I love you without knowing how, or when, or from where… — Pablo Neruda
Her time spent in Cairo has made Hestia forget that Thursdays in England are dark and twisty days.
The emergency Ministry owl had woken her in the middle of the night and Hestia had Apparated back to England as quickly as she could. Wizarding customs had been a right pain in the arse (the hulking Egyptian security wizards were a little suspicious about her not having any luggage at all and she had had to brandish the Ministry letter at them urgently to be allowed to pass through), causing her not to arrive in Hogsmeade until dawn.
But now, after all that, the sky is dark and threatening rain and Hestia cannot make herself go inside.
The Ministry letter is clutched in her hand and she is still trying to come to terms with its contents, with what she will find inside the house.
Ryan and Hera’s home is the chocolate-box type that she has never really understood. The lawn is always short and green and there are always flowers blooming in the garden, even during the winter. Her sister always kept her home in perfect order.
Hestia has also never understood Hera and their mother’s love of gardening. The hours she had been made to spend digging in the dirt as a child had been pure torture and Hestia would have preferred to read a book instead of repotting dittany sprouts.
Homemaking is a skill that Hestia has always failed to acquire.
She sees the kitchen light is on and all she can think is that the last time she was here was when Hera had found out about the affair.
While she had been away, Hestia had almost been able to forget about why she’d left. That she had been sleeping with her partner from work. With her brother-in-law. With Ryan.
Everything, all the lies and mistakes that she had hoped to escape from splash over her again like icy water.
She had been in love, is still in love with her sister’s husband and Hera had found out. Now that she is here, Hestia can’t stop reliving the last conversation she and Hera had, right here in this house.
“Jesus, Hestia. Why Ryan? You could have picked someone else. Anyone else. But he was mine. You’ve never wanted anyone but he was all I had ever wanted. How could you do this to me?”
How Ryan had been able to come back here after that, she can’t imagine. The shame and guilt and heartbreak she had felt made her run all the way to Egypt to try and escape.
Suddenly, Hestia finds that she needs to see. Can this all really be real? She has to see it with her own eyes. Cutting a sharp path through the lawn, something she never would have done if Hera were around, she walks through the front door.
Immediately, she wishes that she hadn’t.
Hestia wonders if there has been a fire in here. A horrible scorched scent, like the smell of burning rubbish mixed with singed hair, seems to twist through the air towards her like poisonous smoke and she finds herself praying that this is the wrong house. Her sister’s home always smelled fresh and airy, like sunlight, but this stench, this horrible reeking, dying smell is all consuming and suffocating.
The air seems slightly hazy as if smoke is hanging in the air, causing Hestia to jump when sinister silhouettes begin to move towards her from inside the house.
“Ms. Jones?” Out of the haze appears a tall, heavyset man with skin the color of espresso. She lets out a breath as she figures out that he must be an Auror. His voice is deep and calming and Hestia feels herself shake his hand without realizing it. “Kingsley Shacklebolt. I’m so very sorry for your loss.”
Hestia’s jaw tightens and her only reply is a quick incline of her head. Some part of her still refuses to believe that this is actually happening.
“You were the only person on the emergency contacts list. Is there anyone else we should be in touch with?”
“No.” She doesn’t want to explain to him about their father leaving before she had even learned to walk, or their mother’s sudden death when Hestia was twenty-two from Muggle pneumonia, or how Ryan’s family, with their crazy pure-blood mania, has never been in the picture.
“There was quite a lot of damage done to the property, almost all of it in the living room. My team and I would be more than happy to repair it for you. We just need your permission to begin, as you have become the owner of the residence now, according to the wi — ”
“— No,” Hestia interrupts, suddenly and inexplicably hating them all for being there. “No, I want to see. I want to see what happened.”
“Ma’am,” Shacklebolt intones, trying to dissuade her in his infuriatingly composed way. “It’s rather unpleasant. For your own good, I would suggest you wait until — ”
But Hestia has already pushed past him to get to the living room.
She stops dead in the doorway. Their mother’s china cabinet is in pieces, completely smashed through. Bits and chunks of the shattered wedding china Hera and Ryan had displayed so proudly in the breakfront are strewn all across the floor like hail after a storm.
The acrid, burning smell Hestia had noticed when she first entered the house is almost dizzying in here and when she looks down at the jagged shards of glass and porcelain that litter the ground around her feet, Hestia can see dark red wine splashed all over the carpet.
Hands shaking, Hestia takes in another breath of the putrid air. There are scorch marks on the walls. She turns back to the Aurors. “Is there something burning? It smells like there’s been a fire in here.”
Hestia sees the look on Shacklebolt’s face change, but can’t read the expression he makes. “No, ma’am. No fire. We believe the smell is from burnt, ah…”
He looks uncomfortable for the first time since she arrived and Hestia can feel her stomach clench. Fearfully, she asks, “Burnt what?”
“The mediwizards seemed to think that the smell was from burnt flesh.”
A wave of chilling goosebumps courses up and down her arms and her throat is suddenly too dry for her to swallow.
“Flesh?” she repeats, slightly hysterical. This could not be happening. Not here. Not in this house.
Turning back towards the room, it only takes half a second for everything to come into focus. Broken plates and glittering glass from picture frames litters the floor like lonely snowflakes. There are long painful cuts in the couch upholstery causing the stuffing to overflow and spill out onto the floor, and she can see deep scratches on the walls.
Hestia pauses, looking more closely, and feels all the hairs on the back of her neck stand on end in revulsion. The scratches are really fingernail marks, fingernail marks, carved into the white-painted wainscoting. Like scratches from animal claws — only human. There are frantic, desperate claw marks etched into the fabric arms of Hera’s favorite armchair.
The walls of the room seem to fall inward towards her and the smell of death and torture starts to stick in her nose like suffocating Stinksap. Hestia realizes that the scarlet wine stains all over the carpet aren’t from wine at all.
They’re from blood.
Her sister's blood. Ryan's blood.
Blood on the carpet of Hera’s living room.
Hestia can feel her skin crawl in horror and the nausea rolls over her like a steamroller. They had been tortured, tortured, while she slept safely in her bed back in Cairo. They had been murdered while she dreamed.
Running through the door into the kitchen, Hestia’s stomach heaves and she is violently sick in the sink.
A/N: Yeah. So now you all know how horrible I am. Two characters dead in one chapter. This is actually the first part of some of the story that I originally wrote for the Order of the Phoenix collaboration over at TGS. The whole Hestia story ended up being a lot longer than I had planned, so I decided to make it a short story.
Anyway, what did you guys think? Did you expect anything like that to happen? How does this chapter match with the ones previous? Does what happened to Hera and Ryan change your opinion of them or of Hestia at all?
A big thanks to my beta Rachel (PenguinsWillReignSupreme) and to Miranda (FannyPrice) and Jakes (George Whitman) for their unfailing support and lovelovelove!
Disclaimer: The Potterverse is the property of the wonderful J. K. Rowling. I own nothing you recognize.
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