Terribly Long Author's Note: This is cross-posted from the hp_unfaithful community's "All re-mixed up" challenge on LiveJournal, which asked authors to take a proffered fanfic involving infidelity and re-write it with a twist. I read woldy's ridiculously fabulous "All the Syllables of Loss" (which may be found at woldy dot livejournal dot com/42155 dot html), and was quite touched by it, but probably for different reasons than most. Ron's character kept calling out to me; how he never begrudged Hermione for "working late," how he was ever-present for her, and if you read between the lines the way I did, quite a supportive partner. It simply broke my heart that woldy's story was about this beautiful, magical journey of discovery undertaken by Hermione, and all Ron gets for his trouble is an empty bed. So I wanted to tell his story, and I truly hope I did the original justice.
Reading the original might be useful before reading this. After that, please enjoy:
asleep and oblivious
"The difference between a good Auror and a great Auror," Harry Potter was fond of saying, "is that a great Auror will never limit himself or herself to looking for clues in places that are merely evident." And in his heart of hearts, Ron Weasley knew that he was a very good Auror. And if he was honest with himself, he was just fine with that.
He and Hermione had been romantically involved since the moment he stood up for the safety of House Elves as the Battle of Hogwarts (as the final battle of the Second War is commonly known) was beginning. There was no declaration involved, no grasping for the right words, just an understanding that what they'd been dancing around throughout most of their time at Hogwarts was finally happening. When Hermione went to Australia to collect her parents, there was no question whether Ron would accompany her – he simply did. And when Ron had to choose between beginning Auror training straightaway with Harry or continuing to help George put the store (and himself) back together, it was a decision he and Hermione made together, as a team, thinking of their future. Everything in their relationship had gone so perfectly to form, so perfectly normally, that Ron found the first few years after the war to be quite the respite from his rather chaotic school days. Harry had found his peace in the Aurors; visiting Ginny first in Scotland and then in Wales once she was signed by Holyhead Harpies. Hermione had found a career that spoke to her; a true vocation. She had secured a position at St. Mungo's as a Healer Trainee, and attacked it with all the fervor she attacked everything that involved copious amounts of revising. Ron found his peace in the shop, sharing the flat above with George, becoming closer with his family, and acting as the glue that held the Weasleys together as they healed. It was idyllic, actually, and Ron reckoned that after giving up their childhoods to save the whole bloody world from a mad dark wizard, the three of them had rather earned a bit of tranquility and normalcy.
Ron first heard the name "Padma" come up in conversation about a month after Hermione's training began. That moment stuck with him – as much for the forced nonchalance with which Hermione brought her former classmate up as for anything else. And that's how it began, Ron supposed. And, looking back, had he thought to look, he would have seen the nervousness in Hermione's eyes each time she said Padma's name. He would have seen Hermione's relief when he laughed off her asking "permission" to go shopping in muggle London with her on a Saturday.
"Of course you should go, love. It'd be good for you to have a girlfriend that isn't Ginny, don't you reckon?"
"She's not my girlfriend, Ron!" Hermione had answered with a shocked, forced laugh. "Why would you think such a thing?"
"Isn't that what you birds call each other, then? Girlfriends? Did I get that bit wrong, too? Five brothers you know, Hermione, and Ginny didn't have too many friends over."
"Oh, yes, of course. No, she's not quite at 'Girlfriend' yet, Ron."
Ron probably also should have noticed that he wasn't admonished for referring to women as 'birds,' but he would have laughed that off, too.
They found a small place together as a matter of course, once the flat over the store got far too crowded far too often. And as Hermione moved from Trainee to fully-licensed Healer, her hours belonged more and more to St Mungo's and her patients, and less and less to Ron and their home. After some gentle (and not so gentle) prodding from Hermione, Ron began to take over the household chores. By the time she was a year into her residency, the laundry was washed, the dishes were cleaned, the shelves were dusted – and most of the time Ron was able to take care of things without resorting to a household spells book. Occasionally, Ron would even get it together to prepare a bit of supper for Hermione when she got home. Certainly, George and Bill (and even to some extent Harry) would take the piss on this, remarking what a "Good Wife" he was, but Ron would explain that the arrangement had more than its share of benefits. Hermione never asked where he was, she had to work during nearly every Cannons home fixture (and most of the away ones, too), and she never begrudged him a night's out with the lads.
But inside, Ron knew there was a different reason for his actions. He knew that when one is involved with a woman like Hermione Granger, a certain level of competence was to be expected. There was no way, he knew, that Hermione would be happy being married to the boy who put his homework off to the last moment, who spent his evenings carousing with the boys, who frittered away money foolishly because he'd never had enough growing up to learn how to take care of it. He saw the way Harry was able to handle these matters effortlessly with Ginny; the way Bill and Fleur and his own mother and father were such partners, and he knew that Hermione deserved nothing less. So he endeavored to become a man that could be an equal partner with Hermione Granger – an imposing task if ever there were one. In his heart, he knew that she'd marry him regardless – she really did love him, after all – but he also knew that she deserved better. So better he would become.
And when she started to spend entire nights at the office, or comforting a friend (Padma again, he reckoned), he thought of Harry's description of those days after he'd left her in the Forest of Dean, and thought himself lucky for having a bed to curl up in, alone, as he fell asleep to the soothing perfume of Hermione's pillow.
Looking back on it, Ron knew when Hermione's affair had moved from emotional to physical, although at the time, like with every other milestone in this affair, he thought little of it. But, as he was in Auror training by this point, he knew something was odd when he took her into his arms as she got home (and he was grateful that it was only 8 at night), and there was no scent whatsoever. Not in her hair, not when he nuzzled at the base of her neck; she smelled rather sterile, actually, as if all scent had been removed from her.
"Something wrong, darling?" Hermione had asked smoothly. Ron composed himself. This wasn't a case; it wasn't even a practical for training. This was his Hermione.
"No, love. Just pleasantly surprised that you're home at a reasonable hour is all. How'd it go today?"
Ron asked about her day reflexively. This was a habit he'd long ago picked up from the "Twelve Fail-Safe Ways to Charm Witches" book the twins had given him for his seventeenth birthday, and Hermione seemed to appreciate it. Harry had also told him that people who worked high-stress jobs (like Healers and Aurors) absolutely needed to sort through their day out loud once it was over, so Ron made himself available. But as the months rolled on, Hermione talked less and less about her day, even as Saturday shifts turned into weekend shifts (and Ron was so proud of her for being such a go-getter), and as she became more and more distant, he would alternately give her space and press her for details. The one time Ron was frustrated enough with their arrangement to ask Hermione about a measure of work-life balance, he'd not been graceful with his request, and was soundly rebuffed.
The distance started to affect their life outside the home, too. Hermione hadn't been to Sunday Dinner at the Burrow in weeks. Nights out with Harry and Ginny turned into table-for-three affairs. She never visited George and Angelina in the shop. And when Ron would reach for her on the few nights she was home by the time he went to bed, she'd give him a forced (and very un-Hermione) giggle, kiss his nose, and tell him in the vaguest terms possible that she "can't – tonight." So he stopped reaching for her, except for the once every six days (like clockwork) that he knew she'd say yes. He was an Auror. It was his job to see patterns.
Ron chose one of those 'one-in-six' days to propose to Hermione. It made sense; it was the next thing to do. He and Harry had been talking about proposing to "their girls" for a month or so, and they thought it would be good to do so on the same night. Harry had pushed for a Friday night so they'd have the whole weekend to celebrate, but Ron pushed even harder for the following night, a Saturday night. Ron evaded the question of "why" for a good three or four minutes of interrogation before Harry saw the fear in his old friend's eyes and dropped the matter. Saturday it was.
Hermione said "yes," of course. Ron was pleased with her soft smile, and even more pleased that she hadn't gone completely mental in the muggle restaurant he'd chosen for the occasion (to avoid Prophet reporters, for whom this would be a big story, even years after the war). She looked distant the rest of the evening, and Ron was satisfied to believe that she was creating list upon list of tasks that needed to be accomplished before her special day could be called perfect. She remained distant and withdrawn until Ginny burst through the Floo at half-past nine the next morning to share her own news. Ron thought it a little odd as he lay in bed, listening to the high-pitched chatter in the sitting room, but he also allowed for the possibility that every bird is a bit different with this sort of thing, so he let it go, rolling over to catch another few moments' sleep.
That day marked the first time Ron seriously considers the possibility that Hermione may be having an affair. Not even Hermione could maintain composure when she's barely had a decent night's sleep in two years; and when Molly's tears of unequivocal joy at finally accepting the woman she'd long considered a second daughter into her family began to fall, Hermione was unable to hold her own tears at bay. Her face fell ashen, as if she had been about to be attacked by a Dementor. She dashed upstairs to the loo after accepting an embrace from Molly that was remarkably enthusiastic, even for her. Molly looked at Ron quizzically, and it was that look that told him something was amiss. His answer was, of course, that she was merely overcome in the moment, and Molly was just willing enough to accept that. Ron no longer was.
"Have you thought that maybe your first instinct was right;" Harry asked, when Ron proposed this possibility to him the following Friday at work, "that maybe she's just an introspective girl, and this is how she reacts to getting engaged?"
"Of course I have, mate. But she wasn't overwhelmed at all, she looked depressed and at her wits' end – hardly the look of someone who's planning a future."
"Are you sure you really want to know, Ron? What if she is?"
This was a question Ron was quite unprepared for. Did he want to know if his entire life was a lie? Did he want to know whether a fear so deep that Voldemort himself used it against him was realized? Did he really want hard evidence telling him that, despite his best efforts, he really was unworthy of Hermione Granger? That day, in Harry's office, he wasn't. But the weeks went by, and every time she had to work late, he'd wonder. Every time she came home smelling of nothing, he'd wonder. Every time she and her mum and Ginny and Molly would sit down to discuss details of the double wedding, and she'd be a million miles away while the other three discussed the merits of periwinkle over lavender for bridal party robes, he'd wonder. And it was eating him alive.
Being an Auror gave Ron access to the best surveillance spells in the wizarding world, but in the end, he decided not to use them. He told himself (and Harry) dozens of things; that he's afraid he'd wind up in Azkaban for murdering the bloke, that he was being thick, that she just had cold feet. But what was at play was a longer body of evidence than simply the last couple of years. Ron trusted Hermione unequivocally, which meant to him that if she were having an affair, she'd tell him.
Which, Ron reckoned, might happen one day, but that's not how he found out. George told him, because he'd heard it from Lavender, who'd popped into the shop to pay a visit. She'd heard from Pavarti, who had apparently asked Padma why she'd been so depressed of late and gotten a straight answer. The night he found out, it was Hermione's turn to sleep in an empty bed, not that Ron was under any delusion that she had. George set up Ron's old room in the flat upstairs from the shop, canceled a date with Angelina, asked Harry to come by and picked up a couple bottles of Old Odgen's finest. The men drank, listened to a mid-week Cannons' match on the wireless (the Southwest derby match against Falmouth), cheered when the Cannons won, drank some more, put their arms around Ron as he wept, gave him a bit of room as he hollered, mended his hand after he smashed it down on his glass, and passed out around half past two. Somehow amongst all that, it was determined that Hermione would tell Ron when she was ready, and that they'd figure out things from there. At least that was the plan.
It was never clear to Ron whether he changed that plan for himself or for Hermione, but what he did know is that his blood chilled to see a light on in his flat hours earlier than he expected Hermione home. For a moment he considered sending up a Patronus, or finding a seat at the local pub to wait out her (them?) out. But it didn't take too many seconds for Ron to screw up his Gryffindor courage and walk straight into their flat, to find Hermione sitting on their couch, looking quizzically at a pair of cream-colored, beaded, low-heeled shoes. They matched her dress perfectly; or at least that's what Molly and Ginny thought. As Ron recalled, Hermione had tried to get out of that shopping trip, too, making excuses about some particularly detailed paperwork that couldn't wait until Monday.
"Guess you won't be needing those, then," Ron found himself wondering aloud. Hermione was visibly startled.
"Ron, you're - " Ron found the sound of Hermione's voice grating, which was a new and rather unpleasant experience. He hadn't meant to start this conversation just yet, but as he found himself there, it hardly made sense to back away from it.
"Look, just – just how long do you reckon it'll take you to pack your things?" he asked, strangely dispassionately. When his question was met by a blank look, he simply told her,
"Wait, what do you know? Who – I mean – ?" Hermione started to ask, but she saw nothing but icy indifference from Ron. She hung her head and stared into her hands which were folded on her lap. "I can be out by morning. Please just give me until then."
Ron hurriedly fixed a small bag of clothes and toiletries for himself. "I'll give you all of tomorrow and be back the following morning," he offered. "Figure out something to say to Mum and Ginny by then if you would, as well. They don't know, but Harry does, so you'd best act quickly. He's never been one for hiding his feelings well. Oh, and do have a bit of respect, and don't bring her by tonight or tomorrow. Just go over to her place if you need to be with her. And if you get your shit packed earlier, let George know. I'll be back at the shop 'til then."
It turned out that Hermione had only needed an hour or two to be cleaned out, but Ron still waited until the following morning to return. There was a note waiting for him, from Hermione, of course. It began
"Dear Ron, I suppose I really ought to thank you for - "
Ron tore the note in pieces, put them in the sink and lit them on fire with his wand.