EWE but otherwise canon compliant. Begins 15 years after the 1998 Great Battle of Hogwarts. My thanks as always to the great JKR for giving us an amazing sandpit to play in, and in this case, thanks also to Josephine Aimee Campbell Leslie, who wrote a delightful book that I now must find, and to Gene Tierney, Rex Harrison and George Sanders who turned the book into one of my favourite movies. All errors are mine and mine only, but why must they only turn up when I re-read it after submitting?
The footsteps on the stairs sounded sad and heavy. Someone watching from the top of the stair would have seen a bundle of fluffy hair, then a sad face, then a woman's body in an ill-fitting black skirt and jacket that had been good once upon a time, but which had been worn too often for too many sad occasions. The watcher would also have heard the rumble of children's running footsteps through the ground floor, and the thump of a heavy body falling into a chair in the front hallway. Lastly, they would have heard a brisk stride on the first floor below as someone opened up the curtains.
Hermione Weasley, 34 years old and a widow, looked around the airy room and smiled for the first time in quite a while. She noted with satisfaction the view from the windows, which looked out over the edge of the low cliff and out to sea. A telescope stood at the French doors. They led to a balcony, and the room was sparsely but carefully furnished with a desk and chair and a low chaise longue. The rug was faded but had once been a cheerful geometric pattern in green and silver, and the curtains were a simple cream that did not show any wear. The only oddity was the rectangular patch where something had once hung above the fireplace. She walked to the desk, putting her bag down beside it, and ran her fingers over its polished surface.
"Mrs Weasley?" The agent's voice carried easily up the stairs. Hermione did not reply, and moved over to the fireplace, and the agent was heard talking with someone else. Running her hand along the mantelpiece, Hermione noted that it was free of dust, as if someone had cleaned it only that morning. The grate was gleaming too. She heard Ginny Weasley's voice telling the agent where she was, then the footsteps of the agent coming up the stairs to the study.
"Mrs Weasley? There you are. You should have a look downstairs, where the bedrooms are. But this would make a wonderful playroom for the children."
"Or a study for me, Mr Wells. I intend to continue my studies, and this room is very suitable."
"Then you'll appreciate the excellent light, and the fresh air." Bernard Wells, newest employee of Coombe and Spratt (Estate Agents Pty Ltd), had, of course, been given the rental properties to deal with – smallest commission and most work. This had been his worst property to rent – a long way out of town and with a special problem, which he had (by law) to disclose "I do have to let you know, though, that the last five tenants lasted less than a month here. The longest was twenty days. The shortest left after the first night."
"Was it the drains?"
Hermione turned to face the agent, puzzled. "Damp? Rats? I intend to have a cat, you see." She watched Bernard's face contort with anxiety. "Or does it have a history?"
"Cliff Cottage is over a hundred years old, and as such, has a tragic history. The last owner killed himself here."
"Oh Mer … my goodness." Hermione gasped as she looked around. "Where? How? Why? Who was he – or she?"
"His name was Septimus Prince, and he was a retired chemical engineer." Bernard pulled his notes out, realising that this possible tenant would only want the truth. "He still dabbled though, and he seemed to be running an experiment up here, in this study. We've removed it since, but there was a worktable covered in beakers and burners… Apparently he closed the doors and windows tight, then deliberately mixed two dangerous chemicals together which released a deadly gas. His cleaning woman found him dead, on that very couch."
"How long ago was that?" Hermione managed to refrain from asking and is the chemistry equipment still here?
"Nine years ago. But the tenants all swear that his ghost haunts the house. His portrait is upstairs – used to hang over the fireplace there, but we took it down because it gave the tenants the willies. That, and the fact that the place never gets dusty. We aired it properly when we became the agents. It's owned by some corporation in Scotland, but we're the ones in charge, and can we interest you in it?"
An approaching thunder indicated the presence of the children, who tumbled into the room like a pair of puppies. Rose immediately ran to the telescope to try it out, while Hugo climbed up on the chaise longue and started bouncing on it.
"Oh please, Mum! Please! There's a garden and a path down to the beach across the road, and a basement …" Hugo's eagerness was nothing less than one would expect of a six year old who had been cooped up in a city apartment for as long as he could remember.
"… and there's a chicken coop too, and room for a dog, and you said if we ever had a house we could have a dog…" Rose normally carried herself with the maturity of an eight year old who considered herself superior to her brother, but some things just have to be said. "And besides, Aunty Ginny said the kitchen is just like the one Gran used to have, and Gran says it's much nicer and bigger and would keep the whole house warm in winter and she'll teach me how to cook cakes in the stove."
"And there's a whole big room for a playroom too!"
"Off that couch, Hugo. Rose – that telescope is fragile. Hands off. And this would be my study." Hermione peeled her eldest's fingers from the brasswork, then cast a silent polishing spell to remove the worst of the stickiness that somehow seems to emanate from every child's grasp.
"Oh, not this room, Mum." Rose's nose was in the air, disdaining the elegant clean lines. "No, there's enough bedrooms downstairs that there's one for you, and one for me, and one for Hugo, and then a huge room for us to play in. Please?"
"Out, you two. I need to see the rest of the place, and discuss things with Mr Wells."
The two children repeated the thundering as they headed down the stairs, and Hermione watched them and shook her head at the energy levels they had. A groan sounded behind her, and she nodded.
"You're right, Mr Wells. They have more energy than I know what to do with."
"I beg your pardon?" Bernard was over by the fireplace, checking that there were no birds' nests up the chimney. "Did you say something?"
"I … " Hermione turned around, but there was no-one behind her. "I'm sorry. I thought I heard you … but of course it wasn't you… Shall we see the rest of the house?"
Ginny Potter and Molly Weasley, who had accompanied Hermione to the house, met her out the front ten minutes later. Molly was holding Hugo's hand while she quietly charmed the nettle rash he had acquired from an angry red welt to a mildly annoying itch, while Ginny and Rose leaned on the front gate and watched the waves run into the cove opposite. Bernard was smiling broadly, and Hermione looked more relaxed than she had for a long time.
"So?" Molly slowly straightened up and stretched her back.
"We're taking it." Hermione opened her arms out, and Hugo and Rose rushed into them. "We'll move in next week, and we've taken the lease for a year. It will do us good to get out of the city, and the children can go to the local school when the school year starts next month. And more importantly, we can afford it." She looked up at the house, then back at Ginny. "I've signed all the papers – I'll just find where I put my bag down, and then we can go."
"I'll get it, Mum. Where did you leave it?"
"In the study, beside the desk." Hermione sent both children up after it, then grinned at Molly. "That should wear them out enough that they'll sleep on the drive home."
"But are you sure, Hermione, dear?" Molly did not look at all convinced. "It's a long way from London, although our place in Devon's not so far. But I can't leave Arthur very often these days, so I won't be able to visit much."
"I'll be fine, Molly. Thanks heaps, but I need to make my own way. Ron's been dead six months now, he's not coming back, and life is going on. Although you are always welcome to visit. But where are those grandchildren of yours?"
"And we have to head back now,", Ginny added. "Harry will have mine back from the zoo in a few hours, and it's a fair drive to the burrow. I wonder if we could add this place to the Floo network?"
At that, Rose and Hugo walked out of the house, carrying Hermione's bag between them.
"What took you so long?" Hermione took the bag with a nod of thanks.
"I thought you said it was beside the desk in the study," said Hugo.
"But we found it under the telescope." Rose pointed back to the stairs, and by inference, to the other side of the study.
"Well, then, someone moved it. We have it now, and that's what's important. And Mr Wells is going to check with the owners about pets. Now, back to the Burrow."