The Potion of Internal Vision, or PIV, as they've come to call it, only has three ingredients.
1. A cupped palmful of the true blood of an elder tree.
2. The imprint of a perfect Rowan berry pentagram on its own leaf.
3. A small symbol wand made of blackthorn, the core of it a sloe.
Though the list is small, it's not exactly straight forward. It's why Harry, and Hermione agreeing easily, picked it.
The next morning when she woke up, he was sitting in the living room, looking over it again. He tapped the page twice with his finger, nodding his head as he spoke. "It sounds right. And I like that it's not exact. What we're doing isn't exact either. So it seems to fit."
She agreed, she had even thought so when she bookmarked it, her eyes lingering on the page. But after they finished breakfast, Hermione excused herself to the library, saying that she wanted to make sure it's the best choice by doing a thorough search.
It is the best choice, she doesn't need to search further. Usually she would look anyway, just to make sure, but everything about the potion rings true. She simply doesn't need to.
Instead, she's sitting crossed legged in an armchair, staring at the same three paragraphs over and over again, not taking in anything.
Why would he do that?
He already told you.
Okay. Fine. I know him well enough to know that he isn't messing around with me, or making some kind of joke. So he means it. Or thinks he does. Let's put that aside.
You spent the whole last year, even more, here and there, having a crush on your other best friend. What does that make you then, if you start going around, sleeping in the same bed with and kissing Harry? It makes you exactly what you were afraid of becoming in third year, when your hormones seemed to be kicking in so much more strongly than theirs. It makes you a floozy who will date any guy that so much as shows even mild interest in your direction.
Oh? Is that what this fear is? It doesn't have anything to do with it being Harry? Harry who walked bravely off to protect the stone? Harry who killed a basilisk? Or even more, Harry, who sits with you as you cry and make birds? That's the one, hm, that's really striking fear in you, isn't it? That Harry.
Hermione shifts in her seat, determined to read. Through sheer will power alone, she takes in a page, flips to the next.
Inevitably she drifts back. What is this voice even coming from? Why is this even happening?
She used to be a master over that voice, the one that whispers things in her ears that she didn't like, Do you really like Ron, or do you just think that he likes you? Or, Do you really hate the book, or is it that Harry's considered the better potion's student now?
But it's like, ever since that night, when she stared at the window, and let that truth sink into her mind, she can't help but feel that voice has gained prominence, has slowly taken power in her.
Maybe it's just growing up.
She closes the book with a sigh. For once, as she stands, as she walks towards the door, glides down the stairs, rounds the corner, she has no plan. There are no well rehearsed speeches, she hasn't made up her mind, doesn't understand her own heart. She walks like a fresh wound, oozing and painful, and faces Harry.
He's staring with a frown at the locket. He turns to look at her, his eyebrows raising, and she bursts into tears.
At once he's in front of her, she can only see his shoes, they blur, widen into a white shapeless blob, disappear, and reappear normal as the tears slowly drop her eyes onto the very shoes she's looking at.
His hands are on her shoulders. She's mortified. She's never acting out on her feelings again, it's going to be only pre-planned speeches, careful consideration, and hiding her feelings from here on out, forever.
"Hermione-" He sounds very uncertain, like it's third year, and Ron won't look at her without scowling, and he doesn't know what to even say to her.
"I'm really sorry. I'm - I do mean what I said. I- but, I, I'm. The timing isn't good. And I've already dragged you into this whole mess, so much more than I ever - I'm sorry I've put more pressure on you, I can just deal with it, you don't have to reject me or anything, just - just pretend that - that nothing ever happened-"
Her head snaps up, and now it's his face that blurs and widens and clears. Regardless, his feelings are plain as day to see, the familiar guilt prematurely lining his face once again, the sacrificial hunch of his shoulders. She grabs the front of his t-shirt, shakes him just a little. She's never felt so outward in her life, never considered herself deceptive, but now feels like she has been, because nothing compares to how it feels now, like her emotions are her stomach, her intestines, all dangling in front of her, gross and impossible to stuff back, some grievous injury she didn't even know she had.
"How many times have I told you? Haven't we had this conversation before? Not everything is about you."
His arms drop, his jaw clenches, but he just stares at her in silence.
It's like vomiting, she can't seem to stop. "I-my feelings, I- I'm a mess. I didn't know. I never took it- I've never taken romance seriously. I'm a mess. A mess. You've done nothing wrong. I've-" Her breath shudders out.
A strange series of images flashes through her mind. She's eight and her elderly great aunt touches her hair, tuts, and in a bad whisper, leans over to an older cousin, "At least she seems to be a clever child."
The girls chasing her with a brush, "C'mon Herms, just let us give it go, then, C'mon. Maybe if we can tame it, you'll even look cute."
Mean cackles follow her like a cresting wave, another girl, breathless, adds. "Not too likely, but at least let us try."
Ron saying, "No wonder no one can stand her." Another time, older, his face desperate, "Oh, hey, you're a girl."
Pansy Parkinson, pulling at the sleeve of her favourite cardigan as she walks past, her face falling into an easy sneer, "Real cute, Granger." The other girls with Pansy laugh about grandmother's clothing as they walk ahead of her.
Snape's eyes sparkling as he watches her teeth grow. "I see no difference."
Hermione shakes her head, trying to gather something, anything to say, Harry's face a mix of hurt and confusion.
"You-You're the bravest person I know. The best. I just can't believe- can't believe-"
His eyebrows draw together. "Can't believe?"
"Can't believe that you'd like me." The words come out a horrible wobble, she feels like a five year old, so young, a child, saying silly, stupid things. She tries to latch onto any train of thought that makes sense.
"I-I mean to say, that - that I've just never gotten any indication from you before that you've had any romantic inclinations for me." Her tone shifts, she now sounds overly proper. Apparently she's making another grab for Queen Hermione the Correct, but it sounds more like she's reading out a teary school assignment.
Harry's frowning at her. There's something in his eyes, the way he looks with he's zeroing in on something, a puzzle he's already figured out, but only needs confirmation on. For the first time in their friendship, she's rather displeased that he's clever.
He crosses his arm over his chest. "I can understand being surprised, very surprised. But that's not what you said, you said that you can't believe that I would. I don't understand that. What do you mean?"
She shoves her nose into the air, crosses her arms over her stomach, in her throat she's preparing her most condescending tone. But even this won't cover all her guts dangling there, fresh and exposed, and no matter how tightly she crosses her arms, she knows that she won't be able to stuff them back in.
But more than anything, Harry's steady gaze, the way his lips pull downward, like he's already bracing for a lot of nonsense, makes her pause. Her breath catches in her throat, she lowers her head, her shoulders dropping from their former feigned righteousness. She puts one hand on her own cheek. "I'm a mess."
His expression softens. "I don't know what that means."
She takes a deep shaky breath and looks more up at him, the brightness of the green behind his glasses, the darkness of his hair, but more than anything, there's always something about him, the way he holds himself, the way that his mouth makes a firm line in determination when something hard needs to be done, the way that his eyes carry his intelligence, all the dots coming together for him before they do anyone else, all these things have, and always have, even when he was smaller than her, made him more attractive in her eyes than she's ever really cared to examine, in light of her own unexamined evaluation of complete and total unattractiveness.
More tears slowly leak from her eyes.
"It means." She tries to swallow down her thick voice. "That I have some things I need to work through, before I can really talk about us being anything more than friends. Not - not," Here, she looks directly into his eyes, because it's important that he understands. "Because you've done something wrong, or something unwelcome. Not at all. I just."
"Am a mess?" Harry says softly, the smallest of smiles in the corner of his mouth.
"Yes, exactly." She smiles wide at him, only a little shaky.
He nods. "Okay. I still, I mean, I don't really understand. But. I certainly can give you more time to think about it. And whenever you're ready, I'd like to better understand what you mean."
She gives another watery smile.
"Can I hug you?" He cringes as he says it, but it only makes her smile more solid.
She steps forward, and his arms are around her, and her guts still feel ugly and exposed in front of her, but she can't help, despite everything, feel comforted as her cheek rests against his shoulder.
The fire turns green, and all at once, with a grace he's never shown before when using Floo, Ron is there in his dress robes.
He glances between them, the intensity of their hug, Hermione's tear stained face, her cheek resting on his shoulder. His pale face reddens around the edges, and he gapes at them as they step apart.
Harry's staring at him with his mouth in that determined line she so recently allowed herself to think on.
Ron stares back, and then, with a shake of his head, his voice quiet, says, "Scrimgeour is dead. Kingsley's told us. Death Eater's crashed the wedding."
Hermione gasps and Harry grabs his shoulder. "Is everyone okay?"
Ron nods, sighs, won't quite look at them. "The wedding itself went well. It was during the reception. Kingsley sent a patronus telling us the ministry has fallen, the Scrimgeour is dead, and that they are coming. That gave us enough time to get almost everyone out. There were only a few anyway, and Lupin and Tonks and everyone were able to keep them off. They were probably looking for you, anyway, because once they got a look, they just kind of left."
Ron pushes his hands into his pockets. "It's good you both didn't come."
Harry and Hermione stare at him in silence for a second, not understanding his tone. He shrugs, looks off to the side. "Things are going to be rough from here on out. Rougher."
"I'm glad everyone is okay." Harry's voice is sincere, but there is confusion there that she thinks might be on her face as well. Ron looks quite dour.
"I should be off then. My family will need me."
Harry's mouth falls open. Hermione nearly shouts, reaching out with two hands. "Ron! You can't. You absolutely can't."
Harry glances at her, frowns at her hands on Ron's arm. Ron notices Harry's frown and his expression worsens.
She doesn't have time for all of this. "If you go back, it will be incredibly difficult for you to come here again. You have the ghoul and everything set up, Ron, you know your family will be watched. You won't be able to contact us easily at all."
Ron pulls his arm out of Hermione's grasp. He glances from the books on the table to Harry's unchanging expression. "Well, what have you got?"
"What?" Hermione doesn't really understand what's happening right now, or why Harry and Ron are staring at each other like that.
"You've come up with some sort of plan, haven't you?"
Hermione tilts her head. "Are you staying?"
But Ron just takes another step back and looks at Harry instead. "Have you?"
Harry nods. "We've found a potion that might help me discover where we are connected, you know, on the inside."
Ron nods, his expression changing into some sort of terrible sadness, though something bitter still lingers. "You have a plan, you even have a horcrux. I can be a help to my family, but I know-" Here he swallows, starts up again with a brittle sort of voice. "I know here I'll just be in the way."
Harry looks furious. "You arse."
Ron grimaces at him, pulls a small package out of his pocket and places it on the table, then steps back into the fire. He doesn't even look at Hermione before spinning away in the flames.
Hermione stares at the flames, unmoving, as they shift back to the usual reds, oranges, and yellows.
"I don't understand. Why would he do that?" She can't seem to make any kind of logic reconcile reality with what just happened.
Harry makes a low, angry sort of sound. He starts pacing around the living room. "Because he's an arse. A stupid child. He's jealous again. Even now he's jealous, even when the world's ending and his own family was attacked. How-" But the injustice of it seems to be too much for him, and he falls silent.
"What-What on earth would he be jealous of in that conversation?" She knows. But it's too- too-
Harry turns to look at her with raised eyebrows and she can feel her cheeks reddening. She sits down, puts a pillow in her lap. She knows, but doesn't understand, really, how things came to be like this. "He didn't even go with me to the Slugclub party though. He just got with Lavender, why be jealous now?"
Harry looks uncomfortable, keeps opening and closing his mouth. He glances down at the package Ron left and opens it.
It's a box with a slightly battered gold watch in it. Harry reads the note that comes with it, and his face sort of crumbles. He places it back on the table and leaves the room, and she can hear the sound of his footsteps thumping up the stairs.
She leans forward, takes the note out.
We were sorry not to see you this summer at all, but still want to wish you a happy birthday, and such an important one, too! We hope you enjoy your watch and apologize for the dent in the back. My brother, Fabien, who used to own it, wasn't very careful with his possessions.
We hope to see you soon.
The Weasley Family
Hermione slumps back against the sofa with a sigh, her emotions all wrung out. "Oh Ron, you idiot."
The next day finds them standing in a field, the sun making the grass almost glow a green around them. The tree is not large and is low to the ground, the branches twisted, the leaves are bright, though darkening more, the summer sun beating out the fresh spring greenness. They've gone further north, to where the Elderberries have already started to grow, though they are still mostly red, a few have ripened into their non-poisonous shades of black.
Hermione has brought a fresh sealed container, meant to keep the berries from rotting as long as magically possible.
They had spent the rest of the day yesterday preparing for today, trying to gather the ingredients for the potions. They spent it mostly in awkward silence, the air thick with unspoken words, their posture tense with uncertainty on what they need to say, what they even think.
Today they still stand in silence, though less awkward and more tired than the one before. Hermione starts filling up half of the container, looking for the deepest berries, but taking some red ones, too, just in case. Harry stands staring at the tree. After a few minutes Hermione starts to feel a little irritated. "You could help, you know?"
He starts, gives her a small grin, and moves forward to pick them too. "Sorry. I just, I don't know. It seems a bit too easy, the true blood being the berries."
Hermione frowns down at her container. "What else would it be?"
He shrugs, and helps.
They find a Rowan tree, similar in shape, but somehow less twisted than the elder. They find berries with very neat pentagrams, but none with imprints from the berry on its own leaf, and definitely not one with a perfect imprint. They collect some anyway, leaves and all, but are starting to feel rather down about it.
A similar feeling happens with the blackthorn, which looks somehow to be a mix of the other two, but meaner, covered in dark thorns. They take some twigs, some thorns, they put some of its berries for the core in the container. But none of it feels right.
The day was hot, their conversation stilled, and they felt no magic in their ingredients.
Hermione, with her inner voice so much louder than it used to be, since that night, thinks to herself, as she lightly pinched a berry between her fingers, You will not have what you seek until you get out of your own way. You can't find the ingredients for PIV when you are actively blocking your own inward view, and you know it.