Harry watched, transfixed for a moment, as dark smoky shapes swirled out of the Horcrux locket, almost like they were chasing Ron. He saw himself and Hermione appear, and he tried not to hear all the words they said. They were cruel, but some part of him relished in the look of pain on Ron's face. Some part of Harry felt like Ron deserved some form of punishment, and he was only grateful it didn't have to be his own words piercing Ron's heart.
The internal glee, however wrong Harry knew it was, was cut short when the Horcrux Harry and Hermione started snogging. That tore his heart. He knew it wasn't real. Hermione didn't feel that way about him. She never appeared to. He stopped looking and turned to Ron, shouting for him to kill the damned Horcrux.
After a long internal battle, Ron finally brought the Sword of Godric Gryffindor down on the cursed locket. He stood over it, seething, a look of utter rage coloring his face.
It was nearly an hour later that they had found their way back to Harry and Hermione's campsite, and Ron had told them how he had found his way back to them.
Harry kept his face still as stone, but he felt the unspoken rejection in the smile Hermione had on her face.
Harry had to keep that same straight face on while Ron told him how he felt about Hermione, even while he gave Ron the sarcastic advice to keep telling Hermione about the damned 'ball of light' touching his chest.
The Trio ate dinner together for the first time in a long while, which included Ron's recovery from the Splinching incident.
Right after Harry finished eating, he put his dishes away – charmed spotless. "I'll take the first watch. You two can continue catching up," he offered.
Hermione pulled her wand from her pocket and handed it to Harry.
"I already gave him a new one," Ron replied proudly.
Hermione smiled slightly but turned to Harry. "It'll be stronger than the one he took off the Snatchers. You've already used it before." There was little material on wandlore that she could find, but she had read that wands grew with their handlers in experience. Hers would have had more time with Harry.
Harry smiled. "Thanks," he said, taking the wand. A familiar sensation filled him as his fingers closed around the wand. It was a diluted version of the way he felt when he received his own holly wand the first time. He turned around and exited the tent.
Harry sat on a rock near the wards he had set up with Hermione's wand just that morning. He sighed heavily. He turned over his thoughts about the whereabouts of the rest of the Horcruxes, but his mind was constantly redirecting towards the tent. He had a sick urge to cast the Twins' Extendable Ears Charm and listen to what they were talking about. As their primary investor, they had shared some of their more ingenious inventions and secrets with him in confidence. They came in handy now and then, but now was not the time to use that spell. Harry would not torture himself like that.
It was about two hours before the lights went off in the tent, plunging Harry into complete darkness that was disturbed only by the moon peeking through the trees. It was a full moon tonight, and Harry could only wonder how Remus and Tonks were doing on a night like this at a time of war such as this as well.
There was a rustle behind him, and Harry knew one of the other two had come out to see him.
"Harry?" Hermione's voice came across the breeze.
Harry turned towards her. "Yes, Hermione?"
"Are you alright?"
"You're lying," she said flatly.
Harry sighed but shook his head. He turned back to the forest, his eyes peeled.
"Tell me," Hermione pleaded, sitting down in front of him, right at the edge of the wards.
Harry stood and pulled Hermione further into their protected bubble. "Hermione," he hissed.
"Tell me, Harry," she begged.
"Fine, you want to know what bothers me? Muffliato. What bothers me is that Ron, who claims to be my best friend, walked out on us. What bothers me is that he waltzes back in and thinks that saving my life in that frozen lake somehow makes us square. What bothers me is that he destroyed that Horcrux out of rage for me than Tom," Harry ranted in a low voice, despite the Muffling Charm he had just cast.
"What do you mean he destroyed the locket out of rage for you?" Hermione asked.
"When the locket opened, it attacked Ron. It was Tom's voice, telling him he'd seen his heart, that it was his. It was taunting him, telling him his mum would have preferred me for a son, and…" he trailed off.
"And what, Harry?"
"And that he was 'least loved by the girl that preferred his friend'," Harry said, looking her in the eye. He didn't dare tell her more of what the locket had shown. It would be dangerous for him. "I don't know how Ron truly feels. I don't know if the locket was telling the truth or just egging him on, but Hermione, you need to know something. You need to hear it, at least this once," he whispered.
"What is it, Harry?" Hermione asked, her voice nothing but a whisper. Her heart was beating wildly in her chest at his proximity, at the intensity in his stare.
Harry brought his hand up to her cheek in a light caress. "I love you, Hermione, so much more than he thinks does, but the choice is yours to make." He pressed his lips against her in a soft kiss, not asking for her to kiss him back, but just bestowing his affection. He pulled away.
"H-Harry," Hermione gasped, lost. She had felt the kiss, the heartbreak in it, and she was at a loss to stop Harry from withdrawing.
Harry shook his head. "It's because I love you that I won't ask you to choose me when it's him you want. I'm sorry, I wish you didn't have to forget this," he said before locking gazes with her. "But you do," he finished. "Alieno Is," he spoke the incantation while gripping Hermione's vine wood wand.
Hermione's eyes went blank.
"You won't remember what I've said unless you truly choose me. You will remember only that we were discussing Ron's return, that we're happy he's back on this adventure, that we're going to defeat Tom once and for all together. You won't remember what I said about the Horcrux's apparition." He sighed, watching Hermione's blank eyes, her mind accepting his instructions as if Hermione was hypnotized. "Pro Iam." The final word of the incantation snapped Hermione's consciousness back into motion.
She smiled at Harry, her mind already filling in the blanks that he had ordered it to.