Part 4

Hollyhocks - tall plant with showy flowers: a plant of the mallow family that has very tall hairy stems and is often grown for its spikes of variously colored flowers. Latin name: Alcea rosea

"What are we planting today?"

Charlie was deep in the middle of the garden today and he hadn't even heard her approach. He also hadn't heard the gate's squeaky hinges, and usually, that was how he knew she'd arrived.

As if sensing his thoughts on the matter, she looked toward the gate and said, "I was a bit sneaky today. I Apparated into the garden. Hope you don't mind."

He didn't mind. He was beginning to anticipate her daily arrival. He liked having her near. Her presence calmed him, made him feel almost human again. Because deep in his mind reigned a chaotic range of emotions that he couldn't deal with yet. But out here, in the garden, he felt calmer. And with her, when she was here with him, he not only felt calmer, but he felt safer, too.

So here they were, Charlie and Hermione, in the garden together, getting ready to plant yet another flower, when she suddenly said, "Why don't we agree to answer one question of each other – honestly, mind you – each day? That shouldn't be too much of a chore, don't you think?" Hermione handed Charlie one of the flowers from the cart, a hollyhock, and then waited for his answer to her question.

She would have to wait a long time.

He got down on his knees and planted the first of the hollyhocks.

Hermione sat on the edge of the wooden cart beside him and continued, "One question a day. Easy, right?" She dropped down to her knees beside him.

Sure, asking one question a day would be easy enough, but answering said question might prove a bit more difficult, depending on what she asked. Charlie wasn't sure he was ready to answer anyone's questions.

Yet here they were, another day, and Charlie was planting another flower and Hermione Granger was trying, once again, to make him talk to her. When he didn't make a comment about her 'one question a day' request, she tapped him on the shoulder to make him look up at her. He looked quickly at her hand as it departed his shoulder.

"What's today's flower called?" she asked.

He raised one eyebrow. Did she really think he would acquiescence to her 'one question a day' request that easily? Besides, he knew without a doubt that she probably not only knew what this little, spiky flower was called, but that she probably also knew its Latin name, it genus, and everything in between.

"Is it a hollyhock?" she asked innocently enough.

Charlie couldn't help himself. He laughed. She didn't play 'ignorant' very well, and it made him laugh.

Hermione smiled slowly at the sound. "I made you laugh," she replied, seemingly pleased that if she couldn't make him talk, at least she made him laugh.

She stood up, sat back down on the edge of the cart again and said, "Fine, fine, I know it's a hollyhock. But did you know its Latin name is Alcea rosea? Because it is… its Latin name, that is." Charlie nodded as she reached into the cart and picked up another hollyhock, petting one of the white petals softly. "But no matter its nomenclature, it's awfully pretty."

Sighing loudly, she passed the flower from her hands into his. Their hands touched, briefly, but just enough to make Charlie recoil. He dropped the white flower to the ground and stood so quickly that it startled her and she slipped off her perch on the side of the cart and landed on her bum in the grass.

Well he gasped in horror at what he'd done, she said softly, "I'm sorry, Charlie." Her hands were clasped tightly together in her lap. "It was an accident. I didn't mean to touch you, honestly."

Charlie felt abjectly humiliated. Here she was, on the ground because he startled her and she was apologizing to him! Furthermore, he didn't want her to think that he thought there was anything wrong with her. It was him. He was dirty. Not just because there was dirt on his skin, but he was dirty deep inside and he felt terribly exposed and so very tired of it all. Bending at the waist, he picked up the flower he'd dropped and the spade and placed them behind her in the cart. Then he reached his hand toward her, to help her up.

She stared at his hand, then into his eyes, and then smiled the sweetest smile at him as she placed her hand in his. He pulled her up carefully, so she wouldn't pitch forward, and as soon as she was standing he dropped her hand and wiped his on his trouser leg.

She noticed that small action, even though he tried to do it quickly. She didn't say any more on the subject though. He was glad for small favors.

Charlie looked down at his hand, bringing his palm up closely to his face. It was just a hand, after all, wasn't it? She didn't mind touching him, so he shouldn't mind touching her.

He was brought out of his thoughts when she said, "We can start tomorrow, if you'd like."

He stared at her with confusion, until she clarified, "With our one question a day. I'll ask you something and then you ask me something and above all, we must answer truthfully, okay?"

Dropping his hand to his side he smiled at her and said, "Be careful what you ask for, Hermione Granger, because you just might get what you want."

She laughed and said, "Well, Charlie Weasley, that's the most I've heard you say in… well, forever. And don't worry; I know exactly what I'm getting myself into, my dear… exactly."

Part 5