bethbethbeth: (HP Beholder (femmequixotic))
[personal profile] bethbethbeth posting in [community profile] hp_beholder
Recipient: Flora Hart
Author/Artist: [personal profile] donnaimmaculata
Title: The Dog's Days of Summer
Rating: NC-17
Pairings: Aunt Muriel/Griphook, Arabella Figg/Arthur Weasley
Word Count: 11,800
Warnings: explicit goblin sex
Summary: After Voldemort is gone, the wizarding society must re-establish its ties with the goblins, and Arthur must regain his equilibrium in a world without Molly.
Author's/Artist's Notes: Flora, you asked for: Arthur without Molly, coping with a split-up caused by loss and pain, after the war, and you asked for Griphook and an exploration of the question what constitutes sexiness for goblins. I loved both ideas so much that I ended up writing them both. So here you are.

***

The ruthless rays of the afternoon sun stabbed through the gaps in the curtain. They slid from the windowsill onto the balding carpet, felt their way over scattered bags, an open trunk, discarded shirts and pants, a sombrero, a long black leather coat, pizza boxes, chocolate bar wrappers, biscuit crumbs, and scurried towards a skinny freckled arm dangling over the edge of a mattress. They danced across the pale skin, leaving patches of warmth in their wake, and, at the end of their journey, lit up tufts of red hair poking out from underneath a woollen blanket. The hairs grew sparsely on a head that was burrowed, nose-first, in the pillow.

One sun ray tiptoed over an eyelid and caught in the lashes. The man grunted and tossed his head, pushing his face back into the pillow. The sun, however, persisted. Its ray trembled on the man’s temple and tickled his cheek. He gave another annoyed grunt and pulled the blanket over his head.

The ring of the doorbell slashed through the air with the force of a hatchet. The man on the bed jerked up, stuttering out garbled words. The blanket had wrapped itself around his upper arm and head. One wild, blinking eye peered out from underneath the wool.

The doorbell rang again. And again. Grunting with effort, the man rolled out of bed; his foot caught in the blanket, and his knee slammed against the floor. Cursing under his breath, he stumbled to his feet and made for the door. He jerked it open and groaned.

“About time!” The wizened old lady stared at him down her nose from narrowed, red-rimmed eyes. “Arthur Weasley! What time do you call this? No wonder Molly showed you the door.” She pushed past him, a short, skinny figure in a tall hat, and trotted down the hall until, tutting and muttering under her breath.

Arthur’s head was about to explode.

“Aunt Muriel,” he said, but the croak barely made it past his parched lips. He cleared his throat and tried again, pouring as much force into his voice as possible. “Aunt Muriel!”

She didn’t so much as stop in her steps. Ignored, humiliated, anger bubbling up within him, Arthur staggered after her, tripping over his trailing blanket on every other step.

When he caught up with her, she was standing in the kitchenette, perusing the debris on the worktop: the squashed tomatoes covered by spongy green growth, the half-eaten ham-and-cheese sandwich which just didn’t taste like the ones Molly used to make, the gnawed chicken bones, and the haphazard stash of cups and plates in the sink.

“Please excuse this-“ he waved his hand vaguely. “I haven’t got the hang of Muggle household spe- I mean, the Muggle household...” he trailed off.

She pursed her lips in a way very reminiscent of Molly. “Hmph! Not very impressive for a man who has been studying Muggles all his life.”

“It turns out, Aunt Muriel,” Arthur’s mouth was producing words, because talking was easier than dwelling on the subject of his wife. “That there is much more to Muggle living than we knew. For example, if you turn these taps here, like this,” he demonstrated, and a stream of water gushed from the tap onto the stack of dishes and splashed over the sink, leaving a large wet spot on the front of Arthur’s makeshift toga. “If you do that,” he muttered in a low voice, suddenly sad and rejected, even though there was no reason for that, “you get running water.”

“Pardon? I didn’t catch that,” said Aunt Muriel. “Speak up when you talk to me, Arthur. I’m one hundred and eight, you know.”

“Nothing, nothing.” Arthur ran a hand over his hair. “It wasn’t important.”

“I shouldn’t think so.” She was inspecting the room now, wrinkling her nose at the sight of the wreckage spread all across the floor and the furniture. Suddenly, she whirled around, and he jumped back to prevent getting impaled on her beaklike nose. “How long are you going to wallow in misery, then?”

“I am not wallowing in misery,” Arthur said in the petulant voice of an ill child.

“What would you call this, then?” Her wand arm swooshed through the air and the mingled mess of clothes and rubbish rose into the air momentarily, before dropping back down in a different, but not less messy, constellation. She tapped her cane on the floor. “You don’t look happy to me, Arthur Weasley. I know a happy man when I see him!”

It was as though someone had loosened the screws that held his joints together. Arthur sank bonelessly to the ground, his blanket sliding down his shoulders.

Aunt Muriel, in her lilac robe and a pink hat with tall ostrich feathers perched atop her white hair, loomed over him like an intruder from an alien land. When she spoke, he barely believed his ears. “This is not the end of the world. Your and Molly’s is not the first marriage to end like this.” Too dumbfounded to speak, Arthur could merely stare at her open-mouthed. In the next moment, however, she sounded like Muriel again. “Even though nothing like this has ever happened on the Prewett side, of course. It must be the Muggle influence to which you Weasleys are so susceptible.”

She patted him on the head and wiped her gloved hand on her robe. “Now get up, Arthur, take and bath and get dressed. Your son and that French girl are coming to see you. She wore my tiara at her wedding, you know.”

She stalked past him and made for the door, leaving Arthur in stunned, sweating and shaking heap on the floor.

***

Muriel left the flat purring contently under her breath. All in all, everything had gone very well. Sometimes, all it took was to poke a Blast-Ended Skrewt to achieve an explosion that cleaned the air. Molly deserved better than that Arthur; she, Muriel, had always said so, but it wouldn’t do to see a respectable pureblood marriage go belly-up like that. Arthur Weasley would have to pull himself together sooner or later, as became a wizard from such an old family.

She had reached the end of the long corridor and pushed open the door to the staircase. The walls were covered in large red, blue and yellow letters, spelling out words she did not understand. Muggles, unable to communicate through fireplaces or by sending patronuses to each other, had to leave their marks on walls, like wild kneazles. The grotesque images reminded her of illustration in a book on Dark Arts. She held her wand protectively aloft, just in case. Even though of Muggle origin, the paintings looked as though they might strike at any moment.

The staircase was empty, but voices floated down from downstairs, rude, male voices shouting what were unmistakably obscenities, shrill, female voices shrieking threatening insults. The cacophony was accompanied by the growling and barking of dogs; Muriel had seen the vicious little beasts when she had arrived: small and stumpy, with jaws that were almost as long as their rumps and looked as strong as those of manticores. She wouldn’t be going down the stairs, of course. Instead, she gathered her robe around herself, spun on the spot and Disapparated with a loud crack.

Cool marble under her feet and air that sizzled with magic greeted her on arrival. She stood before silver doors flanked by two grim-looking goblins in Gringotts livery. Sly long-fingered little creatures; she eyed them contemptuously, and they returned her gaze impassively as she walked pass them and entered the magnificent hall. Ever since the fall of He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named, the goblins had taken Gringotts back, and wizards were less welcome than ever. One could almost think that these ungrateful little buggers didn’t want wizards there, it was a disgrace. Where did they think did the gold and the treasures come from if not from respectable wizarding families? And yet, the way they treated the wizards, one might think they considered them no better than Muggles. She had long decided not to keep her most beloved possessions in the family vault at Gringotts; the slim gold tiara, elegantly wrought and adorned with twinkling diamonds and moonstones, was stored securely in an enchanted jewel case in her attic.

One of the goblins left his place behind the counter; he slid off his stool, walked around it and hobbled towards her, each step accompanied by the sharp clank of his crutch. Muriel tapped her cherry-wood cane against the marble floor impatiently. As far as one could tell with goblins, this one looked particularly hostile. Muriel straightened her back and regarded him haughtily. Inwardly, she cursed her poor eyesight and her burning eyes, which forced her to blink in a rather undignified manner.

The goblin had drawn near and stood by her side, succeeding in looking down on her, even though his head reached just above her waist. “Good afternoon, Miss Prewett,” he said in a voice that was rather high for a goblin. “It’s been long since we had the pleasure of seeing you here.”

“Ever since you banned Harry Potter and Ronald Weasley from Gringotts!” Tap-tap-tap slammed her cane on the floor, and the echo carried into the furthest corners of the hall.

The tip of the goblin’s crutch pushed against the slim cherry-wood stick, whilst a strong, long-fingered hand wrapped itself around her elbow. Muriel swatted the hand away. “How dare you!”

“My apologies, Miss,” said the goblin, his swarthy face void of any emotions, but his black eyes glittering. “I was worried you might stumble and fall.” He stepped aside and, with an exaggerated flourish, invited her to walk over to a table and chairs by the wall. “Perhaps you would like to take a seat. Neither of us should have to remain on our feet unnecessarily.”

Nolens volens, she followed him. It was a sensible suggestion, her hip was giving her trouble and her legs felt swollen, as usual in hot weather. She maintained a stony silence until they reached the table. The goblin didn’t even have the decency to pull a chair up for her.

She was out of breath, she admitted to herself, which was why she had not commented on the goblin’s unpardonable insolence yet. Instead, she pressed her lips together and stared him down. But he proved a worthy opponent. His black gaze did not waver.

“Well?” Muriel said at last.

“What can we do for you, Miss Prewett?” the goblin asked, indifferently, as she thought.

“You could begin with apologies for your disrespectful behaviour!”

“Whatever can you mean, Miss Prewett?”

“Don’t play silly buggers with me, young man!” Muriel drew herself up in her chair. “Did you not hear what I said? For banning Harry Potter and Ronald Weasley! For treating the saviours of the wizarding world like common criminals!”

“Harry Potter, Ronald Weasley and Hermione Granger,” the goblin said pointedly. “Who broke into Gringotts and wreaked havoc and destruction in one of our most secure vaults.”

Muriel waved a hand dismissively. “The girl’s a Muggle-born. But the other two are pureblood wizards of respectable parentage! You have set a precedent that must not be tolerated.”

“Harry Potter’s mother was Muggle-born,” said the goblin.

It was going to be a long day.

***

Arthur rubbed his head dry, staring his reflection sternly in the eye. His face was speckled with white dots of tissue paper which stuck to the spots where he had cut himself shaving. He really hadn’t got the hang of Muggle ways yet.

The doorbell rang. Arthur startled and dropped the towel. Fumbling nervously on the buttons of his plaid shirt, he cast one final look over the kitchenette and the room. He had dealt with the most disgusting mess, but the flat was still far from a state of tidiness.

The doorbell rang again. Arthur took a deep breath and pulled the door open.

In the next moment, warmth and a familiar scent of home engulfed him. Arthur swallowed thickly through a throat that felt much too tight. Buried in his eldest son’s embrace, he was blinking back tears. Through the fog before his eyes, he spotted a cloud of silver. Fleur hovered a few feet behind Bill, radiating beauty in the grim, unlit hall, and looking as though she was afraid to breathe.

“The kids say hello,” Bill said, when they were seated around a wobbly-legged coffee table that had come with the bedsit. “Ginny demands to know why you won’t let her visit you. She’s furious. She says don’t be stupid and Percy-like.”

“I’m not-“ Arthur flared up, but deflated instantly. He could not tell his son - could not have his daughter know – that everything about her, from her fiery hair, through the fierce expression in her eyes, to the proud way she jutted out her chin, reminded him of Molly. He could not tell his own child that it just hurt too much to see her. “Your mother wouldn’t want me to,” he mumbled instead.

“You can’t go on like that, Dad,” Bill said after a short silence. “Mum’s not- Mum wouldn’t want you to-“ He broke off and shot a deploring look at his wife.

“Molly wouldn’t want you to be unhappy, Arthur,” Fleur said in her throaty voice. “She wants you to get on with your life.”

“She thinks I’m useless!” The words surged out of his mouth almost before he had thought them. “She thinks I should have prevented our son from dying! I didn’t. And then I couldn’t even make the pain go away!”

“No-one can do that!” Bill’s voice has risen likewise, and Arthur realised to his horror that he had never before seen his eldest son so shaken. Bill, it struck him, had been like a rock for the family, always confident, always composed, always in control, never losing his wits or temper. Not even after the werewolf had mauled him, not even when he had stood by his younger brother’s grave. He wondered how he had managed to produce a son who was so much the opposite of himself. “It will take time. But it will fade, you know that. Dad!” There was a pleading undertone to Bill’s voice now, and it was more than Arthur could take.

“Please go,” he said, without looking at Bill. “I need to be alone.”

Bill stood up briskly. “Thank you for the tea,” he said; his cup had remained untouched, the dark brown liquid had cooled and a silvery film floated on its surface. “Kingsley asks whether you’re coming to his stag night. He says you have to or he’ll hunt you down personally.”

“Oh, yes, of course,” Arthur said. “He sent me an invitation. It is here somewhere...” All three looked around as thought they could spot the roll of parchment among the haphazardly covered-up debris.

“Well, yes, anyway,” Bill said, his hand already on the doorknob. He reached out his other hand to shake his father’s. “It was nice to see you, Dad.” He opened the door and stepped out.

To Arthur’s surprise, it was Fleur who hugged him, tightly; she kissed him on the cheek and gave him a watery smile. “You’ve got to come and see us, Arthur,” she said. “You can stay as long as you want. The guest room is all yours.”

He watched them walk off arm in arm, and then he slammed the door shut and leaned with his back against it. Was there any feeling more degrading for a man than having to admit that he was jealous, with an acidic, gut-churning jealousy, of his own son’s happiness in marriage?

***

Muriel put the latest copy of the Quibbler aside, hmphing in disgust. Old Xeno Lovegood had lost his touch. Ever since the war was over and You-Know-Who vanquished, the Quibbler was full of silly stories about Snorkack spotting and Chattering Chrysomathos chasing. She missed the days when every new edition of the magazine featured gruesome tales of deaths and Dark artefacts being unearthed in the most unlikely of places. Rita Skeeter’s piece Mysterious, Moody, Misunderstood – the Many Faces of a Reformed Death Eater had been mildly interesting; she had never known that that sour-faced skinny Yorkshireman had, in his youth, been caught in a love triangle with Lily and James Potter. He might even have been Harry Potter's real father! Oh, they all talked about how much the boy Harry resembled that James Potter, but that might just be protesting too much. Rita had certainly implied that the Potters' marriage had not been all wine and roses.

Little wonder it had all ended in murder; ‘crime of passion’, as they called it.

But even that story had not managed to keep her entertained for long. Muriel pursed her lips and tapped her fingers against the smooth length of her elegant cane. Her feet were itching, and unruly needles danced along her spine, forcing her into a restlessness that made her hasten to and fro, embarking on errands that were silly and futile. Going to Gringotts, for Merlin’s sake! What had she been thinking? The devious little buggers, always trying to pry as much wizard gold from wizard hands as they possibly could. Well, they were not getting their spidery fingers on her tiara, that was for sure!

She got to her feet, walked over to the table, regarded it critically and lifted one of the lace doilies to her eyes, wrinkling her nose. She then put it back down, arranging it properly between the filigree sugar bowls and the silver candlestick, and shuffled over to the mantelpiece. The photographs needed dusting.

One or two quick waves of the wand later, the dust had been dealt with, and Muriel found herself standing by the scullery door. It was empty; one discarded box, traces of brightly coloured powder and an odd, slightly nauseating smell bore memory of the days, not long gone, when the poky little room had housed the vibrant and explosive personalities of two of the Weasley boys, and their just as explosive inventions. At first she had allowed them to use one of the upstairs bedrooms, but the noises were just too much and upset the fairy. She had banned them to the scullery, and they had cheerfully accepted. “It’s safer here,” one had said. "No lace ruffles and curtains to catch on fire."

He was dead now, of course. Shame, that. He had been a redhead, like all his brothers. There was no escape from the Weasley curse of red hair, she had told Molly that much and no mistake, when the girl had insisted on marrying that Arthur. Of course, Molly had proved to be just as pig-headed as her mother had been before her, and she had passed it on to her daughter. Ginevra, at least, had sense enough to catch the hero of the wizarding world, instead of marrying some Ministry underling with an unhealthy obsession with Muggles.

Boom! Boom! Boom! The rich sound of the door knocker reverberated through the air. Who could that be? The ladies from the Morgan le Fay Society were not due until 4 o’clock. Perhaps it was Mr Ollivander, popping by to bring her the latest news from Diagon Alley?

She hurried down the hall, excitement mounting in her chest. The door knocker was now singing out words of welcome to friends and of warning to foes. Muriel pulled open the door and her gaze focused momentarily on an empty stretch of air, where the face of her visitor should have rightfully been. A small and, as it seemed, rather impatient cough informed her of her error.

She lowered her gaze.

Griphook the goblin stood on the threshold, staring up at her from his unmoving, unblinking eyes and twirling his black beard around one twig-like finger. He was wearing his Gringotts uniform, she noticed.

“Good morning, Miss Prewett,” said the goblin in that odd, too-high, yet rough voice of his. "I am not imposing on you, I trust."

“It is very inconvenient,” said Muriel, but even despite herself, she had already taken an almost unperceivable step back, as if to admit the goblin inside. “I am not prepared to receive visitors. The house-elf has her day off.” She snorted. “In all my life, I have not heard anything that ridiculous! A house-elf! A day off!”

“A new era is upon us,” the goblin said. “We must move with the times."

“Hmph!” Muriel regarded him from narrowed eyes. “I don’t see why.

“Now that the Dark Lord is gone, it is necessary that all, wizards and magical creatures alike, build a new society.” The tone of his voice had not changed, but there was the faintest of flashes in his black eyes.

“Pah!” said Muriel. “You believe that nonsense as little as I do.”

“That is what is wise to believe in these days," the goblin said smoothly. "New rulers make new rules, and neither of us would want the days back when we went to war with each other."

A shiver ran down Muriel's spine. There was something deeply unsettling about her visitor. "Don't you goblins ever blink?" she asked.

He blinked. The moment his black eyes were hidden by lash-less eyelids, he looked almost… real. Almost vulnerable.

“We do many things differently,” the goblin said.

Muriel had come to a decision. She stepped back and threw the door wide open. “You better come in,” she said. “You’ve been keeping me standing in the door like a common house-elf. I’ve got to rest my legs. I’m one hundred and eight, you know.”

Tap-tap-tap, went Muriel's cane as she led the goblin through the hall; clank-clank-clank, went his crutch in response.

“No age at all for a goblin,” said the goblin. “Is it old for a witch? I never can tell with humans.”

Muriel snorted. “Preposterous!” she said. “You must see that I’m an old woman!”

“All humans look the same to me,” said the goblin. He had entered her drawing room and was looking around, his sly black eyes darting from the beautifully crafted sabre above the mantelpiece to the jewel case on the sideboard.

“I should have known that our family treasures are what a goblin would be interested in!” Muriel said triumphantly. “Plotting how you can get your gold-grabbing hands on these, are you?”

“These are goblin-made," he pointed his spindly finger at the sabre and then the jewel case. “They are our rightful property.”

“These have been in my family for centuries! My ancestors paid a lot of gold to your race in exchange of them!"

“And they should have been returned to us after the man who had paid for it died. This is what goblin law says.

“Goblin law!” Muriel sniffed as though something unpleasant were burning under her nose. "It is a mere excuse to insult me!"

“I have never insulted you!” the goblin exclaimed, and for the first time, there was animation in that outlandish face of his.

"The other day at Gringotts! You called me a liar and a thief!” Muriel shouted.

“You whacked me over the head with your cane, Madam!”

***

A single green fly was buzzing lazily through the motionless air, performing a bizarre dancing routine with the specks of dust that floated above Arthur’s head. He was lying on his back, with his arms folded across his chest as though he were trying to hug himself. It was very hot in the small bedsit, hot and stuffy, and the air he inhaled was like cotton wool in his mouth and lungs. Two trails of tears had dried on his temples and were itching, but Arthur couldn’t be bothered to unwrap the soothing cocoon of his arms to scratch himself. A deep, heavy feeling bore down on him, obstructing his chest and making it hard to breathe. He was weak; his limbs were like lead, his head swum. Nausea blossomed low in his belly, creeping, slowly and inevitably, up his gullet. As soon as it would reach his mouth, he would throw up, he knew that.

His stomach gave a loud rumble.

He was hungry. That’s what it was.

Oh.

Arthur frowned and unfolded his arms, absentmindedly rubbing his left hand that had gone numb with his right. When had he last eaten? It seemed like days ago. Weeks even.

Ah. No. He had cleaned the kitchen last night, sleepless as it had been, and had ravished every last crumb of leftovers that had not gone off or evolved into a new species.

Groaning, he rolled off the mattress. As terrifying as the prospect was, he would have to go to Tesco’s.

The store was chilly and brightly lit by eclecticity, like all Muggle places. Arthur blinked against the light, rather disoriented. The low metal gate in front of him scared him; he never remembered whether he had to cast a spell to make it open or not. Who would have thought that the Muggle world would be so complicated?

A sweaty youth pushed rudely past him, barking obscenities as he passed, and Arthur hurried in his wake. The gate opened and closed.

He was surrounded by fruit and vegetables: red, green and golden, richly coloured, ripe and sweet-looking, smelling of summer and of exotic forests, dizzying him with their abundance and shamelessness. They were not like wizard markets at all; here, everything was motionless, even though there was life in it. Plants – fruit and vegetables – that didn’t move at all seemed to be lurking, waiting for him to turn his back; the potatoes were watching him from their black dots of eyes, the bananas were stretching out for him like claw-like fingers, and the toothless grins of the watermelon quarters, whose exposed flesh was red and dripping, like a wound, were positively menacing.

No, nothing that was alive should be allowed to be so still.

He hurried on, past the shelves with noodles (he had tried them once; they were dry and brittle, and the transparent wrapping had melted into a disgusting, black mess that was very hot and very, very inedible), past tinned peas and sweet corn (impossible to open, even after he had banged them against the table and walls), past honey, marmalade and jams, and reached his favourite place in the whole store: the freezer cabinets. Here, he could pick and choose a complete meal, carry it back home and put it into the wave oven, from whence it would emerge only slightly too hot and ready to be eaten. It was almost like magic. It was very comforting.

“Good afternoon, Arthur!” said a voice behind him, and he jumped.

“Arabella!” he exclaimed. “Fancy seeing you here. How do you do? What are you doing here?” His gaze fell on her shopping trolley; it held a dozen tins of cat food and a shepherd’s pie.

“How do you do, Arthur.” Arabella pointed at a box that read: ‘Complete Cat Crunchies’. “Mr Tibbles has had an upset stomach. I had to put him on a special dry food diet.”

“Oh, I bet he loves it,” said Arthur. “It looks delicious.”

She shook her head. “He turned very huffy when he wasn’t allowed the same food as the others. Barfed on my best slippers and everything. He has been ignoring me since.”

“How very... distressing that must have been for you,” Arthur mumbled vaguely.

“Oh, no, that’s quite all right,” she said cheerfully. “He is entitled to a little depression. We all are.”

She was nice, Arabella. Nice and friendly and helpful. It was she who had shown him around after he had moved to the council house on the fringes of Little Whinging, and it was she who had explained the wave oven to him.

He put his shopping into her trolley and insisted on pushing it, and she helped him with the Muggle money, as he had not yet got the hang of it. Apparently, the heavy metal coins were worth less than the flimsy paper bills. Mental!

He did not quite know how, but he ended up walking her home; it felt quite natural. Chatting amiably, they walked side by side through Muggle streets, passing Muggles young and old, and Arthur was pulling her tartan shopping trolley and slowing down his steps to match hers. Even though it was another hot day, autumn was already in the air, and the aromatic purple plums that Arabella carried in a handy little basket hid fine wrinkles in the corners of their smooth cheeks.

When they entered her house, Arthur felt suddenly as though he was on holiday. It was most peculiar: Arabella lived in a very ordinary, very Muggle house that smelled of cats, and yet... and yet... something about it evoked sweet memories of happiness and long talks that lasted until late at night. Funnily, Molly didn't feature in them.

A large, silver-striped cat slinked around his feet, before disappearing through the kitchen door. "That's Mr Paws," Arabella informed him, trotting after the cat. Arthur followed her, smiling for no reason at all. More cats were already waiting for them: a scruffy black tom with an off-white tuxedo (“This is Snowy,” Arabella said), a white-orange fur ball (“And that’s Tufty”), and Mr Tibbles himself, who was perched on the worktop, blinking at them from large, yellow eyes.

“Mr Tibbles!” Arabella said reproachfully, “you're not supposed to sit up there, as well you know!"

He blinked, very slowly, and gave a deep growl as she stepped closer. To Arthur's surprise, he then leapt off the worktop and approached him, purring loudly and winding himself around the tartan shopping trolley that Arthur had pulled into the kitchen.

“He knows there are special treats in there, don't you, Mr Tibbles, don't you?" Arabella crouched down to pet him. "But we can't have any today, can we, Mr Tibbles, not as long as the tummy bug is giving you trouble.” She grabbed the cat, who miaowed angrily, and put him down in the hall, closing the door behind him. The pitiful miaowing went on for a while, punctuated by vigorous scratching on the door, but, eventually, Mr Tibbles seemed to give up, and silence fell.

Arabella sighed. “He’s gone to take his revenge. Bless him." She handed Arthur a chopping board and a large knife. “Chop up some liver for the others, would you, Arthur? And then we’ll have a cup of tea and,” she began fussing around the kitchen, opening and closing cupboards, “I’m sure I’ve got some yummy biscuits somewhere here…”

The cats kept them company when they had their tea; even Mr Tibbles was no longer sulking. He had leapt onto the back of the sofa, curled all four paws under his body, and regarded Arthur regally, watching him stroke Tufty, who had jumped onto his lap and refused to be moved. Tick-tock, tick-tock, went the clock in the corner, and the air was lazy and slow, and Arthur smiled more than he could remember smiling in a long time. He had barely touched his tea, too busy talking to Arabella and listening to Arabella telling him stories of her life among Muggles. He couldn't remember when he had last spent such a pleasant afternoon. It was peaceful in here, and good and happy. There was none of that bustling, restless energy that had always permeated his home for as long as he could remember, and it struck him, quite suddenly, that he had not thought of the Burrow or… or Molly for hours.

He startled, suddenly, with a sharp intake of breath, like a man who had been underwater. “I’m sorry, Arabella,” he said, blinking at her in confusion. “I've been lost in thought."

She smiled, and a very sweet and gentle smile it was. “You’re not drinking your tea, Arthur,” she said.

“Oh. Indeed.” Arthur reached for his cup, but she extended her arm and placed her hand on his.

“Don’t be silly,” she said. “It's cold by now."

“I can just…” Arthur said, rather frantically, and he pulled his hand away and started patting his pockets in search for his wand. "I can just warm it up again-" He broke off and sat there, completely still.

Arabella rose to her feet and picked up his cup. “I’ll pour this away and make you a nice fresh cuppa. It doesn't do, warming up tea, it never tastes the same.”

In the door, she paused and said, without quite looking at him. "You are not a Squib, Arthur. You’re just grieving. Believe me, your magic will be coming back to you in no time, no time at all.”

With this, she was gone, and the warm pressure that her hand had left on his began to spread, until it filled every pore and every cell of his body.

***

Tap-tap-tap went her cherry-wood cane as Muriel stomped down the stairs, clutching a fistful of fine silvery fabric in her hand and wearing a triumphant expression. The fairy had been driving her up the wall with its incessant singing, and Muriel had gone up to the attic room to have words. Like all magical creatures, the fairy was highly strung and prone to violent outbursts, but Muriel was having none of this. It wasn’t easy to catch the flighty little thing, but Muriel had one or two tricks up her sleeve, oh yes, she had indeed! Gilderoy Lockhart could not have done a neater job.

Though, of course, rumour had it that Lockhart had not performed any of those heroic deeds that he celebrated himself for in his books, but had merely stolen other people's stories. That sounded just like him. The Lockharts had always been a cunning and scheming bunch, not one of them to be trusted, she had always said so.

Boom! Boom! Boom! the door knocker went again. “I’m coming, I’m coming!” Muriel grumbled. “Stop making such a racket! I’m one hundred and-“

“That I will never believe. You don't look one day over 80!"

She had opened the door and was stopped short in her tirade.

“Auntie Muriel,” the eldest Weasley boy, the one who had married that French girl, stood on her doorstep, beaming at her as though he was really happy to see her. “How utterly lovely to see you!” Despite herself, she felt a smile tug at the corners of her mouth.

“Tut, tut, tut,” she said. “I guess there's nothing you can do about those scars. But you could at least cut your hair, boy."

He flashed her a quick and insolent grin. “Fleur likes it long," he said.

“I did not hear that!” she said, beckoning him inside. “Why did you not bring her, that wife of yours? I should have liked to meet her and to ask her how she liked my tiara. I never got a chance to speak to her at that wedding."

“I’m actually here to discuss that very matter with you,” Bill said.

Muriel snorted. “Your wedding?”

“Your tiara.” Bill threw himself into her second-best armchair, quite to her annoyance, as it robbed her of the opportunity of berating him for taking up her best one. She thwacked him over the shin with her cane.

“Don’t sprawl,” she said. “Where are your manners? One could think you were raised by wolves.”

There was a short and, Muriel had to admit to herself, quite horrible pause, but when Bill spoke again, his voice was as steady and pleasant as ever. He had a good diction, she had to admit that much. Of course, it was mainly thanks to her; when he was a little boy, she had spent many an hour tutoring him on subjects his parents neglected, such as calligraphy and elocution.

“As you know, Auntie Muriel, I have been working for Gringotts for many years.”

“At a ridiculously low pay,” she cut in. “Those goblins don’t even have the common decency to-“

He waved a hand impatiently. “Yes, yes, Auntie Muriel, I know. But that’s not what I wanted to discuss with you. As you know, the goblins are very unhappy about the events of the last months, years even.”

“And what have they done to prevent them? I didn’t see any goblins set out against Him-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named and his Dark wizards?”

Bill sighed. “They don’t really care about wizards being Dark or otherwise. We are all the same to them. The only question they care about is whether wizards treat them fairly or not. And they feel they have been treated unfairly. They demand reparations.”

“Preposterous!” said Muriel.

“Not according to goblin lore.” Bill leaned in across the table, folding his hands on the tabletop and speaking intently. “What most wizards fail to understand – please, Auntie Muriel, hear me out! – What most wizards fail to understand is that goblins are not interested in wizarding wars; our battles have no importance to them. Just as little as we would be interested in conflicts that go on between the different goblin nations.”

“Different goblin nations?” Muriel snorted. “Well, I never!”

“And yet, different goblin nations do exist, and they differ from each other just as much as individual wizard groups do, even more so: like wizards and Muggles. They have their own problems to deal with. Most wizards only ever meet goblins who work for the wizarding bank, but believe me,” Bill gave a short laugh, “they are much, much more diverse than that.”

“Well, I suppose, some of the little buggers must have crafted my tiara,” Muriel conceded.

“Yes. And the Sword of Gryffindor. Any many treasures more, which they resent being in wizard hands.”

“Greedy, ungrateful-!”

“Yes, well,” Bill interrupted her. “Again, not according to goblin lore. In their eyes, it is us who are the greedy and ungrateful bastards, hanging on to treasures that don’t belong to us.”

“And have you come here to tell me this? I will not be called a thief to my face, like some common Muggle! You should be ashamed of yourself, boy, harassing your old aunt on behalf of these creatures! Trying to stir up trouble!”

“On the contrary, Auntie Muriel,” said Bill. “I do not try to stir up trouble. I try to prevent trouble from happening. The goblins are not happy, they have not been happy for a long time, and now that the wizarding society is weakened after the war – well, let’s just say they might take advantage of that.”

“Hah!” said Muriel. “Yes, that sounds like something these cunning buggers might just do.”

“And this is why,” Bill took a deep breath, “this is why I try my best to persuade the oldest and most respectable wizard families to reach out to the goblins and to agree on a compromise. We cannot go on like we have done if we don’t want to bring a new tragedy upon ourselves.”

There was a long pause during which Muriel regarded her grandnephew thoughtfully.

“You’re friends with the new Minister for Magic,” she said at last. “Well, there was never a question you’d do well. You got the brains in the family. Shame your looks are gone.”

“All I’m asking of you, Auntie Muriel, is to consider giving the goblins something that belongs to the- has belonged to them,” he corrected himself quickly as he caught her gaze. “As a token of goodwill. To lead by example.”

“It was quite unnecessary for you to come here to tell me all this,” Muriel said, watching in satisfaction as Bill’s face fell – quite horribly disfigured by those scars as it was, how could that wife of his tolerate them? Ah well, French. There was no accounting for their taste. She watched him take a deep breath, as though to steady himself for a new battle. It would be rather enjoyable to watch him trying to persuade her, he was a bright one, and pleasant to listen to, but she really had to be somewhere.

“Quite unnecessary,” she said, raising a hand to silence him, “because I have already entered into negotiations with an esteemed member of the goblin society with regard to my tiara.”

Bill looked up in surprise.

“He hasn’t told you that, has he, my boy?” said Muriel. “Well, I suppose you’re not important enough for your goblin masters to share their decisions with you.”

***

It was supposed to be the perfect evening.

So far, everything has gone wrong. Arthur had tried to invite Arabella for dinner using the tephelone, and he had spent several excruciating minutes shouting into the receiver in the tephelone box on the council estate, until the jeers and laughter of the kids alarmed him to the fact that there was something wrong with it. He suspected that the receiver had to be attached to the tephelone after all, but he wasn’t sure how he was supposed to know that. He was positive he had seen Muggles walking around talking into portable receivers before.

He had walked all the way over to Arabella’s house and pushed a handwritten scroll into her letter box. On second thought, he realised he should not have used parchment but that neat white paper they sold at Muggle stores, and perhaps even have it printed in the copy shop , but it was too late now. He hoped she wouldn’t mind.

He had spent a long time at Tesco’s, too, wavering in front of the freezer cabinet, wondering whether she’d prefer an honest English meal such as a nice steak and kidney pie or some exotic chop suey. He eventually opted for a pizza; it struck him as less hazardous than Chinese food, but it would still be original and elegant. And the boxes looked really nice, too.

Of course, he should have learned by now that Muggle food never looked quite as good as the packaging suggested: the pizza was pale, the topping was nowhere close to the vibrant red that was depicted on the box, and there was no trace of the pretty green leaves that formed such as nice contrast to the red tomatoes. He read the writing on the box carefully. “Serving suggestion”. That meant, if he was any judge, that the picture was a lie.

Unfortunately, he wasn’t sure what kind of leaves he was supposed to put on top of the pizza; the only thing he was sure about was that none of the plants growing on the estate qualified.

The next difficulty soon presented itself: the pizza was too large for the wave oven. He had to cut it in half, and by the time he figured out the best possible logistics, it was getting late and his thoughts were running around in wild circles. He shoved it in, selected a temperature at random, and dashed to the bathroom to shave. A pale, harassed face with shadowed eyes appeared in the mirror. “Merlin’s beard,” Arthur whispered, “is that really me?”

As always, Muggle shaving left his face covered in small cuts that burned on contact with water, and even more so on contact with the Muggle aftershave that he applied liberally. Well, at least the pizza smelled good.

It didn’t look good, however. It was still pale and ugly, and, to make matters worse, it felt soggy and rubbery. It was supposed to be crispy and brown, he was sure of that. He turned the box to and fro, trying to decipher the tiny writing, but in vain. He was so nervous, his heart was beating in his throat and there was a mist in front of his eyes that made it impossible to read anything. So instead, he busied himself with opening the wine. Why were there never any scissors at hand when you needed them? Swearing loudly and holding the Tetra Pak carton in one hand, he slashed and hacked and tried his best, but he still ended up sloshing half the wine over the worktop and some of it even over his shirt. Ah well. He was going to change anyway.

He was sweating by the time the wine was open. There were no wine glasses, but he had bought very pretty plastic cups with little kitty pictures printed on them. That would please Arabella.

The doorbell rang just as he was pouring wine into a cup, which slipped from his sweaty hand and landed on the floor with an almighty splash. Arthur swore, grabbed the carton and the cups and carried them over to the table, where the pizza was already cooling. It looked less appealing than ever.

On his way to the door, he turned on the light switch. Bright eclectic light flooded the room, illuminating every corner. He pressed the buzzer and waited, his heart hammering in his ears and temples. His mouth was so dry, he knew he would not be able to speak, so he took a sip of wine, and when he looked up, it was to see Arabella emerging from the staircase.

She looked lovely. A rosy hue lay on her face, giving her an animated, fresh appearance, almost like a young girl’s. A wave of tenderness gushed over Arthur; he wanted to hurry over to take her in his arms, but his knees were like spaghetti, and he remained rooted to the spot.

“This is lovely, thank you, Arthur,” said Arabella, slightly breathlessly, if his ringing ears didn’t deceive him. He had gestured her to the best chair, the one that did not have springs poking out through the upholstery. Arabella sat there, prim and proper, clutching her string bag on her knees, and looking around the room. Arthur fidgeted with his knife and fork.

“Please, tuck in, Arabella,” he said. “It’s got quite cold, I’m afraid.”

“No, no, Arthur, it’s delicious.” Arabella poked the pizza slice with her fork. “I really appreciate the effort.”

“You see, Arabella,” Arthur said, animatedly, after they had both laughed at the rubbery pizza and she had told him all about Mr Tibbles’ ingenious ideas to goad on the other cats to pull pranks on her, and they had shared stories and silence alike. “You see, Arabella, the Muggle ways are much more complicated than I’ve expected. You are used to them, but I would have been quite lost if it hadn’t been for your help.”

“No, no, Arthur, there’s no need. No need to mention it at all.” She blushed. Arthur couldn’t take his eyes off her.

“More wine, I think!” he said heartily and stood up. “I’ll fetch some from the kitchen.”

“Arthur!” Arabella called after him. “Could you turn off the light, please? It is very bright in here, don’t you think?”

When he came back, his hands trembling and his heart hammering, she was finishing her pizza, and she looked up and smiled at him. It was that smile, more than anything else, more even than the wine that had muddled his brain, that made him sink down by her chair and kiss her on the mouth.

He had been aiming for the mouth, but, perhaps due to the wine, perhaps due to the unbearable anxiety that had had him in its grip all day, he missed and his lips landed on the dimple where her lips met her cheek.

A jolt ran through him, from head to toe, when she turned her head to meet his mouth fully. In the next moment, she held his head in her hands, while his arms wrapped themselves around her almost of their own accord. She was so small and frail; Arthur could feel her heart flutter in her ribcage against his. It was exhilarating, but there was also an unbearable pressure that became more and more painful every second. Kneeling awkwardly by her chair, he found that his erection had got trapped at a very unpleasant angle.

“Um,” he pulled back, wincing, “I am sorry, Arabella. This isn’t very comfortable.”

“Oh! Of course!” Her palm rested on his cheek, and she brushed her thumb against his lower lip.

“I am not as young as I used to be,” Arthur said with a crooked smile.

“None of us are.”

His hip joint cracked audibly when he rose to his feet, rubbing his knee. He pulled her up and led her to the mattress. She slipped out of her slippers on the way there, and the sight of her walking on the shabby carpet in her stocking-clad feet was quite possibly the most arousing thing he had seen in his life.

She giggled a bit when he pulled off her tights, later, and the elastic band got caught around her thighs. Arthur kissed the hollow at the base of her throat, running his hand up and down her body. She was very thin, Arabella, thin and wiry, but her breast and her stomach were delightfully soft. She sighed and then moaned when he took the tip of her breast into his mouth, tickling it with his tongue. Somehow, his penis had ended up in her hand that was moving up and down and up and down with exquisite slowness. Arthur heard himself moan and mutter endearments into her ear. Her hair had come undone from her bun and tickled his nose and face. Here, in the cradle of her arms, was warmth and safety, and he wanted to bury himself in it.

“Will you permit me,” he propped himself up on his elbow so that he could look down on her face. With her head thrown back and her lips red and parted, Arabella was beautiful. Compelling. “I’d very much like to make love to you... One day,” he added, uncertainty swinging in his voice.

“Oh!” she said. And, “Oh, you silly man!” She wrapped her arms around his back and hugged him, tightly. “Of course we will!”

She fell asleep before he did, and Arthur curled up beside her, listening to the sound of her breathing, and he could sense how her presence helped him to heal inside, bit by bit. His old magic was crackling under his skin, almost there, almost palpable. He was sure that, if he had his wand now, he would be able to cast spells again. He would retrieve it from its hiding place. Later. Now, there were more important things on his mind. With his index finger, Arthur drew a heart on the warm skin between Arabella’s shoulder blades.

****

Her wand aloft, her cane clanking against the cobblestones, Muriel strode along the narrow alleyway off Diagon Alley. Now, a few months after the fall of You-Know-Who, wizards were returning to their abandoned shops and houses in the street that had constituted the heart of their economic and social life, but the air of hopelessness and fear still lingered around the place. In many ways, it was the side streets that had helped wizardkind to maintain a sense of continuity, the side streets and alleyways that had remained almost entirely unchanged and untouched by the upheavals, because it was here where the people lived who were not important enough to attract the Dark wizards’ attention.

The winding alley took her behind Gringotts wizarding bank, where steep steps wound their way downwards. Muriel took them slowly, one by one, careful not to slip. It would be too embarrassing to be found there.

It was very dark; no sun ray ever made it all the way to the ground; the alley was so narrow that the roofs of the houses above Muriel’s head were touching each other. But nobody should ever say that Muriel was not an adventurous woman. Her step did not falter, even as the air got staler and staler and the echoes of her steps floated around her like corporeal entities.

The house she was heading for was barely more than a mud hut, crouched in shadows. She had to stoop to reach the doorknocker, and when the door opened, it was to reveal the short figure of the goblin standing on top of a staircase.

“Hmph!” said Muriel by way of greeting. “The way you people live! Like mud worms.”

“Please, come in, Miss Prewett,” said Griphook. “I would loathe to keep a respectable witch like yourself standing on the doorstep.”

She followed him downstairs, clutching the handrail with all her might. It was made of heavy, dark wood, polished smooth by the use of many years. At the bottom, her fingers encountered a baluster, richly decorated with carvings. “Goblin-made,” Muriel said.

“Like everything in this house,” said Griphook. “We, goblins, don’t... purchase items made by other races.”

“When you say ‘purchase’, you mean ‘steal’,” said Muriel. “Don’t resort to euphemisms with me, Mr Griphook, I’m too old for that game.”

“Very well, Miss Prewett,” said the goblin. “Please be seated, so that we can discuss the transaction in plain terms.”

The room was low-ceiling and illuminated with a few candles. It was an underground cavern, with stone walls and a stone floor. Muriel had expected it to be dark and damp, but, to her surprise, found it rather pleasant. The coolness of the room had a revitalising effect on her; she had been suffering from the heat of the dog days of summer. Even though the candles were only few, their light caught on the many artefacts that adorned the room: silver and gold candlesticks, jewel cases, cabinets, masks and talismans, glittering with an abundance of turquoises, tigers eyes, rubies, malachites, jaspers, amethysts and sapphires. It was a shock to see by what luxury and wealth the nondescript goblin surrounded himself in the privacy of his home.

“I can see that it is my family treasures that you are interested in, Miss Prewett,” said the goblin, echoing Muriel’s own words from many days ago.

“I should have known that gold and gemstones are the only things you goblins truly love,” Muriel shot back.

“No, Miss Prewett, you don’t understand,” said Griphook. “The gold, the silver, the gemstones,” he made a wide sweeping gesture with his hand, “they are only the shroud, the outward shell. It is the craft,” he raised his spidery index finger, like a lecturer, “the goblin craft, the dedication, the spirit of the craftsman captured within each and every one of these masterpieces that are their soul and substance. Not the physical matter that gives them shape.”

Muriel thrust her hand into the pocket of her robe and pulled out a miniature jewel case. She pointed her wand at it, muttering the incantation, and the case grew back to its original size. She turned a filigree key in the lock, the case snapped open, and the goblin leaned in as though someone had pulled his strings, his expression enthralled.

“What you do not understand, Mr Griphook,” said Muriel, “is that this tiara has been in my family’s possession for centuries. It has crowned the heads of proud and high-honoured witches who have represented the best in wizardkind. When I hold it in my hands, I am holding history.”

The soft hiss of a dying candle tore through the silence. The goblin’s black eyes glittered.

“I can see that now,” he said. “Put it on.” And as she hesitated, he added: “Please, Miss Prewett.”

Staring him directly in the eye, Muriel lifted the tiara with both hands and placed it atop of her hair. In his eyes, she saw greed and desire and a passion that almost scared her.

“You can have it, Mr Griphook,” she said in a clear voice. He was bending so far forward that his hands were almost touching the hem of her robe. “You can have it. But not yet.”

The goblin’s black eyes gleamed; he squared his shoulders and leaned back, tapping his long fingers against his knee. “When?”

“When I’m dead,” she said in a hard voice. “You can buy it off my heir.”

His eyes flashed angrily. “Buy it off?”

“For a symbolic price,” said Muriel. “From my grandnephew’s wife. You know my grandnephew, Mr Griphook. He works for your bank.”

A slow smile of comprehension blossomed on the goblin’s face. “I am sure Mr Weasley will be delighted to part with his heirloom.”

“Hmm,” said Muriel. “He was very adamant when he explained to me how important it is for wizards to hand goblin-made artefacts over to goblins. I wish I were around to see how he goes around explaining it to that wife of his. She’s French, you know.”

One or two heartbeats later, the goblin nodded. “That is acceptable.” As she reached for the tiara to put it back in the case, he caught her wrist. “Leave it on, Miss Prewett.”

She did. They watched each other for a few minutes, warily, yet the exchange lacked any hostility. Eventually, Muriel spoke.

“You have not offered me any refreshments, Mr Griphook.”

“I can offer you something better, Miss Prewett. I can tell you that it is not the material worth, but the knowledge of worth in your possession that you love; and that gives you worth in the eye of a goblin.”

“Does it, now?”

“It does. We don’t mingle with humans, Miss Prewett. But every now and then, a human comes along with whom a goblin may become... friends.”

“Friends?” Muriel pointed her cane at him. “I told you: no euphemisms. I’m too old for them.”

“Your age is of no consequence.” The goblin stood up and crossed the short distance between them.

“Are you trying to seduce me, Mr Griphook?” she said archly.

“I am,” he said. “Unions between humans and goblins are rare, but not unheard of.”

“I am an old woman,” said Muriel. Griphook leaned over her, placing both hands on the armrests of her chair.

“So you keep saying,” he said, staring at her unblinkingly. “I don’t see an old woman. I see a human who is neither too tall nor too smooth-skinned, and whose skin is dotted with brown flecks. For you, they might be signs of old age; for me, they are signs of beauty.”

It has been too long since someone had told Muriel she was beautiful. It had happened often enough in her youth, naturally, but the last 50 or so years had been rather meagre in terms of admirers. Even coming from a goblin, a compliment was not to be sneered at.

With a mere flicker of her eyes, she indicated her permission, and in the next moment, the goblin’s pointy teeth brushed against the skin of her throat. It hurt, but not much, and Muriel let her head roll back, pulling the goblin in and holding him to her bosom. Spidery fingers dances across the fabric of her robe, and Griphook undid the clasps before she even knew when and how.

“You are clad into a lot of garments,” said the goblin.

“Don’t speak!” said Muriel. “Unless you’ve got something flattering to say, hold your tongue.”

“As you wish.”

If she had expected to shut him up, Muriel was sorely disappointed. The goblin withdrew from his position between her thighs and placed his hands delicately on the tiara that she was still wearing.

“Don’t you dare-“

“Shh,” said the goblin. “Let me touch it, Miss Prewett. Let me touch it, and I will make you very happy.”

He reached across to the sideboard, and then held a fistful of finest jewels under Muriel’s nore. “I will place this necklace around your neck,” he said, and Muriel trembled as the cold metal touched her skin. “And I will place these rings on your fingers.” He brought her hands to his lips and, one by one, sucked her fingers into his mouth, slipping a ring onto each one in turn. “And I will place these bracelets around your wrists,” he pushed the wide sleeves of her robe aside. Muriel held out her arms impatiently.

“That is all very well, Mr Griphook. But are you planning on ravishing me as well?”

The challenge proved irresistible. The goblin’s eyes were like black diamonds as he tugged on her robe, pulling her skirt off her and removing her undergarments. But before he could lunge at her again, Muriel grabbed his arm. “Disrobe!”

And he did. And, for the first time in her life, Muriel saw a naked goblin. “Well, what do you know!” she said. “You’re not entirely repulsive.”

“Neither are you,” said Griphook.

“Aren’t you going to beast me already?”

For the first time that night, the goblin seemed taken aback. “Now? I assumed you would wish me to prolong the pleasure-“

“Fiddlesticks!” said Muriel. “I don’t have time for silly games. I’m one hundred and eight, you know. I could drop dead any moment.”

She had to admit he rose to the occasion. His member was already standing to attention, as she confirmed herself with one satisfied glance. “So you goblins are not one of the species that are much better endowed than expected, then,” she said. “Shame. I was rather hoping for a surprise.”

“Oh, there will be a surprise, Miss Prewett, there will be one,” said the goblin.

He dove down, and Muriel let out an entirely undignified gasp. Moisture began to pool rapidly between her legs, as the goblin’s slick, firm tongue thrust against her quim. She had not known arousal like that for decades; the pressure building up in her stomach, the tremble and flutter of her thighs, the heat rising in her face.

The goblin licked across her flesh with the flat of his tongue and then shoved it deep inside her. He was holding her thighs with his hands, keeping her in place, and that long, mobile tongue was sucking every last ounce of life out of her, until she couldn’t take it anymore and came undone with a deep groan.

The goblin’s face re-emerged from between her legs. He nibbled on her stomach and lapped across her breasts, until he came nose to nose with her. “Now I am going to beast you.”

Very gently, he helped her off the armchair and pulled her down to the ground with him, onto the soft rug by the fireplace. Suddenly, there were cushions; the goblin held her hips in a tight grip and his tongue flicked over her breasts. “Turn over,” he said. He held her and helped her to stretch out on her stomach, pushing one cushion under her hips and another one under her chest, so that she was quite comfortable. She spread her legs, not too much; it wouldn’t do to make it too easy for the goblin. But he didn’t seem to mind.

He slipped between her thighs, and she could feel his pointy hipbones press against her skin. His fingers were very long indeed. “Oh!” Muriel couldn’t suppress a gasp when she felt one of them caressing inside her, and then he guided his firm member with his hand and thrust it all the way up her. “Oh!” this time, it came out as a shout.

The goblin leaned over her back, the hot puffs of his breath hit her skin. Muriel wriggled her behind and angled her legs to allow him better access. “You will have to do all the moving, Mr Griphook,” she said. “I’ve got to be careful with my joints.”

He didn’t say anything, but she could distinctly hear a throaty groan being ripped from his throat, and the sound gave her much pleasure. The member inside her seemed to thicken, and when the goblin withdrew it entirely and thrust it back in, he groaned again, even more loudly. Muriel grabbed the tiara that threatened to fall off.

“Yesss!” hissed the goblin. “Hold it like that!” He pulled out again, and then he pushed back in, going harder and faster with every slam of his hips, and Muriel almost howled at the sheer animal lust of the indignity of being fucked by a goblin.


***

Arthur was drunk. He was also happy, which might have had something to do with the drunkenness, because booze was a happy-maker, everyone knew that.

He was also singing. Loudly and drunkenly, bellowing out words that were twisting madly and slipping past his lips before he was quite ready to let them go. It seemed very important to inform the world that the wizard’s staff had a knob on the end. Hilarious, too, for some reason.

His arm was slung around somebody’s shoulder. It didn’t matter who it was, because that man was his best friend in the world, and Arthur told him so. “Iluvye!” he said emphatically. “Iluvye!”

There was a snort of laughter, and Arthur half-turned, only to find himself stumbling into someone’s strong arms that steadied him. “Dad!” said an amused and very familiar voice. “Come here. C’mon!” Over Arthur’s head, Bill shouted: “Sorry, mate!” to Arthur’s best friend in the world, but his only reply was the nasty sound of somebody throwing up. Arthur realised he was feeling a bit queasy himself.

“Ooops!” he said. “Migh’ besick.”

Walking by his side, steadying him, his son was laughing helplessly. “I’ve told Kingsley it was a bad idea to go with the Muggle theme for his stag night! You just don’t know what they put into their drinks.”

“Oy, Weasley, any problem with the Muggle idea?” Kingsley had turned round to face Bill, swaying only slightly. “My bride’s a Muggle!”

Bill was laughing harder than ever. He thumped Kingsley in the chest with his fist, two, three, four times. “I should not have smoked that stuff,” he muttered between bouts of laughter. “Has Egypt taught me nothing?”

Kingsley was laughing, too, and as, swirling around, he found himself face to face with a group of Muggle women in flimsy dresses, he flourished his hat with a grand bow. The Muggle women shrieked with laughter, tripping past them in their high heels.

Bill had stopped laughing. He had gone very quiet, and Arthur noticed his son looking at him from the side. “Dad,” whispered Bill, “Dad, are you okay?”

Arthur hesitated. Bill’s voice had been very serious, very intent. It seemed childish to mention the dizziness and nausea now. He nodded. “Yes, son,” he said. “I’m getting there.”

Bill squeezed his arm. “Good,” he said simply. “Now, let’s get you drunk people somewhere safe!” he shouted. “Before someone feels tempted to do magic and the new Minister gets in trouble with the Magical Law Enforcement Squad!”

When Arthur woke up, his teeth and tongue had grown fur. Something had been making a terrible noise that was ringing in his head, and to his horror, he realised that it was the sound of his own snoring. His nose was blocked and his eyes refused to open.

“Oh!” Arthur groaned. “Oh, Merlin!” He tossed his head to the other side and the room swam into view. A very familiar room, with floorboards that he had walked across countless times, and an armchair in which he had spent countless hours reading by the fire.

Arthur jolted upright, staring around wildly. It was not a huge surprise to find himself in the Burrow. The surprising thing was that it did not hurt to be back.

“Back in the land of the living, are we?” nattered a voice behind him. Arthur spun around.

“Aunt Muriel! What are you doing here?”

“Molly asked me to come and look after the house. She says she’s happy to let the Minister for Magic stay under her roof for as long as he likes, but the rest of you louts are to be gone by noon.”

Muriel went on talking, nagging and nattering and berating him, no doubt, but even though the words entered Arthur’s ears and brain, they didn’t seem to stick. He blinked in confusion. Something was wrong. Muriel had disappeared in the kitchen and was now coming back with a glass of water and a goblet of a disgusting-looking potion that Arthur remembered well from his wild days. She thrust both in his hands.

“Drink this!” she commanded. “And then get up, go in the garden and round them up, Arthur!”

“Aunt Muriel!” said Arthur, without quite listening to her. “What happened? You look so, so... radiant! And it’s not just because of the jewellery,” he added quickly.

She blushed. Aunt Muriel actually blushed. Arthur drained the contents of the goblet in one huge desperate gulp. He could not deal with any of this whilst hung over.

It was as disgusting as he remembered, but it helped. Feeling better instantly, Arthur rose from the sofa, walked past Muriel, and strode to the back door. The sun assaulted his eyes, and, shading them with his hand, he looked around.

Bill was sitting in a deckchair by the wall, his face hidden behind a pair of enormous sunglasses. A man Arthur did not recognise was lying on his front in the shadow of the Flutterby bush, snoring soundly.

“Morning, son.” Arthur sat down on the edge of the garden table. “Everything all right?”

Bill half-shrugged. “Morning, Dad” He drank deeply from his goblet. “I’m getting there.”

“How did we get here?” Arthur asked and then, lowering his voice and casting a furtive glance over his shoulder. “And what happened to Muriel?”

“Portkey,” said Bill. “And I’ve no idea! Perhaps she’s been experimenting with some rejuvenating potions?”

“Oh sweet Merlin!” groaned Arthur. “Should we do something about it, d’you think?”

Bill shook his head. “Nah. She’s old enough to know what she’s doing. She’s one-“

“-hundred and eight, you know.”

They burst out laughing. Bill slapped his knee and stood up. “Come on, Dad. We’ve got to get everyone on their feet and out of here before-“ He broke off with a cautious side-glance at Arthur.

“-before your mother comes back,” Arthur completed the sentence calmly. “Yes. I know. You can start with him,” he pointed at the snoring man by the bush. “And I’ll go and find the groom.”

“Last time I saw him, he was shouting something about wrestling the ghoul,” said Bill thoughtfully.

Arthur wiped his forearm across his forehead. “Oh dear.” He went back inside.

Muriel was in the kitchen, stirring a cauldron furiously. Her white hair was in disarray and her nose and eyes were red from the fumes. “There you are!” she said. “Now grab the tray. The potion will not distribute itself, you know.”

Without saying a word, Arthur strode over to her, hugged her around the waist and kissed her on the cheek. “Thank you, Auntie Muriel!” he said. “What would we do without you?”

Leaving her blinking in confusion, he took up the tray holding the goblets with the Pick-Me-Up Potion and stomped off in search of the stag party. And then, he would go back home. He was very much looking forward to it.

The End




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