Hermione changed into her work clothes in a daze, trying to forget the gruff voice over the phone. As she buttoned up her shirt, she heard him enter their bedroom cautiously and stuffed the young girl's photo deeper into the pocket of her robes, afraid of what might happen to her if he found her in possession of it. The man she was married to was not the same man she had fallen in love with, and she didn't know what he was capable of. He seemed to be trying to avoid her at first, but with their closets right next to each other it was practically impossible. He sighed deeply and slowly turned to face her as she finished choosing her accessories for the day.
"There's so much I want to tell you," he began, shuffling his feet on the ground.
"And there's so much I don't want to hear," she responded, her voice quivering as she did so. She couldn't understand what had changed him, but really did not want to know. He watched her walk to the master bathroom and pull her hair back, putting on a thin layer of lip gloss. It was not pleasant to feel him staring at her, to see his eyes in the mirror gazing into hers. He seemed to be searching her, trying to figure out what she already knew, what she might have guessed.
"I have to work tomorrow," said Ron at length as she picked up her handbag.
"Fine," she responded coldly. Their last two anniversaries had been spent apart as well, and she wasn't in the least surprised that he would rather be with a younger, more beautiful girl than she was.
"But I made reservations for tonight at seven," he said quickly before she could shut the door to their bedroom on him. She stood there with the doorknob in her hand, almost frozen with shock. There was no sound behind that gave her the impression that he was trying to stop her, and yet she was unable to move. The only sound to be heard was her hard and staggered breathing as she struggled with her emotions.
"Where?" she stammered.
"The Sphinx," he answered, and she could hear that he was forcing a smile. That was the restaurant where he had proposed to her five years ago, where their life together had started. Hermione clutched her stomach once more, feeling as if she might fall to the ground in shock and disgust. How could he be so cruel to her to bring her back to the place that once held so many happy memories, clouding it with darkness like the rest of her life?
She couldn't find any words, and so nodded at him silently before continuing towards the fireplace. Just as she was about to grab a handful of floo powder from the flowerpot on the mantle a young woman appeared on the hearth, her bright blue eyes wide and her black hair in a tangled mess. Her eyes scanned right past Hermione and met Ron's, at which point she let out a squeal of delight and pushed past Mrs. Weasley into her husband's arms.
"Oh, Ron!" the young woman cried. "You have no idea how happy I am to see you!"
Hermione's eyes clouded with tears as she turned her back on the scene, vaguely aware of her husband asking the young woman how she had found his house. She could feel his unfeeling eyes boring into her back, pushing her out of the room, out of her own house. Because it wasn't her house at all; it belonged to all of them, the other women in Ron's life. She wanted to move on, accept that there was nothing between them anymore, but found herself still getting lost in those blue eyes of his, still faltering when he smiled…it was ridiculous, she knew, but Hermione was still completely in love with him, and it was breaking her heart how much he so obviously didn't care about her anymore.
But the fact that her husband didn't return her love wasn't the only thing that was bothering her as she travelled through the floo network to the Ministry. Her hand went absentmindedly to the picture in her pocket, what was left of a poor, defenseless young girl. She wanted to believe that her husband hadn't been there the previous night, but she had found the picture in his things, the number scrawled out in his handwriting. Originally she had thought it was strange that he was using muggle methods of communication, but then realized that he was probably trying to assimilate into the muggle society under an alias, one that had no wife, daughter, or son to concern them. Tears clouded her vision once more, partly from emotion and partly from the soot that she was travelling through.
The spinning stopped, and Hermione joined the throng of witches and wizards finding their way to their offices, her mind wandering far away from where she was. If her husband was seeking sexual pleasure in the muggle world in order to keep his married life a secret, why had the girl entered their house through the floo network? She sighed deeply as she realized that he simply didn't care whether or not she found out about his exploits; he knew as well as she did that no matter what happened, she wouldn't be able to help but remain faithful to him. He told her that he wanted her to be happy, but it was all a lie, he only wanted to be satisfied himself.
But if he murdered that girl…
She shook at the thought. How could Ron of all people commit such a crime? He may have stopped loving her and found other sources of pleasure and happiness, but she couldn't bring herself to believe that he could take another person's life, especially someone as young and innocent as the girl in the photo.
Focus on facts, she reminded herself. She knew that he hadn't come home when he said he did the night before, and she knew he was trying to hide what he was doing from her. She also knew that at some point in the previous night, Patricia Eastwood was murdered, and that her husband had been carrying a picture of the woman in his briefcase. She knew that another woman had found her way to the Weasley home this morning and ran into her husband's arms right in front of her, and that he had been surprised to see her there. Other than that, everything was just conjecture.
Perhaps he wasn't with Patricia last night. Perhaps he was with someone else, seeing as there were obviously multiple women in his life. In fact, the chances of him being involved in this murder in any way were looking more and more slim the more she thought about the situation. He probably didn't even know that she was dead yet and would be completely surprised when he heard the news.
Her thoughts were interrupted when she reached her office to see a stranger sitting at her assistant's desk. At first she thought it was Ginny, but the bright orange hair was cut too short and the ears were too small to belong to her friend. When the young woman turned to face her, Hermione was shocked to see that her eyes were a deep red. She smiled with her mouth closed and stood, proving to be extremely short, holding out a pale, delicate hand.
"My name is Isabella Santi," she said in a high-pitched voice that was surprisingly pleasant to listen to. "I'm your temporary assistant, Mrs. Weasley."
"Where's Brad?" questioned Hermione as she released the young witch's hand, extremely confused.
Her blood red eyes widened with surprise. "You haven't heard? Well, I'm not sure I'm the one to tell you this, but—"
The young woman faltered, but Hermione held her ground, waiting patiently for her to speak up. As one of the co-presidents of the Department of Magical Law Enforcement, Hermione was used to people having to give her bad news, and it was sometimes difficult for them to find the words to describe what happened or the situation. She only hoped that nothing too horrible had happened; Brad Greysbeak was the best assistant she ever could have hoped for, and she didn't see how she could do her job without him.
"Mr. Greysbeak had an aneurysm burst last night," she finally spat out, causing Hermione to take a step backward. "There was no one home, and he bled to death."
Hermione's hand immediately went to her heart and she closed her eyes, trying to recover from the shock. Brad had been barely forty, and one of the hardest working men that she knew. She was also very familiar with his wife, Vivian, and their three daughters, Fiona, Clarissa, and Mimi. All four were completely devoted to him, and she couldn't imagine the shock they were facing at the present.
"Call off my meetings," she ordered, picking up the handbag she had just set down. "I won't be in the office today."
"Already done," said Isabella, smiling the same toothless smile. "Unfortunately you have a very busy day tomorrow because of it—"
"That's fine, thank you," said Hermione quickly, letting the door to her office slam behind her. A few people eyed her curiously as she strode down the hall in the opposite direction from everyone else, but they all knew that she had a good reason to not be in the office, even if they didn't know what that reason was. Within seconds she was back at the fireplaces on her way to the Greysbeak residence, and was so anxious she nearly got out a grate too early.
The first person she saw was Fiona, the oldest daughter at age 19, sitting silently on the couch in the living room. She young girl looked up and brushed her dark brown fringe out of her face when Hermione appeared, forcing a small smile in her direction.
"Hullo, Hermione," she said softly, her dark eyes distant as she fingered her necklace with her left hand. Hermione recognized it as the necklace she had received for her last birthday from her father, seeing as she had helped pick it out. As the older witch stared at the younger, she noticed a glint on her left ring finger and let out an involuntary gasp.
Fiona nodded in response. "He proposed last night. We were going to tell everyone at breakfast this morning, but when we woke up—"
Her voice trailed off, and Hermione saw a single tear fall down the girl's right cheek. Fiona had always prided herself on being extremely strong emotionally and hardly ever let anyone see what she was feeling, but she couldn't hide her despair in this circumstance. Hermione sat next to her and placed a comforting arm around her, not knowing what else she could do to help.
At that moment, Vivian entered the room, a waterfall of tears cascading from her eyes when she saw her husband's boss and friend. She was the opposite of her daughter in almost every way with golden hair and a reputation for being extremely emotionally open. The two women embraced, and Hermione found tears in her eyes once again, but this time for someone else's pain.
"Clarissa and Mimi are still at Hogwarts," Vivian spluttered. "We're bringing them home tomorrow, so they can make it to the funeral—"
"He hadn't been having headaches or anything?" asked Hermione, desperately trying to understand how this could happen. Brad was an extremely healthy individual and took very good care of his body. It seemed impossible that he would have had an aneurysm and not known about it.
"It was in his neck," Fiona said dryly. "The coroner said he would have experienced some neck pain prior, but Dad always had a crick in his neck so he probably thought nothing of it."
Hermione's eyes widened. "But he was so young! Peripheral aneurysms almost always occur in the elderly, usually those with a history of medical problems—"
"The coroner also said that," Fiona clarified as her mother became subject to a new set of wails. "It doesn't make much sense, but that's what happened."
She caught her breath and looked around the room in sadness. None of them had seen anything like this coming, and it seemed almost unbelievable. Just yesterday he was in her office, helping her with her duties as well as giving her advice. He was the only one who knew of Ron's infidelity and had tried to persuade her multiple times to leave him and take the children. But she couldn't do that; Rose and Hugo needed a father, and however dysfunctional it might be, she needed Ron as well.
After a few minutes it was clear that mother and daughter wanted to be alone for the time being, so Hermione took her leave, promising to attend the funeral that would be held two days later. How could she not? At this point in her life, he had been her best friend, the only person she could talk freely about her problems with. Ginny and Harry had no idea that there was anything but happiness in the Weasley home, and it was going to stay that way. Hermione's sister Jane was also completely oblivious to the witch's pains. She knew she would never be able to confide in any of them, and now the one person who she had been able to trust was gone.
Sighing, she said her home address into the flames and waited patiently for her living room to appear in front of her. The house was dead silent, as she had expected, and she put a pot of tea on the stove for the second time that day. Tea always seemed to calm her nerves, no matter what the situation. A couple years ago Ron had told her she drank too much of it and tried to help her break her addiction, but he had long since stopped caring about little things like that.
She unbuttoned the top two buttons on her blouse before deciding to change altogether. She wasn't going to be wearing this outfit to the Sphinx, anyway—she knew he didn't care, but she wanted to look her best, and had just the dress in mind that might make him notice her, if only for a moment. As she walked down the hall towards her bedroom, she almost thought she heard someone's voice, but put it out of her mind. There was no one else at home.
Her hand turned the doorknob of her bedroom and opened the door slowly, but she froze as soon as she had a view of what was going on inside the room. Ron was leaning over the same young girl who had come into their house that morning, his lips against hers, his hand rested on her breast as she lay on Hermione's side of the bed. When the door opened, they both sat up suddenly at the noise and Ron almost fell off of the bed. His face turned a bright red as he met his wife's eyes and he released his hold on the stranger, climbing down and taking a few tentative steps towards her.
"GO TO HELL!" she screeched, surprising herself with the volume of her voice. Hardly aware of what she was doing, she slammed the door in his face and ran to the basement stairwell, taking the steps two at a time. The basement had never been finished; it was on Ron's very long list of things to do for her which he would never get around to doing. She fell into one of the dust ridden corners and began to sob uncontrollably, her entire body shaking with the force of her emotion. Part of her had wanted to believe that it wasn't true, that she was reading too much into things, but how else could she explain what she saw?
As she convulsed on the ground, she knew there was only one thing for her to do. She was going to go insane if she stayed in this place, slept in the same bed he took them to, saw his eyes see right through her each and every day. There was nothing to do but leave—leave and never come back. In a frenzy, she began summoning her things to the basement and shrinking them so they fit in her handbag, hardly paying attention to if she was forgetting anything. She summoned the children's things as well, making sure she got Rose's favourite doll and Hugo's mini quidditch field. Just as she finished fitting everything into her purse, she heard his heavy footsteps coming down the stairs quickly and stayed just long enough to see his face one last time. He yelled her name as she apparated, but there was nothing that could stop her now. Her mind was made up.
She appeared on her sister's doorstep and rapped on the door loudly, knowing that she was probably waking both children from their afternoon nap, but not caring. Jane opened the door cautiously and gasped at her sister's tear stricken face.
"What happened?" she whispered as Hermione entered the quaint home.
"It doesn't matter," insisted Hermione, desperately trying to seem calm. "Where are they?"
"Upstairs, first door on your left," Jane responded, staring at her sister's heels. She could have apparated for how quickly she reached them, and opened the door slowly, praying that it wouldn't creak too loudly. To her relief the hinges remained silent, and Jane reached her just as she was drawing her wand.
"Hermione, what are you doing?" she breathed.
"Putting sleeping charms on them," Hermione responded. "I don't want them to wake while we travel."
Her sister raised her eyebrows. "Where are you going?"
"Not sure yet," she answered, causing Jane's expression of confusion to turn into concern. After placing charms on each of her children, Hermione gathered the rest of their things into her handbag except for the double stroller. Her sister watched as she slowly lifted each child out of their portable cribs and into a seat and the children did nothing more than stir slightly. When both were in the stroller, she straightened and forced a rather unsettling smile.
"If Ron comes, tell him to search for me all he wants," she said softly. "I'll be waiting when he changes his mind."
Without another word, she took a hold of the baby carriage and apparated to the airport, ignoring the stares she received from the muggles closest to her. She walked briskly up to the counter and took out the credit card she had for emergencies.
"One adult and two children to Sydney, please," she said, out of breath, and placed the card on the counter.
A/N: Well, what did you think? Do you want more? Is it written well? Please, review! :D