A/N This week Kelly Chambliss posted her delightful story Five Creatures That Luna Believes In…
It's a wonderful essay on Magical Creatures and Their Effects on People, as well as a great characterisation of perceptive Luna, and surprising Vincent. It also offers some Hogwarts students' ideas on what Hooch gets up to in her spare time, and there's a McGonagall/Vectra to die for.
In short, hop over and read it.
And when you've done that, you'll agree with me that the only point of concrit one might offer, is that we are tantalized by the following bit:
Or at least, Luna assumed it was a verret. She couldn't quite see it, but she thought she caught a whiff of its tell-tale sweet scent, the one that worked as a vapourous form of Veritaserum, but that affected behaviour instead of words. It caused people to act on their deepest desires, which was why Luna felt that it was a good thing verrets were so rare. Often it was better to keep one's deepest desires private. Her father had once told her an interesting tale about the time a verret sat under the chair of Ron Weasley's Auntie Muriel. ..
And then Kelly doesn't give us the tale. Instead, we get a teenage snogfest. I've tried to counteract that sin of omission below. Here's what happened:
Something Borrowed, Something Blue
July 5th, 1997
The parchment scroll was at least twenty inches long. Fourteen of which were needless repetitions and exclamation marks.
And many a girl wouldn't do that, you know! But Fleur never hesitated, not once! It was as if Bill's scars simply didn't exist! "I'm pretty enough for both of us, I should think." That's all she said. Well, pretty is as pretty does, I always say, and I couldn't wish for a better daughter-in-law!
And that, dear Muriel, is why I would really love it if you could lend us that tiara for the wedding. It would mean so much to Fleur and Bill! And to Arthur and me, of course! To all of us, really!!! I know that the tiara is so very special for you, holds such memories … I wouldn't bother you, normally, but now, with Bill's accident and everything … It really would mean so much to him! And to Fleur. I'm sure you'll love her, once you meet!
We'll confirm the date as soon as we can! It all depends a bit on Bill's recovery. And again, best wishes on your birthday! I'm sorry about missing it, but with one thing and another, I'm late as usual. I'll do better next year, I promise!!!
We look forward to hearing all your news!
Muriel Prewett grinned wryly as she rolled the parchment. Late as usual. The perfect description for a mother of seven. And on that income, too. Hapless Molly. She wouldn't have bothered to remember her birthday at all, not Molly, had it not been for that tiara … Muriel wasn't quite sure about lending it.
It wasn't the memories, of course. Trust Molly to get all maudlin and sentimental. And to get it utterly wrong. Memories had nothing to do with it. She just felt that it should be kept for a true marriage of love. On the other hand, that Fleur sounded all right, for a foreigner. And if she had managed to get past Molly's 'no-one is good enough for my darling son' attitude, she must be quite something. Part Veela, eh? She should look well enough, then. Better than Muriel would have looked herself, had she worn it … Muriel's thoughts flew back to the day she decided she would not.
Diagon Alley baked in the sun. It was a glorious summer, the kind where one could plan a picnic two weeks in advance and be sure of the weather. The Grindelwald-days were gone for long enough to get some sort of normality back. And remembered well enough to be truly grateful for small pleasures.
Such as sitting in the sun in front of Nicholas Fortescue's Ice Cream Parlor, eating banoffee ice cream. Smiling at the completely over the top display of blue balloons, each and every one of them sporting the picture of a bald, wrinkly, screaming baby. Nicholas's son, born the evening before, who, according to his father, was the bonniest lad ever, with dark brown eyes just like his father; who had the makings of a fine Keeper, just like his father; who was bound to get into Hufflepuff, just like his father; who would set the wizarding world afire - – quite unlike his father, Muriel thought -– and who would,in time, take over the ice cream parlor. What was his name again? Sylvan? Something nature-like … Florean, that was it.
She watched a small, flaxen-haired boy tuck into his second chocolate sundae. Amazing really. Take the size of the child. Calculate the possible size of the stomach. No more than half a pint, surely. Now calculate the volume of two sundaes. Either Nicholas added a shrinking potion that reacted on gastric fluids to his ice cream (and she wouldn't put it past him), or the content and elasticity of a small boy's tummy were one of Nature's unsolved mysteries.
"Like it, Xeno?" she heard Nicholas ask. Funny name, that, Xeno.
Not that she should be thinking of boys' stomachs or names. What she should be thinking of, what every normal girl in her position would be thinking of, was that life-changing event: The Proposal. That she had accepted. Showed she was as interested in boys as any girl, now, didn't it? Well, perhaps not quite as interested – obsessed, really – as some of her classmates, but surely that had been excessive? She was a perfectly normal girl, thrilled to get married. And to marry, against all expectations, the Deb's Delight, Frederick Crouch. A very good-looking young man with a decent fortune, already noted as a talented healer.
Everyone thought he would pop the question to Dorothea Figg. Dorothea herself thought so, although she had been too prudent to say it. But all that talk about a woman being a true helpmeet for her husband, supporting him in whatever he wanted to do, be that the start of a clinic in the North, even … Well, it was pretty clear that she expected to be Mrs. Frederick Crouch before long. And it was most gratifying that she wouldn't. Dorothea Figg had always irritated Muriel. In fact, she made her flesh creep.
But scoring one over Muriel should not be the reason she was so very, very happy today. And she was. Really, she was. Getting married was wonderful. In a minute or so, she would do a tour of the Alley, do some window-shopping. For furniture. And linen. And things. Things for when she and Frederick would set up house together. That would be lovely. It would. But right now it was quite pleasant to sit in the sun and enjoy the last of her ice cream. And watch the comings and goings. Not that there were many, on this hot day. Just one witch coming out of Madam Malkin's. Average height, proud carriage, dark hair. Who could it be?
Who was she fooling? Muriel would recognize her always , anywhere. Augusta Longbottom. Augusta Johnson, before her marriage. A very grown up sixth year when Muriel came to Hogwarts. Head Prefect the year after, "but only because Dippet wants you to lead the Gryffindor team," Augusta had told Minerva McGonagall. "Don't be absurd, you're a much better Head Prefect than I would be. My temper does get the better of me, and Dippet knows it," Minerva had laughed. And Muriel had listened and had suffered agonies of jealousy. Such a schoolgirl's crush she'd had on Augusta. Gazed at her whenever she could, she had, and written Augusta's name in her diary, with garlands of flowers. And on one embarrassing occasion in the margin of her Transfiguration parchment. Thank heavens Dumbledore had returned it without comment. Hadn't even noticed it, perhaps. Then again, it was Dumbledore, so he probably had. Had just been very tactful about it.
It hadn't stopped her from being … no, not in love, infatuated with Augusta. A crush. It happens to every girl. It doesn't mean a thing. And she had been jealous of Minerva for being Augusta's best friend. Funny, how the memory of such a childish, long-past emotion could still make her feel all fluttery. No need to show that, though. Just act normally.
"Hello, Augusta," she cried cheerfully.
"Good heavens, if that isn't young Muriel. How are you, these days?"
Well, they had been in the same house. And Augusta, as Head Prefect, probably knew most students by name. There was no need to feel so absurdly gratified at being remembered.
"Fine, just fine," she answered. "And you? Working for the Ministry, I guess? Before your marriage, I mean? You did fight in …" She realized that she was babbling. Stop it, you fool, she thought, have a decent conversation for once, will you?
"Time for a chat?" she added, pointing towards the empty chair at her table. Rather to her surprise, Augusta accepted. She carefully settled the elegant Madam Malkin bag against the table and leaned back, turning her face to the sun, half-closing her eyes. She stretched and wiggled her feet in a way that made Muriel notice both the elegance and the discomfort of Augusta's shoes. Staring at the little straps that emphasized Augusta's slender ankles, she suddenly had a very clear image of lingeringly undoing them, taking of the shoes, massaging those well-shaped feet.
"Lovely," Augusta sighed. Muriel looked up sharply. No, however powerful that image was, she hadn't done anything … crazy. Augusta simply meant the sunlight.
"Reminds me of Montpellier. I did go to France, yes. Dumbledore recruited me … us. Landed me an Auror-traineeship afterwards. "
Us, Muriel thought, with a pang of the old jealousy. Minerva and Augusta, of course.
"And Minerva?" she asked. "Did Dumbledore find her a job, too?"
See? She was simply catching up with an old school friend that she had admired once, asking after mutual acquaintances. Everything absolutely hunky-dory.
"He did," said Augusta bitterly. Bitterly?
"He suggested she did a degree in Transfiguration. Promised her a place at Hogwarts, once she'd finished her studies. May not be for a while, though. Min is nothing if not thorough."
"Did Dumbledore offer her a teaching job? Well, I must say, I'm not really surprised. Minerva was brilliant in Transfiguration."
"Yes," said Augusta.
"Is it true that she wants to become an Animagus? I heard a rumor …"
"Yes," said Augusta.
"I really think it would suit Minerva very well," Muriel smiled. "When I think of her, it is somehow always against a Hogwarts background. I simply cannot picture Minerva in a small flat, or a cottage, doing homey things after work, saying 'wash or dry?' to someone… "
Not even the curt 'yes', this time. Muriel looked up, surprised, slightly worried. She noticed Augusta's hands first, clenched around the chair, white-knuckled. Then she saw the look in her eyes. Oh, Merlin, she thought. You could. You did. You pictured just that, you and Min, sharing a flat, doing the Auror training together. The cottage for later, perhaps, when the two of you could afford the mortgage. Being together, doing homey things. You wanted all of that. As much as I want it, but not with Fred, with you.
That last thought ran through her like a knife, unexpected, painful, revealing. Cutting straight to the core. I do want that, she realized. Do now. Did then. I do want that.
She had been right to feel jealous of Minerva, all those years ago. It had been more than friendship. Now she just felt angry with her. You fool, you idiot, throwing away the pearl beyond price. And for what? For an endless stream of spotty adolescents. For being a schoolmarm. She saw Augusta stare at her wedding ring, then cover her right hand with the left.
I must give her time to get a grasp on herself, Muriel thought, and me too. "I'll have a refill. You too?" she asked. Augusta looked at her, unseeing. Then she nodded. "Right, two ice creams coming along." How falsely cheerful that sounded. She went into the parlor.
"Two banoffee splits," she ordered. Nicholas took the ice scoop and two glasses. The flaxen-haired boy – Xeno – looked longingly at them. Then he gazed through the open door. Suddenly, he sat upright.
"Did you see that, Miss? A verret. In Diagon Alley. That's really, really special, Miss. They're so rare!" He beamed at her, all gappy charm and boyish enthusiasm. Must have bought those sundaes with the Tooth Fairy's offerings, Muriel thought. But 'verrets'? She smiled at him, uncertain of what to say.
"Of course, a verret," Nicholas said. "Young Xeno here is awfully good at spotting rare beasties. Very knowledgeable about them, too. Not called Xenophilius for nothing, eh, lad? Well, being an only child, he has time to study them." He winked at her. She understood; a lonely boy who made up imaginary friends. "That's great, Xeno," she said.
"You don't believe me. Nor does Nicholas." The boy didn't seem bothered. "Adults never believe me." The statement was so matter-of-fact that Muriel was at a loss for words.
By then, Nicholas had finished the ice creams. Muriel took them out. She was glad to see that Augusta looked more like her old self. As she sat down, she thought she saw something move under the table – Augusta's bag, sagging a bit, she thought, but she didn't bother to check.
"And you, what are you up to?" Augusta enquired. Eager to lead the conversation away from Minerva, Muriel answered "I'm … thinking of getting married. It isn't official yet. In a few days …"
"Congratulations. Who's the lucky fellow?" Augusta asked.
"Frederick? But I thought … sorry. Tactless of me." Augusta looked contrite.
"No, never mind. Everyone thought, well, thinks really, that he and Dorothea…"
"If you ask me, he is well out of that. Dorothea was unbearably smug as a schoolgirl, and she hasn't improved with age."
Muriel grinned. Snarky as ever, Augusta was. And spot on. "I thought," Augusta continued, "that she wanted to look after that younger sister of hers. A squib, they say. And Miss Goody Two Shoes wanted to surround her with sisterly love. From what I heard, that sister is praying to every Deity in existence to have the love transferred to a husband. I wondered what Frederick saw in her."
Muriel laughed. "Oh, Augusta, you haven't changed a bit! But Frederick told me he feels very responsible for his younger brother, Barty. Such an age gap between them, twelve years. Fred wants to be a role model for Barty. Perhaps that created a bond, of sorts?" And it was noble of Frederick, Muriel thought. Worthy. No need to feel irritated.
And no need at all to look at Augusta's lips, to watch her lick the caramel sauce off, to want to... Stop it. Looks can't make your body throb. Certainly not there. Concentrate on your ice. Eat it. Smell it. Deliciously sweet. Much sweeter than usual. Think rational thoughts on that little mystery. Caused, probably, by an unusual ingredient. Nicholas was in a blissful haze over his first-born; his offerings might easily auto-ignite or self-implode. The latter was the solution to the Stomach Mystery, perhaps? And the smell really was rather lovely. She delicately sniffed again.
Suddenly, Muriel felt a passionate, overwhelmingly urgent need to kiss Augusta. How stupid, she thought. How ridiculous, how completely unthinkable. It wasn't until she felt Augusta respond that she realized she had actually … really … And then she thought of nothing but lips and tongues and hands. And an all-pervading feeling of coming home.
July 5th, 1997
That had been the moment she decided that she wouldn't wear that tiara on her wedding day. Because there would be no wedding day. Even before an embarrassed Augusta had muttered something about a mistake, about her being married and Muriel being engaged, she had known that she wouldn't marry Fred.
She had told Augusta that it didn't matter. That she shouldn't feel awkward, a moment of mutual madness. Least said, soonest mended sort of thing.
Augusta had taken a few deep breaths. At each one, Muriel had expected her to say something, but she hadn't. She had briefly, tenderly, caressed Muriel's cheek.
She's going to tell me that it won't happen, that it never was me, never will be either, Muriel thought. And this time, I will get over that. At some point in the future I might even meet someone else. Someone - some woman - to share my life with, in whatever way we decide. But not Fred.
She smiled at Augusta, surprised by the clarity, the absoluteness of that insight. Unsure of what to say. I want to say thank you, she thought. Thank you for showing me, thank you for making me understand. Can I?
Before she'd made up her mind, Augusta had spoken. "Don't make my mistake," she'd said, stumbling over the words in her hurry to get them out. "Don't do it. I married him because … because Min wanted Hogwarts. And I couldn't deal with that. With a holiday relationship. I wanted more. I got so much less. Don't do it." For a moment, she had gripped Muriel's shoulder. Then she had walked away, quickly, without looking back.
Muriel had looked around, to check whether anyone had seen them. That wouldn't do for Augusta, it wouldn't do at all. Only Xeno could've noticed something, she realized. She had walked over to him, but his wide-eyed look told her enough. Still dreaming about his ferret. She had offered him another sundae which, miraculously, he accepted. Boys' stomachs.
Had she smelled the 'verret', he'd asked her. Such a sweet smell, he claimed. A ferret that smells good? To please him, she had said she'd noticed a smell that was unusually sweet. For an ice cream, she thought.
Fred had married Dorothea after all. He had sent Muriel a wedding invitation, out of spite. She had accepted, out of relief. She had met Dorothea's sister, more radiantly happy at the exchange of vows and the impending move up North than the bride herself. A friendship had sprung up, that had grown and grown over the months.
Muriel put the parchment in her desk. She would answer it tomorrow. It was too late now, almost four o'clock. She wanted to be there at four exactly; it was bad enough to Apparate inside someone's house. The least she could do was to be punctual. "Let me use the tunnel, as before," she'd pleaded. "It served us well for fifteen years. Just because there were Dementors once… It isn't as if I'm the Chosen One, for Merlin's sake!" But, "you're my Chosen One," Arabella had said. And her smile had lit up the room. So Muriel Apparated inside her house now. At four o'clock exactly. Almost every day.
A/N There'll be some more stories shortly. I'll try to update over the weekend, starting this coming weekend with the first chapter of a Minerva/Rolanda story.