, as though he had been waiting for this exact chance.
"Ron!" Hermione cried, reaching for him, begging him to stay.
"And you? Are you coming?" he asked. Ron decided to find out once and for all, he would make her choose. "Is it me or him?" he asked.
She answered without even opening her mouth. Tears began to well, and she took that unconscious step backwards. Ron could at least see that this was hard for her, that she didn't want to break 'the trio', but that wasn't enough anymore. He looked at Harry, sure that he was smug, knowing Hermione would always choose him. Hermione glanced behind her at Harry, and then back to Ron.
"Fine," he spat. "I get it. Don't think I didn't see you two the other night."
"Ron, it was nothing!" Hermione pleaded, but Ron was already out of the tent and walking away.
Ron had apparated to Shell Cottage, where his brother Bill lived with his wife, Fleur. He had tried to go back, an hour away from the Horcrux cleared his mind, and he knew he wanted to help Harry. Harry was his best friend, despite everything else. Ron sat on the sand dunes, the soft lapping of the waves his only comfort. He hadn't noticed his brother coming up behind him, and he ignored his eldest brother as he sat beside him in the sand. The wind whipped they're identical red locked in the wind, staring into the distance. Bill understood, he knew how it felt, the fear of losing even just one member of their family. It was amazing they had all survived this much of the war.
"Do you want to talk about it, Ron?" he asked.
"I tried to go back, but they were already gone," Ron replied, his voice barely a whisper.
"They had to keep moving, to stay safe," Bill replied, a hand landing firmly on Ron's shoulder. "They will have waited for you as long as they could.
"They left this." Ron held up a scarf. "It's Hermione's, it still smells like her," he whispered. "She wanted me to know, to follow, but I have no idea where they are."
"Are you going to tell me what happened? Why did you even leave in the first place?"
"I don't know if you know this, but I - I like Hermione, but like more than the way I like Harry, if you know what I mean?"
"We all know Ron, the entire world is very aware of your feelings for Hermione, all except Hermione of course," Bill smiled.
"So Harry knows?" Ron asked annoyed.
"Yes, Harry, who is a little bit head over heels for our sister Ginny? That one? Yea, he knows," Bill laughed mockingly. "I think he's a little insecure about it myself."
"Why would he be insecure over that, Hermione clearly prefers him, he clearly wants Hermione. Sounds like a done bloody deal if you ask me."
"Harry looks at Hermione in the same way you look at Ginny," Bill stated. "Hermione looks at him just the same way Ginny looks at any one of us, well the ones she has respect for." He smiled. "Harry is aware of how Hermione feels about you, and I think he worries that when you two eventually figure things out, he will lose the two best friends he has. The only family he has."
Ron sat listening to Bill, hearing that maybe Hermione did have feelings for him. But why didn't she come with him then? A question he soon asked Bill. His oldest brother, the wisest brother, and above all the kindest.
"Because she can't do what she wants, she has to help Harry defeat You Know Who. I don't know why you're so insecure about Harry, he's just as jealous of you, and what you have is far more valuable than what he has."
"Bill, I'm not just insecure about Harry! I'm the youngest of six brothers, anything I could ever accomplish, you guys already did it. There is nothing even remotely great about me, I don't stand out, I even look like the rest of you!"
"You have done far more than we ever did, in Hogwarts alone! You think Harry could have saved the Philosophers Stone without you?"
"Oh yeah, I'm good at chess!" Ron rolled his eyes.
"The way I heard it, you literally sacrificed yourself to win the game! You did that at eleven, knowing that you would be thrown off the board by a huge stone chess piece!" Bill continued. "And then in your second year you and Harry - without Hermione, I might add - found a long lost hidden chamber in Hogwarts, saved our sister, and did battle with a giant herd of Acromantulas. Considering you have a fear of spiders that is pretty amazing!"
"Yea, but Harry is the one-"
"And then there is the third year, you protected your best friend from a mass murderer!"
"But Sirius wasn't really a mass murderer though, was he?" Ron replied.
"No, but you thought he was, and you bravely protected your friend - that is amazing Ron," Bill replied. "You had moments of ass-hattery in the fourth year, I will give you that, but Harry would never have survived that without you. Do we need to discuss you taking on Death Eaters at the Ministry of Magic? Taking on Umbridge? I mean, managing to date Lavender Brown for so long warrants an Order of Merlin, surely." Bill smiled. "You are an amazing wizard Ron, your family is very proud of you. You just need to be proud of yourself!"
Bill walked away from the beach, leaving Ron to his thoughts. It wasn't long before he picked up his still packed bag and apparated. It didn't matter how long, he would find Harry and Hermione, and he would make things right.