The Real Estate Agent
"Yes," said Dumbledore… "Sirius also left you number twelve, Grimmauld Place."
"He's been left a house?" said Uncle Vernon greedily…
Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince, by J.K. Rowling
Bertram Purcell smoothed the front of his pinstriped suit and patted carefully at the top of his thinning hair. The hair transplants had not taken hold as promised by the doctor, and so he was reduced to combing a long section from one side of his head, over to the other. He believed this gave him a more youthful look, instead of allowing his bald patch to show. However, any stiff breeze was likely to dis-arrange his artful work, making him look as though he had a rusty colored sail attached to his pate.
Bertram pulled one of his professionally embossed business cards from his pocket and scanned the back for the third time. He had written down the name, date and time of the appointment upon it. People who were not punctual were a particular pet peeve of his and therefore, he was getting a bad feeling about this Mr. Vernon Dursley. Dursley was only five minutes late, but there was something else bothering Bertram Purcell. The property that Mr. Dursley said he intended to list for sale with Bertram's firm, did not appear to exist.
"Number twelve Grimmauld Place," sniffed Bertram to himself. The daft man had given the wrong address. On top of it, this neighborhood would never be a big seller, he thought, scanning the dingy court, with its pathetic patch of unkempt grass in the center, and dustbins overflowing at the curb. Bertram sniffed again, and squinted around at the grimy houses of Grimmauld Place. He checked his watch again, and his fingers began nervously drumming the side of his briefcase.
Shortly, a car pulled into the street. It was a very nice car, and it was moving slowly, as though its operator was searching for an address. A thin, horse-faced woman was craning her head from the passenger's window. The driver was a large beefy looking man with a huge mustache. These must be the Dursleys thought Bertram, and he lifted a cautious hand in greeting.
Dursley parked his gleaming vehicle, and he and his wife emerged from the car. "Mr. Purcell?" asked Mr. Dursley in a confident and business like tone, as he waded forward like a walrus assaulting a beach.
"Yes," said Bertram with forced warmth, "And you must be Mr. and Mrs. Dursley." He shook the former's hand strongly, and took the latter's gingerly with a nod and a smile. "Shall we press on?" he asked, thinking this was bound to be a complete waste of his time.
"Yes, well," began Dursley, "We haven't actually seen the property in question…as I mentioned on the phone. The house was deeded to our under-age nephew and ward. We are his guardians, you see. His parents were killed when he was a baby," explained Dursley. "We just discovered that he was left this house by a...by an old family friend."
Vernon was now peering with his tiny eyes, up at the grubby buildings in front of him, his wife clinging to his arm with a wrinkled up expression on her face as though the smell was too much for her.
"As I say, the boy is under-age, so we decided to sell the house and use the money for...his… education. Didn't we dear?" Dursley said this last part without looking at Bertram. Mrs. Dursley nodded, and gave Bertram a tight smile.
Bertram didn't really care why the house was to be sold, but even he could tell by Dursley's manner that there was more to this story, particularly as Dursley was carrying a large crow bar in his free hand. He doubted that the boy in question was likely to benefit from this sale; however, that was not his problem.
"Which house did you say it was then?" asked Bertram.
"It's number twelve, isn't it Petunia, dear?" asked Dursley lumbering forward toward number eleven.
"Uhh...yes," said the horse-faced woman, speaking at last. "It was definitely Number Twelve Grimmauld Place," she said.
The Dursleys bent their heads over a scrap of paper while Bertram looked up at number thirteen just in time to see a very strange thing. A house seemed to push its way in between numbers thirteen and eleven. The steps and front door materializing as though they were unfolding by magic. The Dursley's had been examining a paper on which the address was written and had apparently not noticed this remarkable event. Bertram stood pointing, with his mouth hanging open. When the Dursley's looked up, there stood Number Twelve Grimmauld Place.
"Uhh," began Bertram. He must have been seeing things. After all, real estate did not materialize out of thin air. He made a mental note never to drink martinis at lunch, and slowly lowered his hand.
"I can't see how we missed seeing the house number," fussed Mrs. Dursley. "It was really quite clear. What a gruesome door knocker!"
As they all approached the steps, Bertram squinted at the doorknocker. It was shaped like a snake, and would definitely need to be replaced with something more inviting to a potential buyer. He scowled, thinking the inside of this house was bound to be a real horror.
Vernon Dursley eyed the door rather suspiciously and turned to his wife who looked at him darkly. "Let's have a look then," he said as he tried the doorknob. It was locked. Dursley brandished the crow bar. "Brought this. Old owner didn't leave the keys you see," said Dursley by way of explanation, as he applied the iron bar to the jamb.
With a crack, the rotted wood frame gave way. The door, however, did not. Vernon was now slightly red-faced with exertion. He kicked the door and beat it with the crowbar. Then, in exasperation, said, "Open up you bloody door!" with a final thump from the crowbar. The door swung open soundlessly into what appeared a very dark and slightly dank hallway.
Vernon Dursley turned to them smiling. "Bit of the old elbow grease. Works every time," he said confidently. Bertram was not so sure that it had been Dursley's crowbar that had released the door. They all peered in, but no one crossed the threshold. Dursley reached inside and felt the wall, apparently looking for a light switch.
"I was afraid of something like this," he said in an irritated voice. "These weirdoes are…" However, he didn't say what 'these weirdoes' were, as his wife had given him a dirty look. "The bloke who owned this house was a little off in the head, if you know what I mean. Actually got himself landed in prison for a time."
Bertram looked at Dursley aghast. "That is not the kind of thing we will want to mention in the sales presentation, I assure you."
"Of course, I realize that," said Mr. Dursley, looking annoyed. "I was just making the point…"
Mrs. Dursley pursed her lips. "What do you think we can get for it…if we want to sell it quickly?"
"I will have to see the inside," said Bertram, trying to maintain his cool sales air. He opened his briefcase and produced a flashlight, kept for such purposes, took a breath, and stepped over the sill.
The Dursleys followed close on his heels, peering into the gloom. His flashlight fell on bottom of a stairway a dozen feet inside. Straight ahead, there seemed to be a doorway. Some dust was evident, but it seemed that the house had been inhabited rather recently. "When did you say the previous owner passed on?" asked Bertram quietly, over his shoulder.
The Dursleys looked at each other and both stammered. Bertram looked back at the stairway, swinging his light up along it. Something was hanging on the wall, near the first landing. Some sort of gargoyle, he thought ruefully. No…a set of heads… mounted on the wall. He leaned forward. They did not appear to be animals, nor human, but some sort of deformed faces. Bertram decided to pretend, for the moment, that they were simply tasteless decorations and not anything actually sinister…or criminal.
Bertram was not a man to be easily frightened, or fooled, but he did not like the feel of this house. He shuddered involuntarily and turned his light on the opening across from him. No doubt, it was a parlor. He took a step or two closer. May as well start there.
Bertram's flashlight revealed a good-sized room, furnished with some old antiques. Bertram fancied antique furniture, and if these Dursleys were novices to antique pieces, he might make them a low offer for some of the objects.
He immediately noticed a small writing desk in the corner, and made for it, his light bobbing about as he went. This was fabulous, he thought. Just the style he had been looking for. But such desks were dearly bought, and the dealers would not come down on their prices. Bertram reached out a hand to stroke the fine old mahogany finish, when the thing rattled.
Bertram leaped back. He trained his light on it again. Perfectly still. He turned toward the Dursleys who were standing in the hall, looking grimly around them, and apparently having not noticed the rattling desk. Bertram swallowed and approached the desk again, more warily. He lifted the top gingerly and the leering face of his first wife leered out at him. The woman was a nightmare, and so was this.
He dropped the lid with a gasp and stumbled back into the hall, sweat beading up on his face. In his haste, Bertram knocked into something standing near the wall. He swung his flashlight on it as it clattered to the floor, only to discover it was some sort of umbrella stand. The stand appeared to be made of a kind of skin. Bertram let out a shout of terror.
As the noise echoed down the black hallway, dark curtains next to him were flung open and a very old woman began shrieking at the top of her lungs. "Muggle filth! Vermin! Despoilers of the House of Black!" she screamed. "Be gone!"
Bertram was temporarily speechless and backed into Mr. Dursley who had flattened himself against the far wall. "I…We…I'm very sorry madam!" he stammered, thinking the house was still occupied. Then he realized that the shrieking woman, although quite lifelike, was actually a portrait of some kind. Yet, it couldn't be, could it? It was moving… and shrieking. Perhaps it was a trick, or prank, thought Bertram.
He bravely reached out his hand and the old woman, with an even wilder look in her eyes screamed, "Touch me and I'll have you boiled in oil!"
Bertram felt Mr. Dursley slide from behind him and break for the door. He heard the thud of the crow bar hitting the floor, just before the end of it banged down painfully on his own foot. Mrs. Dursley had already escaped. She was scurrying down the steps, waving her arms wildly in the air and wailing for help. Bertram was not far behind.
He slammed the door shut behind him, to keep the evil within, at bay. Then he tripped down the steps as he too scampered for the safety of the sidewalk.
When he turned back, number twelve Grimmauld Place was gone.
He turned to the Dursleys with a foul look on his face. "If you think this was an amusing joke, you are both raving! I have half a mind to call the police!"
Mrs. Dursley was white as a ghost and wringing her hands, whimpering. Mr. Dursley, it appeared, had wet himself and was attempting to cover the dark spot on the front of his slacks by tugging down on his sweater vest. He was grey-faced and seemed shell-shocked.
Bertram stormed to his own car, and climbed in. As he turned the key in the ignition, he saw Mr. Dursley flinging himself at the windshield and gesturing him to roll down the window. Bertram cursed himself, but lowered the window.
"The house," breathed Dursley heavily, "…can you sell it? We'll accept any offer! Any at all!"
Bertram Purcell peeled away from the curb and felt a brief pang of guilt for the rude hand gesture he had bestowed, in parting, on his would-be clients.