Chapter 1: Osiria
Warm Up Round: Rose/Love
There were few things Narcissa loved more than her time in the rose garden. Yes, elves could do the work, but the roses were her pride and joy. She had been an excellent Herbology student, and after her marriage, the garden had been her escape. Narcissa loved digging in the dirt — properly gloved, of course.
Her favorite rosebush was the Osiria. It was planted at the center of the garden. Most had never seen a bloom like it, each petal a deep red on the inside, but somehow, white on the outside. It was quite striking. Together, the colors spoke to love, marriage, and new beginnings. While it had started as a small cutting, she had carefully nurtured the plant year after year until it had grown to be the star of her collection. It had outdone itself this spring and Narcissa was just waiting for its buds to break.
In the garden, Narcissa could let her thoughts wander as she plucked weeds and pruned, hidden between the roses. She let her mind drift to her other favorite subject, her son. Draco had sauntered down to breakfast with a spring in his step and Mippy had whispered that he had not been home last night. He probably thought he was being secretive, but her son had always been an open book to her, much like she could tell what her roses needed even though they didn’t speak.
For many years, she had listened to Draco complaining about the swotty, bushy-haired girl who continually bested him at Hogwarts. Narcissa had held her son back, for both of their safety, when the girl was tortured in their home. The complaining began anew when Draco started working with her at the Ministry last year. But several months ago, he had stopped talking about her at all — and that in itself spoke volumes.
Mippy had mentioned that Draco had brought Miss Granger to visit their library a few weeks ago, although he hadn’t summoned Mippy to bring tea. “Mistress, how is we having guests with no refreshments?”
And now, this latest development. Things must be serious between her son and Miss Granger. And while the girl was a muggle-born, Narcissa would not begrudge her son his happiness.
Having finished the row, Narcissa stood and made her way to her prized bush. Upon reaching it, however, she gasped in shock. Instead of a vibrant bush full of barely opening buds, its branches were nearly bare. All that was left of the precious blooms were a few stragglers. Had he asked, she would have pointed him to a myriad of options — anything but the Osiria, but she herself had schooled her son in the language of flowers, and he had chosen well.
She sighed and began pruning the empty stalks. There was always next year. Yes, she would make sure that all of her roses looked their best by then. After all, a June wedding among the roses would be just perfect.
Chapter 2: The Object of His Affection
Round 1: Lavender/Admiration
“…Lavender.” His voice was a whisper from a nearby table in the Potions classroom. He sounded surprised, almost in awe.
It was too much for her to take. Hermione watched Draco Malfoy stand up after inhaling the fumes of the potion brewing in front of him. She had been eavesdropping. She shouldn’t have been listening. She shouldn’t have hoped that perhaps he might have smelled something that reminded him of her.
Hermione turned her attention back to her own cauldron, trying to ignore the scent of books, broom polish and crisp green apples.
Lavender. She shook her head and narrowed her eyes at her unsuspecting roommate who was laughing and flirting with Ron just a few tables away.
There was a time when Hermione thought she might have smelled things like mown grass, but she and Ron were far better at being friends.
And that made it sting even more.
Draco had taken to studying with her in the library this year. Along the way, they had become friends, and could be more, Hermione thought. She had come to enjoy Draco’s company. They could discuss the intricacies of their homework and truly match wits. But clearly, he was just like the rest of them, more interested in a short skirt and ample bosom. Hermione vanished the contents of her cauldron and began stuffing her books into her bag, hoping to escape the room and find a quiet spot to nurse her heartache.
She didn’t want to go back to her room. She couldn’t head to the library where he might be. She ended up in the nook behind the tapestry of Gawain and the Green Knight and conjured her robes into a fluffy blanket. She pulled the blanket tight around her and eventually fell asleep.
Later, her eyes opened when she heard footsteps in the corridor. She sat up and frowned. It was dark. She had been asleep longer than she’d intended. Her stomach rumbled as the tapestry was pulled aside.
Standing there was the object of her misplaced affection. Stupid boys, she thought. But, on Draco’s face was a look of concern. “You missed dinner. I brought you this.”
“How did you find me?”
“You mentioned Gawain’s story as one of your favorites. When I didn’t see you in the library or at dinner, I thought you might be here.”
He noticed the blanket. “You okay?”
She nodded, not meeting his gaze. “Just fell asleep, I guess.”
Draco jumped up to join her on the ledge. “Can I ask you something?”
She felt his eyes on her still.
“What did you smell this afternoon?”
She looked at him. Why would he want to rub salt in her wound?
When she didn’t answer, he continued with that smirk that she found equal parts infuriating and attractive, “I’ll tell you what I smelled, “Parchment, cat and lavender.” He bent over and inhaled, his nose skirting her curls. “Lavender. It’s your shampoo, isn’t it?”
“Oh.” Her heart leapt. “Oh!”
Chapter 3: A Braver Man
Round 2: Gardenia/Secret Love
The music begins. He’s counted the people between them. Four turns. That’s what it will take. He performs the steps as if on autopilot. His attention is not on his current partner. Hell, he barely likes Pansy, but she is who he was expected to take to the ball. And if nothing else, he does what his family expects of him, even as it crushes his soul.
He consoles himself that it’s safer this way. Safer for her, if their moments are stolen. If the depths of his desire remain hidden.
Just two now. He takes the hand of the girl before him, a Hufflepuff, he thinks. They each perform their steps before he passes her on to her next partner.
His heart begins to beat faster in anticipation and he wonders if there is anyone else who lives their lives for the clandestine moments that he does.
And now, she is next to him. A vision in periwinkle. Her hair is pinned up and braided intricately with blossoms woven in. It’s stunning, although he prefers when she wears it down, wild and untamed.
She’s close enough that he can smell the gardenias in her hair. Their heady fragrance fills the air as she spins and turns. The blossoms are delicate and beautiful, just like she is.
And then she’s in his arms. He looks at her and her eyes are bright. She gives him a small smile. Just enough to let him know that she is his as much as he is hers. That the blossoms in her hair speak to things only known to the two of them. For a moment, they can dance with each other and pretend that there is no coming storm. That there is no gulf between them.
The moment ends as quickly as it begins. He doesn’t want to let her go. If he could, he would take her hand and run from this hall and never look back. But, she wouldn’t want that. She would never leave her friends, even for him. Instead, before he lets her go, he gives her hand a squeeze that he hopes conveys everything he wants it to, all the things he hasn’t dared to say out loud.
I wish it were different. I wish I could dance with you all night. I love you.
He wishes he were a braver man.
Chapter 4: From a Single Root
Round 3: Peony/Compassion
“Come help me stake these flowers, Cassie.”
Cassiopeia sighed. “Mum, why can’t we just use magic.”
“Not everything requires magic, dear. Now pass me the twine.”
The girl plopped down on the ground beside her mother who was carefully securing the large, floppy pink blossoms. The peonies were so fragrant, but also delicate. The thin stalks tipped over under their weight.
Her mother looked over at her. “Are you going to tell me what happened?”
Cassie took a deep breath and it all came tumbling out. “Rose said something that wasn’t so nice. I know she was mad, but I thought we were friends, even though we ended up in different houses. So yeah, that.”
Her mother was quiet as she finished tying a length of twine around the narrow stems.
“See how this works? When you tie them together, they all help hold each other up, instead of the flowers on the outside falling over. You try one.”
Cassie sighed again but did as she was told. She slipped the twine around a group of peonies and carefully gathered them together as she tied it.
“Well done.” Her mother sat back on her heels, surveying the row of peonies. “Did I ever tell you where these came from?”
“No.” It didn’t seem relevant, but she knew better than to question whether her mother had heard what she had said. She was always listening, always putting things together. And, there would inevitably be some lesson to learn.
“As you know, your father and I did not get along when we were younger.”
“That’s an understatement.”
Her mother laughed. “True. After the Final Battle, that autumn, I received a box. And in it was a root.”
That’s what I thought at first. But there was a note in the box that said, “From a single root, a hundred flowers bloom.”
Cassie looked at the peonies, trying to imagine the roots underneath. “That’s odd.”
Her mother laughed. “I thought so, too. But, I planted it, and in the spring, when the peonies were in bloom, your father came to talk to me.”
“And you didn’t punch him that time.”
They both laughed, but her mother continued, more serious than before. “No, I listened to what he had to say. And we talked for longer than we had ever talked before.”
“What did you talk about?”
“About the war. About the impact of kindness and compassion. And I realized that even when we’re not on the same page, we can help hold each other up. ”
Cassie sat, deep in thought.
“Doesn’t Aunt Ginny have these growing in her garden?”
Her mother nodded.
“And Uncle Neville and Aunt Luna, too.” She paused. “Did Dad send you that?”
“What do you think, Cass?”
She was quiet for a moment. “I think I’m going to go write Rose a letter. And when the weather turns, do you think I can have a root?”
“I think that would be lovely.”
Chapter 5: Practice Makes Perfect
Round 4: Daffodil/Chivalry
“It’s a pleasure to see you again, Miss Granger. Welcome to our home.” Lucius Malfoy spoke through clenched teeth and a little vein throbbed in his temple.
“Really? Is it a pleasure? Because it doesn’t sound like it. It sounds like you’d prefer a case of Dragon Pox.”
“Of course I don’t sound like it.” He spat. “This is no surprise. I don’t like this. None of it suits.”
Narcissa remained calm. “Which is why we are practicing, because he’s your son. And, just as importantly, you love me. And making sure this goes well is important to me.”
Lucius scowled, “The things we do for love.”
“Exactly. Or when we’ve been blackmailed. Try again.”
He took a deep breath. “Miss Granger. Welcome. I’m glad you could join us for dinner.”
His tone was still stiff, maybe even a little sarcastic this time. It held neither warmth nor welcome.
Narcissa sat back and sighed. “Is that the best you can do?”
“Perhaps.” Lucius shrugged like a petulant child.
“Then I must not have been clear about my expectations. Is that the case?”
He dropped his eyes, “No.”
“And what are the consequences if this goes wrong?”
“You’ve threatened to cut me off from your affections,” he pouted.
“Exactly. And neither of us want that, now do we?”
Narcissa bit back a smile. She was the only one who knew that behind his cool, reserved exterior, Lucius was far more teddy bear than blood purity sycophant, at least in her hands. Malfoy men tended to love both obsessively and singularly, which is why Narcissa knew that the attachment her son had formed would either be accepted by them both or would cause a rift in their family, so she was using the full weight of her powers of persuasion to make sure Lucius behaved.
“Correct. But, I’m not an overly cruel taskmistress. I can provide incentives, too.”
Lucius raised an eyebrow. “Like?”
“Oh, you know I can make it worth your while, Lucius.”
He stopped and pondered. “I think I can do aloof. Is that enough?”
“It’s a start.”
An elf announced the arrival of the young couple and Lucius and Narcissa walked to the foyer to greet them. Much was riding on the next few moments.
As they entered the foyer, however, Narcissa found herself at a loss for words. The girl was wearing a bright yellow dress that did nothing for her complexion and even less for her voluminous hair. For his part, Draco looked at the young woman on arm his adoringly and then towards his parents anxiously.
She felt Lucius squeeze her arm, as he spoke up. “Miss Granger. Please let me welcome you to Malfoy Manor. Narcissa and I are so glad that you are joining us this evening.”
Narcissa looked at her husband who was suddenly the picture of manners and everyone seemed to relax.
They could do this. It would be okay. And, she was going to have to pay up.
Chapter 6: Steadfast
Round 5: Gladiolus/Strength of Character
Five years. It had been five long years.
Hermione sat at her desk with her head in her hands and exhaled. At least she could say she had done everything she could. It was in the hands of the Wizengamot now. Sadly, it was much the same tribunal that had acted so rashly to begin with, sentencing a boy for the actions of adults. It was as if they thought being harsh in the aftermath could make up for their own hand in allowing Riddle to rise to power.
While she couldn’t help that, she could ensure her client received the best defense available, instead of the farce of representation he had been given after a war that so many were ready to put behind them.
They hadn’t wanted to reopen his case. They had argued he was best left to rot in Azkaban with the other Death Eaters.
She didn’t listen. Wasn’t justice what they had fought for? Wasn’t that what Harry had been willing to lay down his life for? That no one should be seen as more or less than their own abilities and actions?
Her zeal had come at a cost, as she remained singularly focused on the case. She knew she would only have one shot, so she felt her time was better spent reading book after book, trying to find what would help, rather than frivolities like hanging out at the Leaky. Ron had drifted away, saying he was unable to compete with the case. He didn’t understand.
Harry just looked at her sadly, “It’s like you’re the one locked away, Hermione. You have to live.”
“But Harry, it’s the right thing to do.” What else could she say? She didn’t dare speak of stolen kisses and how her heart had been broken the night Dumbledore was killed.
She eyed the vase of gladiolas sitting on her credenza. A new bouquet arrived like clockwork each week to replace the last regardless of the time of year. They were always vibrant and fresh, a rare spot of beauty in an office piled high with dusty books and papers.
There had never been a card, but she suspected she knew who had sent them.
Although she never said a word, Draco’s mother sat in the front row at each hearing. Hermione wondered if she sat there to remind the Wizengamot that if not for her, the war might not have ended so quickly.
Hermione allowed herself a brief moment to close her eyes, letting the weight of everything wash over her. This was it. All that was left was to hear whether her work had been enough, whether Draco would be released or spend his remaining days in prison. And if he was released, what then? She had never allowed herself to think that far ahead.
There was a knock at the door and her heart quickened.
“It’s time. They’ve reached a decision.”
She took a breath and rose, ready to meet her fate.
Round 6: Statice/Remembrance
She’s in the tub when her head begins hurting. It’s just a dull ache. She looks at her reflection in the mirror, searching for something, but isn’t sure what.
By the time she has dried off, it is all she can do to sit still as an elf pins up her hair. There’s something familiar about the small creature, but she doesn’t remember seeing her before.
“What’s your name?”
“Tootie, miss.” The elf says softly.
She doesn’t catch how the elf won’t meet her eyes as she helps her get dressed.
When the door opens, the elf instantly pops away.
“Ah, my bride. It’s time.”
A fragment pushes its way to the forefront and she frowns. “But, the groom isn’t supposed to see the bride before the wedding.”
He laughs. It’s not a comforting sound. “My dear, you know I can’t deny myself the pleasure of your company for very long. Now come. Our eternity awaits.”
She rises instantly, but pauses for a moment to pick up the bouquet laying on her dressing table. Statice. What an odd choice for a bouquet, she thinks, cradling the dry flowers.
She doesn’t see how his eyes narrow as he watches her movements. Upon reaching him, she takes his arm and lets him lead her down the stairs.
With each step her sense of foreboding increases along with the pounding in her head. While her exterior is calm, her insides are roiling.
I’ve got to get out. I’ve got to get out.
There aren’t any guests in the sitting room, just an old, tired man whose demeanor suggests that he would rather be anywhere but here.
When the pounding becomes so bad that she can no longer concentrate on the voices around her, she closes her eyes and touches her temple. The feeling that something is very wrong nearly bowls her over.
I’ve got to get out. I’ve got to get out. I’ve got to…
A sickly sweet smell permeates her senses and a feeling of calm washes over her.
She doesn’t remember the voice that was shouting in her mind just a moment ago, but she feels strangely empty without it.
She looks up at the man standing in front of her. His smile is strained as he searches her eyes for something, although she doesn’t know what. Her hand is tight in his grip.
He doesn’t take his eyes off of her as he says to the man standing near them. “Minister, if you would, please repeat that.”
“Ah yes, Hermione Jean Granger, do you take Draco Lucius Malfoy to be your husband?”
She looks down at her white dress and the flowers she carries. The statice is brittle in her hands. It’s her wedding day and her mind tells her that she is getting married to the man she adores.
Statice. Such an odd choice for a bouquet.
Draco squeezes her hand. His voice is firm. “Hermione?”
This one may be my favorite of the lot. :)
Chapter 8: Sticks and Stones
Round 7: Protea/Transformation
The first time Hermione hears the word, she’s confused and Ron has to explain to her why she should be upset.
The second time she hears it, she is angry and sad — that who she is could be disregarded because of a word.
The third time she hears it, she is resolved to fight for a world where no one is better than anyone else based on something as arbitrary and meaningless as blood status.
The fourth time she hears the word, she is terrified. Her head falls to the side and her eyes lock onto the person who taught her the word in the first place. And in that moment, she realizes that his eyes are as haunted as she feels — yet another child whose innocence has been lost to the ravages of this war. The pain is unrelenting and all she can do is lie there and stare at him with unblinking eyes.
But the funny thing is that is the last time she has to hear that word.
The first time she sees the word carved into her skin, she wants to vomit, but she refuses to be defined by it and redoubles her efforts to end the war.
The first time she sees Draco after that, there’s fire and chaos and she makes a split second decision to turn her broom around, instead of leaving him to be consumed by the flames.
The second time she sees him, he and his parents are awkwardly standing in the aftermath, and she knows she did the right thing, even though she no longer has parents to turn to.
The third time she sees him is at his trial. She and Harry have chosen to testify on his behalf. Ron is livid, but Harry feels he owes it to Draco’s mother to try and save her son.
Hermione doesn’t speak about her reasons, but is resolute on wanting to speak on his behalf.
The first time Draco sees her back at Hogwarts, he glances down at her covered arm. Unlike everyone else, he knows what is under there, what she is hiding. He awkwardly tries to apologize.
“Why?” Hermione asks. “You didn’t do this.”
She glances down at his own long sleeves. Unlike her, everyone knows what he is hiding.
The second time he sees her, he notices a bit of red has bled through her shirt and sets to make a salve for her, whether out of guilt or concern or something else, he’s not quite sure.
The third time he sees her, he holds out the jar. When she looks puzzled, he takes her hand and leads her to an empty classroom. For some reason, she follows. And when he moves to unbutton her sleeve, she lets him.
He feels her eyes on him as he examines her scar and keeps his head bowed so she can’t see a tear that has trailed down his cheek. “I’m sorry,” he apologizes again. “You were never this.”
Round 8: Queen Anne's Lace/Sanctuary
Some describe home as a place; the house they grew up in, for example, knowing its walls and windows and noises as sure as they know their own scars and blemishes.
Inside that home, some may even have a favorite spot — a place of retreat when everything is right in the world, or needs to be.
They can recall how it feels to be tucked securely under the covers of their bed, feeling the weight of blankets around them. Or a kitchen, filled with warmth and merriment, where memories of holiday treats and laughter sit interspersed with the particular sound mugs make when clanked against each other.
Because home is not just a place. It is the memories and the particular sounds and smells that make up those memories that inhabit our mental real estate. Any one of those can trigger a remembered sense of security or happiness.
However, not everyone has the luxury of doting parents and the smell of warm biscuits to recall. Others would do better to forget the places they started in life altogether, especially when so many of the memories that can be called forth aren’t good ones.
For some, what should be a safe place is instead a place to flee; a place of panic and pain, instead of sanctuary, no matter what it looks like from the outside.
Which is why some wander or drift, because they lack a tether; they have no anchor. They are without that physical grounding that ties their personhood and soul together in such a way that they know who they are or recognize their own worth.
But you know just how lucky you are, because you drifted, until you found yourself snagged in a tangle of honey brown curls that pulled you under while simultaneously giving you enough breath to sustain you. And before you even realized how lost you were, you found the shelter you’d been craving all along.
Home doesn’t have to be a place. Sometimes home is a person; one who knows your insides and outsides as well as they know the four walls around them. Someone who can navigate your prickles and push-backs with their eyes closed. Someone who accepts your snark, but much to your chagrin, insists that you pick yourself up and push forward when you would rather wallow, but who also waits with open arms each time when you return.
And so, you replace those fragmented memories of a childhood best left forgotten, and you make new ones that you didn’t even realize were possible. And you find something that resembles happiness, tangled up in that web of honey brown hair and freckles, a love of sarcasm and a brilliance you are more than content to watch. And you recall her in the smell of parchment, the sound of laughter, and the feel of her arms around you.
And you know that she is your home, and you never, ever want to leave it again.
Thanks for reading. I was blown away to make it to the final four in this comp. So many talented writers, so many amazing stories.
As always, the pleasure is mine.