bethbethbeth: (HP Beholder (femmequixotic))
[personal profile] bethbethbeth posting in [community profile] hp_beholder
Recipient: [personal profile] shadowycat
Author: ???
Title: Steady As She Goes
Rating: R
Characters: Arabella Figg/Snape, various Order members, some OCs
Word Count: 29,400
Warnings: h/c, UST, first time, solo-sex, oral, massage (all fairly vanilla)
Summary: Arabella was in a tight spot when she accepted Dumbledore's offer of help... and then life got interesting.
Author's Notes: Thanks to my speedy betas. Mostly book canon used, though some personal fanon might have slipped in there. Note that canonically (or at least per the HP Lexicon), it is believed that Elfrida Cragg was a typo in the book and that in OoTP, the portrait was supposed to be of Elfrida Clagg. I declare writer's privilege to hereby create a new character whom you shall meet anon. Happy Beholding, shadowycat!






* August 1981 *



"You said you had a job. What sort of job?"

"It's quite simple really," the new Headmaster replied, taking up his tea cup and having a sip before answering. "I need someone to mind one of my properties."

"You need a house sitter?"

Albus Dumbledore smiled at her, a disarming expression he seemed to believe. Arabella smiled back a bit and seemed to relax, but remained on guard; she had not lived nearly three decades because she let down her guard... or trusted men's outward expressions.

"I could do that, if you like," she finally hedged.

"Indeed. It would be a great help to me. And if you could see your way to keeping an eye on the neighbourhood as well as the house, it would be most helpful."

Her eyes took on a doubtful expression. "Is it a bad area?"

"Heavens no! Quite the opposite. It's a tidy little neighbourhood, plenty of houses with yards and families with children. I'm afraid I rarely get to visit, but then I have other properties I tend. Having received notification from the area authorities as to my neglecting the place, I realise I really require someone who could set in the place, maybe do a bit of gardening and ensure the property does not look too seedy."

She nodded. "I can do that. Would there be anything in particular you would want me to plant?"

Dumbledore's smile widened. "I'm fond of flowers of all varieties, Mrs Figg, and enjoy vegetable and herb gardens. I'm sure whatever you chose would be lovely."

"I could plant and send you pictures," she essayed, still trying to determine what he wanted for what he was offering. What he offered was nothing more or less than the ability for her to remain in the world that she knew, and somehow, Arabella knew he knew this.

"I'm sure that would be splendid," he said now with a twinkle in his eyes. "Now, as for the issue of money, I'm afraid I could only manage a small stipend. The maintenance costs of the property are seen to by my solicitor, so you need not worry over those, but seeing as the area is in an entirely Muggle neighbourhood--"

"Muggle?" Her eyes grew wider and she set her own tea cup down, suddenly uncertain and rather fearful.

Albus leaned closer, seemingly with concern, but Arabella noted this had the effect of making him loom over her. "Surely you have no difficulties with the Muggle world?"

This was, she realised now, the most crucial part of this pseudo-interview. Would she admit her handicap or press on?

She sat motionless for several moments before pressing her hands together on her lap and looking studiously at Dumbledore. Her voice was clear if a touch tremulous.

"You said you had read the death notice for my husband in the Prophet. So you know of my background?"

Dumbledore nodded now, a look of genuine regret on his weathered face. "I did, indeed, read of your husband's passing, Mrs Figg, and of his accomplishments. I take it his children were responsible for the notice?"

Her smile grew a touch brittle as she nodded. "So you understand that despite my status, I have little familiarity with the Muggle world or its ways. I was raised in the Wizarding world. I was married to a Wizard. If you offer this job because you believe I would know how Muggles live and act, you would be making a mistake."

Dumbledore considered this before speaking carefully. "Mrs Figg, if I may be so bold -- it strikes me that we could both help one another here. I truly do require someone to mind my property, bring it back to orderliness and inform me of the aspect of the neighbourhood. If, for example, any of these dreadful Death Eater's I'm sure you've read about in the Prophet or their families were to, for example, start frequenting the area, well, it would behove me to reconsider keeping the place. The wrong element can so quickly blight an area, don't you agree?"

As Dumbledore reached for the plate of sandwiches and began to peruse them, Arabella considered his enquiry.

She did not point out that she would have little recourse against a Death Eater -- Dumbledore surely knew it and must have some other or greater purpose in mind. Whatever else she thought of him, Arabella Figg knew Albus Dumbledore was a powerful wizard. He had defeated one of the darkest wizards of the ages and such men were not known for being stupid or ill-informed. She had been excited at the thought he might actually have use of her, although she had not built up her hopes. Now she wondered what he might be playing at.

She knew she would be very lucky to survive an encounter with a Death Eater, if it came to it and surely Dumbledore did, too. Then again, she reminded herself that many would have thought the same of her surviving marriage to the volatile Phineas Figg. She sat up a bit straighter.

If she spotted a Death Eater or saw a Dark Mark or suspicious activity, she could sound the alarm. That much, she knew, she could and would do, even if she were not working for Dumbledore. It was her duty to the Wizarding world.

Dumbledore had been watching her and now added genially, "If whilst living there you came to watch the Muggle homes and families and learn how they manage things, it might serve you in good stead. In future."

He said nothing more, merely busying himself with doctoring another cup of tea and leaving her to her thoughts, for which Arabella was grateful.

It was true that she was unlikely to find another husband. She was not only 27, but a Squib. She was not particularly beautiful and her husband's abrasive nature had dimmed whatever ebullience she might have once possessed. He had not been vicious or particularly cruel, but he had let his anger get the better of him at times and as happened in Wizarding folk with the very young and very old, his magical backlash had been vented outwardly, in his case, at her. His uncontrolled hexes had never struck her face, but she knew her slight body -- with the various hex marks he had left upon it -- was no longer the sort that wizards dreamt of. She could not hope to entice a man on the basis of her looks, although she might on the basis of her knowledge; still such thoughts were galling.

She was also aware she was not considered particularly gifted, although she did know how to raise and doctor cats and kneazles. She also knew how to tend a garden, keep a house tidy and pleasure a man in nearly every conceivable way. Somehow, Arabella knew that last would not figure large in Dumbledore's plans, although she did not discount it. Arabella Figg knew her strengths and weaknesses and whatever else Phineas Figg might have said about her, he would never have said he did not find her quite satisfactory in bed or out of it.

Her mother and the illustrated erotic Wizarding manuals she had given her to study had ensured it. Both had been painfully aware that as a Squib with no knowledge of the Muggle world, Arabella’s only recourse was marriage to a wizard who wanted a wife but no children. Such a man, of course, would be expecting a consort well-versed in the arts of pleasure and so it was what she had become at a tender age. Thankfully, the illustrations had been most instructive and Arabella was nothing if not a swift and thorough learner. The books were mainly focused on a wizard’s pleasure, but since they had been published primarily for young witches trying to keep their husbands happy -- also Arabella and her mother’s goal -- she did not question the disparity.

In fact, Phineas Figg had once told her that her skills in fucking alone would net her a man instantly, but then he had spoken after a full night of extensive pleasuring and she had taken his words with a very large grain of salt. Moreover, she no longer wished to be the consort nor wife of a man who only wanted her to use her. She had lain with Phineas because she had vowed to at their marriage and while she had ensured his every pleasure, she had never found any herself. The idea of being with a man solely for sex was not appealing. Not that it was the only reason he had married her, but per his account, it was very nearly reason enough.

Phineas Figg had been a heaven-sent suitor, so far as Arabella's parents were concerned; an old wizard who already had his chosen heirs, the children of his first wife, and who had wanted a very young wife, a trophy wife, who would tend his household, his garden and his bed. In exchange he provided her grateful family a generous dowry and provided her a sumptuous home to live in (which went to his eldest daughter on his death) and fine clothing (which had gone to his second daughter's daughter, who was small enough to wear her many fancy dresses if not her many house slippers, nor had the girl wanted her simpler robes for which Arabella was thankful) and a small stipend she had allowed to accrue at Gringotts. Had Phineas lived as long as most wizards did, she would have had enough to settle into a respectable widowhood. Things being as they were, she did not.

Still, things could have been worse, she knew. It was fortunate she had no child or children to care for along with herself. In fact, since he already had heirs, Phineas' only caveat had been that she not become pregnant and a potion had been given her to take once a year during their marriage to ensure it. His own potion ensured he was able to enjoy their connubial bed. He had not cared whether she enjoyed it or not, but had once told her it was up to her. Witches, he had said, knew the ways and means of such things and it was not something with which a wizard troubled his mind. Having been raised in the same manner with most of the same beliefs, Arabella neither complained nor felt she had any reason to so do.

In truth, his had been the best offer her family had received for their otherwise nigh unmarriageable daughter. They were lucky, she knew and had been reminded several times, that Figg had even made an offer. Once his wife, her family had severed their ties; she was a Figg, and no longer their concern. This was simply the way it was in the Wizarding world when it came to Squibs. Arabella never minded as it was a most excellent outcome for a Squib and, in fact, she was lucky being a woman as male Squibs typically fared far worse. It being the only way she knew, she had accepted a loveless marriage without shame and with all appropriate gratitude.

She was less grateful for her circumstances after Phineas's death a mere seven years after their marriage. At nearly a hundred, he should have given her at least another fifty years of respectability and protection in marriage, the slow accrual of a respectable fortune to see her through her widowhood, but an unforeseen heart defect had sealed her fate.

His holdings, his monies and, thankfully, his debts, had all been inherited by his children who were all older than her and with children of their own. Figg's heirs had given her no more thought than they had to the gardens she had planted. In fact, they had given more attention to the half-Kneazles she had nurtured, opting to sell them without consulting her. She had managed to keep only one, her eldest and most affectionate moggy named Tufty. It was not a personal triumph, but sheer, dumb luck; Tufty liked to sleep inside her shopping bag and had thus been ignored during the family's investigations.

Still, Tufty's habit had given her the fortitude she needed. The night before her husband's funeral Arabella had gathered what vegetables she could from the garden she had planted and stuffed them into her special shopping bag along with most of the jam jars. His children could not be bothered about either; they had always seen her non-magical skills as laughable at best, although they had been careful to keep their opinions from their father.

The bag was the one gift aside from her slippers and many slinky night gowns (not to mention assorted bedroom gear) she had been allowed to keep. Phineas had purchased it for her use early in their marriage for when she went to the local markets to sell her jam and flowers.

She had been proud he so loved her homemade jam and he had been proud of squiring his young, fresh-faced bride. The shopping bag seemed quite ordinary, but was magically enhanced, rip-proof and tough. It looked like a flimsy bag, but it was magically strong and it held a great deal more than it appeared to. It was also charmed to be light and always appeared rather floppy and mostly empty, despite what it carried. It was charmed for life and had been the most extravagant present Arabella had ever been given; even her wedding ring and the single ivory brooch he had presented her at their marriage were not so personal -- they had belonged to his first wife and his son had demanded them back after the reading of his father's will. The bag had not been mentioned at all at the reading of the will, but his children had looked on it and her with open contempt. She rather suspected they thought it was Muggle in origin, and she had not corrected this assumption.

After they had informed her of what they felt was suitable for her to keep, Arabella merely held onto her bag and returned to her rooms, ostensibly to pack, but also informing Tufty of the situation and asking him to hop back into her bag and remain until such time as she found them both a new home, begging his forbearance. He had merely informed her he had consumed a fresh kill earlier that day and so could go without the need to hunt for at least two days, before curling up in the pile of silky garments at the bottom of the bag and falling into a deep sleep.

She had managed to take the more battered of the kitchenware, the ones Figg's children would not want, so she had the means with which to cook. She had also taken a rather wobbly crock of butter, again one she had heard them criticising once and knew they would not want. Thanks to her quick-thinking, she still had plenty of root vegetables from the garden and jars of jam in that bag; enough to keep herself from hunger for at least a couple more weeks if the new Headmaster's job offer did not pan out. Potatoes, beets and cabbages lasted for months with but a little care and she had ensured each maintained a nice layer of dirt to simulate still being buried in the Earth.

After those vegetables were gone, however, Arabella did not know what she would do. The thought of the various slinky outfits Tufty was asleep amidst and the many sexual devices wrapped in a towel and under the vegetables, she tried not to think about, although they had not been far from her thoughts when she had obtained a room at the Leaky Cauldron.

Returning to her family never entered her mind; she was a Figg now, and they would not welcome her. In fact, she would bring them shame if she tried to go back. It would, in their world, be an indication that they had not provided well for their handicapped daughter. Despite the circumstances, Arabella Figg still loved her family. She would never think to bring them shame and it was not their fault that her fortunes had changed.

So it was with gratitude that two days after the Daily Prophet announced the funeral for Phineas, she had received word from Hogwarts Headmaster, the renowned Albus Dumbledore summoning her to the school to discuss a possible job. Either he knew of her situation or else he was just a thoughtful man, because the letter included a feather which was, he had written, a portkey intended to bring her to the meeting. It was her first experience with one and she was very glad she had not thought to bring her bag or Tufty with her. She doubted he would have done any better through the stomach-turning experience.

"You're right," she finally admitted with a slight sigh. "I could use the job and a place to stay. At least for a while. How long will you need me?"

Dumbledore's smile widened slightly, and for some reason, Arabella felt the hair on the back of her neck stand up.

"We shall see. I may wish to off-load the property in future, but for now, I'd rather hold onto it and see what might come -- say for no less than two years? It might be as long as ten, but we'll start with two years and see how we feel then, shall we? I always think it's best to keep one's options open, don't you agree?"

Arabella's smile firmed and she nodded, picking up her cup and sipping her tea now.

"Indeed."

* November 1981 *




The voices swirled around her, rising in volume as each member of the so-called Order of the Phoenix strove to make a point. Arabella clutched the handle of her shopping bag and tried not to wince.

She hated raised voices and particularly hated shouting. She hadn't grown up with it, although it was probably more a matter of circumstance than good fortune.

Her mother had worked late hours at St Mungo's as a clerk and her father had been a journalist for the wizarding wireless news, so it was an occasion when the entire family was home. Even so, it had never been noisy, not even at the holidays. It had been peaceful, comfortable and while her parents had not been effusive with their affection nor particularly demonstrative, Arabella and her two siblings had not felt the lack.

Their parents cared for them with a sort of quiet dedication and gentle patience. Arabella approved of quiet dedication and gentle patience. She wished others did, as well.

She cringed as one particularly loud fellow, name of Moody, began to shout at Dumbledore, pointing a thick, stubby finger as he argued. She looked away from the debate to find a pair of midnight dark eyes studying her.

She blinked and sat back a little. Severus Snape was his name. He was a new professor, perhaps five years younger than her, she thought, and also a new member to the Order. Apparently, he was something of a dangerous element if what Moody was shouting held any water. She considered Snape and decided Moody might simply have an axe to grind.

Snape looked weary and a trifle bored. His expression radiated it as well as resentment whenever he turned his gaze to Moody. She wondered what had happened between them.

"And he's a Death Eater!"

The room fell silent. Arabella noted the shocked expression on the faces of Hestia Jones and Minerva McGonagall, as well as the curiosity from the squat pickpocket Mundungus Fletcher.

Dumbledore raised a hand, if not his voice. "Please be seated, Alastor."

The Headmaster looked around the room, and to her surprise, smiled at her briefly before speaking.

"As I testified before the full Wizengamot, I so attest here -- Severus Snape once worked for Lord Voldemort, but approached me in recognition of his youthful error. He pledged his fealty to me and loyalty to the Order and I trust him implicitly. If anyone has a problem with his presence, then they should come to me about the matter."

"Show us your left arm," Moody snarled at Snape, who sneered back but did nothing else. "I thought not. I should strip you here and now before everyone here."

"Every time we meet, you demand I reveal some part of my body," Snape said with a vicious undertone. "Is there something we should know of your proclivities, Moody?"

The Auror reared up, wand in hand, before Dumbledore confiscated it with a single flick of his wrist.

"Albus!"

"Alastor. Sit."

"Did you hear what that guttersnipe called me?"

"He never called you anything," Arabella found herself saying, feeling resentment on Snape's behalf. Whatever he might have done in the past, clearly if Dumbledore felt he was trustworthy, then he was. Arabella would stake her reputation on it.

"Miss Figg?" Moody seemed honestly perplexed.

"Mrs Figg. I'm widowed," she replied quietly, adding, "Mr Snape merely noted, correctly, that you asked him to reveal his arm and threatened to remove his clothing. While he doubtlessly has quite nice arms, I, like he, see no point in his revealing them or any other part of his body for anyone against his will."

"He's a Death Eater!" Moody looked incredulous. Arabella sighed.

"Which means he might have a Dark Mark. What does it prove to see it? Lucius Malfoy has one for certain, according to the Prophet, and he's quite respected by the Minister, despite it. If Dumbledore has given him a job, teaching children no less, and says Mr Snape is to be trusted, then I, for one, trust him."

"You'll soon learn. Just wait until you're ever alone with him," Moody snarled, sitting down at last.

"I would have no qualms about Mr Snape accompanying me anywhere," she asserted, feeling her own irritation settle; she intensely disliked confrontations.

Silence fell in the room, with the various members looking from her to Moody to Snape thence to Dumbledore who merely smiled benignly and held the wand back to the Auror, saying, "In that case, I move we end the meeting."

"Seconded," Minerva McGonagall murmured in a heartfelt tone.

Moody sneered, snatching his wand back and shoving it in his jacket. Then he lifted himself with both hands, limping from the room without waiting to hear anything else.

"Hestia, please send the minutes out tomorrow to each of us by owl, if you would?"

"Yes, Professor."

Dumbledore turned to Snape, who had started to stand.

"Severus, if you would be so kind as to escort Mrs Figg back to Little Whinging?"

Those bright black eyes held her gaze for a moment, before he nodded at the Headmaster. "Very well."


*



Once they were outside of the room, Snape offered to take her bag.

"That's all right," she said, clutching it. "I don't like to let it out of my sight."

"Oh?" He said nothing else, but she felt obliged to explain nonetheless.

"It's the only thing, aside from a few clothes and house slippers, which my husband left to me," she admitted. "It's magical, you see. It holds more than it seems to and weighs nearly nothing."

"An undetectable extension charm," he murmured.

"I wouldn't know," she said primly.

"Did you not take Charms, Mrs Figg?"

His tone was perfectly polite, but she looked at him sharply nonetheless. Did he not know? Then again, she reasoned, relaxing, if she had attended Hogwarts she would have, perhaps, been in her sixth or seventh year when he was just starting. She sighed.

"I'm a Squib, Mr Snape."

The rhythm of his steps faltered momentarily and she waited, resigned to questions, perhaps even hostility.

"Albus did not inform me," he finally said.

"If you'd rather not Apparate me back home, please take me to the nearest Floo," she requested tiredly. "Dumbledore placed my home on the Floo network."

He stopped now, in the shadows of a staircase and gazed at her with incredulity.

"That’s not what troubles me, Mrs Figg. After what happened to the Potters, why on Earth would he have you standing watch over the Potter boy when you have no magic? It's dangerous!"

She did not attempt to clarify that she had thought she was merely house-sitting; with the events of Hallowe’en and the sudden appearance of little Harry Potter directly down the street from Dumbledore’s house, it had become quite clear there was more to his initial job offer than he’d let on, but she was damned if she’d allow herself to be perceived as flat-footed.

She shook her head now. "They have no idea where he is and even if they did, they would take me for a simple Muggle and ignore me. As I am, I can raise warning."

"They would kill you," he said in an urgent tone of voice. "It's unconscionable."

She looked up at him. Her smile was thin and her words held more than a hint of defiance.

"Mr Snape, if seven years of abuse, both magical and otherwise, from Phineas Figg couldn't kill me, neither will a Death Eater."




After her forthright statement, Snape had gone a bit red in the face, but said nothing, finally turning back to the staircase and offering his arm to steady her if she required it, given that the staircases occasionally moved under their feet.

He had taken her to the second floor and then proceeded down a lengthy hallway that slowly narrowed until he reached a hidden staircase. It was narrow and wound down into the bowels of the castle.

She passed through what seemed to be a draft of heated air and he remarked, "The wards don't allow anyone but a teacher or someone accompanying them, to safely pass."

"So we're going by Floo then?"

He merely nodded, continuing down without pause or hesitation until he reached the landing where she paused to catch her breath. She had a bit of a cold coming on and the climb down had been more strenuous than anticipated.

"My quarters aren't far," he noted.

"Your quarters?" She strove to sound merely curious, rather than give away the alarm she suddenly felt.

"They are connected to the Floo," he noted. "They are the nearest aside from the Headmaster's office, which are monitored and require authorization to activate. Mine are monitored, but they do not provide the identity of the user, merely the number of persons passing."

"Oh." She drew in a deep breath and let it out slowly. "All right then. Please go on."

He led her into a dank, musty room full of multi-coloured and liquid-filled jars, many containing what seemed to be specimens, possibly creatures or parts of creatures. Arabella did not deign to look closely.

Snape did not linger, either, but headed toward one of three visible doorways. She could see a desk in one, a washroom with what looked to be a quite large shower through another and the last door he was heading toward which led to another series of stairs. She sighed, resignedly following him, when to her surprise, he abruptly shifted past them to the side and disappeared behind the stairs. She followed, finding yet another hidden passage and what felt like another ward, after which she saw a simple hewn-wood and iron-banded door.

Snape pushed it open allowing her room to pass him and she stepped into his quarters.

They were rather on the small side and spartan. The walls were stone, there was a single window that revealed they were underwater, under the Great Lake, she realised. It certainly explained the cool damp that pervaded the place.

A single desk and hard wooden chair stood by the window with papers and an inkwell in evidence atop. Two comfortable-looking chairs stood by the fireplace, a small table between them. The floor was stone with a single large rug by the fire place. There was a door on the far side of the fireplace that most likely led to his bedroom. The desk and the mantle held the only evidence of occupancy. A small, battered looking cauldron was on one corner of the mantle and in the middle, two pictures. One was a picture of what appeared to be a class of students caught in repose in the school's courtyard. She recognized teen Snape instantly amid the other bored looking students. He was scowling, looking off into the distance as if he would prefer to be elsewhere. The other picture showed a rather haughty looking woman with a careworn face and features far too similar to Snape's to not be a relation. He stood beside her, a resolved expression on his thin face, wearing his teacher's robes. As she watched, the woman looked to Snape and a small, proud-looking smile graced her lips briefly before she turned back to face front, once again the very definition of haughtiness.

"Your mother?"

Snape cleared his throat and nodded.

"You look like her."

"I'm glad you think so," he responded rather tersely, making her turn to study him, but he stepped forward and picked up the cauldron, holding it out to her. "Please feel free."

She looked into the proffered cauldron and saw Floo powder. She smiled gratefully.

"Thank you, Mr Snape."

Before she could reach for a handful, he cleared his throat again and seemed to come to a decision.

"My name is Severus, Mrs Figg."

She gave him a small, rather shy smile. He cleared his throat.

"Seeing as we're going to be working together."

"Of course," she nodded. "And I'm Arabella, Severus."

He merely nodded back and she finally took a handful of powder and stepped right up to the fireplace, tossing the powder in, even as she spoke.

"One Wisteria Walk, Little Whinging."

Then she stepped into the green fire and out of his sitting room and into one many miles south of the draughty castle.


* March 1982 *



At this particular gathering of the Order of the Phoenix, Arabella was puzzling over something even as she worried about her new little half-Kneazle.

During her first meeting in the so-called Order of the Phoenix, back in November, Dumbledore had introduced her to the rest as something he called 'a Watcher.'

That had been news to her, having been his house sitter for nearly three months by then, but she said nothing. The series of horrible events that had occurred in the Wizarding World at that time had begun to make it clear to her there was more than just house-sitting to be done.

Poor little Harry Potter had become the Boy Who Lived Right Down the Lane in Little Whinging and Arabella's respect for Albus Dumbledore's divinatory skills had revised up, but so had her concerns. She did not voice them; she trusted in the canny old wizard's ability to see to things. She did keep them in mind, though, and now, months later, Lord Voldemort and his followers still seemed to be troubling their world despite his disappearance in October.

She had felt trepidation to be called to this meeting, but was glad to discover she was not the only one the Headmaster had recruited to provide assistance/eyes and ears the Ministry seemed unable or unwilling to extend. Indeed, Minister Fudge seemed determined to insist the so-called Dark Lord was gone for good and to blame any troubles on the work of mad men or vagrants or ignorant Muggles.

The only thing that gave her pause was the fellow Dumbledore had brought to the meeting was rather disreputable-looking. His name was Mundungus Fletcher. He would be her back-up, seeing as how she might, Dumbledore stated, have need to be away from her home. That was how he described it -- her home, but she said nothing to contradict him.

It was the first she had heard of the possibility of her being away, as well, aside from her doing the usual shopping and attending these meetings. She had not been away from Wisteria Walk for longer than a few hours since she’d been placed at the home. Dumbledore had neither written nor Floo-called to ask if she needed help and she was left to wonder if, perhaps, she was not doing a good enough job.

She might have asked, but the Headmaster's announcement had occasioned a great deal of both argument as well as exclamations of relief and she had stayed silent and kept an eye on Fletcher who seemed to be interested in her jewellery. Not that she wore a great deal more than the gold necklace with a tiny watch her mother had given her as a wedding present and a small brooch with a cat on it she had taken a liking to a few years back and purchased with her own money, but he seemed the sort that needed a close eye kept upon him. Arabella could not help but wonder if, perhaps, Dumbledore had made some sort of mistake, a thought that disturbed her.

Despite monitoring Fletcher, she had still managed to learn a great deal keeping silent and listening to the rest.

The lot chattered like magpies when they didn't bark at each other like dogs around the large table, she had noted, ignoring the food the kindly Mr Weasley had brought 'courtesy of Molly' he had informed them. They also ignored the tin of biscuits she brought. They were of Muggle provenance, but quite good nonetheless she found. Perhaps it had been a faux-pas to bring Muggle food? Then again, what else could she bring when she was so far from any Wizarding village or even Diagon Alley?

Watching her neighbours she had swiftly learnt where to obtain necessities such as groceries and household goods. She had made several pleasant discoveries in the months living in Surrey as regarded Muggle custom, the nicest being their many varieties of food and drink. She had also made some unpleasant ones, such as the fact that Muggle feminine sanitary supplies were most definitely not meant to be laundered.

The yearly potion Phineas had insisted she take to stop her moon cycle had worn off a few weeks ago, to her chagrin. She had entirely forgotten about the matter, so had not bothered to mark her calendar. In a flurry of embarrassed nerves, she had been grateful to find needed supplies at the Muggle market, although having to present them to the pimple-faced male clerk had been nearly more than she could bear. He had been rather nonplussed, as well.

That would have been bad enough, but she had no idea how the Muggle contraptions worked; they could not possibly mean for her to simply throw them away? The concept of disposable was a foreign one to most witches and wizards and to Squibs like Arabella. She had erred in her assumption, though, and finally written to Minerva McGonagall to request an assortment of Mauritania's Moon-cycle towels be sent her.

The redoubtable witch had swiftly taken care of the matter, sending not only the assortment requested, but a set of potions most witches kept in their homes pertaining to matters of health. She had also professed she had no idea what Albus Dumbledore had been thinking, not providing her means with which to deal with her needs in a dignified manner.

Arabella privately agreed, but thought that it was quite possible the wise old wizard might not consider the smaller details when he was so clearly trying to keep an eye on the larger and more important ones. It did not make it any less awkward however, as she painstakingly removed the soggy mass of fibrous material from within the Muggle clothes washer and thoroughly cleaned it before ascertaining that she had, indeed, broken it.

Since it was a device belonging to him, she rather nervously informed the Headmaster that the Muggle washer on his property had mysteriously broken down. To her relief, he had merely thanked her for informing him and assured her he would send someone to see to it, which occasioned another attack of nerves. Would a magical person be able to somehow see what she had unknowingly done?

To her chagrin, it had been not a witch, but a wizard he sent, a sturdy and amiable fellow named Remus Lupin who had an unfortunate set of scars on his face.

Thankfully, he had asked her no questions, merely taken his wand and cast "Reparo!" at the machine, then bid her do a load of laundry whilst he watched to ensure the machine was, indeed, repaired.

She had gathered her linens and dutifully set about trying the machine, which once again worked without difficulty. Lupin had turned down her offer of tea and asked her to write him, care of McGonagall, if she was in need of any future repairs or replacements to her home. She had not corrected his assumption. She merely thanked him and he had stepped from the house instead of using the Floo.

She had watched him through the sitting room window. Instead of walking to a safe place to Apparate, he had stood on her stoop and stared down the lane to the Dursley's home for several long moments. She had the distinct impression he was profoundly distressed, but his expression did not change before he squared his shoulders and trudged rather dispiritedly away.

Lupin’s name had been mentioned earlier as being a new member, but not being able to attend the meeting and she had noted both the scowl and the intense look of relief on Snape's face at the announcement. She wondered what would occasion both, but tucked the odd information away for later perusal.

She hoped they would settle down soon; she really wanted to go back home and see to Snowy, the half-Kneazle that Tufty had shown up with on her doorstep a few days before. He had a slight infection in his paw pad. She had pulled a thorn out of it the day before and he had woken with the paw red and inflamed. She had washed it with marigold infusion and put a tiny poultice of skunk cabbage on it, which Snowy had complained of quite vociferously, and she really wanted to cleanse it and bandage it before the night and Snowy s bedtime.

"--perhaps, we should hear Mrs Figg's report?"

This silky voice was not raised, strident nor particularly insistent, but it still cut through the rest of the chatter around the table and focused everyone's attention on the figure who spoke. Arabella found herself blushing as he eyed her.

Severus Snape was tall, pale, a bit on the thin side. Really, his profile was quite her personal preference, although she conceded having only been with one man before, she was not entirely certain she could even be said to have one. Still, she knew she liked him; she liked him very much. Ever since their first meeting, Snape had been ever so polite, at least to her. He pulled out her chair for her, wished her a good afternoon or evening, depending on the time, and if she was forgotten in the bustle of the meeting, he would summon or transfigure a beaker for her to use for tea. More importantly, he listened to her, which was more than many of the others did, particularly that foul-tempered Mr Moody, the somewhat churlish Hestia Jones and even, occasionally, Dumbledore himself.

Arabella always felt a twinge of guilt when she thought so uncharitably toward the Headmaster, but really, he was the one who had placed her in this situation, although she'd had little choice.

"There's not much to say," Arabella said now as all eyes turned on her. "There have been no unusual visitors or happenings."

Minerva frowned. "Who is watching the house right now, Albus?"

All eyes turned to Dumbledore for which Arabella was grateful. She had wondered about this particular happenstance herself and whilst Tufty could alert her as she slept, he could not Floo her when she was away. She pondered this as the Headmaster sighed.

"Dedalus Diggle."

"What?"

"The man doesn't have a lick of sense, Albus!"

"He's probably knocking on their door and asking to see the tyke," muttered Alastor Moody, who rarely said anything at these meetings that wasn't accusatory and rarely so quietly.

Arabella looked to Snape who merely watched the rest with an odd expression on his face. He seemed, she realised, as if he was lost. It was, she noted, a similar expression to the one Remus Lupin had held when staring at the house on Privet Drive. What would they have to do with the Boy Who Lived, she wondered?

Then he blinked and looked right at her and she graced him with a tiny smile, which seemed to puzzle him. He blinked again and she looked to Dumbledore who lifted his hands, effectively silencing everyone.

"I truly had hoped this would all be unnecessary, but as recent events have shown us, we cannot afford to be careless."

"How are Frank and Alice?" Arthur Weasley spoke quietly, but everyone heard.

Dumbledore shook his head. "I'm afraid the damage may well be permanent. Augusta is minding young Neville."

"She'll smear that poor boy under her thumb," muttered McGonagall.

"At least he has a family, as does young Harry, much as we might wish that their own parents were with them now, but is that not why we are here? To ensure the safety of these two innocents?"

"If that were so then he wouldn't be here!"

Moody's finger was firmly pointed at Snape, who merely scowled, glaring darkly at the Auror.

"Alastor Moody!" McGonagall looked equally stunned and annoyed. "Have we not already shelved this topic? How many times are you planning on raking over old coals?"

"If Albus says he's to be trusted, that's good enough for me," Arthur added firmly. He gave the scowling Snape a smile, which was not returned, and looked back to Moody. "And it's good enough for Molly. I speak for her, as well."

"Fabian and Gideon would've known better," Moody muttered.

"The Prewett brothers were valuable members of the Order," Dumbledore finally interjected, interrupting the burgeoning argument. "They disagreed with me on many an occasion, but they did not cause dissension nor disobey orders."

Moody's snort was so loud it startled awake one of the portraits in the Headmaster's office. "Fine. And we see just how far following orders got them, didn't we?"

"Moody..." Weasley's voice was quiet and raspy, and to Arabella's surprise, his wand was in his hand. Everyone in the room froze.

The Auror seemed taken aback. He rubbed at his eye socket, which caused the magical blue spinning eye to swing wildly about for a moment, and then stood carefully, clutching momentarily at his wooden leg.

"I won't fight you, Arthur, but I have to speak my mind. Mark my words -- that man is trouble. No offense, Albus."

"Your objections have been duly noted, Alastor."

"Then I'll be on my way, and it might interest some of you to know," his one spinning eye swivelled to take in Snape who merely watched him silently. "I plan to make it a habit of flying over Privet Drive, from time to time, just to keep an eye on things. When my duties permit, so no set time. Just... out of the blue."

"An excellent idea," Albus responded lightly, as if he had been speaking to him. Moody sneered, but looked to the Headmaster. "Thank you, Alastor."

"Albus. Arthur. Minerva. Dung. Bella." He stumped out of the room.

She frowned and spoke into the silence. "Bella? Did he mean me? I don't care for that. My name is Arabella. I've never been called anything else, not even by my husband."

Minerva McGonagall nodded. "I'll be sure to let him know, Arabella. And despite initial misgivings, I just wanted you to know how glad I am that you are there, keeping an eye on young Harry."

"Well, officially I'm just watching the house an--"

"And keeping young Harry safe," Arthur interrupted. "For which you have my gratitude as well as my wife's."

"And mine," Dumbledore added, smiling.

Arabella merely nodded, but she found herself looking to Snape who was watching the scene with the same expression on his face he held earlier -- as if he was lost and not entirely in the present.

Her gaze caused him to blink, though, and he focused on her before murmuring, "I concur with the Headmaster."

This seemed to satisfy the rest and Arabella nodded at him, although she suspected he had said what he thought was best to say because he had not been paying attention. This intrigued her, since Snape was usually quite mindful. Her ruminations were disrupted by Dumbledore, who suddenly spoke in a decided tone.

"In that case, our business is concluded. Arthur, please see to the minutes, if you would. Oh, and Minerva, would you be so kind as to Side-Along Mrs Figg back to Little Whinging?"

*


"Is Mr Moody always so..."

"Disagreeable?" Minerva nodded over her cup of tea.

Arabella had invited her in out of politeness and to her surprise, the witch had accepted. McGonagall sat now, idly stroking Snowy's sleek head; the little half-Kneazle had jumped right into the redoubtable old witch's lap as soon as she sat down and Minerva had been delighted. She sighed now.

"Yes, I'm afraid Alastor has always been rather dour and choosing to work as an Auror heightened his sense of paranoia, although it wasn't until he lost his eye and leg that what little agreeable nature he yet possessed was discarded."

"I see."

"Oh, you mustn't let him bother you, dear. At heart, Alastor is an old softie. I should know," Minerva sighed and sipped at her tea, a look of reminiscence on her face.

"So, you and Mr Moody?" Arabella's inflection did not allow for dissembling.

Minerva blinked away her reverie to focus on her and finally shook her head. "No. Not anymore. Not for some time."

"Well, he certainly seems a... dedicated man," Arabella managed.

"Oh, my yes. He definitely showed a great deal of dedication!" Minerva's almost girlish peal of laughter was infectious, making Arabella smile with her. "I don't mind telling you, there were times I was quite grateful for his diligence."

Arabella blushed slightly, and Minerva sobered. "Oh, my dear, I quite forgot you're rather recently widowed. My apologies."

"Oh, don't apologize," she declared. "Phineas and I weren't exactly love's young dream."

McGonagall considered this and studied her for a moment, finally saying, "You are quite young for a widow."

"I've nearly three decades. We should have been married at least fifty more years, but his heart had different ideas."

"I'm very sorry to hear that."

"So was I." Arabella sighed, adding, "Don't get me wrong. It was never a match based on undying love, but it was a good one for all that, me being a Squib and all."

Minerva frowned. "Did you not care for him, Arabella?"

"After a fashion. I learnt all his favourites, I kept him happy, I like to think. He had no complaints."

"And you? Did he learn your favourites? Did he keep you happy?"

Arabella frowned at this. "He kept me in a grand place, with plenty of fine clothes and food. I did not want for anything."

McGonagall considered this. "Forgive me, dear, it is not my place to ask, but it was given me to understand the Headmaster offered you this position, as it were, in order to help what he termed a 'poor widow.' Of course, his use of the word might have been rhetorical and not descriptive, in which case it is my own fault for making assumptions."

Arabella felt herself blushing, but she replied firmly. "You were not making assumptions. Professor Dumbledore was quite kind and I greatly appreciate his offer of assistance, as well as the chance to be of assistance to him."

"In that case, I am glad. But my dear -- you must know that you are not merely helping Albus Dumbledore, or even the Order of the Phoenix." Minerva set down her cup and sat straighter, her blue eyes reflecting her forthrightness and not a little respect. "What you are doing is of critical importance to the entire Wizarding world, Arabella Figg. Never forget that."


* Hallowe'en 1982 *



Arabella fretted over poor Tufty.

The weather was deplorable; sheets of rain had been falling since earlier in the day, quite ruining many of the neighbourhood children's plans. She could barely see the street from her window, so little Tufty had been seated by number four Privet Drive, watching. If anything untoward happened, he could run to her in less than a minute, although she privately doubted any Death Eater or other unsavoury sort would willingly be out and about in such a downpour.

She turned from the window now and looked at Snowy. "It's raw weather."

The white cat put his head down on his paws and ignored her comment.

"I'd think you'd be interested, since you'll be taking your turn after midnight."

Snowy closed his eyes, pretending to sleep, supremely unimpressed. Arabella harrumphed, grateful for her moggies, but conceding there was something to be said for being able to converse with another person.

Suddenly the sound of the cat flap on her side door sounded from the carport, and Tufty tore into the room, yowling. Arabella frowned, hurrying to her coat rack to retrieve her rain slicker and the mirror Dumbledore had given her, in case she had anything to report. Given Tufty's account, a disreputable looking man in a hooded robe was approaching number four Privet Drive from down the street.

Uncertain of anything other than her duty, she hurried out the front door and headed down the rain-soaked lane, ignoring the puddles and her instantly wet feet. She still had nothing but slippers to wear, not having felt confident enough to try shopping for Muggle shoes, which seemed rather queer to her besides, but glad of it at the moment since the thin rubber soles provided great traction, even if they provided no protection from the cold water.

A flash of lightning showed her what Tufty had seen, the outline of a hooded figure, still some distance away. Even as the light faded, she thought she saw the figure stagger. Arabella paused, hidden behind a shrub two houses from number four. If the figure was a drunkard, he could be safely ignored. She watched now and waited.

The reverberating thunder reached the area and it seemed she felt the rumbling through the soles of her wet feet. She glanced at the house whose yard she was hiding in and relaxed. It was shut up tight to the inclement weather, as were most of the houses down the block. No one would see.

The figure lurched into the nimbus of street lights by number four and Arabella waited, tightly gripping the handle of the mirror in her pocket.

To her surprise and dismay, the black-cloaked figure did not keep staggering down the street, but stopped, very near number four and turned to gaze at it. She nearly pulled the mirror out of her pocket when the figure suddenly leaned over, and then fell to its knees.

What was going on?

The figure seemed utterly dejected and her fingers loosed their grip on the mirror's handle. Whoever it was, they did not know they were being watched and she had the strong impression she was in no danger. If anything, the person appeared to need a helping hand.

Arabella moved from behind the shrub and slowly approached the figure, watching it cautiously. It merely sat back on its haunches, staring forlornly at the house.

As she moved nearer, a flash of lightning illuminated the profile and she gasped. It was Severus Snape. She relaxed now, but continued to approach. What on Earth could be the matter with him?

Those dark eyes she admired were fixed on the front door, as if he waited for some sort of revelation. She stopped very near him and studied the door for a moment, than back to him. Before she could, he spoke.

"Did Dumbledore send you?"

The deep voice she had grown accustomed to held a tone she did not recognise. She considered his question and shook her head, although he could not see her.

"No. I came on my own."

At this, Snape frowned, then slowly, almost grudgingly looked away from the door and lifted his gaze to her, his hood falling back onto his shoulders, the rain instantly wetting his hair. He blinked.

"Oh. Arabella. That’s right. You live down the way."

She graced him with a small smile and nodded. "I saw you approaching. Why are you here?"

He blinked again as rain fell on his face, seeming to fall like tears. The muscle in his cheek twitched and his voice was hoarse.

"I had to come. I couldn't go to her, you see. Godric’s Hollow is a circus, a travesty. Ignorant on-lookers actually celebrating... celebrating their deaths."

Arabella wondered if Snape was drunk or perhaps drugged. His tone was thick and he seemed dazed. It sounded, too, as if he had known little Harry's mother. This was the night the poor woman and her husband had died. She had seen the fuss in the Daily Prophet, an unveiling, she'd read, of a statue of the doomed couple and little Harry. Severus was right; the celebratory atmosphere presented by the Prophet was unseemly.

Snape coughed, spoke tiredly. "All that's truly left of her... is here.

Arabella considered this and came to a decision.

"You can see the place from my house, you know."

Snape blinked up at her, a slight frown on his face. She spoke as if they both weren't thoroughly wet and cold. The booming of thunder merely punctuated her statement.

"We could watch from there. Keep a vigil. Together."

Snape looked now to number four. There was nothing about the home that made it stand out from the rest of the homes on Privet Drive. He studied it intently, and then looked back to her and she smiled encouragingly.

"He's safe. I saw him earlier."

He considered this. She coughed a little.

"We really should get out of this rain."

He looked up at her then and she held out a hand.

"I'll make you a cuppa. We can have a proper nosh. I have fish sandwiches and a bit of bread and butter pudding."

He blinked again and looked back at the house briefly.

"He truly is safe. You have Professor Dumbledore's assurance of that."

Slowly, Snape nodded again. He ignored her hand and pushed himself off the ground with the other, unfolding like a puppet to stand tall and straight beside her. Once again, she found herself admiring him; he cut quite a dashing figure despite his rain-drenched appearance at the moment.

Then, to her surprise, he took her hand, which she had pulled back uncertainly when he did not take it to help himself up. He waited and she realised he looked to her to lead the way.


* Hallowe'en 1986 *



Arabella watched the street from her front window and waited, feeling a touch of concern, but trying to assure herself nothing was wrong. She glanced away from the view for a moment to stare at the bright green Wellies by her coat rack, before sighing and turning back to the window.

The Wellies were a gift. Severus had never spoken of the night she'd found him in front of number four on Privet Drive in the pouring rain, but the box was delivered to her a week later, with Wellies that magically shrank to fit her perfectly and kept her feet dry in the rain. The note enclosed merely read:

With my gratitude. SS

Ever since that Hallowe'en, it had become something of a tradition between them that night for Snape to drop by after dinner at the school and they would share tea and pudding. They had never again broached the subject of his first unexpected visit to the neighbourhood. It was as if it had never happened. Arabella did not pry; she could well understand the need and desire to keep something private.

Most years they discussed his work at the school and her day-to-day. He had grown quite fascinated with her knowledge of medicinal plants and had even looked at her small herb garden in the back, gratifying her with his complimentary remarks. She rarely spoke to anyone, much less received compliments.

Last year, he'd been recovering from a filthy cold at Hallowe'en and could barely speak, so they had listened instead, to the wireless. It had been a cosy evening, although Arabella felt quite awkward when the selections had been mostly romantic ballads. She had busied herself with providing Severus a special blend of tea made with mint, lime, mullein, colts foot and mallow root. It might not be magical, she had informed him when she served it to him, but it should help his cold.

He had thanked her and insisted it had, with a much clearer voice, so she knew it to be true. He had even Floo called her the next morning, asking if he might not obtain some more tea to have whilst he recovered. She had readily agreed and he had Floo-called her that very evening, surprising the small brood of half-Kneazles she was caring for when he came to retrieve it. They had been sequestered upstairs for his prior visit, so this was his first time seeing the number of felines she cared for on a rotating basic.

He'd lifted a brow at the nearly dozen felines, but she had assured him only Tufty, Snowy, Tibbles and Mr Paws were hers. The rest of the moggies were already spoken for by Mundungus Fletcher who brought her ragamuffin kittens he found, which she nursed, raised and gave to him once healed and grown, to be sold. It brought them both a tidy profit.

He'd said nothing to this, merely asked about the tea which she gave him along with a note on how she prepared it. It might have been her imagination, but Arabella did wonder if his fingers lingered rather longer than needed against hers when she handed it to him.

Probably it was her imagination, she thought now. Some years, he was her only company, seeing as she did not meet with any of her neighbours save the Dursleys -- whom she did not consider as neighbourly seeing as they only sought her when they wanted a baby sitter, not that she minded sitting little Harry -- and old Mrs Lufkin from number 14.

The Dursleys more Muggle than Muggle-ish nature irritated her. Worse, she suspected they neglected the poor boy, who was awfully small and thin for his age, whilst his cousin was quite the portly chap. She had no one to share these suspicions with, other than Dumbledore and Snape and possibly the Order of the Phoenix.

The meetings of the Order of the Phoenix had dwindled to nothing after the first uncertain year she had joined. Now she only reported to Dumbledore and it was always the same; a Muggle-style picture of the garden that year and a note stating there was little to report.

At first, she had made him aware of her concerns regarding the boy. The busy headmaster had thanked her. He insisted she let him know if there was anything required regarding the household and praised her garden. He said nothing else, though, and never directly addressed her concerns. So Arabella felt wrong-footed bringing up the matter, although her basic honesty and compassion ensured she did attempt to do something, even if obliquely. All she could manage, however, was inviting little Harry for tea and asking as to his health. The wee tyke always politely refused and always insisted he was fine and what else could she do? Barely six and the boy had learnt discretion. To Arabella, it did not bode well for that which he felt he needed to remain discreet.

Broaching the subject with Severus was even more problematic. Arabella had never informed anyone what she had heard and seen on Hallowe'en night four years ago, but she had also never forgotten. Severus never again went by Privet Drive, never even looked down the lane when he came to see her. The incident and his resolute silence left her unwilling to bring up the subject with him.

Now his absence gave her pause. She wondered now if Dumbledore might know what happened to Severus. Surely if anything had happened, she would be informed? Suddenly she felt great doubt -- why would she be informed? Did anyone even know Severus came to visit her every Hallowe'en?

He had not written nor Floo-called and she found she missed him deeply. Even if he never grew interested in her as a woman, he remained a good friend and she could not say she had many of those. In fact, she would be hard-pressed to name any aside from old Mrs Lufkin from number 14 Wisteria who brought her items she knitted in exchange for any extra vegetables she had from her garden.

Mrs Lufkin was very old for a Muggle, though still going strong for her age, and they did not discuss much beyond gardening and knitting, tea and cats. Still, they did chat and Arabella was glad for the chance to discuss even so trivial a matter as what sort of fertilizer worked best for agapanthus. They did not exchange confidences, however; that was something she only ever did with Severus.

What could be keeping him? She stepped away from the window and looked to her kitties. They were all dozing in various locations with the exception of Mr Paws and Snowy who were, even now, watching number four Privet Drive for her. To her surprise, over the years her own moggies had taken to guard duty with great aplomb. They seemed to consider it an honour to be given an important task and it had greatly eased her mind to know that the neighbourhood and little Harry was always being watched, even if only by a pair of cats.

She was debating on whether to write Severus when her fireplace flared green. She turned to it with eagerness, and then nearly frowned when she saw the face of Albus Dumbledore, looking a bit grim.

"Ah, Mrs Figg, I hope I don't catch you at a bad time?"

"No, Professor Dumbledore. What is it? Has something happened? Has a meeting been called?"

"Well, no, not Order business, but I'm afraid something has happened, although I say so with no small reluctance. You see, I know Severus visits you on this night."

He lifted a hand to quell anything she might have been about to say.

"Rest assured, he never told me. I discovered this a few years ago and I hasten to insist his visits to you are none of my business and I would never have discussed them with either of you, I'm sure, had circumstances remained unchanged. However, I am also sure Severus has not had the time or been in the frame of mind to contact you and make his own excuses for his absence on this night and it occurred to me that you might be fruitlessly awaiting his arrival."

Arabella felt her stomach pinch with anxiety; what could have happened?

"Is he ill? I do hope he's all right."

"He is well, at least physically, but... you see, Arabella, he received word on Wednesday that his mother had passed away."

"Oh, dear." She felt crestfallen, but then concern took over. "Is he quite all right? I do hope he's not alone."

"I'm afraid I don't know the state of his mind, he has shut himself off from his colleagues, even those who consider him a friend. Minerva and Mr Filch have both expressed concern and I admit the same. It would have been a blow at any time, but coming at this time of year..." The elderly wizard sighed. "She was his only remaining family, you see. As to being alone, I'm afraid he left for his home this morning to attend the funeral and he insisted on going alone. I was quite at a loss, but--"

"Where is his home, Professor?" Arabella stood straighter. Her voice was firm and her tone expectant.

Dumbledore's expression softened. "He may not welcome company."

She merely nodded and he continued, "I anticipated your request. Now, I cannot provide you a street address, but his home is on the Floo network. The designation is Spinner's End, Cokeworth. I'm afraid it's a low clearance Floo, so take all necessary caution."

"Thank you, Professor Dumbledore."

He nodded, and smiled at her a bit tiredly. "You're quite welcome, Mrs Figg. Please be assured that Mr Lupin has been despatched to Privet Drive and will be patrolling the neighbourhood this weekend. You need have no fear of leaving the area."

She merely nodded and he nodded back.

"Good evening, Mrs Figg, and... you have my gratitude."

The Floo went dark and Arabella turned to head to the kitchen, but paused as she took in the tableau before her. Tufty and Tibbles stood watching her, their great green eyes glowing with care and concern. She swallowed down the sudden tightness in her throat.

"Please do let Snowy and Mr Paws know what happened," she told them now, adding, "I'd appreciate if you keep patrolling, despite Mr Lupin."

They tipped their heads at her and she continued into the kitchen, hurrying to gather a few things before returning to the sitting room and retrieving her coat. Cokeworth was farther north than Surrey. It would likely be chilly. On impulse, she also changed her slippers to the sturdier Wellies.

Then she tucked the coat over her arm, clutched the paper sack she carried and took a handful of Floo powder from the pot on her mantle.

She threw the powder in, even as she bent over as low as she could and still walk.

"Spinner's End, Cokeworth."


*



She found the Floo folding her up even further and lost her balance, before falling out into a dark room, trying to keep hold of her coat and bag. She could make out only the vaguest outline of it before she felt herself being grabbed, dropping the coat and bag as she was pulled up and shoved against the mantle, a wand shoved to her face for the first time in her life.

“This Floo is restricted!”

She had never seen such ravaged eyes nor heard such a viciously cutting tone. She tried to smile at him, but thought her look was probably more of a fearful rictus.

"S-Severus?"

He frowned, his hand wavering, and then blinked.

"Arabella?" His voice was but a whisper of sound. Then his eyes grew suddenly, frightfully angry and she quailed. His voice reflected his outrage. "Damn you, Albus!"

He abruptly let her go and turned aside, wand crackling with sparks of purple energy as he sought to control himself. She bent to pick up her coat and bag, feeling her heart slowing from her earlier fright. Everything had nearly gone so wrong.

To her dismay she found her coat was smouldering, having landed on the coals, and she batted at it. A small flame leaped up to singe her and she made a wordless exclamation, and then dropped the coat in dismay as it began to burn in earnest.

"Aquamenti!"

A stream of water suddenly shot past her and fell onto the coat where it was burning. Slowly, as the water saturated the fabric, the fire went out, but her coat was likely ruined nonetheless. She could see a scorch mark and some holes.

"Oh, dear."

The coat was one of the few things she had left of her life before her marriage. It had been a gift from her mother and father when she turned 16. She picked it up with trembling fingers, glad of a reason to hide her distress; it wasn't Severus's fault and she had no intention of adding to his burden.

"Let me." Gentle fingers plucked the wet coat from her nerveless hands. "Exarescere."

There was an odd sucking sort of noise and she noted the dampness on the fabric seemed to be receding. Soon it was dry.

"My apologies," he said dully, tucking his wand away and extending the coat to her. She took it, pressing a hand to his arm.

"No need. Thank you for that."

His face twitched. "There's every need. I... that bloody Albus!"

"Don't be mad at Dumbledore, Severus. I asked him. I was worried when you didn't show up."

He looked pained as his hand touched the scorched area of her coat. Finally, he sighed.

"I'm afraid I practice an overabundance of caution as regards my privacy. But I would never hurt you."

"I know," she said lightly.

She studied him, his face so very dear to her and looking so very lost at the moment. Without stopping to think, she leaned up and kissed his cheek with great tenderness.

"I'm so sorry for your loss, Severus. Truly."

He froze, eyes suddenly a bit too bright and glassy, although his face remained expressionless. She graced him with a sad smile.

"It's why I bothered Dumbledore. I couldn't let you be alone."

He turned away at this, facing the entry to the kitchen. His voice sounded thick and tight.

"I should offer you tea. I don't know if there is any. Mother was ill..."

His voice broke at this, even as Arabella touched his back. He stood uncertainly, facing away from her, fine tremors running through him. She let her ruined coat drop on the rug by the fire and put her other hand on his arm, impelling him to turn.

She stepped closer, slipping her arms around him as she turned him, pulling him down to her even as she buried her head in his shoulder.

"I don't need tea," she whispered, holding him tightly now, stroking a hand through his hair. "I came to see you."

He did nothing and said nothing and held so very still for so long Arabella thought she had made a grave mistake. She felt as if she was holding a carving of stone.

Then his hands slid up to clutch her to him as if he would never let her go and she held him as his grief, finally, unfurled.


* Winter Solstice 1986 *



"Arabella?"

She pulled the frying pan from the stove and set her eggs aside, hurrying from the kitchen, a little ashamed that her hair was in curlers still, but no one ever used the Floo unless it was urgent.

Severus's pale face was framed in her fireplace. Arabella frowned, feeling quite awkward and rather silly as she clutched at her dressing gown. It wasn't as if she was naked, but she certainly felt flat-footed as regarded her appearance before him.

She had learnt over Hallowe'en that he was not five, but seven years younger than her. It was only two more years than she had guessed, but for some reason, it felt as if it was significant. Unattractive, a Squib, and so much older -- what could she possibly ever be but a friend? Yet her heart held hope, even as she strove to be glad that he at least regarded her as a friend.

"What is it, Severus? I was in the middle of breakfast."

"My apologies," he replied formally, bowing his head. "It is the first day of the winter hols here and there was something I wished to ask."

She blushed a little, feeling even more flustered now, but merely said, "Oh?"

He gave her one of his tiny smiles, a mere lifting of the edges of his lips, but she knew it meant he was expectant and also a bit nervous. She wondered what was wrong.

"I'm afraid I must be at the school for the interim, but I will be free on Boxing Day. I was hoping I might be able to call on you."

"Oh." She considered this. "You mean, drop by for tea?"

"Yes, or dinner, perhaps?"

She blushed even further, but managed to keep her head with a bit of effort. "Dinner would be fine. When shall I expect you?"

"Is seven all right?"

She nodded and the tiny smile grew full-fledged. Severus seemed awfully pleased with himself. For a moment, Arabella was reminded of her little brother, rather boyish and enthusiastic and a great sense of fondness filled her, along with the sense of loss that always accompanied thoughts of her family.

"I look forward to seeing you then, on Boxing Day. Happy Christmas."

"Happy Christmas," she replied automatically, standing smiling long after he had bowed, stepped back and allowed the Floo to darken.


* Boxing Day *



It was a night of surprises.

First, Severus had arrived at her doorstep and not via Floo as she'd expected. He looked quite handsome, as ever, in his cloak and robes.

The second surprise was the brown-wrapped box he held under his arm; he had brought her a gift. He presented it to her with a flourish, and then set about removing his cloak to reveal the well-tailored frock coat she so admired. She was glad she had chosen one of her nicer dresses to wear, the colour of garnets with a black satin sash. It wasn't as fancy as his outfit, but it suited her she knew. The colour made her hair seem less mousy and brought out the golden tones in it. She had even dug up a pair of her fancier, black silk slippers to wear with the dress.

His clothing helped hide his sallow skin and added bulk to fill out his thinness, she knew, but they also made him look quite splendid, and older than his years. His sudden awareness of her scrutiny as he turned, and the fact she had nothing to give him in return, made her feel awkward.

"Happy Christmas," he said now, smiling at her perusal, taking it for curiosity.

"I... I have nothing for you," she managed to say, but he shook his head.

"Don't fret. I consider dinner more than enough, and... well... I owe you, Arabella."

There was nothing for her to say to this quiet admission except to open the box.

Inside it was a new coat; a lovely navy pea-coat she knew instinctively would be warm as toast. She pulled it from the box to admire it.

"If it hadn't been for me, you'd still have your own coat," he said now a bit sheepishly.

"Thank you, Severus, it’s lovely." She leaned up to kiss him, a quick peck of his cheek that nonetheless left him with a pink tinge to his otherwise pale cheeks. Her own cheeks were a bit red, as well, but she hid them by trying the coat on and pronouncing it a perfect fit.

She bade him sit whilst she hung her new coat on the coat rack.

"I made lamb chops for dinner, if that's all right? And we've gingerbread for afters."

"I'm sure it will be fine," he assured her, looking about the room and noting the small holiday touches. She wondered if he was disappointed.

Arabella saw no point in obtaining a tree when it was just her and she had no company, or usually had no company. Since it would seem odd to be the only house without some form of outward decoration, she always put a wreath on the door and fairy lights around her front window. Inside, she usually did nothing, but after Severus had called on her, she had found a bit of red velvet bunting to drape around the mantle. She had also purchased red and green table runners and asked the cats not to walk on them. They were on their best behaviour at the moment. Mr Paws and Snowy were patrolling, dear old Tufty lay by the fire where Tibbles was bathing, and the rest she was treating and raising were upstairs, asleep in the spare room.

"Quite the tableau," Snape murmured and she turned to find him studying the cats and the fireplace.

She opted not to discuss the holiday decorations or lack thereof. "I do find cats make a home. Or at least, they do to me."

"My father did not like animals. We were never allowed to have one."

"I thought you needed one to attend Hogwarts," Arabella noted, heading for the dining area, which was neatly set if not decorated. A red and green tablecloth was the only festive touch, along with a pair of tapered candles on silver holders she was glad to finally use. They had been a wedding gift from her sister that Phineas had sneered at. She thought they looked quite natty.

He shook his head, having followed her. "Every student may have one, but it's not a requirement. This is lovely, Arabella."

She smiled, blushed, and hurried to the kitchen, hoping he would not follow.

Once in the kitchen, she realised she had no reason to be there; the food was on the table already. To cover her tracks she ran the tap briefly and on impulse, wet her hands, damp dried them on the dish towel, and pressed her cool palms to her cheeks.

"Steady on," she whispered now. "He's just being kind."

She went back into the dining area to find Severus holding his wand by the candles.

"May I?"

She nodded and he lit the candles, and then tucked his wand away.

"Quite the holiday scene."

She agreed. "I've never had it so nice. This is the first holiday I've done anything since I’ve been here."

Snape frowned. "I hope you did not to go a lot of trouble on my account."

"It was no trouble. I just pushed Christmas dinner back. I have to eat, after all. The lights and wreath were already hung. I only really meant the table and candles. Usually, it's just me and the cats, so I don't bother with the table. I just eat by the fire, listening to the wireless."

"I hadn't realised," he admitted. "I used to spend the holidays with my mother. We never bothered much with decorations, either. Christmas at the school is very different. The Great Hall and all the common rooms are decorated. Outside, the gardens are festooned with fairy lights."

"Sounds lovely," she said softly, glad he was able to speak of his mother without distress.

"It is, although it's a bit lonely."

She considered this. "Don't the other teachers stay?"

"Yes. I'm afraid I'm not one for conversation."

"I disagree." He frowned at this and she smiled. "I've found our conversations quite enjoyable."

Her smile faltered when he merely stared at her and she pretended to straighten her serviette. She was so focused on it she nearly started when he spoke.

"So have I."


*



Arabella was glad Severus seemed to enjoy his dinner, although she would have been hard-pressed to describe her own if anyone asked. She barely tasted anything due to nerves, tried hard to pretend calm and was irritated with herself for being nervous.

There was little point in it. He was a handsome young wizard, younger even than her, and with a bright future ahead, teaching and experimenting and probably creating some famous potion. She was a Squib who was lucky to have a roof over her head and a foot still in the Wizarding world and enough of an understanding of the Muggle world now, to be able to make her way without fumbling. She was quite lucky enough in life without complicating things with love.

Her fingers trembled as she set her knife down on her plate and genteelly used her serviette. Was it love? Did she love him? She dared to glance across the way where Severus was sipping at his cup of tea. Would he have preferred wine? She was not a wine drinker, however, and had no idea what vintage would be appropriate. Phineas had only ever drunk mead, so she had never learnt about wines and spirits. Still, Severus did not seem to mind.

She watched the line of his jaw, the bob of his voice box as he swallowed and suffered such a sudden urge to fling herself into his arms and kiss and hold him that she looked down to her plate instead until she felt more in control. In spite of this unexpected surge of feeling, it still had not answered her question.

She understood lust. Phineas had been a very lusty man and if she could cater to his whims, she would have no trouble catering to another's of her choice she knew, but was it love?

And if it was, she thought now, could he possibly ever love her? Arabella sighed now as she admitted to herself she would gladly give herself to Severus, even if all it meant to him was a fling or affair. Her eyes stung as she realised that might well be all she could ever reasonably expect of him.

"Is something wrong, Arabella?"

"No, I'll be fine," she said before realising it was not her own thoughts, but Severus who had spoken.

"Do you feel unwell?" He sat up straighter.

She smiled wanly and nodded. "I'm fine. Truly. I... was just remembering something unpleasant."

He nodded at this. "I understand. It's a difficult time of year when one has suffered a loss."

She looked stricken. "Oh, I'm sorry. I didn't mean to remind you--"

He lifted a hand, stopping her. "It's fine. I wasn't reminded, at least, not by you. I just realised you've been dealing with this longer than I. With your husband gone, I mean, and it being this time of year."

She considered this. Perhaps it was time to set some things straight?

"Phineas believed in appearances," she said now, pursing her lips. "Christmas was an excuse to decorate the manor, to preside over Christmas dinner with his children like an indulgent Lord. I was never fond of the holidays with him or his family."

Severus considered this. "It sounds as if you were as lonely among them as I was at Hogwarts among my colleagues."

She considered this. "I suppose so. I never thought of it. My girlhood Christmases were rather different. Small. We had a special dinner and a tree. Not very many other decorations. We would each make something for the other, or I should say, I would make something for them. After they were in Hogwarts, my sister and brother brought me candy from Hogsmeade. My parents always gave us a Sickle each, to put away for a rainy day, as the saying goes, until we turned eleven. Then they'd give us a Galleon."

"It must be very different, having siblings."

"I was the eldest, at first. I had to act as an example to them. Of course, once they discovered I was a Squib it changed things. When they went to Hogwarts, it was as if I became the youngest. Not that I minded. It's not like I have no magic. I can speak to cats and Kneazles, for Merlin's sake. I can see Thestrals and use a Floo, but... I just don't have very much of it. I've not truly felt the lack, though."

"Do you miss them?"

Arabella blinked and found she was abruptly near tears. She looked back down and, after a moment, she nodded.

"I do. I wish I'd have been able to stay in touch with them... after Phineas died."

Severus considered this. He, like she, had grown up with a Wizarding culture mentality. They both knew the forms even if they did not entirely agree with the reasons of things.

"Our world is difficult at times."

To her surprise, he reached out and laid a warm hand on hers. Her mouth was suddenly dry.

"It is... but I'm glad to be in it," she managed to whisper.

His fingers clutched hers now and she forced herself to look up and into that dark, guileless gaze.

"I'm glad you're in it, also," he whispered back, the enquiry so evident in his tone and expression that she could not avoid it.

Part of her quailed, even as a larger part rejoiced and she nodded at him, answering him silently.

She answered the tug of his hand, standing even as he did, and then trembling as she stood before him. Slowly, carefully, he bent to kiss her.

His lips were thin, but warm and soft and she felt tingles rush through her. Before the kiss could deepen, he pulled back and gently kissed her cheeks, her temples, and her forehead.

Suddenly, she felt an odd, warm rush of need she had never felt before. He wanted her, she knew this. Was it just because of the day, because he needed to not be alone? It wasn't uncommon, she knew, for people to come together at such times, but usually it was but a one time event. Could she be with him but the once? Would it be enough for her?

"Arabella."

He gazed on her now, those midnight dark eyes that she found so engaging.

"I shouldn't," he muttered, but speaking as if to himself, one hand holding her by the shoulder, the other cupping her face. "I know it's too soon, but I want you. I..."

His gaze held a plea she could not deny.

"It's all right," she said firmly, pushing away her considerations and lifting up a hand to stroke his hair back from his face, so very dear to her.

He studied her and she let her feelings for him, so long held and nourished and so carefully buried, come forth.

She gave him an encouraging smile before whispering, "You can have me."

Silence fell then and she had not even sensed him move when she suddenly found herself being enveloped in soft black fabric, being held closely as she was gently, but ever so thoroughly snogged.


*



The room was much the same as the downstairs area. It was faded and worn-looking, but clean. It was warm and the bed was tidy, the bedding laundered. The only other furnishing aside from her armoire and the bedside table was a chair by the side of the bed.

Once they were by the bed, she turned to face him and let his hand go to reach up and carefully begin unbuttoning his jacket. She had long dreamt of working free the many buttons. His own hands stopped her and she waited, her hands in his, before he brought them up to his lips and kissed them. Then he pulled her closer and began to kiss her again, making every nerve seemingly flare to life. She could not help it; Arabella moaned.

Severus froze, then began to kiss her more ardently and she felt his fingers now searching for and finding the gather at the back of her neck, the thin tab of metal that sealed or opened the zip of her dress. His lips questing along her jaw distracted her and when they made their way to the side of her neck she was startled to realise he had successfully unzipped it.

"Arabella," he whispered huskily, making her feel cold and warm all at once. She tried to reach for his jacket again, but he pushed her hands away. "Let me. Please."

Her hands fell down at this and he carefully untied her sash and slipped the dress from her trembling shoulders, bending slightly to help her step out of it, leaving her standing in her slip. His warm, careful fingers slid up her bare arm, pausing to stroke along what she knew were old marks along her skin. His voice was tight when he spoke.

"Who did this?"

She suddenly felt cold. Memories flooded her mind, but she firmed her resolve along with her voice.

"Phineas. He wasn't always able to control himself when he grew angry."

She waited now, half-certain he would fetch the dress he had placed on the chair and redress her. To her shock, he bent and began to kiss each hex mark, each faint silvery scar that spoke of pain. Her legs began to feel distinctly wobbly.

"Severus."

"He didn't deserve you," he whispered now, and she abruptly realised he had lifted her slip without her awareness. She shivered as it slid from her and he set it aside with the dress, leaving her in nothing but her smalls and bra.

There was no hesitation now as his hands slid from her shoulders and down, before stopping at her hips and then slowly sliding back up, thumbs brushing her front until they reached her breasts. Those strong, but gentle thumbs stroked the underside of her breast, over her brassiere, and she nearly cried out.

Phineas had certainly touched her breasts many times, but never like this. He had always grabbed, squeezed, occasionally he'd groped them, but had never attempted a different sort of touch nor asked her preference.

Severus, encouraged by her reaction, continued to rub his thumbs over the mound of her full breasts, smiling when she gasped as his thumbs brushed her hardening nipples. He could feel the peaks through the fabric, she knew and bit her lip, fighting back the moans that longed to erupt.

"So lovely." He cupped her breasts now and gently massaged, making her swoon and he drew her to him, pressing fully against her.

She could feel his hardness now, pressing to her belly and she allowed a moan to escape, even as Snape groaned.

"Arabella..."

She managed to slide a hand down to press against his bulge. He rutted into it a few times before forcing himself back.

"Oh, Arabella..."

She smiled and reached back behind her, unhooking her brassiere, her gaze holding his own as she shrugged slightly, pulling her arms forward even as she shimmied a bit to release her bosom from the cloth. Suddenly, she stood holding the strap of the bra out to him, her breasts bared to his view.

He plucked the bra from her fingers and tossed it to the chair without looking, stepping up now to gently fondle her full and heavy breasts. He hunched over to kiss her shoulders, her clavicles, and moved down until he took the tip of one warm mound into his mouth and gently tongued the nipple.

"Severus!"

He began to gently suckle at her breast while rubbing the other, thumb and forefinger gently tweaking at her raised salmon pink nipple.

Arabella felt heat coursing through her from the point his lips touched and out, down, flooding her loins now and making her feel incredibly needful.

He switched hand and mouth to thoroughly minister to her other breast, murmuring something she could not make out, each lost in the other. Even as she ran a hand through his hair and clutched at his shoulder to hold him closer, she felt it patently unfair that he was still dressed.

"Off," she managed to mutter, pulling at his jacket. It was the only thing she could think to say given the distraction, but it seemed to do the trick.

He made an exasperated sound, stepping back. To her surprise, he did not begin to unbutton his garments, but instead reached for his wand.

"Vestem detrahere."

Suddenly he stood before her, nude and very clearly wanting. She sucked in her breath at the sight. He was far larger than Phineas and she felt a frisson of anxious nerves at the thought of so much flesh inside her.

Severus waved his wand one more time. She did not hear what he whispered so reverently, but she felt the night air against her buttocks and knew she was as nude as he.

She did not hide herself, merely stood and let him look his fill, even as she allowed herself to admire him.

His skin was pale and rather sallow, but he did not look ill. He was a young man in his prime, still possessing a boy's lean, angularity; his ropy musculature was strung tight over long bones. The Dark Mark was a faded grey stain on his arm she could easily ignore for a birth mark. She was far more interested in the veins that stippled his arm. He did not look weedy, but very strong.

His sternum held a dusting of black hair, thinning to a single line that pointed at his tight knot of a navel. The line began again just beneath it until it swelled to the dark bush of pubes which nestled that beautifully thick cock and heavy bollocks.

His sturdy legs were long and heavily muscled, his knees a touch knobby and his feet lean and elegant and quite beautifully shaped, in her opinion.

She knew what he saw. A small woman with pale, hex-marked skin, heavy breasts and not much hips or arse to speak of. Her legs were good, long and shapely, and she already knew he admired her breasts, but there was little else to recommend in her opinion. Her stomach was soft, not toned, if still flat. Unbound, she felt her hair was her nicest feature, even if it was a mousy colour. He waved his wand one more time and she felt her hair slowly slipping from its bun and sliding down to fall nearly to her arse.

He stepped up now, carefully setting the wand aside on the small table by the bed and held a hand to her. She took it and he led her to the bed, gently urging her to lie back, even as he bent, and to her surprise, knelt between her knees as she slid back. Did he want to touch her? Phineas never had, aside from cupping her mound at times and pulling her close to him, indicating his desire for sex.

She shivered now as his hands caressed her shoulders, skimming lightly over her tender breasts and down to her stomach. She could feel him positioning her legs and braced then to feel him slide atop her, ready to accept his weight, but instead, she felt her knees being hooked over his shoulders and his heated breath against her inner thighs.

"Severus?"

Then Arabella gasped and shuddered as his mouth pressed to the top of her slit, his tongue sliding through to the sensitive flesh within.

The sensations were riotous, too startling and powerful to feel pleasurable; she merely experienced them as jolts of heat and startling tingles from dormant nerves that she knew existed but had long ignored.

His hot mouth closed over the area and Severus began to suck, her clit and all surrounding tissue gently drawn and released, over and over in a soothing rhythm that made her want to scream. She realised abruptly that her hands were fisted into his hair, but the realisation did not make her stop. Instead, she pulled at it and called his name over and over, unable to stop herself. In response, he tongued her clit as he worked, a gentle caress of his strong and agile tongue. She stiffened then, jerking slightly, her body stuttering toward an unknown plateau, squeezing his shoulders between her thighs without her awareness.

When orgasm struck, Arabella knew nothing but an oddly deafening white heat that slowly began to sizzle along her nerve endings, opening pathways of heretofore unknown pleasure. Soon she was adrift, not blind, but not really wanting to focus, not exactly deaf, but she felt as if she heard everything from under water, a muted existence but she did not care as the languor filled her bones then slowly sifted out, leaving her utterly, bonelessly relaxed.

"Arabella..."

She opened an eye and heard the whisper of sound once more. Or was it a whimper?

"Arabella..."

She opened both eyes to find Severus above her, kneeling between her legs and gazing at her hungrily, lips damp and red from his ministrations, one hand stroking his now equally reddened erection, spreading the drops of fluid that beaded on the tip over and along that needy length as he gazed on her.

"Oh, Severus." She lifted her knees to grasp them and spread herself wide without shame. She smiled and implored him. "Fill me."

He whined and rubbed himself faster, harder, before leaning over to kiss her, letting himself go after pressing the head of his erection to her opening. She was dripping with her own natural lubrication and he easily slid partway in before she knew it. To her surprise, it did not sting or hurt or burn. Even being smaller, Phineas had nearly always been uncomfortable to start, but it seemed as if her body had been waiting for this man.

"Yes!" She urged him and he slid all the way in now, closing his eyes at the feel of her taking him in. "Yes, Severus!"

He seemed to fit her exactly, snug and comfortable, as if they were meant to be together in this way.

"Oh, Arabella..."

Then all was movement and a strange shifting rhythm that lent itself to gasps and moans and stolen kisses. She opened her mouth to one and let her tongue find his, tasting him now and forever. There was tea and gingerbread and even a hint of something dark and smoky she could not identify. Was it chocolate? Her head swam as she realised part of it must be her.

He was moaning now, even as she had, a helpless sort of sound that seemed to drive him, even as his hips sought and found a new and desperate rhythm. He pulled free of her mouth to gasp into the air, pushing, striving to find the place where he had already led her.

Arabella stroked his face, the planes of his chest, tweaked one of his small, brown nipples before gently tugging on it.

Snape froze for a beat, and then with two surging thrusts, began to come inside her. He clutched at her tightly and she smiled, pleased at his possessiveness.

Then he fell onto her and she gently rolled them to their sides, careful to hold him inside her. She enjoyed the feeling.

His voice was hoarse and foggy.

"Arabella."

"I'm right here, love."

"Not a dream."

"I'm very real," she assured him, running a finger along his slightly sweaty sternum.

He clutched at her hand, holding it in his and holding her to him more tightly with the other.

"Did I hurt you?"

"No, dear. You were quite forceful, but you didn't hurt me at all. It was lovely."

He held her more tightly yet and she let him. Soon his grip loosened and she felt him slowly relax and before too much longer, she heard a faint snore issue forth.

Then Arabella watched Severus sleep.


* Boxing Day 1991 *



"...unbridled arrogance. I saved the ungrateful brat and someone set fire to my robes."

"Pull."

Severus rolled his eyes, but it was with grudging fondness as he grabbed both ends of the crackers Arabella held out and tugged hard.

Leprechaun gold showered him and Arabella was graced with a pair of Spectrespecs.

"Goodness. I'll look like Elton John."

Snape snorted, stacking the gold in the middle of the table. "Is he still singing? Lily used to like him."

Arabella nodded, smiling. She was glad Severus could speak of her. It had taken a long time for him to reveal his past to her, and he still did not say much, he never did, but he could, at least, mention her without old grief and regret.

"He has a new album, so they said on the telly," she said now. "His best songs all together."

"So a whole album for two songs then?"

Arabella smacked him lightly with the Spectrespecs. "I rather like his ballads. They're quite lovely."

Severus sighed. "I preferred the Rolling Stones."

"They have some bracing tunes, as well."

He sat back in the chair by the fire and idly rubbed his fingers behind old Tufty's ears. "So, a real Renaissance woman then, when it comes to music?"

"It's easier to live amidst Muggles when you know something of their music and films," Arabella admitted, pouring herself some more tea and relishing the moment for its familiarity and the sense of family the place had when he was with her.

She truly enjoyed their Boxing Day dinners. He spent Sundays and summers with her, of course, but Boxing Day and Hallowe'en would always be special.

Being the pragmatic sort, their gifts tended to be practical. This year, he had brought her new seedlings for her garden and she had presented him with a box of tea she had mixed especially for his headaches. She noted he had been suffering them a great deal this particular year.

He studied the small box of pre-mixed herbs now and sighed.

"What is it, Severus?"

He looked over at her and she was a bit disquieted at his expression. His tone was only half-joking and entirely too weary sounding for her comfort.

"I was just thinking, dearest, you might want to grow extra herbs for a bigger box next year."


* Hallowe'en 1994 *



She watched Severus uneasily as he rubbed his arm and stared out the window.

He had not been able to relax since arriving, although if she was truthful, Arabella would admit he had found it difficult to relax since the summer. While the events at the Quidditch World Cup had been horrid, nothing else had happened since.

Still, his sleep was disturbed and he turned to her often for the comfort of her body. She readily gave it to him, but wished he could find surcease, or at least speak with her about it. He had, she knew, asked the Headmaster to call a meeting of the Order, but thus far, nothing had been done.

"Does it hurt?"

He looked over at this and noted her gaze on his arm. He let it go after a moment and shook his head.

"No."

She nodded as if satisfied and turned to pouring the tea she had prepared, but her heart felt heavy and her hands trembled slightly.

It was the only time in all the years she had known him that Arabella knew Severus had lied to her.


* Boxing Day 1994 *



The dark eyes were set in deeply creased flesh. The year was harder than normal on all the teaching staff at Hogwarts, thanks to the Triwizard Tournament and Severus had been up very late as a chaperone to the Yule Ball the night before, so she knew he was tired, but this seemed like something far more.

"Do you need to return?"

"Pardon?"

Arabella set aside the set of household potions that was her gift from Severus this year to study him more carefully.

He was paler than usual, thinner, as well. His hair looked lank and she wondered if he was taking enough time for himself, to eat and sleep and bathe.

"Is everything all right, Severus? Is there something I should know about?"

He looked bleakly at her, hand still clutching the dark green scarf and mittens she had knitted him and finally nodded. Her stomach clenched, but she also felt hopeful.

"Arabella - there is something I feel you should know. So far only a few suspect."

"Go on."

Snape swallowed. Finally he merely spoke without preamble or dissembling.

"He's back."

For emphasis, he rubbed his left arm.

She frowned for a moment, before her face cleared and, to his surprise, she abruptly stood and went to the front window to look down the lane. She stared for a long moment, looking hard to both sides as well as far down the lane. Then she turned back to him.

"Well, he's not here, at the moment."

He lifted a brow at this. Then it lifted higher as Arabella began to undress where she stood by the window covered only with lacy curtains.

Severus could but swallow as she finished stripping and stood nude before him.

"But I am."

"Arabella..."

He lurched up, devoid of his usual grace and moved to her. His eyes met hers and held as he reached for her.

Then he gently lifted her into his arms and headed for the stairs and the bedroom, where they could both forget their troubles for a time.


* mid June 1995 *



She was busy in the garden when Mr Paws rushed up to her and mewled. She dropped her trowel and stood, beginning to strip her gardening gloves off as she hurried to the house.

"Mrs Figg?"

"On my way," she called from the kitchen, wishing she had time to wash her hands and face, but hurrying to answer the Floo nonetheless.

Dumbledore was framed in her fireplace and his expression eased when he saw her.

"I was in the garden."

"Rather late for it, is it not?"

"It's the best time to gather night jessamine. Severus wanted some for a potion he plans to try making."

The Headmaster's expression did not change, but she immediately knew something was wrong.

"It is about Severus that I contact you. You see... he's been called."

"Called?"

"By Lord Voldemort."

Arabella felt her legs grow unsteady and she moved to the chair by the fire.

"Is he... will he...?"

"It is too early to say, but I can assure you that if he does return, he should be quite safe."

If? "Safe?" she voiced.

"With Voldemort back, my dear Mrs Figg, I'm quite certain you can appreciate that word will come to mean something very different than before."

She refused to ponder it. "Thank you for telling me. Will you--"

"--I will most assuredly tell you when he returns. For now, take heart in that there is no one else who I would trust to face Tom Riddle and return to me unscathed."

Arabella's throat tightened and her stomach clenched and for the first time in their association, she felt great resentment toward the Headmaster.

She made herself swallow and was about to respond when he spoke again.

"I do fear, however, that Severus will not be able to spend so much time as he once did at your domicile."

"Pardon?"

He waved a hand. "It was inevitable. If Voldemort accepts him, any memory that can be used against him, will be. Therefore he must not present him anything that might endanger him."

Arabella quite agreed, but she was puzzled when Dumbledore extended a hand to her, holding out a handful of small crystal vials.

She took them, marvelling at their compactness, even as she noted a silvery, white mist or fluid that nestled in each one.

"Keep them safe, my dear. For his sake. They are more precious than you know."

She held them clutched to her and frowned. "Professor?"

"I'm truly sorry, my dear. I know he found refuge with you. Perhaps, after this is all over, he may do so again."

Then the Floo went dark and Arabella held a mystery in her hands.


* early August 1995 *



The heat was stifling and Arabella was glad to find shelter beneath a tree as she watched young Harry sit on a swing at the park and scuff the dirt with a toe of his filthy trainers.

While her duties were tedious and the weather oppressive, she was grateful. The plodding around town kept her occupied and her thoughts away from Severus.

Young Harry had been restless and she had needed to follow him about since his return home. Thanks to events earlier in the summer, she had extra help now that watched and even came to her place for a spot of tea and a bit of company. She had a regular set of visitors each week; Dung, Remus, Hestia, Dedalus, and even Minerva, who took her place from time to time in the guise of a cat.

None of them were Severus, of course, but it helped keep her mind from him.

It had taken nearly a week from the time Dumbledore had contacted her until he Floo-called again to say Severus had returned and was fine. Arabella knew when she was being lied to, but thanked him sincerely nonetheless. Then he had signed off with a sad and resigned sigh and Arabella took her hedge clippers and went outside to work her frustrations out on the verge.

That was over a month ago and now she just missed her tall, dark-clad lover.

She was glad he was all right, if not safe. She read the Prophet every day now. She watched young Harry like a hawk, despite the crippling heat.

Suddenly a cool breeze kissed the back of her neck and she sighed with relief, even as the light level dimmed. Clouds, she thought with gratitude; perhaps a spot of summer rain. It would be good for the plants.

Then a horrible sense of unease ran down her back and she looked up to the clouds, away from Harry who was arguing with Dudley. Far in the distance, she could see two dark specks in the sky. They did not appear natural. A sense that all hope and happiness was slipping from the world seemed to surround her, but then, she experienced that feeling every time she thought of Severus. The Dementors merely heightened it.

The sound of running feet made her turn, even as the first fat spatters of rain began to fall. She saw the boys hurrying off into the distance and grabbed her mirror from her pocket and tried to contact Dung, who was in the direction they were headed. She would not be able to catch up with two young boys running full out.

Frustrated at the lack of response, and knowing there was nothing for it, she dug her rain bonnet from her pocket and carefully put it on, tying it in place. She grabbed the handle of the wheeled Muggle cart Mrs Lufkin had recently gifted her for bringing her groceries home.

“So you can be rid of that tattered old bag,” the woman had said proudly, never once realising Arabella would no more be rid of it than she would remove one of her own limbs. Still, the gift had required she use the more cumbersome contraption. She carried her old shopping bag inside it.

She dragged the Muggle device, wheels squeaking behind her as she hurried along the rain-drenched road, following the muddy tracks the boys had left and cursing Fletcher's name.


* mid-August 1995 *



"You did splendidly, Mrs Figg."

"Yes, indeed," Minerva agreed with the Headmaster.

Arabella merely nodded, saying nothing as she watched them sip their tea.

The Headmaster had taken it upon himself to escort her home from the Ministry. They had met up with Minerva McGonagall who had been the one to bring her. Now witch and wizard sat at her table and drank her tea and would not allow her the time she needed to recover from the ordeal she had gone through that morning before the Wizengamot.

She had been so hoping Severus would be at the hearing, but Dumbledore himself had shown and she had been grateful in the end when she saw how very officious Minister Fudge and his cronies were being. They had shown fearful respect toward Albus Dumbledore, something about which she had not realised how very grateful she would feel.

"That was my first time at the Ministry," she admitted now.

"Not an auspicious introduction, I fear," Minerva noted.

"No. Not as such," Arabella agreed, sighing and wishing she could excuse herself and go work in her garden.

"I know we must be keeping you from your day to day, but I wished to take a moment to thank you, once again, my dear Mrs Figg, for all you have done for the Order. It has been deeply appreciated."

"Just so," Minerva agreed.

Arabella felt her stomach clench, but she managed a smile and asked politely, "Is my service at an end then?"

"Very nearly," Dumbledore admitted. "Young Harry will not need to be present in this area so much next year if at all. Events are pushing along."

"I see."

"Rest assured, I will provide plenty of warning when it is time to pull stakes, as it were," he said.

Arabella decided then and there to begin packing in preparation. All she said, however, was, “That would be helpful, Professor Dumbledore."

"I greatly value all you have done, my dear. Today's hearing was the highlight. Without your testimony, truly I feel young Harry would be facing quite a different year."

She nodded.

"Albus," Minerva suddenly said. "I'd better go. I needed to meet with Emmeline this morning."

"By all means, Minerva."

The elderly witch patted Arabella's hand. "My thanks, Arabella, for the tea and as Professor Dumbledore says, for all you've done to help. We could not have done it without you."

Arabella nodded and Minerva hurried to the fireplace, taking a handful of Floo powder from the small flower pot on the mantle.

"Diagon Alley!"

The redoubtable old witch disappeared into the green flames and Arabella was alone with Albus Dumbledore. She sighed.

"My dear, it's not as black as all that, is it?"

She turned to him and considered his words. She thought of Severus, ignorant of all they were to each other and then thought of the safety and comfort she had found in this home, which was not truly hers.

"I suppose not," she finally said. "I just wish things were different."

"As do I, Mrs Figg." He sighed, as well, before turning to look about the place. "You've made the place quite homey."

"I'll be happy to redecorate for you before I must go."

He seemed surprised at this. "Oh, that won't be necessary. I might just sell this place after all. It's not as if I don't have other properties. In fact..."

He looked at her for a long moment and seemed to come to a decision.

"I was rather hoping you might house-sit for me yet again."

Arabella frowned. This was not at all what she had been expecting. She eyed him with a trace of suspicion.

"Under similar circumstances?"

He smiled. "Ah, my dear Mrs Figg. It does me good to speak with someone of such uncommon intelligence and great good sense."

"Enough flannel, Professor," she riposted, causing him to lift a brow. "Just tell me what would be expected of me, please."

"Well spoken, if a bit bald."

"I prefer knowing where I stand, sir."

He nodded, seemingly saddened, but he merely sighed. "Very well. I have a property in Upper Flagley - lovely area, it's a village where Muggles and Wizarding folk have mixed. Each is aware of the other, but they largely leave each other alone and go on about their lives."

"Sounds nice enough," she supposed.

"Oh, it is, indeed. I have a nice cottage there, on a seaside bluff, well protected from storms by a craggy lee. The cottage has a nice garden and there's a path to the sea if one felt up to a bracing hike or swim."

"I don't swim," she admitted.

"Well, it's a good place to learn in summer. Lovely and very private."

"I see."

"The thing is, I hold this cottage in trust for one of my nephews, a happy-go-lucky young fellow. He disappeared one day, however, and never has materialized -- probably sailing the seas as we speak.” Dumbledore looked keenly reminiscent and a touch sad. “Dear Wulfric was always looking for treasure and getting in trouble."

"What has he to do with me?"

"Well, aside from house-sitting very much as you have done here, I would like someone to be in residence to discourage others from squatting. When I last visited, the place was a bit overrun and there had been enquiries in the village made by an unsavoury element."

"Death Eaters?"

"Oh, no, no... itinerant vagrants. Which is why I feel with someone there, known to be there until such time as Wulfric returns, a great deal of potential unpleasantness could be avoided."

She considered this. "I would stay until this nephew of yours returns?"

"If he returns. He may not. Alas, I fear receiving word some day of his death."

"And what is to become of me if he never returns?"

He smiled gently. "It would not be so bad a place to live, my dear. I would have no objections, indeed, if you chose to accept my offer, I will ask my solicitor to write up a contract stipulating your right to reside there until such time as my nephew returns."

"So I would clean the place up, see to the gardens and the like?"

"And receive a small stipend for so doing, just as here."

Arabella considered this. Dumbledore's "small stipend" had been generous, equivalent she discovered, to the pay packet of a teacher's assistant at the school. She had managed to save a great deal in her years here and could save even more in future, assuming the ne'er-do-well nephew did not return soon.

She would, she decided, be a fool to turn him down and Arabella Figg was no fool.

"Very well, Professor. I'll do it."

"Splendid!" He graced her with a genuinely warm smile and picked up his cup of tea, lifting it in her direction. "Cheers!"

She smiled as she did the same with her cup, murmuring, "Cheers," before sipping and letting the heat of it flow through and relax her.


* late June 1997 *



Arabella stepped from the Floo to the home on Wisteria Walk with a heavy heart.

She always hated funerals, but the funeral for Albus Dumbledore had been especially difficult.

She held no great love for the wizard, but she did hold him in a great deal of respect. He had helped her at a time she needed it most and she would never forget it. He had also not been entirely truthful to her and she would also never forget that.

Worst of all, though -- he had taken Severus from her, exposing him to danger and an ugly, evil element and that she could never forgive... except it seemed Severus had been the one to kill Dumbledore.

She thought now of the vials of memory she still held, carefully stored in a Muggle make-up kit, each vial safely ensconced in a quilted holder that normally housed lipsticks. It lay lovingly bundled amidst her clothes inside her beloved old shopping bag which she clutched now, holding it tightly.

She could not help but think at first that perhaps Severus had discovered Dumbledore’s perfidy and grown so angry he had struck out, but the account in the Daily Prophet seemed to convey something else. Confusion mostly, mixed reports from Madam Rosmerta who insisted Dumbledore had seemed fine on the night of his death and that it was Harry who had been acting strangely. Dolores Umbridge had vehemently stated her belief that the Potter boy was not sound of mind and declared he had acted maliciously toward her during her stint as the school's Headmistress. The headmistress staunchly defended both Dumbledore and Harry Potter.

Then there were the reports from the other Order members. There had been one meeting, called immediately after his death in which it had been made clear that the Order would no longer meet -- it was too dangerous. Kingsley Shacklebolt had taken her aside and warned her at the meeting; the Ministry had her name and address since the hearing for young Harry in his fifth year. He would expunge the record in some way, he told her, but he also suggested that she leave as soon as possible.

She had assured him she had someplace to go and he had been grateful, but she wondered now if the record of her new address was known to the Ministry.

She shook her head and rested her head on her hand, weary, but determined. Dumbledore had her sign the contract the summer before, but he had not taken her to the place. She only had the vaguest idea where Upper Flagley might be. Perhaps she could contact Remus Lupin; he had always been kind to her; and he might be able to help her get to the cottage.

A sudden loud knocking startled her from her reverie, and she set down her bag to hurry to the front door and answer it. It had to be a witch or wizard, she knew; Muggles used the door chime.

A very small, grizzled man with a shock of shaggy hair and more than a touch of Goblin blood in him stood on her stoop.

"Mrs Arabella Doreen Figg?"

"Yes?"

"I am Wilfredicus Impedicus, Esquire."

"Please come in," she said, stepping back so he could enter.

He looked about the place and nodded, before turning back to look up at her, holding a thick briefcase in his small hands. It was beautifully crafted of fine russet-coloured leather with a heavy gold engraving of a griffin.

"I've come on official business for my client, Albus Percival Wulfric Brian Dumbledore."

"Oh," she blinked and then found her manners. "Would you care for a cup of tea, Mr Impedicus?"

"Thank you, that would be kind."

She hurriedly went about making the tea and putting it out with a plate of digestives.

"I say, this is quite nice," the little man enthused, sipping at his tea with gusto.

"It's just Five Roses. A Muggle blend."

"And quite refreshing," he assured her, slurping at his tea as if he was expecting a prize at the bottom of the cup.

Arabella shrugged and sipped at her own.

"Well, then, I'm sure you're curious as to why I am here," he said as he finished his tea.

"On behalf of Dumbledore."

"Yes, and his nephew, young Wulfric Brewer Peverell."

"Oh, has he been found?"

Impedicus shook his shaggy little head. "Alas, no. But hope springs eternal. I am here to provide you what you need in order to attend Mr Dumbledore's property as he required."

"Of course." She felt a sense of relief, but took care not to show it.

He pulled up the briefcase and to her surprise, he handed it to her instead of opening it. "There you go."

She held the briefcase and frowned. "What is this?"

"Everything in there is related to the contract or the property, with the exception of a personal letter Mr Dumbledore addressed to you. It is sealed. Naturally, I have not read it. You already signed the most crucial portion of the contract, the rest was a doddle. Oh, and there are documents relating to young Mr Peverell that he will require, should he ever show up."

Arabella nodded numbly. Impedicus seemed to take this personally.

"Now, now, Mrs Figg. It's not as a black as all that. Mr Dumbledore had looked forward to his demise. Said he had quite a bit of adventuring to do in the great hereafter. I'm sure he's enjoying himself."

"Yes, I'm sure," she replied, still clutching the briefcase and hoping she'd be able to get hold of Remus after this strange little man had gone.

"Well, be that as it may, once you have your belongings packed, just hold onto them, take the briefcase and press the griffin's head. Anything within a five foot radius will be Portkeyed to your new home."

"Portkeyed?" She eyed the briefcase now with wariness.

"Yes. There is a key inside the briefcase as well, the old fashioned kind. It will open the door to the cottage, of course, but it is also a permanent portkey to the property. Instructions on its use are inside. The portkey on the briefcase is a one-time charm, however, I'm afraid. And unlike the briefcase, the house key will not transport anything but those holding it."

She nodded, studying the case before looking to Impedicus. "Thank you. You seem to have thought of everything."

Impedicus shook his shaggy head. "Not at all, Ma'am. Thank Dumbledore. He was the one who told me what to provide you."


*



Once the dizziness passed, Arabella gasped at the sight before her.

Dumbledore had said a cottage. He had said it was a cottage. He had said it was overgrown, that it was in disuse.

Muffled meows of protest reached her from deep in her shopping bag.

"Oh, poor things!" She hurriedly opened the bag and Tufty, Tibbles, Mr Paws and Snowy all jumped out, displaying various degrees of disdain and/or curiosity.

It was not the quaint rustic, thatch-roofed cottage she had imagined at all. It was sturdy red-brown brick with what looked like all mod cons and sleek, contemporary lines. It remained modest for all that, with a fireplace and the furnishings were definitely built for utility and comfort and not appearances. To her delight, the place even had a kitty climbing wall; little stairs covered with carpet that led to two different hidey-hole cubbies built into the wall itself. Tufty was already staking his claim to the one that afforded him a view of the entire room.

The place was also neat as a pin. Not even the rugs needed beating. She could see out of each residue-free window. The hardwood floors gleamed with cleanliness and smelt of beeswax.

She hurried to the kitchen and was agog at the size of it. It was big enough for four people to work in tandem on a dinner, if need be. The slight tingle she felt when she touched the handle of the ultra-modern refrigerator also told her the appliances were probably charmed to resist breaking. The door of the refrigerator provided both cold as well as boiling hot water for instant tea. Arabella wasn't sure how she felt about that.

"Wulfric Peverell, you're a lucky duck," she murmured now, before setting down the briefcase on the comfortable wood table that sat six and could easily sit more and opened it.

She ignored the sheaf of papers and fished until she found some envelopes. One read "house key" and another read "Arabella Figg" and the other two read "Wulfric Peverell."

She plucked the key and her own letter out. The key was wrapped in a note that read simply:

Hold key to opposite palm and rotate to activate Portkey. To activate the NeverLost charm, place a drop of blood of the homeowner or homeowners onto the key and rub it in. Once the key has absorbed it, should the key be lost, the homeowner simply need say "there's no place like home" three times and the key will return.

Arabella smiled and pulled out her sewing case from her shopping bag. Soon she had pricked her finger with a darning needle and coated the key. She watched with interest as the key slowly dried, not a sign of her blood upon it.

"That's all well and good, dearie, but are you ever going to open that letter?"

Arabella startled, jumping around until she spied the portrait by the kitchen doorway near the window. A round-faced, cheery looking blonde woman with a large bosom and friendly brown eyes stared at her from the frame.

"Goodness."

"Welcome home, dear. I'm Elfrida Cragg. I'll be keeping you company it seems, leastwise once the Ministry falls."

"The Ministry? Falls?" Arabella frowned.

"All too soon I'm afraid. All the signs are there. Albus made sure I'd have a portrait here so I could visit. I only have one at the school and at the Ministry, but the Ministry one will be coming down I'm sure. I'm a Muggle-born, you see."

Arabella did not see, but took the portrait at her word.

"Dumbledore put you here? To spy on me?"

Elfrida laughed. "Not at all! To keep you company, dear. You've a long time ahead; at least a year, maybe longer and the days will seem dark. Plus I can keep you abreast of the news, at least until such time my portrait is moved again. I do believe the Headmistress might hide me somewhere; she’s been considering me from time to time, I noted."

"I thought I'd subscribe to the Prophet," Arabella admitted.

"Oh, no! Don't give your name out to anyone. No one must know you are here. No one." Elfrida’s warm brown eyes grew surprisingly forbidding.

"But Dumbledore's solicitor knows where I am."

"Impedicus? He's a dear. His mind, such as it is, is also not able to be read and Veritaserum is like water to him -- it's the one-sixteenth Goblin blood, or so he claims. He keeps his secrets and those of his clients. It's why Dumbledore uses, or rather, used him for the, shall we say, non-public legal transactions he required?"

"I see." Arabella was disquieted.

"Are you going to read that letter? It should answer some of your other questions."

Arabella nodded, breaking the golden wax seal which appeared to be of a honeybee. She sat down at the table and read.


My dear Mrs Figg,

First, I must confess that I have, at times in our acquaintance, treated you quite poorly. Often it was a matter of the need outweighing the cost, but sometimes it was simply expedience and a tired old man's lack of will. I pray you forgive me.

I especially pray you forgive what I had to do as regarded Severus. I know you loved him, Arabella. In fact, I'm sure you love him still and this heartens me no end. There is far too little love in the world. There are far too many people who live without it.

To that end, I have set certain people and events in motion in the hopes of providing my dear, overburdened boy some peace when the time comes, and hopefully, a means of returning to you.

Trust when I tell you that it will not be soon. It may not be at all. But there is hope! Ah, that mighty temptress, hope. The only mightier temptress than hope is adventure. It is my dearest hope that you and my dear boy may be reunited to share your own adventures after all is said and done.

About which I must confide yet more. No matter what it seems or is said that Severus has done, please, my dear Mrs Figg, rest assured that he has ever and only been acting on my orders. In all matters, I trust Severus Snape with not only my life, but my death, also. Read into that what you may.

I have entrusted dear Elfrida Cragg’s portrait to your care. She was painted quite by accident, I'm afraid. The artist was requested to paint a portrait of Elfrida Clagg, the great chieftainess of the 1600's. His head cold at the time and the enquiries he made led him to paint a recently deceased and charming Muggle-born woman named Elfrida Cragg, instead. She actually hung at the Wizengamot, confused and uncertain for some time before the error was discovered, and then they relegated her portrait to the Historical Artefacts entryway. During that time the painter was informed, but not before he had completed a customary second portrait.

Chieftainess Clagg was eventually painted for the Wizengamot and the secondary portrait of Miss Cragg was relegated to the corner of the Headmaster's Office and all would have been well if not for recent events.

With the coming change of regime at the Ministry, she is in great danger. The new Ministry will destroy her portrait, as she is a Muggle-born -- indeed, they will destroy all Muggle-born material, I fear.

I took the liberty of leaving Minerva an instruction to move her portrait in the office to a safer locale when the time comes. I also had a second frame constructed which you see before you now in the kitchen, where she may visit or reside if things grow as dark as I fear.

I'm sure you will find much to chat about and she makes an excellent look-out, suffering in portraiture much as she did in life, poor dear, from insomnia. She, like dear Severus, did not deserve her fate and it is my hope that my actions provide her a happier future.

To that end, you will find in the bedroom -- and you may move it to whatever room you -wish - a clock. I hope you find it useful, my dear Mrs Figg.

Lastly, I would bid you to please take good care, my dear, except that I am quite certain you shall. It is your very nature, on which I have greatly imposed, and pray once more you forgive me.

Peace and happiness to you both,

APWBD



* May 1998 *



In the end it was the clock Arabella despised most of all that wretched year. She might have chopped it up for kindling if it weren't the only lifeline she had to Severus.

The clock was quite elaborate and twee. It was large, about the size of the boxy Muggle television in the house on Wisteria Walk, but magically light in weight.

It appeared to be a candy maker working in a factory with some elves and possessing a conveyor belt that slowly rotated before the viewer with various candies presented as time passed. On the hour, the candy maker tumbled into the hopper before him and appeared, dusty with sugar atop the conveyor belt which slowly rotated until he presented a lemon drop to the viewer.

What Arabella found so despicable were the designations on the chalkboard where a time punch stood and a list of names of employees should have been. Instead, her own name was on there, as were the names of the senior members of the Order. Her name was by the designation 'At Home.'

Minerva's remained in the designation 'In Despair' all year, when it wasn’t in ‘Defying the Establishment.’

Alastor Moody's name was gone, but it had been on there until the day nearly a year ago that the factory whistle blew on the clock, indicating a change of status for someone, and his designation suddenly read 'In Mortal Peril' and almost immediately changed to 'Dead.'

The rest she mostly ignored, but she could not ignore the designation second from the bottom. It read 'Severus Snape' and his designation shifted from 'In Despair' to 'Sleepless' to 'In Peril' on a regular basis.

Then, as time passed, she noted there was one designation only she saw and only late at night when she could not sleep and was staring at the clock and his name. That designation was 'Aroused.'

Of course, aroused was a word that could easily mean someone was raring for a fight, except that this word would shift as she watched to 'Wanking.'

At first, she was livid - how dare Dumbledore invade his privacy in this way! Then she realised none of the others seemed to have the designations that Severus had. She suspected it had to do with his place in her heart.

She was fond of Minerva, for example, and Remus, but neither showed such designations and she well knew Remus was in a relationship with Nymphadora Tonks. The two were probably at it like rabbits and yet the clock said nothing. Only with Severus did it reveal such private details.

What drove her nearly mad was the first time she had watched the designation turn from 'Aroused' to 'Wanking' to 'In Despair.'

He needed her! He did not even know of their relationship, she knew. He was just lonely and seeking surcease from his burdens, but if he had not lost his memories, she would be there for him. He needed her, and she needed him. For the first time in her life she wanted a man, one particular man, for sex and comfort.

Her clitoris ached and her opening seemed heavy and warm and she longed to feel him again, the only man who had ever ensured her pleasure.

In all the times they had been together, he had always sought her pleasure, ignoring his own until he had fulfilled her. Now she wished she could be with him and she wouldn't even care about her own needs; she would use every technique she'd ever learned and delight his senses until he passed out from the pleasure. She fell asleep thinking of all the things she would do for him, aching and hungry just for the sight of him, the smell of him.

Soon enough, Arabella found herself joining Severus when the clock read 'Aroused' and she would lift her nightgown and slowly touch herself until she could not bear the sensations any longer and cry out his name, falling apart. Some nights she would fall instantly asleep. Other nights she would weep softly at her loss, at their loss of each other and their future.

The mornings following these sessions she was taciturn to the normally chatty and gregarious Elfrida, staring out the windows and petting her dear, now frail and elderly, Tufty. She had known him for 14 years and he'd been at least four by the time she had acquired him during the first year of her marriage. For a cat, he was old.

This had sobered her briefly one day when she realised she, too, was getting older. She was now forty five. Not at all old for a witch or a Squib. In fact, she had a good twenty child-bearing years left, as the wireless program, Witch Wellness, assured her and others like her. Still it seemed awfully old to her, with her Muggle-aware eyes now, thanks to Dumbledore. A woman of forty-five in the Muggle world was respectably middle-aged. Severus was still considered a man in his prime at 38. Never had those seven years difference seemed so very long to her.

Arabella keenly felt the time they had lost and she would curse Dumbledore, even as she felt guilt because of all the ways he had helped her.

One cold, rainy day that reminded her of the first time Severus had made his way to Privet Drive, she realised this was her final duty to the elderly Wizard. She had to wait, to be ready to help not the Wizarding world, but Severus. Given the circumstances and what she recalled of events, she had the feeling this task was hers alone. No one else would help him or even want to if what the Prophet and what the Headmaster had written was true. She felt like weeping when she thought about how lonely Severus must feel.

The duty of waiting, of watching, had never been so hard, and she was bemused to realise she was feeling nostalgic for watching Harry and nearly being attacked by Dementors. Some days she felt she would rather face a Dementor than watch that damnable clock and wait for something, anything, to happen.

And then, one night, it did.


*



It seemed as if the clock could not keep up with events. Designations flashed and shifted, none more so than Severus and Minerva's. She finally took the clock into the kitchen where, perhaps, Elfrida could distract her.

"There you are! I'm glad you came in. I have to go," Elfrida said.

"What?"

"Things are hopping. I need to watch from my other portrait. I'll be back to report when I can," and with that, Elfrida stepped out of her portrait, not waiting for a response.

Arabella frowned. Her other portrait was somewhere dark and undisturbed, or so Elfrida had told her after the Headmistress had moved her nearly a year before. She rarely went to it because it was so boring.

Arabella sighed. She went to put a kettle on, forswearing the instant hot water of the refrigerator in order to feel as if she had something to do.

She watched Severus’s name on the clock whose designation was unchanged from "Mortal Peril" through three cups of tea and finally went to get her pea coat and her shopping bag. She did not know why she fetched these items, except that the pea coat was the first gift he had given her and scrunching the edge of the shopping bag always gave her a sense of comfort and she needed something to do with her hands. If she tried to sew she would surely stick herself with a darning needle, so the bag was safer.

"Arabella!"

She nearly jumped at Elfrida's voice.

"Elfrida?"

"Be ready. I'd suggest that shopping bag of, oh, you have it. Good."

Arabella frowned. "What are you talking about?"

"It will be soon," Elfrida said sadly. "Just be ready."

"For what?"

The long dead witch looked anxious and expectant at once. "Anything."

Just as she said this, the clock whistled and the designation for Severus changed to 'Dying.'


*



She had stood frozen in place, her heart seemingly stopped, and then the clock's mechanism distracted her as the tiny candy maker tumbled into the hopper and began to make his circuit on the conveyor belt until he stopped before her and extended a lemon drop. Arabella tried to smile, but couldn't.

"Take it!"

She frowned now and looked to Elfrida. "Pardon?"

The sensation of something tapping the back of her hand distracted her and she turned to find the candy maker still holding out the lemon drop to her. He was using his rolling pin to tap at her knuckles in order to gain her attention.

Confused, but willing to do anything that might help, Arabella reached up and took the candy from the small figure that bowed at her and began to move away on the conveyor belt.

Before she could wonder what happened, she felt the odd pulling sensation of a Portkey and had enough presence of mind to be glad she was still clutching the shopping bag.

The room she materialised in was dusty and dark and smelt strongly of blood. She quailed as she turned, only to drop her bag as she saw him, her dearest love, lying on the ground in a puddle of blood.

"Severus!"

She did not care if anyone else could hear her, although none could. It seemed he had been abandoned. She rushed to him and wept as she saw the damage done.

"It won't be easy, but get him in that bag of yours. And quickly - I don't know if Moldy thing is coming back or any Death Eaters."

Arabella frowned and turned around until she saw it, a faded, almost broken looking portrait leaning against one wall as if discarded.

"Elfrida!"

"If you get his legs in, the rest should follow," Elfrida continued. "Then you can carry him."

Arabella considered this, but didn't stop to think about it too much. She unfurled the end of her bag and stretched it wide, moving down to Severus's booted feet and shoving them in. When she'd gotten his knees in, Elfrida's prediction proved true: he began to slide down into the bottomless bag. Arabella quickly tucked him in and held the handles tightly. Then she pulled the house key which she kept in a chain around her neck and pushed it to her palm, turning it.

Soon, she and her bag of secrets were back at the cottage in Upper Flagley.

"Quickly! Get him to the bed and fetch your first aid potions!"

Arabella did not respond, merely hurried from the room to her bedroom where she opened the bag and gently poured Severus from within onto the bed. He lay looking like a broken marionette atop the bed and it took all her courage to hurry to the lav and fetch the potions Elfrida had suggested. They were the self-same potions he had made for her over the years.

She gave him a general healing potion and a strengthening potion before she found a blood replenisher and managed to make him swallow the lot. Then she fetched a basin of clean water and flannels and began to clean him.

Soon the blood began to seep from the edges of the horrible wounds and despite her efforts with a clean flannel, she could not stop the bleeding. She looked through the potions to see if there was another blood replenisher when she heard a raspy voice.

"Dittany."

She looked over to find those beautiful black eyes gazing at her tiredly from a too pale face.

"Oh, Severus!"

He blinked at this as if puzzled and she remembered anew that he had no idea of their relationship. To him, she was just a member of the Order. He probably trusted her, but he did not feel anything else.

She hid her tears by looking for dittany and soon found it.

"Drip it on the bites."

She followed his instructions and winced as the wounds hissed and bubbled, nasty green poison running free before sealing up. There would be scars, she noted, but he would be all right. She nearly wept again.

"Thank you, Arabella," he whispered tiredly. "Must sleep."

"You sleep, Severus," she nodded, and gave in to her need and gently kissed him.

He drifted off with a faint expression of surprise on his face.

Arabella watched him for a moment, watched him breathing and finally nodded.

She gathered the mess of dirty flannels and water and hurried with them to the lav where she wrung out the towels to dry before laundering and washed the basin carefully.

Then she looked at herself in the mirror. Her hair was a fright. Her eyes looked wild and crazed. Streaks of blood were on her cheek from when she had wiped sweat away to be able to work.

But Severus was alive.

Arabella Figg began to weep, finally collapsing into a heap by the tub and leant there, crying into her arms with relief and release.


*



Severus slept for nearly two days.

In that time, Arabella managed to wash him and change the bedding. She quietly rejoiced when she saw his Dark Mark was gone, a mere memory now.

She made herself eat and listened to Elfrida's excited ponderings over what might be happening at the castle.

Then suddenly, the portrait started as if poked. "Someone is summoning me!"

Arabella nodded. "Go on."

Elfrida hurried away and Arabella nibbled at a biscuit, sipping milky tea, still weary over events despite having slept.

After some moments, Elfrida reappeared, looking pensive.

"You're about to have a visitor."

"What?"

Even as she said this, a sound like lightning flashed through the living room and Arabella knew someone had Apparated to her home. Was it Dumbledore's nephew? Or perhaps, Impedicus?

"Arabella dear?"

Arabella's heart leapt and she hurried to the living room now. Minerva McGonagall stood there, looking pleased if puzzled and she did not demur when the younger woman embraced her, merely holding her in return, a smile on her weathered face.

"Oh, it's so good to see you!"

"It's good to see you, as well, Minerva," Arabella admitted. "But how did you find this place? And what is going on? I only know there must have been a battle--"

McGonagall held up a quelling hand.

"Best told seated over tea, if you don't mind?"

"Not at all. The kitchen is this way."

She led the witch in and soon was pouring her a mug and handing her a plate of biscuits.

"Thank you, dear. Now. Let me bring you to date. First and most important - Voldemort is dead. Harry killed him. The war is over."

Arabella beamed at his, "Oh my! That's wonderful!"

"Yes, indeed. We lost many to achieve this."

She nodded. "I'm sure."

"The castle will require reconstruction. The new Minister for Magic is Kingsley Shacklebolt. I am Headmistress. Severus Snape has been exonerated by Harry Potter, but is missing and presumed dead and there are many who do not care what Harry says. They are glad he is dead. Young Harry saw Voldemort kill him."

Arabella swallowed at this bit of bitter news and Minerva sighed. "Last but not least, Albus Dumbledore sent me."

"What?"

"Or rather, his portrait. After the battle, I went to attend the Headmaster's office and Dumbledore's portrait spoke to me for the first time since his demise. He informed me of a few things and then his portrait swung open to reveal a cavity. Inside was an envelope he said needed to be delivered personally to Severus Snape, care of one Arabella Figg at Seaview Cottage, Upper Flagley, Yorkshire."

"Oh."

"Is he here? Did he survive?"

Arabella nodded uncertainly, wondering if she should not keep silent, but the elderly witch's response reassured her. Minerva's eyes grew bright with tears.

"Good for him. Good for you! You both deserve any happiness that comes."

Arabella smiled and Minerva added, "I'll keep your secrets, not to worry. I'm just glad to know he's alive."

"He very nearly wasn't."

"I'm sure. And I shan't disturb him; I take it he's recovering?"

Arabella nodded.

"Good. Then... give him this with my love." Minerva handed her a thick envelope. Then she drew out a scroll and handed it to her, as well.

"What's this?"

"Something Albus bid me to copy... and adjust."

Arabella frowned at this and Minerva merely arched her brows, giving her to know she was free to look.

She unrolled the parchment to find a set of NEWT scores for Wulfric Brewer Peverell. The date on the parchment was June 1978.

"The Headmaster's nephew? Are these his marks?"

"Well, yes and no," hedged the old witch.

Arabella frowned. "What do you mean?"

"The name is that of the Headmaster's nephew, yes, but the scores are Severus's."

Arabella's frown deepened. "Pardon?"

Minerva patted her hand. "Arabella, dear. I believe Albus is giving Severus a chance he never had before. A clean slate and an unsullied name."

"You mean to say--"

"Albus intended for Severus not only to live, but to become his nephew. You see, very few know that Wulfric Peverell remains missing to this day, presumed dead."

"Dumbledore told me he was probably sailing the seas. That he was always looking for treasure and getting in trouble."

"Yes, that was young Wulfric. As for sailing the seas," Minerva smiled reminiscently, if a bit sadly. "I have no doubt he is. He loved the ocean. He loved it so much he died for it."

"But, won't it be odd that he suddenly reappears? Won't his parents say anything? And does Severus look anything like this Wulfric?"

Minerva smiled. "No, my dear, no one will say anything. You see, Wulfric was barely three when he wandered off into the surf he so loved and never reappeared."

Arabella was stunned. "Three?"

"Yes. His parents were orphans themselves, and their grief at the loss of their only child never lessened. His poor mother died within weeks, a wasted figure, even her magic had withered away."

"I've heard of that. My mother told me one of her aunts had pined for her dead husband until her magic disappeared and she died."

The Headmistress nodded. "It happens even to the hardiest when circumstances are beyond bearing. In Wulfric's case, they kept looking, hoping to find him, hoping to hear some fisherman had retrieved him and as time and the more rational likelihoods passed, they clung to the wildest of possibilities, such as the boy having been ensorcelled by a Merperson."

"Those poor people."

"The sea never returned him, so they never buried him, you see. There is no gravestone; not for Wulfric, only for his parents. First his mother died of grief, and then his father followed, grief-stricken for both wife and son. Few in the village even knew them, they had just moved into the home when the tragedy struck. So you see - as long as he has his papers, no one will question Wulfric's return or his right to the family property and I do believe Albus made sure those papers exist."

Arabella recalled the briefcase now and nodded, feeling a growing excitement. "Yes. Yes, they do."

"Then Wulfric will live on, in a fashion, and a man who was thought dead, whose name is sullied over deeds no one else could do, but whose honour remains, might now live freely, as well."

"Oh, Minerva!"

The old witch accepted the embrace, and held her as she wept happy tears, and if she joined Arabella and shed a few herself, no one was the wiser.




Minerva returned to the cottage once Severus awoke. She had Elfrida's other portrait now in her quarters and so communications were open between the two old friends.

Severus had been apprised by Arabella of the overall situation, but he still had no clear memories of their time together and she had yet to enlighten him. She merely set about to taking care of his needs, feeding and washing and helping him empty his bladder into a jar since he was too unsteady to walk.

He was nearly effusive in his gratitude toward her care of him, although a bit embarrassed at needing her help. She dismissed his embarrassment and smiled despite her heartache. He was alive, he would be well. She told herself that these were the things that mattered. Still there was hope, and Minerva's task buoyed her fragile expectations.

The Headmistress had arrived and gone straight to his bedside. After a truly heartfelt apology he rebuffed as unnecessary, she began to explain.

"Mind you, I disagree with Albus's reasoning entirely, but the man is gone and what's done is done."

"Agreed," Severus said hoarsely, his throat still affected by the remnants of Nagini's powerful venom in his system.

"I'm afraid Albus felt your relationship was going to hinder necessary interactions regarding young Harry, not to mention Voldemort. He feared your motivation might not prove sufficiently strong to do what he felt needed doing. So he suggested you remove any memories that Voldemort might use against you. These memories he gave to Arabella."

"I still have them."

"Fetch them, dear. We shall require them."

She hurried to the chest in the corner of the room and dug out the makeup kit she had hidden there so long ago. She carefully brought it to the bed.

"I do recall removing the memories of which you speak, but I also have a clear recollection of retrieving them after the Dark Lord had interrogated me," Severus said, staring at the small vials full of silvery-white memories.

"He Obliviated you, dear."

"What?"

"He Obliviated you after you removed these particular memories. Then he asked you to remove the other ones pertaining to Harry and his mother and those are the ones you remember being returned to you."

"What are these memories?" He eyed the vials Arabella held.


*



"Arabella..."

Minerva privately rejoiced at the expression in his eyes, after he recovered from the discomfort of regaining his memories. He was stunned, but there was burgeoning hope and joy and such yearning it made her throat feel tight with emotion.

"I'll go make myself a cup of tea," she murmured, allowing the couple some privacy.

Before she had even left the room, Severus reached for his love and Arabella went to him gladly, basking in the feeling of his arms around her, even if his embrace was not very strong. He would recover his strength, she knew, and for now was just glad of the chance to hold him close.

"Oh, my love," he murmured against her soft, fragrant hair. He missed this most of all, just holding her, feeling her, and smelling her, knowing she was his. "How could I forget you?"

"With help," she muttered, still feeling a touch of resentment but letting it be washed away with the joy that suffused her.

"Minerva's right. What's done is done. But we're together now."

"Oh, Severus..."

"Wulfric. I must accustom myself to the name."

"It suits you," she whispered.

"Yes, stern and forbidding."

She smiled. "No, I mean it sounds like a strong and dependable man."

He sighed. "I've not felt very strong, but dependable I think I can manage."

"You're the strongest man I know," she argued, kissing him. "And I don't care what you ask me to call you, so long as you're in my life, dear heart."

Severus did not argue. He merely sighed regretfully.

"We're finally together again and I can't do as I'd like and make love to you properly."

"There will be time enough for such things, dear heart. I wouldn't want you to hurt yourself."

He shook his head. "I could probably accomplish something not too strenuous, but... it wouldn't be the way it ought. Rest assured when I'm recovered, I will make love to you as you deserve to be made love to, Arabella."

She smiled shyly and then admitted, "I love the way you make love to me. But I'd be happy, from time to time, to give you pleasure, you know."

"Oh, my love, you give me so much more than mere pleasure," he kissed her forehead. "You are my joy and all I could wish in this world."

When she said nothing, he shifted to look at her. She appeared to be pondering something.

"Arabella? What is it?"

She blinked and then smiled at him with so much desire in her eyes that he swallowed.

"Let's wait until Minerva leaves, but I think I'd very much like to make up a bit for lost time, dear heart."


*



Minerva did not stay long. She informed them she would return in a few days. She hoped to bring him a wand on her return.

Arabella had been chagrined she had not thought to retrieve his wand in her flurry to get him to safety and the Aurors had since taken it as evidence. Minerva said that without a body, with his wand and with Harry's account of Voldemort's reason for killing Snape, the Aurors had decided Voldemort must have sent a follower to vapourise him and ensure he was dead. This would serve their purposes nicely.

Minerva's leave-taking served Arabella's purposes nicely.

Once they were alone, she had slipped off his nightshirt and bid Severus do nothing, to let her do everything. When he began to protest, she reassured him this was something she had been dreaming of, imagining in the time they were apart, and very much wanted to do.

He finally conceded, unwilling to argue and truly wishing to be with her in some special way.

To his surprise, Arabella stripped. He nearly groaned at the sight of her. It had been so long.

Without his memories of her, his only memories were of youthful encounters his last year at school and a brief affair he had experienced after his leave-taking. These long-ago experiences had fuelled his fantasies when he required release, but this... this was so much better.

After she was nude before him, she brought forth a basin with water, a towel and some flannels, as well as a vial of something he could not identify. She put them on the table by the bed and took the vial in her hand.

Arabella straddled him then and he closed his eyes at the surge of desire he felt.

"This will help with your circulation," she said, uncorking the vial and then drizzling it over his collarbones and down, dripping the oily liquid onto his thighs behind her and finally gathering the rest in her hands.

She smoothed her palms down and then up his quiescent arms, gently pressing and urging the blood to move. Severus sniffed appreciatively, suddenly aware of the scent of rosemary and mint and ginger. His skin tingled where she touched, then warmed pleasantly. As she massaged his shoulders and chest, he began to feel quite relaxed, although not all of him settled. In fact, one part of him was standing firmly at attention now as he watched her full and beautiful breasts swaying before him.

"Oh, Arabella..."

She smiled as she continued working down, shifting until she was straddling his legs and he groaned when she ignored his straining genitals to work on his legs.

The warmth and tingling, the comforting scent, the touch of her hands, the sight of her, it was all nearly too much for Severus. He moaned, lifting his hips slightly, aching with need.

Then he felt his legs being gently spread and Arabella lay between them, kissing each hip before she took his rigid cock in her hands. He moaned again and she caressed his heavy scrotum, smoothing it with her oily hand as the other stroked slowly and firmly along his aching length.

"Yes, love," she whispered as his hips tried to meet her. "Let me."

She rubbed him a bit faster and slid her fingers down from his bollocks to press and caress his perineum.

"Arabella!"

She smiled at the desperation in his tone and slowed her stroke.

"Oh, you wicked woman..."

She toyed with his foreskin then and continued to slide her fingers down to his opening where she lightly toyed at the edge with her oiled fingers.

He moaned and she used a single finger to rub along the tightly furled skin, even as she grasped him again and began to rub. When he relaxed and pushed back she pressed her finger a fraction of an inch to his opening and then circled the edge again.

He began to moan with regularity and she pressed and circled, then gently inserted the tip of her finger and wiggled it. He froze and she slowed her stroking hand.

"Arabella?"

"Mm?"

"I... you... "

"Just feel, Severus. Feel the pleasure I want to give you. Only you. Always you."

He moaned again and she slid that finger a bit deeper, waiting until the automatic clenching eased and Severus relaxed. She began to toy with his foreskin at each upstroke as her finger gently pushed back and forth within him, a little deeper each time.

"Arabella..."

She was gratified to feel him pushing, trying to meet both her hands.

"Arabella...!"

She firmed her stroke then and smiled at his gratified groan, even as she slid that finger fully within and curved it, seeking and finding that resilient little pad of flesh. She made a gentle beckoning gesture.

"Oh!"

She added a slight twisting movement to her stroking hand and gently stroked her finger along his prostate, caressing it. She saw his bollocks draw up tight, suddenly, and smiled.

"Arabella!"

With one firm and final stroke of the finger within him, she sped up her other hand and was gratified as he made a strangled noise and began to issue forth, a few spurts of semen decorating his belly before the remainder oozed from him in slow surges.

"Oh..."

She gently removed her finger and slowed her stroke as the last spasms passed, and ended by resting her head on his hip, filling her nostrils with the warm, familiar scent of him mixed with herbs.

"I've wanted to do that for so long," she whispered now. "I love you, Severus Snape. Wulfric Peverell. Whatever you call yourself so long as I can be the one who loves you."

"Oh, my love." She felt his hand caress her head and smiled. "Just wait until I'm well enough to reciprocate."

Arabella smiled, surprised to find she was not aching and wanting, but warm and relaxed. She felt the slickness between her thighs and realised she must have achieved release even as she sought his.

"Why wait?" She whispered.

"Hm?"

She carefully moved off the bed, and reached for a flannel from the table. Dipping it in the basin, she slowly washed her hands of oil. Setting aside the flannel, she gazed down at him lovingly. He smiled up at her. Then she slowly and deliberately slid a hand between her legs, coating it, and held it up him. He lifted a brow, even as she sat beside him.

Then a lazily lascivious expression crinkled his eyes. He stuck his tongue out and she placed her finger on it. Without looking away from her, he slowly sucked it in. Then he moaned and closed his eyes with such obvious appreciation it filled her with joy.


*



The wand was warm in his hand, and the smooth brown wood was glossy. It had been well taken care of and when he waved it, he felt the instant response.

"Lumos."

The light was bright and unwavering. He nodded.

"This one will do. Thank you, Minerva."

She smiled a bit sadly and gathered the few dozen wands she had brought with her.

Arabella stared at the bundle of wands with regret. "So many?"

The Headmistress nodded.

"Yes. Not long after the battle I realised it was something that needed doing, and I didn't want opportunists to strike, so I Accio'd the wands of the fallen. In this single instance, it serves us well. Now a wand will live again."

"Do you happen to know who it belonged to?" Snape studied the nearly foot-long utterly smooth length of wood. The handle was flared, with engraved hand grips, and tapered down to a smooth, round end. "It's really quite beautiful and a pity for someone to lose it."

Minerva pursed her lips, and then waved her own wand, touching the wands tip to tip. "Dominus."

A wavering image began to develop over the handle, soon clearing to a familiar face. Severus swallowed and Arabella closed her eyes.

"Nymphadora," he said softly, staring at the image. He sighed and whispered, "Thank you."

The image faded out and he shook his head.

"What is it, love?"

"I still wonder what miracle brought about my resurrection when so many lost their lives."

Minerva snorted and both looked to her. "It was no miracle, my boy, but one stubborn old wizard who knew you like the back of his own age-spotted hand."

"What do you mean?"

She smiled as she rested her hand atop the bundle of wands.

"Do you recall him suggesting you begin taking a preventative dose of anti-venom?"

He nodded.

"Well, he knew you would be too stubborn to listen, so he ensured you would ingest some every day."

"But-- my food?"

Minerva shook her head. "No. Even I know when you are restless, Severus, that you do not eat. Putting it in your food would have been a gamble, and Albus Dumbledore did not gamble unless the odds were in his favour."

"Then... oh, that meddling, conniving old--"

"Dear heart." They both looked to Arabella who only had eyes for him. "If it saved you, then I can only ever thank him."

He looked dour, but finally nodded. "So... the wine."

Minerva smiled. "Yes. The elf-made wine of which you are so fond. Albus brewed the anti-venom himself that last year when he wasn't shepherding young Harry. He doctored every last barrel in the school's tap room."

"I see," he finally said with a shake of his head. " I suppose he felt he owed me and this went toward paying back the debt."

"Ach." Minerva shook her head and then took up the bundle of wands and began to place it carefully in the satchel she had brought.

"I take it you disagree?"

"Oh, my boy. I know you had disagreements. I know the path he placed before your feet was hard, the hardest of which I have ever heard and I don't begrudge your resentment, nor I'm sure would he. But if you think that's why he did that, then you're cracked, Severus Snape, Wulfric Peverell, whatever name you choose to carry."

"I beg your pardon."

Arabella squeezed his hand. "Dear heart -- he loved you."

He blinked at this. "What?"

"He loved you. He did what he did because he loved you. He trusted you with his life. He trusted you with his death. No one else could have done what you did, because -- if you are honest -- you loved him, too."

Snape looked disconcerted and then settled back with a sigh. He said nothing.

Minerva finished her task and patted his hand.

"Well, then, if that is all, I will be very glad of the opportunity to have the occasional spot of tea with you both in future. For now, there is much to do. There are two funerals this afternoon alone."

Arabella looked sad and Severus finally spoke.

"How many?"

The Headmistress sighed heavily. "Too many."

He nodded and looked at his new wand, gripping it firmly for a moment before asking, "Who else?"

For a long moment, they thought she might not answer, but finally she nodded and sat back.

Severus and Arabella reached for each other's hands then and she noted it with a sense of gratitude that lightened the burdens she felt.

It was a small sign, but it boded well for their future and at this moment, Minerva McGonagall needed the confirmation that life did go on and that, for some, it would not be merely better, but with expectation of joy, freedom and sharing that had not existed before.


* Nineteen years later... *



"Mum! There's mail!"

The wince from her eldest made Arabella smile. The bookish and bespectacled Augustus Severus took after his father except for his mousy brown hair. His twin sister, however, did not seem to take after either of them, being boisterous, loud and opinionated.

Ada Arabella burst into the room now and waved an envelope. "It's Albus!"

The door to the back garden opened and her beloved husband stepped in, heading to the sink to wash his hands.

"I take it there's news?"

"Honestly. The entire village probably heard Ada," muttered Gus.

"Oh, eat your toast," Ada retorted, sitting next to her brother and then leaning against him to belie her words.

Despite their many disagreements, they almost never squabbled and were deeply devoted. He shook his head and popped a bit of toast in her mouth, which Ada happily chewed.

Her eldest daughter took after her father as well, at least when it came to a coltish physique, but her facial bones were all Arabella's, although her mother was glad she had inherited her father's sleek black hair.

"Well, what is the news?"

"Sorry, Da." She opened the letter and began to read. "Dear Mum and Da, Albus here. Oh, for Merlin's sake what a soggy cog."

"Is that what he said, dear?"

"No, Mum. Sorry, Mum. Um... where was I? Oh, yes -- I was sorted into Hufflepuff. Please don't hate me."

"It's a fine house," their father murmured, biting into a piece of toast and smiling at his wife. "Besides. Hufflepuffs live longer."

"They do?" Gus blinked at this. He and Ada had been Ravenclaw. "I'd not heard that."

"Well, they don't fight, they work hard and they live simply. That's the very recipe for a long, healthy life."

"Point taken," Gus nodded.

"Was that all Albus had to say?"

"He says that Amandine is in trouble already. She has detention."

Wulfric sighed, rubbing at his temples and Arabella got up to fetch him a spot of the tea for his headaches she still made and which he still swore by.

"I thought Gryffindors were the ones to get in trouble," Arabella noted. "Mandy's been in trouble since her sorting into Slytherin."

"It can be an unforgiving house," her husband said quietly.

"Well, hopefully this one will take after her mother and be a nice, quietly devoted Squib," Arabella said now, patting her stomach affectionately.

The kitchen grew very quiet, indeed, and then a squeal sounded from the wall, startling them all.

"I knew it! I thought you were pregnant!" Elfrida beamed from her portrait.

"I didn't think it was still possible, but this one will be our last," Arabella replied, smiling at her old friend.

Gus looked at his father's face, and then nudged his sister who immediately took the hint and they both headed out into the garden.

"When did you learn?"

Arabella smiled at her beloved. "Yesterday. I saw the midwife in the village. She says it's a girl."

Wulfric smiled reminiscently. "I still remember our first two. They were unexpected. I suppose it's not surprising our last one is unexpected, too."

"I'm glad you're not upset."

"Why should I be? Your herbs and my potions sell very well. My research papers have been well-received and even Beauxbatons is using my primer for Potions. We've never suffered want. I didn't ever intend to or even believe I'd have any children, but our brood has been a blessing. And if we'd never had any at all, just you would be my blessing."

He stepped up now and kissed her, the same passion burning through them as it had when they'd first kissed. She kissed him back eagerly, but he pulled back when he tasted tears.

"What's this? Pregnancy hormones already?"

Arabella sniffed. "Maybe. But really, I meant what I said. It'd be nice if one of our children took after me. The oddball of the bunch. Magic-less Mum."

Wulfric frowned. "Do not denigrate yourself to me."

She wiped her face. "I'm sorry, but love-- I do feel as if I'm just a cog around here. Not a useful one at that."

His face grew stern. "Never say that."

"But it's true!"

He held her then, close to him, and murmured into her ear.

"This is my truth, Arabella Doreen Peverell. A beautiful, talented woman helped me once, and she kept helping me at every turn, until she actually saved me from the jaws of death. She had no magic, but her own feminine wiles and her sharp-witted brain. She did not need magic, because she was magic. She is magic. She made me see the magic that exists in kneazles and knitting and tea-making and love-making and parenting - especially parenting because although she had never done it, she did it better than I could ever have done. Without a lick of magic, she raised our strong, studious, wondrous children and is blessing me with another and I don't know who to thank for such riches. Truly."

Then he held her as she cried, but he sensed they were pleased tears caused by her being touched. Soon, she composed herself.

"Sorry, love."

"No need. What use is a husband if he can't absorb a few tears?"

She smiled at this, and he sighed.

"So. A girl."

Arabella nodded.

"Well, let's see. We have Augustus Severus. Ada Arabella. Amandine Eileen. Albus Wulfric."

Arabella blushed now. "I think I know the name."

"Go on."

"Do you remember that night we spent in the garden? The one where the Northern Lights blazed?"

He nodded.

"This little one was made then. Since she's a girl, I think it'd be nice to name her Aurora."

He considered this and smiled. "A fitting name. And lovely. But what about a middle name?"

"I have an idea for that, too."


*



Elfrida actually cried when she saw her little namesake, Aurora Elfrida, eight months later.

Arabella actually cried when she got her wish and little Aurora took after her mother.

Wulfric did not cry, but he was deeply proud of his baby daughter when she surpassed her brothers and sisters and grew to be the finest Astronomy Professor in Hogwarts history, despite never having attended a single class.





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