Written for Hogwarts School of Witchcraft & Wizardry (Challenges & Assignments), where I am (as I should be) a Slytherin.
Assignment: Charms—Washing Up Charm: Write about someone trying to clean up a mess they made, figuratively or literally. They may or may not succeed.
Final Word Count: 1717
I think this fic came out of the idea that I mixed up the prompt for Charms with idea of gardening (which was another subject offered this assignment cycle)—but I think it worked out alright!
Disclaimer: I don't own the thing. Not any of it. Except that I put these words in this particular order, just for fun.
She squishes her hands around in the cool soil—it's dark, slightly damp, dotted with little white bits that she couldn't say what they are but knows are good for the plants. It's something she used to do with her mother, gardening—rare afternoons of warm sunshine, the plastic smell of the knee pads, the green handle of her mother's trowel and the yellow handle of her own miniature version. They'd have the garden hose nearby, and Hermione would get sent around the side of the house to turn on the faucet just the tiniest bit so as not to drown the flowers, gripping the knobbly green valve and turning it ever-so-slightly until her mother shouted around the corner, "That's just perfect!"
"I used to do this with my mother," Hermione smiles in the direction of a flower she's planting, willing the smile to reach her voice. But her expression feels forced; the cheer sounds thin. Next to her, Ginny sits in a garden chair, so hugely pregnant that she's for all the world trapped until someone moves to help her up again.
"Hm," Ginny replies thinly.
It's been like this. It's only been a few weeks. Hermione didn't suppose Ginny would be exactly thrilled to hear about the breakup, but she hadn't expected a reception quite so chilly.
"I love the feel of the dirt under my fingers," Hermione tries again, turning her false smile toward Ginny, meeting her eyes for only a fraction of a moment. She can't bear to acknowledge the other woman's cold expression for very long.
"Oh," Ginny says.
This was supposed to be the glue, or the plaster—whatever metaphor is best for mending. This was supposed to smooth things over. Hermione and Ginny have never been very close, even after Ginny married Harry, even after Hermione spent two years dating Ron. They've always been friendly, but Ginny hasn't confided in Hermione like Hermione has tried to confide in her; and now that divide is more apparent than ever.
Hermione had suggested it, this afternoon of gardening—planting some nice flowers before the baby arrives. She'd told Harry—she'd prepare a meal, bring it over to share, then do a little beautifying to brighten up the house. She'd promised a series of charms over the flowers, to keep them blooming for weeks without any additional care, since Harry and Ginny were soon to have the care of something far more important on their hands. Harry had been receptive, mostly. He'd tried to caution her, warning that Ginny's hormones from the pregnancy were making her even more upset than usual.
Maybe it's not really the hormones, Hermione thinks as she searches for another way to open the conversation. Harry had brought the chair out for his wife as Hermione had pulled all her supplies from the depths of her expanding bag, but he hadn't chosen to stay outside himself. It occurs to Hermione as she twists another clump of flowers from the plastic tray they came in that maybe Harry doesn't really want to see her right now, either. He's been quiet since the breakup, mostly spending time with Ron—though she'd just assumed that he was doing his duty as a friend. Now that she's on her knees in his garden, dirt up to her elbows, she wonders if he isn't also upset with her.
"Which color do you like these best in?" Hermione gestures to the trays of flowers, all waiting to be popped from their individual compartments and nestled into the soil. She's bought the most red and yellow—Gryffindor pride and all—but also some white and purple, just in case.
Ginny spends a few moments looking at the flowers. "The yellow."
"Yellow," Hermione repeats, glancing at the flowers in question.
"He's not doing very well," Ginny says.
They haven't talked about this—not directly. Everything's been vague and carefully off-topic. Hermione looks up. Ginny's expression is stoic, intent—once Hermione meets her gaze, she can't look away.
"He told me the things you said," Ginny continues, "how you thought he wasn't trying, how you didn't want to keep waiting for things to get better."
"Yes," Hermione says simply. Those are the things she said, the reasons she gave. Ron wasn't trying. He was giving up all his time to his job and his new hobbies. He'd ask Hermione to join him, but it was as if he expected her to enjoy perfectly the things he did, exactly as he did—which meant a lot of drinking, a lot of stupid jokes, a lot of Quidditch, and not a lot of acknowledging Hermione's existence. He'd begun ditching their dinners, their planned date nights, for a wizarding chess club or intramural Quidditch or a number of other ridiculous things. He'd stopped asking if she liked it when he kissed her, stopped giving her more than half an hour of each day, stopped thinking of her as someone who wasn't a given in his daily routine.
And Hermione had suffered through it. She'd tried to talk to him and he'd apologize. He'd put himself down. He'd say with a downturn of his mouth, "I don't know why someone as wonderful as you would be with someone like me," or, "You deserve someone a lot better than me," or "You're a saint for putting up with me, Mione, really you are." And after months of this, after months of apologies without any effort to rectify the behavior in question, Hermione had started to believe him. After promises made and continually broken, she'd had enough.
She doesn't suppose Ron told Ginny about all that.
"He loved you," Ginny continues. "He did everything he could."
"I suppose he thinks he did," Hermione shoots back, surprised at how quickly the retort falls from her lips.
Ginny narrows her eyes. "I know he's a bloody idiot, but you stopped trying, too."
Hermione holds Ginny's gaze a moment longer before she looks away, thrusting her hands back into the soil, pulling up weeds and clearing out another spot. She digs her trowel deep in the earth, turns it up and out, staring at her own hands as if this is a matter of precision and she must be carefully watched.
Of course Ginny's right. Of course she stopped trying herself when Ron stopped on his end—there's no denying it. Why love someone so fiercely when they don't love you back? Why keep correcting behavior that they show no inclination for correcting? Why tell yourself to stay when you're not fully committed—when there's still a chance to make a better start?
If Ron hadn't been Harry's friend, would Hermione have liked him at all? He was hapless and immature, prone to temper tantrums and endless self-deprecation. Loyal, sometimes, but also cowardly and reckless. She remembers his Quidditch triumph, how he'd snogged nearly everything that moved in the common room celebration after, how she'd run off crying. All the pain he'd brought her. She remembers the long nights she spent with Harry in the woods, waiting for Ron to come back to them, wondering if ever he would.
And she remembers the weeks after the Battle of Hogwarts. How the three of them had slept in the same bedroom at the Weasleys' for comfort, how she'd fallen asleep every night holding Ron's hand. How he'd taken the portkey with her to Australia, to see what could be done about her parents—how he'd held her in the hotel after when the answer was clearly "nothing." How he'd made her promises—promises she couldn't believe in anymore. Marriage and children and a family that would never, ever forget her: he'd begun closing the door, and she'd given it the final push, turned the key in the lock.
Her would-be sister in law is still staring daggers at her—Hermione can practically feel it—and hot tears sting at her eyes. "You said you liked the yellow," Hermione smiles, gesturing at the flowers. "Your least favorite, then?"
She looks away as soon as she's asked the question, trying to hide her expression—willing not to let the other woman see her breaking.
Hermione freezes, because of course—she's already planted an entire tray of red flowers, started on them without even asking.
"Ah," Hermione says quickly, glancing up at Ginny and back at the flowerbed. "I—I should have asked sooner," she pulls a tray of yellow flowers toward her. "I can—" She pushes the yellow tray back, reaches for the empty try from the reds. "I can take them out."
She sees a flicker of movement—Ginny has raised her wand, sent a nonverbal spell toward the window; and in moments Harry is outside, reaching down to help her stand up from the chair.
"Just leave it," Ginny says to Hermione, both her face and Harry's obscured as he helps her stand.
"Don't worry about it, Mione," Harry says vaguely, glancing down at her as she watches them. There's no hiding the tears that blur her vision as they go inside and she turns back to the soil, no sense in pretending. She turns the dirt meaninglessly in her hands as she cries, filtering it between her fingers. She thinks Harry will come back outside to say something to her, but he doesn't.
Hermione moves to dig up the first bunch of red flowers, but she stops. She thinks of other days she's spent weeping in the past year—waiting for Ron to come by as he promised, staying up until the late hours of the morning only to find he'd forgotten, fallen asleep. Asking him cheekily in the pub to get her another drink and finding out how little he's thinking of her, receiving the response, In a minute, Mione, as he continues a conversation with a colleague. Announcing her excitement at receiving the departmental service award and being told he wouldn't be at the ceremony because of his chess league—It's every Wednesday, Mione, you know that. Being promised again and again, I'll try to do better. I'll really try my hardest, and seeing nothing change—nothing at all.
You've made your bed, she thinks to herself, to him, patting down the soil firmly around the red flowers—now lie in it.