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Chapter 1: The Gardener
Christmas dinner was a disaster. Only she had noticed, of course. This was how Christmas always was for people with less than obsessive parents. It must have been quite lovely for everyone else gathered around the table, but Hermione had heavier things on her mind than color scheme of what would become Dominique’s nursery.
Perhaps it was merely her intense desire to tell her parents what had happened. To be sitting at their table and eating sugar-free cranberry sauce and a delicate quinoa salad, because it was the healthiest way to acquire the necessary protein from the meal, after all.
She had seen her parents since the war ended, of course. Hell, she had tended their garden for three months. They had always been so meticulous about their garden. They didn’t know why she knew the height they liked their grass and their favorite patterns of all the different colors of violets. They simply smiled and nodded. Hadn’t Hermione’s parents brought her up properly because she knew the right way to garden?
Hermione had smiled and gone back to her pruning.
This place was far too loud. Hermione couldn’t hear the classical music she insisted upon playing in the background. Dishes spilled into each other and somehow there were four knives jammed into the butter. The sights of people’s napkins made her skin crawl. It wouldn’t have been like this if she had stayed with her parents.
She could have avoided this. Her parents had invited her to Christmas dinner. She had no family in Australia, and they were lonely. She would sit down and roll her eyes at the classical music. Her plate would be filled with neat piles because they had insisted upon cleanliness when she was a child, so she had never let her food dance with strange dishes and flavors. Perhaps she had for everyday occurences, but Christmas was far above “everyday”. She could have had the perfect Christmas.
Except she wouldn’t. She would sit quietly while her father cleared. Make small talk while her mother did the dishes. Unwrap a field guide to exotic plants because it had been sitting on the shelf and seemed appropriate for a gardener.
Staying would have meant being a guest. Not a daughter. It had always been apparent that she was just a nice little girl who was out of a job. But sitting through her favorite dinner of the whole year? It would have been a slap to the face a thousand times over.
So she left and found herself in the Burrow. Her own plate was a horror for such a fancy holiday. Her dishes bled into each other, her knife not even on the plate, even though it was dirty. Her elbows rested on the table to prop her head up, and an empty fork dangled lazily between her fingers.
She tried to focus on paying attention to Percy’s girlfriend, Audrey, but her voice squeaked on every vowel and all she seemed interested in was a wizarding heavy metal band that was apparently very good. Thankfully, her rainbow-dyed hair did keep her talking about mildly interesting charms every now and the.
And then she would relate a carefully set up anecdote back to Under The Mizzletizzle and the latest in magical mosh pit technologies.
Hermione’s glances back to Ron became more and more frequent as the evening wore on. Nothing had happened since the Battle of Hogwarts. Nothing. Perhaps it was that she left for school and he left for auror business for a year, but he had plenty of time to do more than relay messages from Ginny after they finished school. And yet he remained silent.
She didn’t want to think about why she loved him, but if Percy had a girlfriend whose favorite word contained four “z”s, perhaps Ron wasn’t so surprising.
He didn’t glance back at her.
The dinner lasted for four hours.
And he didn’t look at her once.
Finally, she simply had to excuse herself early, only to be followed by Audrey. It had irritated her when she heard the immediate squeaking of chairs and footsteps after her, but she appreciated the motion as Audrey led Hermione to Percy’s very still makeshift office. The two sat in silence in the silence of stacks of parchment perfuming the air.
She wanted to go home. To her real home. In England. Where all the houses looked the same. Where she was just a lonely muggle girl who read too much. Her parents knew who she was. And she could recognize her parents.
Somehow, she ended up leaning into Audrey’s shoulder after the mop of rainbow hair fell back and Audrey was sound asleep. Hermione wasn’t really asleep, but she wasn’t entirely awake either. The grains of sand fell one by one from a perfectly polished hourglass. The wind pushed the branches of the nearby tree against the window in a sweet and melodic way.
Her eyes were closed and she could smell the freshly mown grass that she wanted so desperately to crunch her way through, even though it was brown and sleepy from the winter frosts. Her mother tapped her shoulder because it was time for dinner now. Real dinner.
She turned around to follow her implicit instructions and tightly smiled even though the feet of her tights were uncomfortably twisted. Her smile was met by a more crooked and weary smile than she was expecting. Maybe he had been glancing at her. Maybe he had things to say to her. She might have preferred the tapping to be her mother if she had felt it half an hour before, but now she wasn’t so sure. Audrey could handle herself – Hermione was taking the hand reaching out to her. Maybe he missed her hand as much as she missed his. She certainly hoped so.
For hpsauce’s When You Say Nothing at All Challenge. Happy holidays!