Her flat was cold. It was the first thing she'd noticed when she had let the eager landlord bustle her in, how cold it was. Of course she recognised at once what caused the chill. She'd lived with ghosts for nearly half of her life. It was when she spoke to a ghost at the age of five that she began to realise that she was something more than her parents, modest dentists both. However, the ghosts she spoke with for the next six years were nothing to the ones she met when she was invited to study witchcraft at Hogwarts.
Hermione pulled on her sweater and began to brew the tea. One of the few things she knew about ghosts, despite her years of study (and being able to ask them in person at the school did surprisingly little to let her understand them better), was that without a truly magical location, they were indistinct in the muggle world. Hogwarts was a wonderful gathering place for them. Even the Burrow, the home of her friends the Weasley's, housed a ghoul. But here, in muggle London, and at her home (her parents home now), the ghosts were barely hanging on to their afterlives.
She took her tea, sipping it to warm her. This ghost had been here for ages, she could tell that now... but what had kept it here. It didn't matter. It was probably far to disparate to be anything more than an eerie presence, and that was enough to drive the price of the flat to an affordable level.
And, she thought with a blush, it will encourage Ron snuggle a bit more in bed, won't it?
* * * * *
She woke with a start, straining her ears. She was sure she'd been dreaming, but even so, she shouldn't have woken. Something was definitely wrong. She listened, closely, her eyes narrowed.
It was the voice of a small child, but it sounded so faint, so far away that Hermione could barely make it out. She was beginning to understand why muggles were afraid of ghosts in their world. There was something distressing about a disembodied voice in the middle of the night.
"Hullo?" She spoke, more of a whisper than she'd meant, and she frowned in annoyance at that. "Hullo? Is someone there?" She managed more volume, but not much.
Silence greeted her in the dark, and after a long while she could do nothing more but lie back down.
* * * * *
The next morning, Ron had come to call. He was oddly subdued, nervous, and kept looking over his shoulder as if a dementor was going to come after him any moment. He had never been comfortable around muggles.
Still, he was properly appreciative of the nice place, and of the money she was saving ("still, the conversion from dollars to Galleons is going to be murder, mark my words"), and, as she expected, used the cold to keep her in a nice comfortable hug until his stomach rumbled and she let him go with a laugh.
It was while they were cooking tea together that it happened.
Ron had nearly dropped his wand in the sausages and gaped, eyes wide, his round still baby cheeks pale. Hermione held a hand up to halt his gibbering while she listened, but the sound faded.
"I've got to go!" Ron was already collecting his cloak and coat.
"What?!" Hermione stomped from the kitchen, half remembering to hover the pans off the stove before it all burned. "Don't tell me you're afraid of a GHOST, Ron!"
"I'm sorry, Herm, but that was just creepy! I can't stay here!"
"You've got a ghoul living above your BEDROOM, Ronald Weasley!"
He shouted his parting comment as he dashed out the door. "At least with it I know where I stand!" She could hear him mutter as the door closed, "Even muggle ghosts are weird!"
* * * * *
It had been a few months, and she'd grown used to the cries in the day, growing stronger by the month until she could tell it was a small child's voice, a girl, and that she was distressed. Her heart, usually uninvolved in the matters of study (and that was another reason she'd moved into this flat, wasn't it? To learn more? Wasn't it?) began to ache at the plaintive cries.
She'd heard it mostly when she was alone, but sometimes when Ron or Harry had come to visit. It had nearly brought Ginny to tears at one time, too. Ginny had had a special affinity for muggle ghosts (though, really, the term was a misnomer. Ghosts were ghosts, it was only those who were magic in the first place or lived near magic sources that were more, for lack of better word, tangible) and seemed to feel a great sadness in hearing the voice.
But it was Hermione that the voice seemed most attracted to. And it was Hermione who was beginning to feel the same.
It was Halloween night, and it was, to Hermione's chagrin, stereotypically dark and stormy. So much so that lightning was crashing outside her window. She was trying to finish her report for the Department of Magical Misuse when she heard the voice, soft at first.
She set her quill down. It was the most distinct she'd heard the voice, a little girl to be sure, and frightened, tentative. Hermione stood and listened, the little cries coming again, faster, more frightened.
"Momma..? Momma?! Momma! Momma momma!"
She walked faster, tracking the voice, to her bedroom, her feet carrying her with all the speed of a panicked mother. Lightning crashed, and the voice screamed, wailing in terror.
"I'm here," she said, on instinct, casting about. "I'm here, baby, what's the matter?"
Lightning crashed, bringing about a terrified wail, and Hermione swore she could see the faint image of a terrified little girl crying on the bed. She went there, gently putting her hand against the faint image, feeling it suddenly freeze, but leaving it there. "It's all right, luv, it's all right," she whispered. "It's just a storm. Nothing can harm you."
"Momma, I scared..."
"I'm here, luv..."
She stayed there until morning, and the next day, woke to a sunny sky. The flat felt warmer.
Hermione went to the bath, convinced she'd dreamed it all. As she washed her face, a paper fluttered from above her.
It was a crayon drawing of a woman with brown, wild hair holding a grey little girl, and scrawled underneath were the words "Thank you, Momma."