Author's Note: I'm sorry it's been a while since my last update. The first two parts of this chapter came okay, and then I struggled. This weekend, inspiration hit, and the rest of the chapter zoomed out of my fingers. It's a good long one, and I've made a start on the next one. I'm hoping to get another chapter out by Christmas to make up for my silence the last couple of months. I hope this chapter brings you as many smiles as it eventually brought me.
Chapter 57: Sayonara
Her footsteps echoed as she made her way through the corridors. So bare. Despite his attempts to remain stone faced, Hermione could have sworn Arnold looked interested in what she had to say this morning. Part of her had hoped that if she told him of her success, he might be more forthcoming with helpful information. Had there been a flicker in his eyes when she mentioned that a woman wanted help for her child? Or had she imagined it? Arnold had been mostly silent as she relayed her information to him.
There was so much to do. She really needed some sort of safe space to offer anyone who wanted help. If she understood Meredith right, Dylan wasn't a werewolf by her own choice. Her pack mates had made the decision for her, or at least one of them had. It wasn't right. Did they do that to all of the children in the pack?
How could someone choose to do that to a child?
She slowed as she approached the turn off that would lead her to Lucius's cell. She didn't have anything to say to him this morning unless he wanted to discuss a bit of Austen. Still, it might be beneficial. Bridges were built one piece at a time—just like walls.
Hermione was only a few steps down that corridor when she heard an icy female voice. Perhaps today was not the best day to discuss Jane Austen with the senior Malfoy. She turned heel and left. There were plenty of things that needed to be attended to elsewhere, including her regular lessons in a short while. Even with a late start today, there would be a full day's work ahead of her, as usual.
Draco wasn't keen on the idea of going into the library on a Saturday, but he'd promised he'd cover this shift. Still, it was with regret that he had to leave Hermione sipping coffee in her robe as he left their flat. Besides, it wasn't as though there was much more time to go. Part of him was going to miss it.
He opted to walk to the library, taking in the sights (and with less pleasure the smells) of the city. Maybe it would be good to settle themselves out in the countryside somewhere and get away from the noxious fumes and crowds.
The library should have only just been opening, but Draco walked in to a crowd gathered around the front desk. Mostly children. Wearing paper hats. "Surprise!"
"What's this?" he asked, looking around.
"It's just a little going away party. We'll miss you," Theresa told him, bringing out another paper hat from behind the desk and putting it on his head. "The children wanted to do something. There's cookies and juice over by the story time circle. Now that school is started back up, the only day they could be here to see you off was Saturday. Go on with them."
Draco was stunned. There was a pause before he managed to find the words. "I'm not sure I've ever left anywhere that was sorry to see me go. Thank you."
Theresa flashed a grin at him. "Go on, lead them off. Katrina should be in any minute and I'll cover the desk 'til she gets here."
The little ones on either side of him grabbed Draco's hands and marched him off towards the story time area. Little paper cups and cartons of juice were all set out, and trays of cookies with fluorescent looking frosting and sprinkles. A few parents were hovering around nearby.
"Draco, read us a story!" cried one of the little girls.
"Now, now, this is Draco's party," chided one of the mothers. "Don't you think he wants to sit down and enjoy his cookies and punch?"
The blonde wizard looked and the little girl, who seemed disappointed that the party wouldn't include story time, but she just managed to keep a stiff upper lip. Dammit. "Rachel, why don't you go pick out your favorite story and I'll read it after my cookie?" he offered.
Her face lit up and she raced off.
Someone tugged on Draco's sleeve and offered him a cookie with frosting and sprinkles. Despite his misgivings that the hand that was offering it might not be totally clean, Draco took the cookie from the chubby little fingers and popped it into his mouth and grinned at the little boy.
He found his customary place at the head of the story circle and sat himself down, just in time for Rachel to come skipping up with her favorite book. In fact, it was far from the only book he read that morning. Seeing Rachel racing off for her favorite, several others had gone off for theirs, and they all clustered around Draco. Finding he didn't want to disappoint them, Draco took a long swig of fruit juice and began to read…funny voices and all.
A couple of the children brought up rather badly done drawings that Draco nevertheless had the sense to praise. He really was touched. The hardest part was when the party seemed to be breaking up and a little boy missing his two front teeth tugged on Draco's pant leg and asked if he really really had to go—no one did monster voices quite like him.
Draco ruffled his hair. "I do. There's a princess waiting for me at my castle. But don't worry. Theresa will find you someone who can do the monster voices even better." It was with a certain amount of regret that he left the library and went back home. It wasn't as if it were his last day quite yet or anything. He'd be back for another week. But it was something to know he'd made an impression. They were going to miss him.
They'd visited several flats in the morning which were all nice enough. They were far enough away from London to be reasonably priced, out in other areas of the country. It was something of a juggling act to Apperate in to the correct area and then walk up to the realtor's office—they'd had several different regions they were looking in.
Some of the flats were a bit small. Others could use an update. Draco was a bit disappointed that not a single one had what he considered to be a proper sized bathtub. Three of the six they looked at were a short walk away from grocery stores. Two of those also had several takeout options nearby, but one was only one bedroom—no work room space for either of them.
"The windows are a bit small," he noted at one.
"They only need to open a smidge, just enough to let a good cross breeze in," the realtor had told him.
The look Draco and Hermione had shared said that there was no way any owl with a decent wingspan would make it through without some very serious modifications—magical or Muggle.
"We'll keep looking," Hermione said quietly to him. They'd find something that was right for them. None of these were it.
"It's all so close together, even if an owl could get through the window, there'd be at least people seeing it from half a dozen other apartments," he murmured. They were going to look at wizarding homes this afternoon. At least they wouldn't have to worry about hiding their Apperating then.
"Yes, it's one of the reasons I didn't bother to get an owl when I was in school. I figured it wouldn't be too bad to have Hedwig coming and going with occasional letters from Harry—Ron hardly ever wrote at all—but that if I had my own and she needed to go out regularly…it might attract notice."
"And we've got two owls between us."
They had let the real estate agent get a little ahead of them as they were walking back to her office, and Hermione took a moment to come level with her again. "Oh, you needn't walk us back. We'll go and get some lunch. Thank you for your time."
The woman in the blazer smiled charmingly. "Was there anything that caught your fancy today?"
"We're still thinking about it." She shook the woman's hand and there wasn't much more to be said. They'd meet up with the real estate witch this afternoon and hope for better findings. It was looking less and less likely that they really wanted to be in a Muggle neighborhood. Not that a wizarding one wouldn't have its challenges but… "Lunch?" she offered.
They found a place nearby and sat down to sandwiches, killing time until they were due to meet up with the wizarding realtor. Hermione pulled out her notes for all the different flats they'd looked at that morning and put a line through most of them, and a question mark next to the only one they might still consider. She added several notes in her tidy handwriting.
"What's the point of making notes on the ones we don't want?"
"In case we change our minds. Or get desperate. At least then we'll know what the best of the worst is." She added a few more lines and set down her pen.
He reached across the table and took her hand. "We are going to find a place. We'll keep looking."
"Are you sure you are going to be okay in a wizarding neighborhood?" she asked quietly.
"I'll manage. I've been out and about in Diagon Alley since the hearing after all. As long as we don't have to live next door to my mother, I'll be fine," he said, trying to lighten the mood.
"I know we haven't looked at any of the wizarding places yet, but…I'm leaning that way." She sighed. "I want to live somewhere where I'm not afraid to invite the neighbors in for tea, because there might be a cauldron on the hob. I don't want to worry about someone seeing owls coming from the house." There was a pause and she met his eyes. "It would be the first time I lived somewhere like that…other than Hogwarts. It'd be nice to feel like I belonged."
He let out a breath. "It's been a long time since I felt like I belonged anywhere. Except when I'm with you." He twined his fingers around hers. Even with her, he sometimes wondered if it was all going to disappear like a soap bubble. Not so much when they were alone, but when they were gathered around with all the former Gryffindors.
"Oh, I don't know. You seemed pretty happy with your surprise party yesterday," she teased.
"Did you know they were going to do that?" he asked, raising an eyebrow.
Hermione shrugged. "I suspected they might be up to something since you almost never work Saturdays, but I didn't really know. Are you sure you want to leave there?"
He nodded, twining his fingers with hers. "I'm sure. It's the right move. I'm ready to move on to whatever is next for us."
They lingered over their lunch until it was time to Apperate off and meet the housing witch. The office was covered in framed photos of homes—stone towers, thatched cottages, low bungalows covered over in grass, manor houses, and even one that seemed to resemble a giant shoe. The photos filled multiple shelves and were packed along the wall, with more laid out on the desk. The witch was in her thirties and had one of those almost too bright smiles as she greeted Hermione and Draco.
"Maise Meriweather here. Well, well, pleasure to see you both. I understand you're looking for a first home? We the best selection you could possibly be looking for, plenty of variety—one bedroom starters, to enough rooms for a whole Quidditch team. I've chosen a few favorites here based on the survey you filled out for me. It says here you'a room that could you're looking for at least a 2 bedroom, with at least one room that can serve as a workroom or potions lab. How important is a garden?"
"I'm not currently doing any gardening, but I think it'd be an asset." Growing her own ingredients would probably be helpful.
The witch gave a curt nod and went to gather a couple more photos from around the room. "And neighbors? Plenty of neighbors? Only a handful? Muggle or wizarding?"
"Wizarding, preferably," Draco said. "Not too many—don't want to be packed in like sardines in a tin."
"Right," the witch flicked her wand and a couple of the photos on the desk went back to their places on the shelves, and a few other floated over in their place. She continued questioning them until there were only four framed photos. "These are going to be your best bet. Let's start with this one," she said picking up the frame with a stone tower.
Before Hermione could open her mouth, she and Draco found themselves sucked out of the room. She looked around. A short distance in front of them was a stone tower, not terribly wide, but thirty feet tall. After a few seconds, Maisie appeared beside them. Hermione glared at her. "A little warning would have been nice." It hadn't felt like Apparation.
"Sorry about that. Didn't think you'd mind."
"Where are we?"
"This is the first of the four locations. We've stepped into the picture. You can take a complete look around at each of the four most promising residences, and if you think you've found the one, we'll go out in person and you can see the neighborhood proper. Come along now."
Hermione shot Draco an incredulous look. It seemed absurd that Maisie hadn't seen anything problematic about whisking them off without a word.
"Let's see what we've got here."
Shaking her head, Hermione and Draco followed Maisie across the grass to the tower. There was no trail or path leading up to it, they were just abruptly there. A large wooden door was set into the bottom of the stone structure, but there didn't seem to be any windows up the walls as far as they could see. "Now, there's no garden proper down here now, but there's plenty of open space down here you can do something with. In we go." She rested her finger on the door and it opened. "Understand that this furniture is just for show." The whole interior of the tower seemed to be one round room—larger than they were expecting from the view of the tower on the outside—encircled by a winding staircase. Though there hadn't been any visible windows at the ground flood level from outside, there seemed to be a couple of enchanted windows. A fireplace was at the end of the room directly across from the door they came in. "The kitchen is down here, plenty of space to eat and sit." She led the way up the stairs. "First bedroom here."
Again, there seemed to be enchanted windows in the room that hadn't been visible from the outside. The room itself was bare stone, with a large bed in the middle of it. A wardrobe was pressed again one corner. There wasn't much else to see.
She led them up the next round of stairs again, On this level was another bedroom—which could potentially be the workroom Hermione and Draco were looking for. It was identical to the last one. Maisie didn't linger too long on this floor. "I think you'll really be excited about what's next." Opening an overhead door at the end of the stairs, Maisie led them outside.
They were on the flat topped roof of the tower, which thankfully did have a parapet around the edges so no one was going to fall off.
"Is this space perfect? You could bring planters up and have a garden for the more precious specimens. Or use this as a party space. Or just sit out here with a nice cup of tea and look out into the distance."
"Er, Maisie, I can't help but notice. This house doesn't seem to have a bathroom," Hermione pointed out.
"The owners here are traditionalists. They use chamber pots and vanish away the…the contents. There's a good sized copper tub they bring out for baths, and fill up with a charm. Really, the modern bathroom concept is overrated."
Draco looked the witch firmly. "The modern bathroom is completely necessary." Even Malfoy Manor wasn't so traditional that anyone was using a chamber pot.
"Oh. Well, you should have said. On we go then if you're sure." In the blink of an eye they were ejected out of the photo and standing back in the office.
Draco and Hermione hardly had a moment to catch their breaths before they were sucked back into another picture. As they landed less than elegantly on a gravel path, Draco muttered darkly. Hermione agreed with the sentiment. Just a little warning next time…
They were in front of a small cottage with a thatched roof that came out over the sides in an almost mushroom like way. "Now here, there are half a dozen or so neighbors within a couple miles or so walk. The house does back up to a forest here, which isn't included with the property. Standard disclaimer that unknown wild things of various sorts naturally live in a forest. You an always put a ward up around the perimeter of the property to keep out unfriendly influences. This way."
The young witch and wizard followed her forward. Climbing roses surrounded the house. It looked like a Thomas Kincade painting come to life. The front room they walked into was clearly the kitchen. The fireplace was a little small—they'd probably have to enlarge it if they wanted to use it to Floo comfortably. The kitchen flowed into what was probably the living room. A wall divided the house in half horizontally, and two doors were set into the wall.
Maisie opened the first door—"Modern bathroom, as ordered," she said cheerfily.
"Modern" was a bit of a stretch. There was very little modern looking about it. But there did seem to be a toilet, and a sink. Moving a red rubber curtain hanging from the ceiling reviewed that a corner of the room was tiled, and there was a shower head coming out of the wall. It seemed to be a functional bathroom, but not much more than that. There certainly wouldn't be any evening soaks in a tub after a long day at work.
Not sensing her clients' lack of enthusiasm, Maisie led them on towards the last door. There was a single window in the room, looking out towards the forest behind the house. It was evidently meant to be the bedroom. In which case, where was the workroom they were looking for? They had to have at least one or they might as well stay where they were.
"Well, what do you think? Charming, isn't it?"
"There doesn't seem to be a workroom space," Hermione pointed out, trying not to sound too annoyed. What had been the point of all the questions they had answered if this witch wasn't going to listen?
"Oh, I think the living room will make a lovely workroom. Good access to the kitchen fireplace. Perfect for brewing up a storm. Convenient cabinetry and all that." She turned hopefully to Draco, and found the young wizard was already shaking his head. For the first time, the older witch started to look annoyed. "You did give me quite a specific budget to stick to. Very well. On to the next one."
In rapid succession, they found themselves bounced back out of the photo, momentarily in the office, and then standing in front of a low hillside, with a round door set into it, and a doorknob exactly in the middle.
"Now, this sort of abode is cool in the summer, and warm in the winter. You only have window down one side of it, but it should be fairly spacious. The downside is there's only a little bit of garden here out front, just this bit within the fence. Come along," she said briskly.
Walking in felt almost like being in a tunnel, though there were candles lit, and the floor and walls seemed solid, if a bit close. A narrow hallway seemed to run the length of the home, with doors periodically on both sides.
"This place is quite old, but it's been well maintained."
The ceiling was fairly low, just a few inches above Draco's head.
Maisie began opening doors as they went along. "Kitchen here, and there's the pantry across the way."
"Cozy kitchen," Hermione commented. There was a large iron stove that looked to be wood-burning. A small kitchen table was in one corner—you might get four people at it, but it would be a bit tight. It seemed to cover all of the essentials, without much room for storage. But the pantry across the way was floor to ceiling shelves—plenty of space for cookware and food storage.
"No fireplace?" Draco asked.
"There's one farther along."
The home was probably the best of the three they looked at so far. True to Maisie's word, there was a fireplace in the living room, down all the way at the end of the hall. There were a couple of bedrooms, and several large storage rooms—knocking a hole in the wall between two of them would make an adequate work room.
There was a decent bathroom—no shower, but there was a tub, though it could have stood to be a bit larger.
All in all…it might do. It wasn't ideal—everything on the right side of the house (like the storage rooms) was smaller rooms, with no windows. The left side was cheerful enough. The biggest problem was that the low ceiling seemed to exist throughout the house. Draco's head didn't quite hit the ceiling, but it was a near thing in most of the rooms. Draco and Hermione exchanged a look.
"This is certainly worth considering. We'll keep it in mind," Draco said, signaling that they were ready to move on. This place would do if if they had to, but it felt a bit…claustrophobic.
Maisie eyed them both, seeing that they weren't sold. "I've got one more. It's a little more than you were wanting to spend, but I think it'll be was you're looking for."
Draco found himself drawling, "If it's what you think we wanted to begin with, why didn't you show it to us first?"
"I was trying to stay within the budget you specified. If you have a little more money to throw at this…I think this next place will do nicely. It's been vacant for a little while, so we may be able to talk them down quite a bit. Let's jump back to the office for some biscuits and then we'll be on our way."
Between one breath and the next, Hermione and Draco were snatched back into Maisie's office. Maisie appeared beside them with hardly a hair out of place and summoned a tray of biscuits over. "There's gingerbread cookies," she offered.
Hermione did her best not to roll her eyes. A tower that would have done a Rapunzel story proud, a cottage that belonged in Beauty and the Beast, and now gingerbread. Oh well. At least there was no gingerbread house and children being baked into the oven…at least she hoped the last place wouldn't be a gingerbread house. She took a cookie to be polite.
The blond wizard declined the offered gingerbread but strolled over to the shelves. "Someone really expects you to be able to sell a house that looks like a shoe?" he scoffed.
"Oh, that one already sold a few weeks ago. It has a surprising number of bedrooms. A lovely witch has it. She's taken in a number of orphans after the war and needed more space for them than her old flat. Where they are now, there's plenty of room to run around."
Draco couldn't help but think the place was an eyesore. It very much looked like a giant leather boot with a roof on top.
"Shall we be off then?" asked Maisie.
Hermione snorted. It took this many tries before the woman bothered to ask if it was okay to zip them off? "Let's go."
In short order they had been whisked away. Draco and Hermione stumbled onto the grass. Maisie smoothed her robes and gestured ahead of them. "Here it is."
"It's the size of a postage stamp," muttered Draco.
Hermione didn't know whether to be impressed that Draco knew what a postage stamp was, or underwhelmed by the size of the house. It was quite pretty, with smooth stone walls and a wooden porch. It was neat, and tidy looking, and quite square, with a sloping roof. There seemed to be the remains of a garden in the front that had gone a bit wild. There were a couple of apple trees heavy with fruit that wasn't quite ripe yet.
The biggest problem was that it looked like it couldn't be larger than a single room.
With some misgivings, Draco and Hermione followed Maisie onto the porch and inside the house.
There was a large fireplace that looked almost big enough Floo in and out of comfortably, and a big iron stove. There was a good size sink with brass taps. A stairway along one wall seemed to lead to a loft upstairs. There were good sized windows on each wall.
There was a single door directly across from where they came in, but the windows showed that there was no room back there—that door must lead out to the backyard. The walls were a light wood, a little dusty, but otherwise in good condition.
"Well, what do you think?" Maisie asked.
"What we can see is nice, but—"
"Where's the rest of it?" Draco asked bluntly.
The older witch gave a tinkling laugh. "You'd think the two of you hadn't been to Hogwarts. Did you really think I'd bring you to a one-room shack?"
"Well, you did bring us to a tower with no windows and no toilets," Hermione couldn't help interjecting.
Maisie tutted at them. "The wizard who built this house loved to garden. He didn't want to waste prime real estate on extra bedrooms, so he had a very special door installed. His wife was brilliant—others have tried unsuccessfully to replicate the spell on this door." She put her hand on the doorknob and spoke clearly before opening the door, "Master bedroom."
The door opened into a wood paneled bedroom, with windows on one wall, and a door in one corner.
"The en suite bathroom, in case you were wondering," Maisie said smugly. Draco and Hermione wandered around the room. It seemed solid. Plenty of space for a good sized bed and a couple of wardrobes. A peek into the en suite bathroom showed a toilet, sink, and a tiled shower in the corner.
She led them back out into the kitchen. "That door can take you to up to eight different rooms. You just have to ask. I believe once you're situated here, thinking of the room you're looking for should work without speaking aloud, but as I'm a guest, the door might be inclined to give me a bit of resistance. Shall we check the others?"
There were two bedrooms others than the master bedroom, and a conservatory. Another room had wall to wall shelving—possibly used as a library or study at some point. There was a larger bathroom—the tub looked a bit rusted, but the fact that there was a tub would make it that much easier to replace it with one that they could actually use. A couple of rooms didn't have any major identifying features, but seemed to have been added as spares. It seemed to have everything they were looking for.
"I'd say the only downside, is that the doors only bring you back to the kitchen, so you have to pass through here if you want to go say from the master bedroom to the library," Maisie said.
"Not quite a deal breaker," Hermione said. "Why is the place empty?"
"His wife died and the wizard who built it didn't want to stay here anymore. Quite sad. He's staying with one of his children. Let's check out the loft, shall we?"
The loft was nothing particularly special—extra storage space overhead, taking up about half of the width of room. There were bundles of dry herbs hanging from the ceiling.
"This is the best place you've showed us all day," Hermione said.
Another smug smile creeped over Maisie's face. "Then let's head back to my office, and I'll set up an in person viewing next week so we can make sure everything still looks as I remember it."
Draco smirked. "How's Tuesday?"
"Perfect." Maisie turned heal and worked whatever magic it was to pull them back into her office. "I'll have some paperwork pulled together for Tuesday and I'll make sure we're all set with the owner for an in-person inspection."
There was no question about it. The last home they'd looked at was definitely the best. It was a little unappealing on the outside compared to somewhere like the Manor—it wasn't large and impressive. But it was a fresh start for both of them. Draco wanted it so badly he could taste it.
Author's Note: If anyone has read the Enchanted Forest Chronicles…I very much had Morwen's house in mind when I came up with this door. And I imagine some of the others were a bit recognizable as well.