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Chapter 1: Between Us Girls
Written for Whimsical Diva's Simplicity/Conformity Challenge.
She's my daughter and she thinks a boy is 'hot'. Not 'cute', not 'nice', not 'he has great hair’.
Shocked, flabbergasted, speechless. Pick one. That’s what I was.
My daughter never said anything about boys to me before. I never shared anything like that with my mother, ever.
At the end of the day, I sat by the fire with my husband, sharing the experience with him. I expected understanding, or at the least, flustered panic.
"Hmm. Should we have the talk with her?”
His answer surprised me.
"No, that's been done. It's just a crush. She'll be fine."
I should be talking to a girlfriend about this.
"She's nine." I said, bracing my elbows on my best friend’s dining room table the next morning. I cupped my mug with both hands in anticipation of much needed sympathy.
Her oldest was a few years ahead of mine. It was nice having someone to share first-hand experience with projectile vomiting, habitual thumb sucking and losing teeth. Certainly she would understand my unease.
She looked thoughtful.
"Yes, that sounds about right."
"Almost ten. That's about how old I was, you know."
I knew she wanted to laugh at me.
My husband’s family laughed at each other a lot. I didn’t think it was kind to laugh at people when they needed comfort. Of all people, best friends didn't laugh when you were troubled.
Then she laughed. I wasn't laughing. That’s what you get when your best friend is also family. My sister-in-law, soon-to-not-be best friend was laughing at me.
"It's not funny, Ginny!"
"Oh, oh yes it is! Very funny!"
She took a breath and wiped her eyes, clearing her throat. "It's funny because it's you. And it's your daughter. And this must be some sort of cosmic payback for when you were younger.” Her arms made a wide circle around her head, then rested on my arm.
“Tell me,” she gripped my arm, eyes glistening, “what horrible thing did you put your parents through when you were Rosie's age? Besides being a witch in a muggle world and accidentally turning your mum's gardenias purple?"
"That wasn't horrible. They looked good!"
Nine years old and she used the word 'hot'. In context. Referring to a boy.
"She's almost ten."
"Stop reading my mind!"
"I'm not, I'm reading your face. Seriously, Hermione. I met Harry when I turned ten."
"You didn't talk to him until you were twelve. You didn't really talk to him until you were fifteen."
"I talked about him all the time when he wasn’t around. Don’t you remember?"
"I didn’t know you well back then. Besides, you can't tell me that you knew you were in love when you were ten."
I stared her down.
I sighed with relief.
"For your sake, I won't. If it makes you feel better."
I wasn't comforted. "But Ginny, she's..."
"Only a child who doesn't know better and isn't thinking logically."
I let out my breath. "Exactly."
"I can relate to that. When she gets that forlorn look and you can’t stand the drama anymore, send her over and I'll do my best to cheer her up."
That wasn't what I had in mind.
“So, what did you say?”
I looked at her.
“Don’t tell me you rolled your eyes. Please tell me you didn’t.”
“I don’t think she saw me. My back was turned.” I felt guilty.
“Hermione, you’ve got to do better than that. Give her some support.” She sounded just like her mother.
“What kind of support does she need, honestly. She’s only…”
“Almost ten. She brought it up. She wants someone to be excited with her. Let her know it’s okay… give her the confidence to be herself. Like what you did with me, when I needed it.”
“THAT was different. You were older!”
“We’ll see how understanding you’ll be when it’s your daughter.”
“Oh please! She kissed a boy on the cheek last week and she’s seven. It was adorable! Besides, she has two older brothers. Enough said.”
My head fell into my hands on the tabletop. “Argh!” I looked up at her. “How am I supposed to be excited about this?”
“Well, you could start by asking her if her little hottie has a name.” She saw my scowl. “Sorry, it’s HER word, not mine. Maybe if you find out what she thinks is so appealing it would make better sense to you.”
Ginny continued, as if this was a normal conversation. “Anyway, who knows what it really means, you know? Being ‘hot’ today might not be like being ‘hot’ when we were younger. I think it took us at least four days to catch on to anything coming out of James’ mouth last holiday. And now the other two have started in too. It gets confusing.”
Her rambling lulled me and I slipped into a haze, sipping my coffee.
“Hermione?” Ginny prodded me with a finger. “When did you stop listening?”
“So what are you going to do?”
“I don’t know. What am I supposed to do?”
“Be interested. Ask her what she likes about him… what parts of him are hot… stop looking at me like that! I’m trying to help you relate to your daughter!”
“Yes, I know. If I react badly, she won’t talk to me about other important things in her life and I’ll end up with a teenaged drugged up… pregnant…” I tried to think of something worse than that… “… school drop out because her mother is a heartless prude. I get it. Why do you think I’m here?” I threw my hands in the air.
“At least you came here to overreact instead of doing it in front of her. Look, you don’t have to gush either. Ask a few innocent questions and be supportive. Besides, you’re not heartless and you’re less of a prude than you used to be. More coffee?”
I didn’t remember thinking about boys at ten. Not even at thirteen. Boys were annoying or stubborn or friendly… or all of the above, I mused. But never hot. I shook my head in disbelief. She should have years of ignorant bliss ahead of her before getting caught up in all this… bothersome boy rubbish.
Did we have ‘the talk’ too early? There was a matter-of-fact biological discussion a while back with Rose when she asked about our neighbor’s kittens. It seemed appropriate at the time, and she was satisfied with the information I gave her. She’d had questions and I gave her answers.
Was it too much?
Stop. I didn’t need to second-guess myself. I did the right thing. This isn’t something I needed on my worry list. Believe me. Every mother has one.
Sometimes as a mother I feel like all I do is worry. When they’re in the womb, you worry if they’ll come out right and when they do, they’re so helpless that you’re convinced that they’ll contract one of a thousand incurable diseases. When they can’t walk, you wonder if they ever will and when they finally take their first step, your joy is overshadowed by the fear that their head will crack open when they fall.
As children grow, there should be less for mothers to worry over. Now that Hugo is seven, I no longer fear that he will suffocate in his sleep, choke on whole grapes or accidentally fall out of his bedroom window.
But that’s the thing. As children get older, the old worries become obsolete and get replaced with bigger worries, which are grander, more extravagant ways of dying: like ingesting Floo powder, getting run over by the Knight Bus or jumping off the Gryffindor tower… on purpose… just to see what happens.
Yelling only goes so far.
Imprisonment isn’t effective, especially if your children are talented.
Just ask Ginny.
I sent little Hugo into the sunny afternoon with a Summoning jar and a bug identification book, hoping it would keep him occupied for at least an hour. Then I made cocoa for Rosie and tea for myself. We sat in the kitchen so I could keep and eye on my little entomologist through the window.
“So, Rosie, where did you meet your friend?”
She looked up from her cocoa. “What friend?”
“The one you were talking about the other day that you’d just met?”
I was going to have to say it. It’s the only thing I knew about him. I cleared my throat.
“The boy that you thought was hot?” I tried to sound encouraging.
Her face went slightly pink. “Oh. At the park. Aunt Fleur took us last week. It was fun! There’s lots of kids. Maybe she could tell you where it is and then you could take us there. Wouldn’t that be great?” The pink was gone.
“Oh. Okay Rose. I’ll ask her about the park.”
“Great! Can we go today?” She gave me a hopeful cocoa-outlined grin.
“I don’t know where it is yet, sweetie. But I’ll find out for you. Okay?” It wasn’t a promise, but it appeased her. I passed her a napkin.
“So does he have a name?”
“Yes.” My daughter rolled her eyes. I wished I was Ginny.
“Do you know what it is?”
“Umm, no. I heard his friends call him ‘Mate', but I don’t think that’s his real name.”
I chuckled. “No, Rosie, I don’t think that’s his real name either. Want a cookie?”
“Yes please!” She brightened up.
I needed a cookie too.
Her forehead wrinkled. “You won’t like him.”
“I won’t? How do you know?”
“Because you won’t think he’s hot.”
“What?” I almost dropped my cookie. “Why?”
She looked genuinely concerned. “He doesn’t look anything like Daddy at all.”
“And why would that matter?” I was incredulous at her reasoning.
“Everyone in our family has red hair and freckles. He doesn’t.”
“Oh.” Well, that’s okay then. “He doesn’t have to have red hair and freckles.” I sat, thinking. “Besides, Uncle Harry doesn’t have red hair. Neither does Albus.”
“Oh. That’s right. So it’s okay then?”
“I’m sure it’s okay, sweetie. He doesn’t have to look like our family.” I felt better. “So what makes him so… hot?”
“Mum!” she moaned, hiding behind her cocoa.
I occurred to me that I hadn’t noticed red hair and freckles when I first met my husband. What was it then? “I like his eyes.” I said, mostly to myself.
“You like Daddy’s eyes?”
“Yes, I like Daddy’s eyes best of all, except for yours. You have beautiful eyes.”
I sipped my tea, staring out the kitchen window. Hugo had something in his jar and was making faces at it through the glass.
“He has a nice smile.” said Rose suddenly from behind her cocoa.
I let the moment pass, giving her time to recover from her admission.
“Is that why you think he’s hot?”
She nodded her head. “Can I have another cookie?”
I got Rosie another cookie and relaxed. She’s only nine after all.
The following Saturday, Fleur came with us to the park. I sat on a shaded bench, watching a boy with a mess of sandy hair and a long stick. He didn’t look like anyone in our family. My daughter picked up another stick and drew something in the dirt next to him. He smiled, and added something to her picture.
While he had a nice smile, I could honestly say that this kid was not hot.
I looked away, embarrassed. I shouldn’t judge my nine year old’s taste in boys. I’m sure he’s a very nice boy. With a nice smile.
She looked happy. Who cares about ‘hot’ anyway?
“Do you know who that boy is?” I hoped to come across casually to Fleur, who leaned back against the bench.
“One of the Finnigans, I think.” She looked over to where I nodded, but her attention was divided. She was keeping an eye on Hugo and Lily; they’d disappeared more than once in the first quarter hour.
James and Albus had been invited too, but apparently they were now too old… or whatever they were calling ‘I can’t be seen around my younger siblings because people will look down upon me with scorn’.
I’ll stop now before I launch into an off-topic motherly tirade.
A loud crack startled me as a new group arrived, presumably with an older sibling or sitter. As the token adult moved away, the group of three haughty boys and a straight-backed girl looked around at their potential playmates. One of them pointed to Rose and her friend.
This didn’t look good.
I started to get up, but felt a hand touch me. Fleur patted my arm. “She is fine. Watch.”
One of the new boys reached out to poke the messy haired boy, but the shortest of them, a light-headed skinny boy raised his hand, saying something. The would-be poker shrugged and laughed, but stopped short of poking messy head. The light-headed boy pointed over to a group of older children at the perimeter of the park and said something else. The taller boys and the straight-backed girl turned and walked away towards the other group.
The skinny boy looked at Rosie and she turned bright pink.
So it wasn’t messy head after all.
Who was that boy? I caught the side of his pale face, and saw the pointed chin, angular nose, and piercing eyes.
I knew that boy. I knew that look. I took a deep breath to avoid flashing back to my own awkward youth.
I expected the worst. He’d say something nasty. She’d pout and throw her stick down. She’d turn her back on him, stomp away and when she reached me she’d be in tears.
Oh Rosie, I thought in despair. That’s not a smile, that’s a sneer.
If she had been younger, I’d have run up and swept her away. We’d go straight home or out for ice cream. I would spare her the ordeal and we’d forget about boys altogether.
Fleur still had her hand on my arm and squeezed it gently. It was the only thing that kept me on that bench. My insides twinged with a familiar ache. But it wasn’t for me, it was for my little girl.
Then something happened. Sneering skinny boy high-fived messy head and picked up a stick. They shared words, but it wasn’t nasty. And this time when he looked back at Rose the sneer was gone, his face smoothed out and he actually did smile. It was a beautiful smile. She smiled back as the three of them poked their sticks into the sand together, chatting away.
The scene I feared never came to pass.
When they ran off, Fleur turned and said “She chooses interesting company, no?”
I didn’t answer. I was still braced for Rosie’s first heartbreak. My brain was slow to convince the rest of me it wasn’t happening. At least not today.
The part of me that realized everything was fine had decided that though he was nicer to look at than messy head, it’d still be five or six years before he earned the privilege of being called ‘hot’.
Cut it out, Hermione.
Minutes later, Rosie ran to me, breathless. “Mum! I just got an invitation to Leo’s birthday party. Isn’t that great? Can I go? We’ll have to check the calendar when we get home, won’t we? Here’s the invitation.”
She thrust a folded parchment into my hands. Leo must be messy head, I assumed.
“We’re talking about names because I knew Leo’s but not his, and we all have picture names, except they have constellation names and my name isn’t, but they said it’s okay because they can draw their names without the stars and then we’d all have symbols. See?” She scribbled three crude figures in the dirt with her stick.
“They’re secret code names. This one is a flower, that’s me, and there’s a big cat and this one is a desert bug. Isn’t that great? When we get home, I’m borrowing Hugo’s entomology encyclopedia and making a better way to draw the bug because it looks funny.” She squinted sideways at her scribble. “Anyway, I’ll be over there. We’re making a shorter name for him because Leo and I think his name is too long, and he doesn’t want to be called ‘bug’. He says it’s not SOPHISTICATED enough.” She rolled her eyes, over-enunciating the word.
Rosie managed to take breaths during her long-winded explanation, but I wasn’t sure how because the words flew from her mouth. Fleur was doing her best to keep a straight face. I managed a smile.
“So his name isn’t ‘mate’ after all?”
She considered. “No, but I should suggest it because it’s one syllable, just like mine and he’d probably fancy it better than ‘bug’.”
She was off again.
I read the party details.
“You were right. He’s a Finnigan.” I looked at Fleur. She was laughing. “Is there something funny about the Finnigans?”
“No, it’s not them. It’s zat other one. Can you imagine him explaining to his parents that his new nickname is ‘bug’?”
I snorted with laughter. “And a Weasley named him!”
“So what are you going to tell her father?”
I sighed as my laughter subsided.
“I’m not sure.”
It had been almost two decades since the war, but how would I tell Ron that his daughter is fraternizing with the son of his once sworn enemy?
Ginny would laugh. Her brother wouldn’t take it well at all. I couldn’t decide which, but I wager that my husband would either exemplify or altogether redefine both the terms “conniption” and “fit”.
Perhaps this should be kept between us girls.