Rose appeared less than a second later with Kanaya in tow, holding two cups of tea. It was almost as if she knew she'd need some kind of steady normalcy in light of everything that'd had happened in the last few minutes. The Seer of Light didn't pry and instead she talked about lighter things.
Like Hermione, Rose was a great reader and was eager to talk about her favorite books. The young witch was almost relieved and obligingly acquiesced. Contrary to what some might assume about both girls, neither particularly favored more the more expected choices for young women their age. Sure, both admitted they enjoyed Austen and Brontë, but they were far from their favorites.
Rose preferred Oscar Wilde. When she was much younger, she'd read 'The Happy Prince and Other Tales' and 'A House of Pomegranates' and had been delighted by them utterly. She'd related the story of sneaking into her mother's library to snatch 'The Picture of Dorian Grey' because her mother had insisted it was too mature for her.
"I mean, she was right," Rose admitted with a chuckle. "Not that I would have told her as much at the time."
Hermione herself liked Christopher Marlowe and Chaucer. She also enjoyed Shakespeare quite a bit, though who didn't, really. But she had always felt that Marlowe's writing was a bit more nuanced and less appreciated by more modern audiences for it despite the fact that he'd clearly influenced Shakespeare. As for Chaucer, her favorite was obviously 'The Wife of Bath's Tale'. Some of his short poems were rather good as well. She'd gone so far as to teach herself to read Old English in order to enjoy it in its original form. She was also partial to Virginia' Woolf's oeuvre, particularly 'The Waves'. A choice Rose was enthusiastic about, as she'd also read the book and had found it dreadfully interesting, relating it to her experience as a SBURB player.
What followed was a spirited discussion on the finer points of English literature which morphed into a comparative literature discussion once Kanaya felt comfortable enough to join in. She had mentioned a few Alternian classics which sounded rather interesting, though the titles were nothing short of exhausting. With promises of getting her copies quite soon, Hermione had long put the unpleasant discussion with Terezi behind her, looking forward to the opportunity for a rather exciting cross universe cultural exchange.
The rest of the night unfurled in the same pleasant fashion. Between the intellectual discussions she had with Rose and Kanaya and the amusing physics pun off between Jade and Roxy, the night had turned out better than it had started. The lone exception was when Dave had decided to interrupt with a ten minute rap that was supposedly about Nicola Tesla but was absolutely lousy with swears and several references to people and media Hermione was unfamiliar with and only passing references to a doomsday device Tesla had supposedly made. Other than that, it had been a rather lovely night, though she did feel quite guilty about how much she really enjoyed it. She had gone suddenly quiet, a pensive look on her face.
Rose looked at her thoughtfully, giving her a strange half smile. "You know, it's okay to have fun. You don't have to beat yourself up for it."
Hermione wanted to deny it, but no matter how hard she tried, she couldn't. "I can't help it," she whispered. "Here I am, talking about books and laughing while people are dying... and I..." Trailing off, she sighed exasperatedly. "I don't think your Alternian friend thinks very much of me."
Rose and Kanaya glanced at each other, a worried expression passing between them. "And why would you think that?" Kanaya asked with a little frown, her head tilting slightly. "Our conversation was quite short but I thought overall our interaction ended on a rather positive note. I wasn't aware of giving any indication that I disliked you but if so I apologi-"
"No, no," said the young witch, frantically waving her hands. "It wasn't you I was talking about. It was Terezi..."
Hermione then launched into what the Seer of Mind had said - that she'd been testing her and she was terribly worried she'd come up wanting. It was beginning to dawn on her that this was what they had been talking about four years ago. That she had to help them, though she hadn't any idea how she possibly could. If there was one thing that terrified her, it was failure and she was just sure that whatever it was they needed her to do, she wasn't up to the task.
Kanaya immediately allayed her worries. "Terezi is a Hero of Mind and Mind Players tend to like playing mind games. I wouldn't take her too seriously, if I were you."
Rose concurred, conditionally. "While I agree you shouldn't take too much of what she says to heart, there are kernels of truth in what she says. You just have to take the Seer's path and read between the lines, which is admittedly difficult for most."
But Hermione disagreed, though she kept it herself. She just could not see how anything Terezi had said to her that evening could be construed as remotely helpful. It was all meaningless posturing, as far as Hermione was concerned. She thought that Kanaya had a better assessment of the situation - that it was nothing but mind games. Mind games Hermione refused to play a part in.
Thankfully, Rose let the issue drop and instead spoke more seriously about Harry's condition. She and Jane had been talking it over for a while the day before. By Jane's estimation, with every application of her powers, he only seemed to be getting worse. The wounds weren't healing all that fast and his mental condition, according to both Terezi and Rose, was deteriorating rapidly. The Seer of Light bit her lip, wanting to say more but unsure of how safe it was to do so. She glanced over at her Matesprit, who took the hint and got up, joining Dave, who was currently trying and failing to prevent Mount Vantas from erupting. Her eyes flickered back to Hermione, nodding at her encouragingly. The young witch quietly cast a spell so that they could talk more privately.
"What's wrong with him?" asked Hermione, with a small scowl.
"It's as if he's in a kind of nightmare of his own making, one he can't escape," Rose answered, with a rueful shrug. "I know that the Dementors affect him more negatively than most and I think we both know why. The terrible memories of his parent's deaths are not his own, not entirely."
"They're You-know-who's," the young witch said, reluctantly finishing the thought.
"Indeed. Dirk and I have theorized that the fragment of soul left in that scar is what's feeding all this," she explained, the look on her face more serious than ever. "The combined bad memories of He-who-must-not-be-named and his own terrible experiences have created a kind of feedback loop... one he simply can't escape on his own." With a sigh, the Seer of Light continued, "It's made worse by Jane's healing powers, forcing the fragment in his scar to react - to physically hit back at the power trying to separate it from its host... the good news is, we may have a solution."
That solution was Jake English, who she knew was the Page of Hope because Roxy and Jane both had mentioned it about a dozen times. Jane was the one who noticed how Harry had reacted to Jake's impromptu flare of Hope. His power was able to disrupt the chain, pulling Harry back from the internal darkness that was dragging him down deeper and deeper. Jane would cease attempting to heal him with her powers, and they would instead rely on dittany to heal his external wounds.
"There's only one problem with that," Hermione said, slowly inhaling. "Our stores our very low right now. I have barely enough left for one application."
"Give the bottle to Roxy. Tell her exactly how it works and what it's used for. Giving her what's left to analyze might help as well." And then she smirked. "You might not know her Aspect, but you know what she can do."
Hermione nodded a bit numbly, before asking, "Four years ago, you said you needed my help. That there was a rift... one that couldn't be closed without my assistance. That's why you're here, isn't it?"
"Yes," she answered sadly. "Except, you have the order reversed. We will be assisting you, not the other way 'round."
And with that enigmatic reply, Rose stood gracefully and retreated into her bedroom for the rest of the night, Kanaya quick ended the conversation she'd been having with Karkat to follow her shortly thereafter.
The next morning, Hermione did as Rose recommended and while on patrol asked if Roxy might examine the small bottle of dittany in hopes of somehow replicating it. The young witch had conceded that even if she had the ingredients and the time to brew it herself, it'd be a difficult undertaking. With a solemn nod, Roxy then grilled her for a good forty-five minutes, going over its ingredients (down to the exact portions and how it was made) to the discrete physical effects when used, including how the potion looked when active versus its appearance in a more neutral state. She then handed the bottle and what was left of it to Roxy.
"Got to do some hardcore meditating... this shit is all sorts of complicated, 'specially since I wanna try for a full bottle and not just the lil' swallowful that's left in here," explained Roxy, shaking the nearly empty bottle absently. She closed one eye and stuck out her tongue as she mentally calculated, before continuing, "I think I can have it to you in about a day."
"A day?!" Hermione exclaimed in astonishment.
"Yeah, I know. That's practically forever," sighed Roxy, seemingly in disappointment. "It only took a good three hours for that alien egg thing... and most of that was me failing like a bazillion times. Prolly woulda taken less time if I wasn't so stressed. I mean, we got there eventually but..." She shook herself, blowing her bangs out of her face exasperatedly. "I really wanna get this one on the first try though and that takes more time."
Considering it took nearly six full months to properly prepare essence of dittany, Hermione thought they got off easy. She told Roxy this, but it didn't seem to soothe her friend's feelings. Though Hermione was quite unaware of her title (and would remain so for a while), Roxy took it as a personal failure that she, the Rogue of Void, would take what amounted to an eternity in her estimation to figure out what should be a simple appearification. Nothing would assuage her. She stalked off without saying anything more. Plopping down a few feet from the nearest tent, she sat in full lotus and with a wave of her hands fashioned a fort made of neon green bricks around herself.
Hesitantly, Hermione approached, asking cautiously, "Roxy...?"
Her friend's muffled voice answered back, "Shoosh. Gotta blitz the fuck outta my chakras and you're totes distracting me right now."
Hermione inhaled though what she might have said was swept away by a violent gust of air that blew her voluminous hair directly into her face. Sputtering, she batted her hair away from her face, glowering indignantly at the Heir of Breath who was grinning like a loon.
"Sorry 'bout that," he said sincerely. "But dear, sweet Roxy needs to concentrate right now."
"I'M QUITE AWARE OF THAT FACT! I WAS SAYING GOODBYE, YOU TIT!" She bellowed, stamping her foot in impotent fury as John laughed so hard his stomach cramped in pain. Gasping and wheezing, he held his stomach, trembling hand pointing at her uselessly. Shooting him a filthy look and taking a breath, she carefully sorted out her hair before pointing out in a much calmer tone of voice, "And there wasn't a better way of informing me?"
"Wull, yeah, but it wasn't nearly as funny," he guffawed, wiping away tears of laughter. "Anyway, Rose and Terezi sent me here because they need to talk to you about something. Not sure why they couldn't just walk out of the tent like I did and do it themselves... but in the interest of not getting a good drubbing with 'Rezi's cane, I agreed."
Hermione glared at him, seriously considering whether or not Terezi would allow her to borrow her cane for a moment. And then she let out an exasperated sigh, shaking her head at him fondly, muttering, "You're incorrigible, honestly."
She smacked his arm good naturedly as she followed him back to the main tent, chatting amiably. Because it was a well-known fact to all who knew John Egbert that he could be the single most infuriating person in the world and yet no matter how obnoxious he could be it was impossible to stay mad at him for very long. Friend-leaders were like that.
The meeting with Terezi and Rose was very short and less than informative. In five days, they would be going to a location of an extraordinarily large breach between universes which was widening at an alarming rate. They would escort her to the rift's location where she would assist them in closing it. They didn't say how, not really.
"We don't really have rituals, magical or otherwise," Rose explained. "There's no potion to prepare or incantation to learn, I'm afraid."
"You mean to say you have no plan?!"
Terezi cackled. "Of course we do. This IS the plan."
Hermione was quite close to losing her temper at this point. She'd been on a fruitless journey with no direction, no real plan for the last few months. And she'd informed them of such, barely controlling herself as she said it.
"I know it must be hard to trust after all you've been through, but I am going to have to ask you to do just that," Rose said, her hand reaching out to hold Hermione's own. "This task requires an open mind with no preconceived notions of how things should be done. Even if there were instructions to give, they'd be useless because in the end... this task is all about personal choice. It always is when dealing the Game."
Before she could object, Rose casually mentioned they'd be waking Harry briefly tonight and that she ought to be present. She knew very well that information had been an attempt at misdirection and she knew that Rose knew it hadn't really worked. But she let it drop because in the end, Rose was right - Harry was more important anyway.
The event itself was anticlimactic. Harry didn't really wake up, as it were. He cried out, though he wasn't screaming himself hoarse as he had the last time. While he wasn't exactly awake, he wasn't sleeping either. He was somewhere in-between. Her role became obvious. He responded somewhat to her commands. She was able to assist Jake in feeding Harry a light broth while he was somewhat conscious.
Hermione stayed with Harry long after Jake had left, watching him sleep fitfully. He made little sounds, whimpers and gasps. Sometimes he'd just soundlessly weep, other times he'd call out to people that weren't there or, in her case, were there but unable to do anything to soothe his nightmares. Without even thinking about it, she'd put the Horcrux on.
At some point, Jane came in to let her know dinner was on. She stopped short when she noticed Hermione was wearing the locket, though she said nothing. They entered the dining room together. Jane gave a subtle glance at Dirk, tilting her head in Hermione's direction. Dirk slowly gazed over at the young witch and then scowled, unsettled by the very presence of the thing around her neck. They shared a brief look of concern before taking their places. Not once did Hermione notice the interaction