Love what is mortal; hold it against your bones knowing your own life depends on it; and, when the time comes to let it go, let it go.
Harry stared out into the night sky, wishing he was inside the warm tent with his friends. Still, he knew he didn't belong in there.
He fiddled with the chain of the locket. It was a nuisance. He often woke in the middle of the night when he was wearing it, the chain wrapped tightly around his throat and the memory of a nightmare floating through his mind. He wanted to pull it off, throw it away, and be rid of it, but he knew he couldn't do that.
He couldn't even pass it on yet. He had taken it from Ron early, promising to wear it for the next eighteen hours, to give him and Hermione a break. They had been fighting all week, and Harry was tired of it. As soon as the locket left Ron's throat, he had visibly relaxed, becoming much happier. He had scooted closer to Hermione by the fire, leaving Harry alone on the other side as he fastened the locket around his neck.
Harry sighed and stretched out on the cold ground, cushioning his head with his arms. There in the forest, it was hard to see the stars through the trees, but those he could see glittered brightly. Hermione giggled inside of the tent, and Harry tried not to listen. She and Ron were his best mates—they meant the world to him. If they chose to avoid thoughts of the fighting and running and hiding with each other, why should he stop them? The thought of them entangled within a pile of blankets, Ron's freckled back rising out of them as he moved to kiss Hermione's shoulder, sent a flash of pain through Harry's heart.
He had walked in on them on accident. He had been tired and irritated, wearing the locket then as he did now. He thought he heard sounds from within the tent, so he opened the flap, hoping someone was awake and willing to talk to him. They were awake at the time, but Harry didn't think they were interested in talking. He watched just long enough to catch a glimpse of Ron's smile and hear Hermione utter a deep moan, and then backed out of the tent.
Ron's groan pierced the night air and punctured Harry's heart. He leapt up from his position on the ground and started for the nearby trees. He would stay close enough to see them, but he knew he couldn't handle hearing the noises from inside of the tent. Those few seconds when he had seen them entwined together had destroyed him. Harry had always believed that you never knew what you wanted until you lost it, and this just proved it. Seeing them had shown him the truth.
The only thing was, Harry was not exactly sure what hurt worse—that Hermione wanted Ron or that Ron wanted Hermione. He did not want either of them to want the other; he wanted both of them to himself. When Ron and Hermione fought, he had always been the go-between. He sat between them in the Great Hall at dinner, and one of them was always his partner during class. He had never felt as alone as he had when he saw them together.
It was stupid, but Harry had thought they would be together forever, all three of them. Even when Ron was dating Lavender, Harry had Hermione, and when Hermione was with Krum, he had Ron. Harry had dated Cho and Ginny, of course, but even then, he still had the both of them there to rely on. Now they had each other, and Harry had no one.
Harry leaned back against a tree at the edge of the small clearing. An owl hooted in the distance, and he nervously tugged on the locket. Merlin, he hated that thing. He should have been happy for his friends, but all he wanted to do was throttle the both of them. It didn't make sense! He had no claim to either of them. Still, it felt like they were his, and he wanted them, both of them, for himself.
Closing his eyes, Harry slumped down to the ground and rested his head on the trunk of the tree. He needed to stop thinking, stop feeling, and just forget about it. They had each other, and they were still Harry's friends. Nothing was different, not really.
It wasn't until Harry woke up to Hermione shaking him that he realized he had fallen asleep.
"Whu—What?" he blinked up at her, noticing that her hair looked beautiful in the moonlight.
She smiled gently, and stood, tugging her Transfigured dressing gown closer to her body. He could still make out the pattern of one of their sheets on the fabric. "You were crying again, Harry. Ron and I heard you from all the way in the tent."
Harry blushed and looked away. His sobs must have interrupted their tryst. How embarrassing.
"I'm fine now. You go back to... sleep. I can keep watch now that I've slept for a bit." Harry smiled at her, but he didn't meet her eyes.
Hermione huffed. "You are not fine!" She reached out a hand, which Harry took. "You need to get some proper sleep." She pulled him upright and, once he was steady on his feet, dropped his hand. "Give me the locket."
Harry shook his head. "No, you and Ron deserve a break. This is something I'm supposed to do, not you guys." Dumbledore had given Harry the mission, and Harry should be able to handle it on his own.
Hermione stepped forward and wrapped her arms around Harry's neck, startling him. This close, he could see the moonlight reflecting in her eyes. He trembled slightly when her fingers brushed against the hair on the back of his neck.
"There!" said Hermione triumphantly as she pulled away. "I'll take care of the locket then."
Harry's hand rose to his chest and groped for the locket. She had taken it, and Harry felt the loss keenly—and happily. Still, he tried to take it back.
"Hermione, give it to me," Harry said. She shook her head. "Hermione!"
"Are you two really fighting over that locket? Honestly, why anyone would want to wear it is beyond me," Ron called from in the tent. "Both of you get over here, and we'll settle this fairly."
Hermione looked at Ron and then at Harry and finally shrugged. "Fine by me."
Harry nodded and followed her back to the tent. "How should we decide?" he asked Ron.
Ron held out his hand. "Give me the locket." Hermione passed it over silently. "All right then. This is how we'll decide." He turned away, stomped over to a pile of dirty clothes, and shoved the locket underneath it. "No one will wear it."
Harry rolled his eyes. "We can't do that. We need to protect it."
"We need a break!" said Ron. "We are all going crazy. We can't get along." He abandoned the clothing pile and plopped down on his bed. "I hate this."
Hermione sighed and sat down next to Ron, leaving Harry standing alone near the tent flap. "Fine. Only for tonight though. We really need to keep it on us, just in case."
Harry watched Hermione's arm reach around Ron's waist, and he turned to go. "I'll go back on watch then," he called, not wanting to watch them snuggle. He felt much better without the weight of the locket around his neck, but his mood hadn't lightened much.
"Harry," Hermione said. "Come back." Harry looked back at them. Hermione was watching him sadly, but Ron was smiling.
"Come on, mate. We're taking a break from the locket; I think we need a break from guarding too." Ron stood and walked to him, wrapping an arm around Harry's shoulders when he reached him. "You know you need a break, right?" He looked down at Harry and frowned when Harry didn't respond.
Harry was far too busy revelling in the feel of Ron's arm against the back of his neck to answer. His eyes drifted almost shut and he leaned closer to Ron. When he was close enough to smell his scent—masculine, musky, and somewhat woodsy—he realised what he was doing and moved away. He turned to Hermione in time to see a look of understanding cross her face, and he blanched.
"I'm fine!" he said, not sure whether he was speaking to Ron, Hermione, or himself. "I'm fine," he repeated.
Hermione smiled. "It's okay, Harry." She cast a speculative gaze at Ron. "I think... you two have something you should talk about. I'll keep watch."
Harry stepped away from Ron but grasped Hermione's arm before she could move. "It's not... it's not like that," he said quietly. "You two are meant to be. I'm just... the extra." Harry shivered as he said the words. Being the extra was something he had feared for a long time, since Cedric's death. It was what he was though, and he didn't see the point in denying it, no matter how much it hurt.
Hermione tugged her arm free and then pulled Harry into a hug. "You aren't the extra. You're more important than either of us."
Harry wondered if that wasn't really just another way of saying he was different from them. Being above everyone else meant he wasn't a part of them, after all.
Ron put a hand on his shoulder, and Harry tried to pull away from Hermione. "I'm sor—sorry," Harry stuttered. He caught Ron's eye and then looked away. "I know you two are... together, and it's not... it's not like that."
Ron's grip tightened and then he tugged Harry backward into his arms. "What if we wanted it to be like that?" Ron murmured in Harry's ear.
"What?" Harry asked. He tilted his head back until he could see Ron's face. Ron was grinning. He glanced at Hermione, and she was smiling softly. He felt wonderful wrapped up in his friends' affection, but he was horribly confused.
"We talked about this, about us," said Hermione. "We both... love you, you know."
Harry was staring at Hermione when he felt Ron press a kiss on the top of his head. Heart fluttering as he realized what they were saying, Harry looked up, and Ron frowned slightly.
"We both want you," Ron said, "but if you... I don't know if you even like guys. So, if you want, I'll back off, and you and Hermione can—"
Harry cut him off with a kiss. Ron groaned and hugged Harry tighter, and Hermione giggled at them.
When they pulled apart, Hermione was smiling at them. "I'll let you two have some privacy then."
Harry asked, "Why are you okay with this?" If he could have Ron or Hermione for his own, he'd never let them go.
Hermione shrugged nonchalantly, but Harry could see her smile trembling slightly. "We figured that we would let you decide. You picked Ron," she said. "But, it's okay! I'm fine."
"No!" Harry barked. Hermione started, and Ron rubbed an arm. "I don't want to split you up, not for just this... whatever we are going to do." He backed away from Ron and sat down on a bed. "The two of you are a couple. And," he blushed and looked away from them, "I don't want to pick between you. I want both of you."
"Are you sure?" Ron asked.
Harry nodded, his glasses slipping down his nose a bit and obscuring his vision. "I'm sure." He shoved his glasses back up, stood, and walked to the tent flap, passing Hermione. "So let me go back to guarding, and you can spend some time together." He had known it was too good to be true. He couldn't have them both, and he wouldn't hurt them by breaking them apart.
Ron laughed. "You honestly think we are going to let you go now?"
Hermione chimed in, "That was what we were really hoping for, that we would all be able to be together."
Hermione grabbed Harry's hand and pulled it until he fell against her. Ron came up behind him and wrapped his arms around Harry and Hermione. Harry wasn't quite sure what this meant, or rather, he had an idea, but he didn't think it was possible.
"Both of you?" Harry asked.
Ron nodded, his chin bumping lightly on Harry's head, and Hermione said, "Both of us."
Harry buried his head in Hermione's shoulder and wrapped his arms around her so he could grasp Ron's hands. "At... at the same time?" he asked bashfully.
"Merlin, yes," Ron said and tightened his hold.
Hermione pulled away. Was she... had Harry disgusted her? He was about to explain that he didn't need that when she smiled and undid the belt on her dressing gown. It drooped open and then slid down her shoulders, revealing a softly curved pair of breasts.
Ron groaned in Harry's ear, and the masculine sound sent shivers down his spine. "She's gorgeous, right Harry?" Ron asked loudly enough for Hermione to hear.
Harry found that his throat was too dry to respond with words, so he nodded. Hermione giggled, a girlish sound that was as enticing as Ron's groan had been. The dressing gown fell to the floor, and Harry knew he was gaping at her.
His attention was rapidly pulled away from Hermione when he felt hands at his waist. Ron tugged Harry's shirt over his head and then pulled off his own. He pressed a quick kiss on Harry's lips and then moved back a step to tug down his trousers. He was wearing nothing underneath them.
Harry's mouth was dry and it felt as though all of the blood had left his head. He was dizzy, and a little lost, and he was extremely grateful when Ron took the lead. He pulled Harry over to a bed, and Harry sat on it. Then Ron tugged off his shoes and socks. Hermione sat next to Harry on the bed and kissed him, hard, as she unbuttoned his jeans. Ron pulled them down, along with Harry's pants, and then crawled up on the bed too.
Harry found himself in the middle of his two best friends, and he realized he had never been happier. No matter what happened later with the Horcruxes, Death Eaters, and Voldemort, he would always have this moment.
His thoughts trailed off as his two best friends kissed each other and then took turns kissing him. He was drowning in a sea of emotion, and he hoped he would never reach dry land.
Ron was wearing the locket three nights later when everything fell apart. They had just overheard Dean Thomas, Ted Tonks, and a pair of goblins discussing the war, and Harry and Hermione had discovered something new, something that could help their search for the Horcruxes. They were happy that they had uncovered some of the secrets behind what had happened to Gryffindor's sword, when Harry asked Ron if he had any input about what he thought might have been done with the sword.
Ron had glared at him and said angrily, "Oh, remembered me, have you?"
Harry and Hermione spluttered, not understanding what he meant. They hadn't forgotten him; he simply hadn't chimed into the conversation.
Ron had been livid, and it took time and more than a few heated words for the true reason to come out.
"I get it. You choose him," Ron said almost solemnly.
Hermione was trying to reach Ron, to explain to him why she wanted to help Harry with the Horcrux hunt even though it was so hard, when Harry realized what Ron had meant.
Ron stormed off, and Hermione dropped the Shield Charm she had put up to protect herself and Harry from Ron's temper. She raced after him, but Harry simply stood in place, knowing what he had done.
He had spent three nights in happiness. After that first night, the three of them had again put on the locket and taken up guard duty, but it hadn't seemed as difficult to go out into the wet night or to wear the Horcrux. Harry hadn't minded it because he knew that when his watch was over, he would be able to crawl into bed with either Hermione or Ron while one of them took over the watch. The warmth of someone else's skin on his was more comforting than anything he had ever felt.
He had destroyed everything though. Hermione and Ron had just split up, right in front of his eyes, because he had somehow hurt Ron. He didn't know what had made Ron think that Hermione liked him more, had chosen him, but Harry was afraid that he had just ruined their friendship forever.
Hermione came back into the tent, wet and crying, and told him Ron had Disapparated. Harry stooped to pick up the locket and fastened it around his neck. It felt heavier than ever before. Hermione collapsed into a bed, sobbing harshly, and Harry draped Ron's blankets over her. Then he climbed into his own bed and swore he would do whatever it took to regain Ron's friendship and to get Hermione and Ron back together again.
Ron saved Harry's life the night he came back, pulling him from the frozen pond and breaking the locket chain that tried to strangle him after he grasped the sword of Gryffindor.
Harry was grateful, yes, but confused. "How come you're here?" he finally asked.
Ron had looked away, glancing off into the forest. "Well, I've—you know—I've come back. If—you know. You still want me."
Harry wanted Ron. He wanted him badly. He wanted to kiss Ron, to hit Ron, to show Ron how angry he was that he left and how glad Harry was that he came back.
Harry didn't say anything though. He had given Ron up, as well as Hermione. The two of them were obviously meant to be, and Harry was just a friend. He hadn't touched Hermione since Ron left, and he would never touch either of them again.
Ron broke the silence by mentioning the sword. Harry looked around for the person who had cast the doe and led him to the sword, running into the part of the forest where Ron said he had seen someone. Nothing came of it though, and the two of them realized what having the sword meant.
Harry pushed Ron to break the locket after he opened it, and Ron refused.
"I can't handle it!" he cried. "I'm not making excuses, Harry, for what I was like, but it affects me worse than it affected you and Hermione, it made me think stuff—stuff that I was thinking anyway, but it made everything worse, I can't explain it, and then I'd take it off and I'd get my head on straight again, and then I'd have to put the effing thing back on—I can't do it, Harry!"
Harry shook his head. "You can do it; you can! You've just got the sword, I know it's supposed to be you who uses it. Please, just get rid of it, Ron."
Ron swallowed hard. "Tell me when," he finally croaked.
"On three," Harry said. "One... two... three... open."
The locket clicked open.
"Stab," said Harry, as he held the locket open and steady on a flat rock.
Ron raised the sword and was about to bring it down on the locket when a voice hissed out of the Horcrux. Harry listened with horror as the locket whispered to Ron.
When it said, "...least loved now, by the girl who prefers the other boy, and the boy who prefers the girl..." Harry gasped.
"Ron, stab it now!" he cried. However, Ron hesitated and the locket continued to speak, following the same vein.
Then the locket bubbled, and the bubbles grew into distorted heads. The heads were Harry and Hermione and they grew from the locket, developing bodies and arms and legs. They wrapped themselves around each other, embracing in front of them. They spoke, taunting Ron.
"It was never you, you were only a means to an end," the locket-Hermione said.
The locket-Harry laughed viciously, "You were useful, but now that I have Hermione, I have no need for you anymore. She's smarter than you."
"He's stronger than you," locket-Hermione murmured throatily.
"You are nothing compared to either of us." Locket-Harry smirked at Ron, and then leaned in towards locket-Hermione. Their lips met.
Ron's face was filled with anguish. The sword was trembling in his grip.
Harry shook his head. This wasn't the truth; it wasn't how he felt at all. He loved Hermione and Ron equally. Ron was strong and smart and courageous. Harry had missed him every day he was gone.
"Do it, Ron!" Harry cried. Ron looked at him, the red of the locket reflected eerily in his eyes. "Ron—?"
The sword fell, and the locket shattered beneath it. Locket-Harry and locket-Hermione melted away, and when Harry caught Ron's eyes again, they were their normal blue.
Ron dropped the sword and sank to his knees. Harry picked up the pieces of the locket and shoved them in his pocket, and then knelt next to Ron, placing a hand on his shoulder.
"After you left, she cried for a week. Probably longer, only she didn't want me to see. There were loads of nights where we never even spoke to each other. With you gone..." Harry paused and considered his next words. "I love you both, but... like siblings, almost. The two of you belong together. I think Hermione feels the same way. We haven't... spent the night together since you left. She's really, really missed you."
Ron shrugged and looked away. He apologized for leaving, but he didn't talk about Harry or Hermione or what had happened between them. They made their way back to the tent, where Hermione greeted Ron with punches, and Harry knew everything was back to normal, the way it had been in the past.
Harry wasn't sure why this thought depressed him so much.