"There will be no lesson today, Severus."
Going through the short list of possible reasons to deviate from the plan to study pomegranate and aloe and finding none, you keep your expression absolutely impassive and ask,
"I am going to the forest tonight. There are also some preparations to be made earlier."
You know it pays to be silent, but your curiosity is piqued. What can possibly be important enough to cancel a lesson for?
"May I ask…"
"Yes, you may – although I may as well tell you straight away. Tonight is the night of the solstice, or the Midsummer Night. I will be going after a fern flower."
You are surprised enough to lose control of your face for a moment and frown.
"Isn't that just a Muggle superstition?"
"You will find a grain of truth in most of them, hard though it is to find. The fern blooms indeed, but not with the legendary fiery flowers. I need no blessed candle or salt circle to find it, and I doubt any demons will try to sway me."
"So what is
true about it?"
"It blooms for a moment only, and the flower is irretrievable if not picked in time. It is true that it is best found under a birch tree. And the right night to pick it – yet not at midnight, but exactly midway between dawn and dusk."
You note all of this silently. Maybe next year… Then you ask one more question, even though you know the answer.
"Can I go with you?"
"Certainly not. This is better attempted alone. Besides, it would be well past your bedtime."
"Yes, Mother," you nod. As she leaves, you try to remember which book contained the passage that had caught your eye before.
* * *
At dawn, you watch Mother return, carefully carrying a large flask. After a few more hours of feigned sleep, you go to her study.
On the desk, suspended in the same flask is a large green flower, virtually indistinguishable from a cluster of fern leaves.
"Unattended Hover charm," Mother notes, walking in, a book in her hands. "The only way to carry something so fragile. That is why no Muggle can ever retain it, should they ever find it. But they never can. They always look for something so obviously
wonderful that they overlook perfectly magical plain things."
You watch Mother open a page on preservation of fragile magical ingredients.
"It has been twelve years since I got my hands on one of these," she says with a strange thoughtful smile. Seizing the moment, you ask a question that has been haunting you for some time.
"Is it true that it can help understand animal speech and plant lore? And that, given to, umm, someone the giver, er, likes, it would make the… feeling last forever?"
Mother shakes her head slowly.
"No, Severus. That
is definitely a Muggle superstition."
Seeing the strange smile fade away, you hurry from the room.