Three Blooms in the Cauldron
Summary: Be careful what you wish for; you never know what you might get.
Disclaimer: The characters depicted belong to JK Rowling. No money is being made; no infringement of copyright is intended.
A/N: All praise and much thanks to my betas (Alienor and Maggie) for their kind words, hard work and help. Full acknowledgements at the end.
Blinking against the sunlight, Hermione opened one eye and groaned. Nope, not her bed then. She moved her hand to push herself into a sitting position. The floor... somewhere...
Ohhh...God, she moaned, shielding her eyes. 'What the hell was in that punch?'
She pressed her temples with her fingers as the room lurched, struggling to remember the previous evening's events. There had been a party; she could remember that much... Ginny and Luna... 'Oh, my God.' Hermione pressed the palms of her hands to her head and turned it to the left, only to discover her friends passed out on the floor beside her. She remembered now. The explosion.
Gingerly, Hermione crawled towards the still forms of the other two girls, trying to avoid the green goo that was liberally splattered over the carpet—and the walls, the furniture and... she touched her hair, ew, them. Please let them be alive. Please let them be okay... Please...
Hermione reached one hand out towards Ginny's neck to check for a pulse, just as her red-headed friend twitched and opened her eyes. Hermione breathed a huge sigh of relief. She turned her attention to Luna, who snored on cue, but showed little sign of waking up just yet.
'Wha-what happened?' Ginny asked a little croakily.
'The cauldron exploded. Don't you remember?'
'Vaguely,' Ginny replied, grimacing as she shook a dead leg, trying to ease the pins and needles.
'All right... Let's recap...'
Unfortunately, it proved impossible to concentrate due to the unholy racket that was coming from the landing outside. Raised male voices were shouting angrily about something. Hermione palmed her wand, intent on casting a silencing charm.
'Open this door, at once! Hermione Granger, you've got some explaining to do.'
'Oh, dear,' said Ginny, recognising the voice. 'He doesn't sound very happy.'
'No,' Hermione agreed, wincing at the noise of fists banging on wood. 'I suppose we'd better let them in before they break the door down.'
Seconds later, two angry wizards were each waving a piece of parchment at Luna and Hermione respectively. A third just looked a little bemused.
'Hello, Draco,' said Luna, smoothing her robe down as she sat up. 'Where's Neville?'
Draco's face was purple with rage. 'What,' he said quietly through clenched teeth, 'is the meaning of this?' He thrust the parchment under her nose.
Luna took the sheet off Draco, her eyes bulging even more than normal as she read it. 'It appears to be a betrothal contract,' she said eventually. 'For you and me.'
'Precisely,' said Draco, forcing a smile and showing an alarming amount of teeth. 'So, tell me, Lovegood: when, exactly, did I propose to you? Because I can't for the life of me remember.
'You didn't,' Luna said matter-of-factly.
'EXACTLY,' Draco roared in her face. 'SO WHAT THE FUCK IS THIS?'
The three girls groaned and clutched their heads. It was then that Hermione noticed Ron holding a similar piece of parchment and looking none too happy, either. 'Oh, God,' she said.
Ron scowled. 'Is that all you can say? You've somehow managed to ensnare me into a magically binding betrothal contract, and all you can say is "Oh, God"? That's very helpful, Hermione. Thanks for that.' He looked to Harry for support, but he only had eyes for Ginny.
'There was no need to do this, Gin.' Harry grinned sheepishly. 'I was going to ask you anyway, once all the fuss had died down about Voldemort and everything.'
Ginny smiled back adoringly.
Draco shuddered. 'Spare me, please.'
'All right,' said Hermione, still trying to kick her brain into gear. 'First of all, I'm going to take a headache potion, and then we are going to get to the bottom of this. Granted, we all had a bit too much to drink last night, but I can't imagine any of us being so stupid as to bind ourselves to you three. Something must have gone horribly wrong.'
'How convenient,' Ron scoffed. 'Really, Hermione, you expect me to believe that it wasn't deliberate? Lavender told me you might try something, but this... He threw the parchment on the floor '... is taking the piss. How am I supposed to explain that to her?'
'You can tell that boyfriend-grabbing harpy whatever the hell you like,' she spat, glaring up at him. Hermione had recently found out the hard way that a week was a very long time in the life of a teenage boy, particularly one who was now a famous war hero and could have his pick of witches.
She scrambled to her feet. 'Don't worry, Won-Won. I fully intend to find a way to reverse this spell as quickly as possible. You'll be back sucking Lav-Lav's face before you know it.' She turned to the girls, feeling quite ill. 'Do either of you have anything for a headache?'
Luna shook her head mournfully while Ginny rummaged in her sock drawer. 'Here,' she said, handing a phial to Hermione and another to Luna. She uncorked a third and downed it in one.
The world snapped back into focus as the potion took effect. 'Much better,' said Hermione briskly. 'Now, let's sort this mess out.'
The week before 'The Incident', as Hermione came to call it, had seen a whirl of parties to celebrate the end of the war. Those who had actually fought in the Great Battle, however, had not felt much like partying since they were the ones who had suffered the severest losses: friends, family, teachers... Despite the relief that victory brought, for them it was more a time of mourning than of celebration.
Hermione looked back on it as an almost surreal time, a mixed-up jumble of images: Harry returning from the dead, Neville cutting the head off Nagini. The Great Hall: the wounded, dead and dying. The portraits applauding Harry in the Headmaster's office, watching in amazement as Harry used the Elder Wand to put his old wand back together. She could, however, quite clearly remember wondering afterwards, as they descended the spiral staircase, if anyone really knew what the limits of magic actually were—or indeed, if there were any. It was a question she had still been pondering when the three of them entered the Great Hall to join the survivors. But then Ginny had run to Harry and thrown herself at him, clinging to him in her grief, and Ron had been gathered into the group that surrounded George and his mother, leaving Hermione standing on her own. At first, she had felt excluded, but it suddenly occurred to her that for the first time in many years, she was free. Voldemort was dead; Harry didn't need her anymore, and neither, apparently, did Ron. Quietly, she turned her back on the scene, deciding she needed to be somewhere she could grieve and reflect in peace.
'Tell them not to worry,' she said to Neville on the way out. 'If anyone asks, that is.'
The west coast of Ireland had seemed the obvious place to get away from it all—the childhood home of her mother was isolated and unoccupied. Although Hermione's grandparents had died when she was quite young, her mother had kept the house as a hideaway from the stress of her busy dental practice. Hermione stayed several days, enjoying the blissful solitude, only leaving her little haven when an owl arrived with news of Fred's funeral.
It was only then that the cost of the war really hit home, up close and personal. The sight of a devastated George Weasley standing by his twin brother's coffin was something Hermione would never forget, neither was the look on his mother's face. But George had a special surprise for his family. After the funeral, he presented Molly and Arthur with a portrait of Fred, which was immediately given pride of place over the mantelpiece in the Burrow...
'Right,' said Fred. 'That's enough wailing and gnashing of teeth. We won, didn't we? It's high time we had a party.'
'Well, all right,' Molly conceded, dabbing her eyes. 'But just a small celebration—Order members and close friends only.'
Fred winked at his brother. This would be the perfect opportunity for testing their new improved, virtually tasteless, Fix-O-Drink Inhibition Relaxant. All George had to do was slip it in the punchbowl, stand back and evaluate the results.
Glad to have something to occupy her mind, Molly threw herself into the preparations and cooked enough food to feed a small army. Hermione pitched in too, helping Ginny with the decorations and rearranging the furniture to accommodate the dancing, on the afternoon before the party. Ron, Hermione couldn't help but notice, was conspicuous by his absence and had generally been acting rather strangely since her return. For some reason, while Harry had been relieved to see her home safe and sound, Ron seemed to be making every effort to avoid her. And, whenever Hermione tried to corner him, he would blush crimson and make some excuse about helping in the shop.
The party had been in full swing for a good couple of hours before Hermione had the sense to stop drinking the punch, but the sight of Minerva McGonagall letting her hair down and limbo dancing with Kingsley Shacklebolt had left her in no doubt that it had been spiked. And Ron had given her the slip—again.
'Have you seen your brother?' Hermione grabbed Ginny's elbow as she waltzed past with Harry.
They looked at each other and shrugged.
'Hermione, I think you should know—'
'If you won't tell her, then I will,' shrieked an all too familiar voice.
Lavender? And why is she holding Ron's hand?
'Well, you see, Hermione, it's like this,' Ron began.
'Oh, for heaven's sake,' Lavender interrupted. 'I haven't got all night. The point is, Hermione, when you left Ron mourning for his brother to go swanning off God knows where, I was available. We got chatting and... well, we decided to give it another go.'
'I see,' said Hermione quietly.
Everyone within close range had the sense to back away—with the exception of Lavender. In the blink of an eye, Lavender's normally flawless complexion was covered in pus-filled boils that began to erupt everywhere and showed no sign of stopping anytime soon.
'You bitch,' Lavender screamed. 'Ron! Help me!'
But Ron was too busy clutching his groin, courtesy of the constricting hex Hermione had sent his way.
Ginny grabbed Hermione's raised wand arm before she could inflict any more damage and steered her towards the door. 'Come on,' she said. 'You need to cool down.' Ginny nodded to Luna, who picked up a bottle of Ogden's Old and followed her friends up the stairs.
'That brother of yours is an absolute fucking bastard!' Hermione screeched as soon as Ginny had closed the door to her bedroom.
'Well, not technically,' Ginny replied conjuring three tumblers. 'But, I understand the sentiment.'
Luna opened the bottle of firewhisky. 'Don't be too upset, Hermione,' she said. 'Ron wasn't really your type.'
Hermione sat down on the bed, rolled her eyes and held out her glass towards Luna. 'Really? So tell me, O Wise One, what is my type? I don't see a selection of eligible wizards queuing up outside the door awaiting my pleasure. Do you?'
Luna opened her mouth to reply, stopped, then said in a dreamy voice. 'There's someone for everyone.'
Hermione shrugged her shoulders. 'Whatever.' She was in no mood for platitudes.
'Luna's right,' Ginny said, sitting beside her. 'No, listen,' she added hastily when Hermione glared at her. 'Much as I love my brother, I never thought you two would make a go of it as a couple. You're too different. He needs... he needs encouragement, someone to tell him how wonderful he is on a daily basis—'
Hermione snorted and took a glug of whisky.
'—not someone who'll give him a row at the drop of a hat for not coming up to their exacting standards.' Ginny looked at her friend pointedly.
'If by that you mean I should behave like Lavender, calling him 'Won-Won', and not grimace every time he shovels food in his mouth like it's going out of fashion—'
'No, that's not what I mean, at all.' Ginny sighed. 'Look, Ron wants a replacement for Mum; it's as simple as that. Someone who'll always be there to make sure he's got clean socks and have supper on the table when he comes home from work. He loves kids almost as much as I do and wants a big family—and if his wife could find the time to discuss Quidditch tactics on top of all that, Ron would be set up for life. Now, be honest, Hermione. Is that the kind of life you want for yourself?'
Hermione shook her head slowly and held her glass out for a refill. No, it most definitely wasn't, but that didn't really make her feel any better. She had been eighteen before she'd had a proper boyfriend—eighteen! Even if he had been a two-timing toe-rag of a boyfriend. Hermione sincerely hoped she wouldn't have to wait another eighteen years before the next one came along.
She sighed. 'After all I did for him... All that bloody camping.
Wisely, Luna and Ginny mumbled their sisterly sympathies, clinked glasses and agreed that all men were bastards.
'Not only that,' Hermione added, 'all wizards are bastards with wands.'
'Except Harry,' said Ginny.
Hermione considered this. 'Agreed.'
'And Neville,' Luna chimed in.
There was no arguing with that. 'True,' Hermione conceded. 'Neville is awesome. Who'd have thought he'd have the muscles to wield a sword like that, eh?'
Her two friends nodded enthusiastically, Neville's formerly hidden attributes were thoroughly analysed and the three of them drank a toast to both their heroes' continuing good health.
On top of the punch they'd already drunk, it didn't take very much whisky for the girls to get rather mellow.
'Plenty more fish in the shee,' Hermione announced, reaching for the bottle. 'Lavendersh welcome to 'im. And I have to shay, Gin, that your dear bruzzer washn't mush cop in bed.'
Ginny pulled a face and shook her head. 'No, no... don't want to hear that... Definitely not that... And... Hey, who've you got to compare him with anyway? Have you been doing it with someone else?'
'If you mean Harry, no.' Hermione shook her head vehemently. 'No, no, no. Definitely not. No.'
'Then how do you know?' Luna looked at her keenly.
'Dunno.' Hermione shrugged. 'But from what I've read—'
The other two girls keeled over, doubled up with laughter. 'Oh, Hermione,' Ginny gasped, 'you can't learn about that from a book!'
'You can learn anything from a book,' Hermione declared stubbornly. 'Even shex. Even how to find your perfec' wiz-zard—and keep him indef... indif... indil—for good.'
'Hermione,' Ginny said warningly, 'have you been pilfering number twelve's library again?'
Hermione looked shifty. 'Nooo...'
Ginny sighed. 'Hand it over.'
Hermione fumbled for her bag. Opening it, she put her whole arm inside and fished around until she felt what she was looking for. She extracted a small, black, leather-bound book and dropped it into Ginny's outstretched hand.
Ginny whistled through her teeth. '"Damelza Dalrymple's Fyndinge and Byndinge your Wizzyrd: A Witch's Guide to Love, Courtshyppe and Matrymonie."' She looked inside the cover expecting to find a bookplate, but there was none. 'Where did you get this, Hermione? It's not from the Black's collection.'
'S'mine. I... um... picked it up in a bookshop... i' n'Ireland.'
Drawing her wand, Ginny cast some basic curse detection charms which Bill had taught her over the book. The result was negative. She flicked through the pages, perusing the spells in silence.
Luna, reading over Ginny's shoulder, murmured, 'I've never seen spells like these before.'
Ginny shook her head. 'Me, neither. I wonder if they work... I mean, look at this: "The Irresystible Aroma Elixyr"—judging by the ingredients, it would keep a Manticore at bay, not attract the man of your dreams. What do you think, Hermione?' Ginny turned to her friend. 'Hermione?'
But Hermione was flat on her back and fast asleep.
Hermione's nostrils twitched at the smell of something burning. She was awake in an instant, wand gripped in a slightly shaky hand. She blinked at the sight before her, wondering if she was still dreaming.
'Are you two mad?' she asked, staring at the bubbling cauldron on Ginny's dressing table. 'Are you trying to burn the house down, or something?'
Ginny turned around. 'Oh, good. You're awake. The next stage is a bit tricky.'
Feeling like a Niffler had been nesting in her mouth, Hermione conjured a glass of water and pushed herself off the bed. 'It's one o'clock in the morning! What the hell are you two doing?' She still felt a bit tipsy, but at least her tongue seemed to have returned to its normal size.
'Tell her, Luna,' Ginny said, stirring the cauldron. 'I'm counting.'
Luna held the book out so Hermione could read the potion they were brewing. 'We decided to find you a man... and to... er, push things along for ourselves.'
Luna grinned at her friend's shocked expression. 'This book is amazing, Hermione. She was a genius, this Damelza... whoever she was. Look.' Luna pointed her wand at the top of the page.
'A Pairing-Plight Troth Charm...' Hermione read. 'What's that when it's at home, and why do you need to brew anything?'
'A-ha,' said Ginny, putting the stirring rod down. 'The Charm is actually the incantation that binds the Potion.'
'A Charm and a... potion.' The words 'wand-waving' and 'foolish' sprang readily to mind. 'Isn't that a little bit unconventional, not to mention, dangerous?'
'I told you she was a genius,' said Luna passing the book to Hermione. 'Don't worry. I've put a shielding charm up in the room. Now, have a read while I prepare the ingredients for the next stage.'
Hermione's eyes wandered from the book over to the bedside table. 'Where on earth did you get all this stuff?'
Luna picked up a silver knife. 'There's an all night apothecary's I know in Bristol. I Apparated there when you were sleeping. Oh, and seeing as I didn't know what flower you wanted, I bought a selection.'
'Flower,' Hermione repeated slowly. 'Right.' Hermione flopped back down on the bed and propped herself up against the headboard. She didn't really feel up to it, but seeing as Luna and Ginny had gone to all this trouble and were almost ready to progress to the third stage of the potion, she thought she should at least try to appear a little bit grateful. She pushed her hair off her face and began to read:
This charm moste potente will assuredly fynde,
The wizzyrd moste close to thy heart and thy mynde.
Hermione looked at the date on the title page. 1922? Is this woman for real?' She continued reading.
Imagine the mage, let love be ignited,
In under a twelvemonth, thy troth will be plighted.
Hermione snorted and glanced up to check on the girls before reading the list of ingredients:
Sugar and spice and everything nice—What the... that's a bit general isn't it? Slugs and snails and... Oh, God... 'Luna, please don't tell me I have to drink that!'
'No,' Luna replied, 'you just have to dab some on the third finger of your left hand.'
Hermione got off the bed to inspect the cauldron. It seemed to be the desired sage green colour described in the book. 'So, how did you manage to get "Everything nice" into that small cauldron?'
'We improvised,' Ginny replied, adjusting the flame. 'We just added some of that nice perfume of yours.'
'What? Do you have any idea how much that stuff cost me?'
'It'll be worth it, Hermione,' Luna reassured her. 'You want a new man in your life, don't you?'
'And we couldn't get any dog tails either. They were clean out. They're becoming quite rare, you know—since people have stopped docking them,' Luna added, helpfully. 'So, we substituted Sweet Flag instead, which looks a bit similar—and it has the added advantage of being aphrodisiac, which is more than I can say for puppy tails.'
Hermione nodded. She couldn't fault Luna's logic on that one. 'So. What's next?'
'We each have to select a flower that represents our feelings at the moment,' Luna informed her. 'Ginny has already chosen a white rose for eternal love, and I think I'm going to go for a camellia.'
'For longing?' Hermione asked.
Luna nodded. 'Yes. Now it's your turn.'
'Just... one thing,' said Hermione, wagging her index finger. 'Is this legal? I mean, getting a man this way? It's a bit like the Imperius Curse, isn't it? And I for one don't want to end up in Azkaban.'
'No, no,' Ginny assured her. 'There's no compulsion. There has to be a mutual agreement—and plighting a troth only means giving a solemn promise. It's not like you have to marry him, or anything.'
'Well, that's all right then.' Hermione looked at the available choice of flowers. 'I've got no intention of getting married for a good few years yet, in any case. So, what do I have to do?'
'Try to choose with your heart,' Luna replied. 'Move your left hand over the flowers; close your eyes and think loving thoughts.'
Hermione did as she was told, although it was very difficult to think loving thoughts when she wanted to strangle Ron Weasley. She felt a warmth under her hand and stopped. She opened her eyes.
'Oh, good choice,' said Ginny. 'They signify memories and true love. How wonderful!'
'O-kay, now what happens?'
'Now we have to make up a verse which summarises the qualities we want in a man,' Luna replied. 'Then, we throw the flower into the cauldron while we think of bringing love into our lives.'
Poetry was not Hermione's strong suit. 'I'll have to think about that for a minute.'
'Fine,' said Ginny. 'I'll go first.' She picked up the rose and started to chant in a sing-song voice:
'My love and my soul-mate reveal unto me,
A champion, a knight, my husband-to-be.
A Witch Weekly pin-up, he couldn't be hotter,
Rich and endearing, in short, Harry Potter.'
Luna and Hermione laughed as Ginny threw the rose into the cauldron. The contents hissed and let off a pink vapour.
Ginny shrugged and giggled. 'I don't see the point in leaving it to chance. I know exactly what I want.' She nodded to Luna. 'Your turn.'
Luna picked up the camellia, screwed her eyes closed and began:
'A prince amongst wizards, noble and pure,
For House and his kin will hardship endure,
Heart of a dragon, masterful, strong,
Umm... and who'll... put up with my weirdness...'
She tossed the flower into the cauldron.
'Oh, Luna,' said Hermione, clutching her sides. 'Please, don't ever change.'
There was a sudden draught of air, and the three girls spun round as the door opened, but no one entered the room.
'Strange,' said Ginny, stepping outside and looking up and down the landing before closing the door again.
'Must have been the wind, I suppose... Oh, well...' She turned to Hermione. 'Ready?'
Hermione nodded, turning back to the cauldron. 'I think so.' She picked up a handful of forget-me-nots and closed her eyes:
'Brave as a lion with the heart of a lamb,
Willing to take me for all that I am.
A friend and a lover with a mind just as smart,
To love and to cherish 'til death do us part.'
Hermione threw her flowers into the mix.
'Hermione, that was lov—'
The rest of the sentence was drowned out by an almighty 'boom', as Hermione's world went black.
A/N: I chose the following prompt:
7. Hermione, Ginny and Luna, sharing a girl moment, decide to cast a Pairing-Plight Troth Charm on themselves. Each places in a cauldron one flower with sugar and spice and everything nice, and a snail and puppy-dog tail (could be a magical plant), and they each have to say a rhyme. Make it up; be silly and original to fit the girl that says it. Only the results don't come out as the girls expected. Who is now Betrothed magically to whom? How do the men react, especially since it's a MAGICAL BINDING? And just why is the Ministry so pleased?