Beta Readers: iulia_linnea and eeyore9990
(Highlight to View) Warning(s): Child abuse occurs off-screen.
Recipient's Prompt: Luna is taken on as an assistant at an odd, out-of-the-way shop owned by a woman named Eileen Prince (Prompt Four).
Summary: Princely Things was more than just a shop. It was also Eileen Prince's way of helping some of the children who couldn't help themselves.
Eileen Sophia Portentia Prince (formerly Snape) could tell a lot about a witch or wizard by her or his reaction upon walking into Princely Things. Some got an avaricious look around the eyes and a hungry twitch to their mouths. She took those customers for every Knut she could and considered it a job well done. Others sprouted a supercilious curl to their upper lips and a judgmental flare to their nostrils. They got nothing from her. A rare few developed rounded eyes and an excitement over the few treasures she'd hidden amongst the dross. She sold them what they needed, and occasionally what they deserved, for a price they could afford, whatever that might be.
The witch who floated into the shop that summer day was younger than Eileen expected, a trifle flighty, exceedingly intelligent, and overflowing with the kind of dreamy imagination that reminded her of her youngest sister. Pressing her lips together, Eileen suppressed the horror that always rose within her when she remembered Beatrice Elspeth Proserpina Prince Yaxley. Of blessed memory might be on Beatrice's tombstone, but Eileen couldn't apply those words to a witch who'd helped her husband murder and dismember their Squib son.
Still, despite the faint resemblance, Eileen trusted her instincts and hired Luna Lovegood on sight, without references. It was only a part-time job, after all, and being a shop assistant wasn't that difficult. She Banished the sun-faded notice that had been in the window for far longer than she'd expected.
"Quintapeds have an instinctive aversion to Puffins," Luna explained as she flicked Dust-Repelling charms at a shelf of carved and decorated cauldrons. She was careful not to disturb the spells that ensured only certain customers would find themselves interested in the cauldrons once owned by Damocles Belby.
"That's all well and good," Eileen said, "but it doesn't explain why the Quintapeds never leave the Isle of Drear."
"Does it not?" Luna considered her employer. Eileen had never struck her as a particularly dense witch, so her inability to understand the metaphor was a surprise. Returning to her dusting, Luna contemplated how else she could convey what she'd learnt over the past couple of months of working at the shop.
In the end, though, Luna's problem was solved for her, not by a spark of understanding, but by a former classmate who came through the door carrying her barely conscious son. In contrast to the torn trousers and shirt that hung off him, Orla Quirke Flint wore fashionable robes in an eye-searing pink and a great deal of expensive jewellery.
Luna was closest, so she took him from Orla's arms. Moaning with pain, he reached for Luna and turned his head away from his mother. At the same time, Eileen flicked her wand, turning the sign to Closed and setting the wards. They followed her to the back room, where Luna laid the boy down on the small settee, Eileen started the kettle for tea, and Orla just stood there.
"Marcus thinks Auri is dead," Orla said by way of explanation. Her hands fluttered, and Luna couldn't help but wonder if that helped to distract the Wrackspurts floating in and out of Orla's ears.
"Sit." Eileen gestured to the table with her wand. "Luna knows where the potions are."
Orla settled in a chair, not the closest one to where she was standing, but the one that put her back to her son. "The other children, they're fine, but Auri... he never did any of the usual things that children do, you know? He stayed in his crib until we came to let him out. He waited for his bottle, instead of Summoning it. No bursts of magic. No unexplained music or toys playing by themselves."
One hand resting on Auri's forehead, Eileen tapped her wand against the inside of Auri's right wrist and clucked her tongue against her teeth.
Unsure whether Eileen was expressing displeasure with Orla or whatever she'd learned from the charm, Luna perched on the edge of the settee, raised Auri's head, and helped him to swallow the general healing, calming, and pain potions she'd retrieved from the bathroom cupboard. They wouldn't cure him, but they'd help until he got to someone who could heal him. His eyes closed, despite his efforts to fight the potions and remain awake. She stroked his dark, coarse hair, murmuring spells to cleanse it of sweat, tears, and blood.
"Marcus, he's so proud, and Auri, Aurelius Marcus Flint, he's our third son." Orla plucked at the embroidery on the sleeve of her robes "I didn't think Marcus would do anything. Not so soon, anyway. Children develop differently, after all."
"Of course, they do." Eileen placed a cup of tea on the table next to Orla -- the best, undamaged china that was reserved for tolerated guests, rather than the chipped mugs that they used every day -- and sat down next to her.
When Auri murmured in his drugged sleep, Orla twitched, but didn't look around. "I'd hoped he was another late-bloomer, like Neville Longbottom. Anything's possible, right?"
"Far, far stranger things," Luna said, wondering how Orla hadn't noticed that Eileen was about ready to spit heliopaths in her direction. Some people hadn't the least sense of self-preservation.
"Why bring him here?" asked Eileen.
"Daphne." Orla gulped her tea. "Greengrass, you know. She said you take in children like Auri. That you don't ask questions or... or judge." She grasped the edge of the table and pushed herself upright. "I have to go. Before Marcus notices. He's a good man. It's just.... his family doesn't hold with Squibs."
Luna busied herself with settling Auri more comfortably, because she didn't want to see Orla leave. She could hear the front door, though, and the jingling noise it always made for the horrendous customers, as if it were glad to see the back of them.
Eileen's steps were heavy and slow when she walked back into the kitchen, and her exhaustion and disappointment were tangible. Somehow, without looking at her, Luna knew Eileen's guard would be down. Instead of asking the questions she knew Eileen was expecting, however, Luna got up, took down their usual mugs, and set the kettle to refilling itself and boiling again.
When she didn't hear Eileen sit down, Luna turned around. Eileen was standing next to the settee, looking down at Auri, her expression contemplative. She raised her head. "You'll be all right with him for a few minutes while I go upstairs and make a fire call?"
"Of course." Luna tilted her head, and her dangling bird earrings chimed. Taking the opportunity to make her earlier metaphor clear, she added, "He's a sweet little puffin."
The only signs of how much that comment surprised Eileen were the brief widening of her eyes and the crooked quirk of her mouth. Luna offered one of her most serene smiles in response and then returned her attention to Auri.
Her fire call made, Eileen could do nothing but wait for Severus to contact Augustus Pye and then for one or both of them to arrive. She levered herself up from the hearth, cursing her arthritic left knee when the movement sent a sharp pain shooting through her leg. It eased after a couple of steps, though, as usual.
Back out on the landing, she cast the charm that opened her grandmother's hope chest and retrieved a set of clothes that should fit her current charge. Then, taking a firm grip of the banister, she made her way downstairs.
Luna was still sitting where she'd left her, the skirts of her ridiculous dress spread around her, crooning to the boy. Eileen had little patience for that kind of nonsense -- she hadn't sung to her own son, why would she sing to someone else's -- and yet she could feel the power behind the words. A clever witch, that Luna was, hiding a Soothing charm inside a lullaby. Exceedingly clever witch, she amended, perhaps too clever, given the words she'd said earlier.
They'd enough trouble already, finding homes for the Squibs who came their way. No matter how likeable Luna might be, they couldn't afford the Ministry getting involved in that business. The children had endured more than enough by the time they came to her shop or Severus's home; Eileen would not allow another child to suffer on her watch if she could help it.
"He's not really sleeping," murmured Luna, when Eileen sat down in the battered chair next to the settee. She carded her fingers through Auri's coarse brown hair, trying to convey to him that he was no longer in danger. "He's floating in that safe place between the worlds, where the monsters can't reach him."
"And you'd know where that is, would you?"
The sharpness in Eileen's voice caught Luna's attention. She suppressed a sigh. She shouldn't be surprised that Eileen didn't trust her, and yet she'd been hopeful. "My mother showed me how to get there," she explained, "after she died."
A series of thumps from the flat above caused Auri to jerk awake, his eyelids flying open to reveal red-streaked brown eyes.
"Hush," Luna said, summoning a smile for him. "It's only someone coming to help you."
Attempting to curl away from her into the corner of the settee, pain whitening his face, Auri whispered, "Who?" and then, "Please?"
Luna glanced at Eileen, who pressed her lips together in that way she had and shook her head.
The sound of someone treading heavily on the way down the stairs drew whimpers out of Auri, so Luna hummed her mother's song. The soothing was in the music and the touch of her hand, not the words. To her relief, Auri began to relax.
Snape gave Luna a short, sharp nod as he swept across the room towards them.
Before Luna could react, Eileen was up and out of her seat, moving the tripod from its hiding place beside the cooker and setting it up within easy reach of the settee. Her quick Succendio kindled a flame below the tripod as Snape hooked his cauldron into place. A swish of his wand and a muttered word released whatever spell he'd cast on the cauldron, and the acrid odour of sopophorous juice filled the room.
"Pye's stuck at Mungo's," Snape said. "Aurors and Healers crawling all over the damn place. Apparently, a bunch of brainless idiots decided that the best way to support the Cannons was to unravel the spells holding up the stands for the opposing team's supporters." He snorted. "And, by virtue of their utter incompetence, demolishing their own stand as well."
"Load of bloody yobs those Quidditch fans," Eileen muttered. "Let's hope the boy doesn't need more than we can manage."
"He'll come if we need him," said Snape. "I'll make sure of it."
Luna started to get up and give her place on the settee to Snape, but Auri clutched at her. "I'll sit on the arm," she reassured him, and he let her move, taking the hand she offered him when she'd resettled herself.
A series of bottles, jars, and phials displaced Luna's mug of cold tea. Snape hadn't quite brought an entire Apothecary with him, but there was one of just about everything Luna had ever seen in the Infirmary store-cupboard at Hogwarts, plus a few containers with red stoppers that she didn't recognise. Snape's hands were deft and gentle as he examined Auri, encouraging the boy to sit up and lean against Luna's legs when it was clear that he wanted her support.
"Did you check his levels?" Snape asked.
"Aye." Eileen took her seat again. "He'll never cast a spell, but there's enough magic in him for potions and salves to work."
Acquisitive as a Niffler when it came to knowledge -- she never knew what she'd need in the future -- Luna slotted that answer into her collection of information about Squibs. Snape still hadn't paid her much attention, but Luna found she liked that he only had eyes for the patient he was treating. She also memorised the wand movements and words that went with the diagnostic charms he was casting.
He undressed Auri with an efficient charm, leaving him in nothing but his underpants. The trousers and shirt went to Eileen who sniffed at them in disgust while she checked the pockets. A few scraps of parchment, a Self-Inking quill that was leaking purple ink, and a large stack of chocolate frog cards held together with a Muggle elastic band went onto the table before she Banished the clothes.
For the first time, Snape looked up at Luna. "Broken ribs and a fractured tibia. You'll need to hold him steady."
Luna kicked off her shoes and turned around, bracing her stocking feet on either side of Auri. He reached up, and she grasped both of his forearms. To her dismay, he didn't make any noise when the Bone-Setting spell moved his ribs back into place. Marcus Flint would pay for this, she thought, and then smiled when Snape voiced her thoughts in an undertone too soft for Auri to hear him.
After Snape had fed Auri a series of potions and smeared salves on his cuts, bruises, and scrapes, Luna took Auri's head and shoulders, and Snape held his feet, and between them they helped Auri lay back down. Not wanting to stay on the arm where he would have to strain to see her, Luna knelt on the rug beside the settee.
"Three times and then once," Snape said to Eileen, who got up and went over to the sink. Retrieving a teacup from the draining board and a stirring rod from a jar on the counter, she went over to the cauldron. She stirred the contents thrice widdershins and once clockwise then dipped a measure out with the teacup.
"Drink this," she said, handing the cup to Auri.
Cradling it in trembling hands, Auri brought it to his face and then pushed it away. "Ewww. That's worse than Mama's potions."
"And yet you'll drink it." Snape guided the cup back to Auri's mouth.
A calculating expression crossed Auri's face; his tongue poked out and pressed into the dip of his upper lip. "What do I get? Mama always gives me chocolate frogs."
While Snape negotiated, his approval of Auri's methods as clear as Eileen's disapproval, Luna glanced at the stack of cards on the table and cursed Orla. Hope was all well and good, but her son had paid dearly for it.
"He can't stay here," Eileen told Severus. "You know this is the first place that bastard'll come looking if he has even a fraction of a clue that boy's alive."
"Arabella's on holiday until the end of the month, visiting her sister on the Isle of Wight." Severus tucked a hank of hair behind his ear and continued filling phials with Sleeping Draught from the cauldron. "I cannot be responsible for watching after a boy when I'm brewing."
"The Porterfield girl went to that Muggle couple in Brighton last week. You'd only have Auri."
"I said no, Mother."
"I'll take him." Luna stood in front of them, determined and implacable, despite the wand sticking out of her hair and the hummingbirds fluttering around the hem of her dress. "As long as Snape's willing to come and check on Auri."
It was an utterly ridiculous idea, and yet... Eileen looked from the girl to Severus and back again. They had the same innate sadness, the same scars from battles they'd been too damn young to fight. And Eileen owed her son for too many years of pain and suffering that she'd barely been able to ameliorate, never mind prevent. She nodded her agreement. "I'll send Augustus, Healer Pye, as well, when he's available."
"I won't miss any shifts," Luna insisted. "It wouldn't do to allow the Wrackspurts to get a foothold in the shop, would it?" Before Eileen could say anything, she spun around and returned to her seat on the floor next to Auri.
Severus released his breath in an explosive snort that made Auri flinch in his sleep and Luna turn around to glare at him and put her finger to her mouth.
"I'll get you for this," he muttered, giving Eileen a venomous look, although he placed the ladle into the sink with more care than usual.
"I know." Eileen patted his arm. "Just remember that I need her in one piece. Shop assistants are surprisingly difficult to find."
"Ottery St Catchpole, if I recall correctly?" Snape hitched Auri a little further up in his arms.
Shaking her head, Luna reached out to tuck in the cloak they'd wrapped around Auri. It was black and thick, and the sharp scent of innumerable potions ingredients caught at her nose and throat like a memory of Hogwarts. "Not any longer," she said, hiding the ache that still caused under her dreamiest tone. "Just a few streets over, quicker as the owl flies."
They walked through the streets in silence. The few people they passed, mostly Muggles, offered nods, smiles, or brief words of greeting, clearly under the impression that they were a family heading home after a long day out; neither of them rectified that misapprehension.
Snape had a good stride, Luna thought, steady and even, neither so long nor so fast that she couldn't keep up. His frock coat and trousers suited him better than the robes he'd worn at school, although he probably missed the billowing cloth and the air sprites that had played around his ankles as he walked.
The fairies in the globe over her doorway brightened their lights and danced in greeting when they turned into her garden, letting her know that all was safe in the house. Still, she licked her finger and raised it up into the air to check her wards as she walked through the door. It always paid to be careful.
"We should put him down on the sofa," she said, "so he doesn't find himself in a strange place when he wakes up."
"Not strange?" Snape's voice sounded a little strangled.
Luna glanced around her sitting room, but didn't notice anything out of place. Those few of her father's creatures that she'd been able to rescue from the rubble of their home hung from the ceiling; their flapping wings and snapping jaws disturbing the flow of magic, as designed. The Wrackspurt siphons were hard at work on top of a bookcase, dissipating the sources of distraction. Her mother's photograph watched over everything and everyone from the mantelpiece.
"If you fell asleep on a sofa, wouldn't you be confused if you woke up in a bed? Children need to know that they can depend on things remaining the same."
Giving her one of those looks, the kind she'd received over and over again at school from the same people who'd thought it was funny to steal her things and hide them, he said, "Of course, they do."
Unbearably disappointed, she snapped, "Don't patronise me," and went to take Auri from him. "You can leave now. We'll be just fine."
"Why, you ungrateful--"
"Don't you dare." Luna put her hands on her hips. "You'll wake him up."
She thought he'd argue with her or insult her further, but he merely clenched his jaw and placed Auri with unexpected care on the sofa. He straightened up and began emptying phials and jars from his pocket onto the coffee table. "He'll require all of these. The instructions are on the labels. If you have any questions--"
"I believe I know how to administer potions and apply salves. A few months working in the Hogwarts Infirmary will do that for a person, as you may recall."
"There are some things that one cannot forget."
"Exactly," Luna agreed. She looked down at Auri, who was still wrapped in black cloth. "Do you want your cloak?"
"I'll retrieve it after lunch tomorrow when I return with Augustus to ensure that the boy doesn't need further treatment." He hesitated before pulling a piece of parchment and quill from his pocket. Scribbling something down, he placed the parchment on the table and stowed the quill away. "Fire calls only. I don't accept visitors by Floo, but call me if the boy has any difficulties during the night."
Then he spun around and went out the door. The crack of Disapparation announced his departure.
Luna sighed and went over to the table. She sorted the phials and jars in the order in which they were to be given to Auri, but didn't read his note. There would be time enough if things deteriorated to a point where she couldn't take care of Auri herself. Still, there was no need to be unreasonable, she thought, picking up the note. She placed the parchment beneath her mother's photograph and added Severus Snape to the very short list of those who could enter her house without her express permission.
Drinking her tea the next morning, Eileen yawned and considered keeping the shop closed. But there would be defeat in that, and she would never again admit defeat. Nothing good ever came of it.
She was sitting on the stool behind the counter, contemplating whether half-ten was too early to close for lunch, when the wards notified her that Mundungus Fletcher had slithered in. Her stomach churning in anticipation, she put aside all thoughts of food. Then she cast an Air Freshening charm and waited.
Despite her precautions, his stench reached her before he did. Cheap tobacco, bad firewhisky, and sweat. Worse than Tobias in the days after the mill closed and before he and his beloved car had ended up in a ditch.
"Smoke that pipe in here, and you'll be out on your arse faster than you can draw in the next puff," she warned when he began to fumble in his pockets.
"Right. Right," he muttered. "Don't get your knickers in a twist."
Changing the subject before she kicked him out of there, and then had to explain to the Aurors why, she asked, "What do you have for me today?"
"Always straight to business, you are. I like that in a woman." Fletcher began pulling items out of the many pockets inside his tattered overcoat and dropping them on the counter. "Good stuff today. Fallen right off the back of a delivery broom, the lot of it."
Eileen hummed as she used her wand to separate the worthless junk from the silver cups, jewellery, and other pieces that needed to be returned to their owners. She'd call the Aurors after he left, as usual.
"This 'ere's for you," he said, his sudden caginess drawing her attention away from a set of matched emerald cufflinks to an Erumpent carved from Whomping Willow wood cupped in his grubby hands. "Lady said you'd know 'oo needed it and gimme a good price fer it."
"One o'them pureblood bints. All hoity-toity like. Said you had something of hers and this 'ere belonged with it."
Suspicion and protectiveness roused in Eileen at the thought that someone had found another way to her shop and the children. She narrowed her eyes and put on her most threatening expression -- the one she'd borrowed from Severus. "And how did she know you'd bring it here?"
After an awkward shuffle and a shifty look that dissipated under her stare, he admitted, "Her mum were a friend of my Emilene's, all right? No 'arm meant. Jus' the chance t'return a favour."
Eileen pointed at the counter, and he placed the toy down carefully. A Wingardium Leviosa floated it beyond his reach. She had no doubt that it belonged to the boy and could only wonder if the mother knew or cared how much pain it might cause him. Still, she wouldn't keep it from him.
Putting those thoughts aside, she began negotiating with Fletcher. There was profit to be made in the difference between what she gave him and how much the Aurors paid her, and she had bills to pay and children to help.
"I don't wanna." Auri crossed his arms over his chest and glared at Luna. "You're mean. Mama wouldn't make me."
Two potions down, one potion and the salve left to go. Luna sighed. Served her right for giving him the pain potion first. "Not even for chocolate frogs?"
"You promised frogs for the other ones."
"So I did."
"I want Rumpy. Mama always lets me have Rumpy when Father's having a bad day."
"Your father was having a very bad day," Luna said, reaching out to touch him, then pulling her hand back when he flinched. "Rumpy's a very good Erumpent, though, with a very good sniffer, but even he can't find his way to you if you don't smell like you."
Auri gave her a suspicious frown. "How can I not smell like me?"
"There's no such thing an Umgumbi... Umbi... one of those."
A wave of sadness went through Luna. A boy his age should be full of wonder and believe in the impossible. She dredged up a smile for him, the kind she'd used far too often at Hogwarts when faced with ridicule, and said, "Next thing I know you'll be telling me magic doesn't exist."
"Everyone believes in magic."
"Then Muggles're silly." Auri giggled and then clutched at his ribs. "Ow."
"They are," Luna agreed, gravely, "and so are you for not taking the potions you need to get better."
"And Rumpy'll find me? You promise?"
Luna pulled her wand out of her hair, held it between her hands, and nodded. "Magic promise."
Placing his smaller hands on top of hers, he repeated, "Magic promise."
No power flared in response to his words, as it had when her mother had made the same promise with her. She couldn't help speculating whether it was possible to make that happen for him, to help him feel as special as she had. Not knowing what else to do, she sat cross-legged at the end of his bed and began to tell him one of the stories that her mother had told her when she was feeling poorly.
She'd just reached the point where the young witch Drusilla encountered the heliopaths for the first time when Auri moaned and seized his stomach.
"Auri? You going to be sick?"
"Tummy hurts." He curled up on his side, arms wrapped protectively around himself.
A diagnostic charm displayed a flashing red Pygmy Puff indicator that she didn't know how to interpret. She dispelled the results of her charm and tried to decide what to do. She couldn't Apparate him to St Mungo's; there were monsters in that hospital, and he was too young to fight them.
"Don't move," she said, and then berated herself silently all the way to the Floo because it was clear that he couldn't go anywhere. Blinking furiously, she retrieved Snape's note and reached into her dirigible plum-shaped jar of Floo powder. Flinging a pinch of the sparkling powder on the fire, she called out, "Prince's Dower".
In the minute or two it took Snape to answer, the noises from Auri's bedroom changed from occasional moans to the unmistakable sounds of retching and puking. When Snape finally appeared, she yelled, "Get here. Now. Auri's sick," and pulled her head out of the fire. Then she unwarded her Floo and ran into the bedroom.
As she moved, the analytical part of her brain took over. The part of her that was responsible for her receiving a ridiculously large number of Outstandings on her NEWTs and that made it possible for her to spend days and days after the final battle helping people get their deceased relatives ready for burial.
No Cleansing charms or Disinfecting spells, she reminded herself. Snape will want to see what he's been puking. Nothing else, either, because she didn't know what was wrong -- and, Morgana, how she hated not knowing. So, she held Auri and stroked his hair, let him cry on her and puke on her, and promised him that Severus Snape would make it all better because that's what he did.
A minor eternity later, she was considering appropriate hexes and curses to use on Snape when she heard a bang.
"In here." Luna swished her wand to send a sparkling blue rope of light from the bedroom to Snape. To her surprise, another man hurried in behind him.
Snape nodded and gestured at her to back away from Auri, which she did with great reluctance. Neither man spoke to her. From the few words they exchanged, Luna gathered that the stranger was Healer Pye. Nothing else they said made sense to her. They cast spells and fed Auri potions and spoke in terse sentences and medical jargon that only served to make her even more determined to have Snape explain it when they were done.
In the meantime, she stayed out of their way and focussed on the things that she could do. She reinforced her wards and rearranged the creatures hanging from the sitting room ceiling to ensure that the Healer's presence allowed neither the dreaded lurgies nor any other medical monsters to get to Auri.
After Fletcher left, Princely Things had a busy couple of hours. An ornate but non-magical crystal wand left with a teenage girl who'd seemed convinced that she'd got a great bargain. A much plainer but magical staff went to a middle-aged wizard with a bad attitude. And a number of unremarkable odds and ends went to equally nondescript customers.
Eventually, though, she was able to close for lunch. She was going to get her sandwich from the fridge when the Erumpent's horn exploded in a shower of purple and blue bubbles that popped in flashes of light when they landed.
She swung around, wand in hand, just in time to see the horn reassemble itself. A few taps of her wand revealed nothing amiss with the shop or the toy, so she started towards the back room again. And the horn exploded again.
Not a coincidence, of that she was sure. Perhaps the mother had charmed the toy to warn her if something was wrong with the child. Saying a mental goodbye to her lunch, Eileen picked up the Erumpent and went to fire call Luna.
No one answered. A quick check revealed that Luna's Floo was open to anyone who knew her Floo address. Hiding her concern beneath her most ferocious scowl, she activated the shop wards, reached for some Floo powder, and stepped onto the hearth.
The sitting room was empty. A side table had been knocked over. The twisted candelabra, sheets of parchment, quill, inkpot, and books that had once been piled on it were spread across the floor. The only sign of anything resembling life came from the creatures that clacked and moved incessantly above her head.
Eileen was debating whether to go for help or to look for Luna, when a movement to her left caught her attention. A woman who resembled Luna was waving at her from a large framed photograph on the mantel. When she had Eileen's attention, she pointed at an archway.
Keeping her wand at the ready and using all the stealth skills she'd been forced to learn during her marriage to Tobias Snape, Eileen padded down the hall towards the open door near the end,. As she got closer, she recognised Severus and Luna's voices.
"If a Pygmy Puff denotes internal bleeding, what would I see--"
"It's not a damn Pygmy Puff. How many times do I have to tell you?"
"What would you call it?"
"A sign that the patient has internal injuries, colour coded to indicate how life-threatening--"
"A sign shaped like a Pygmy Puff."
The subsequent pause tempted Eileen to walk in and interrupt them, but then Severus blew out a breath and said, "It is rather puff-like."
Shocked that her son agreed so easily, so unexpectedly, Eileen stumbled mid-step and caught herself on the doorframe, hitting the wood with a thunk that seemed to reverberate around the enclosed space. There was silence and then the hiss of a wand slipping from a holster.
Before they could attack, she stowed her own wand and walked into the room empty-handed. "Severus. Luna." She nodded at each of them. Severus was in classic defensive stance, positioned between the bed and the door, wrapped in the protection of his black robes, wand pointed at her, and glower firmly fixed on his face. Luna, in contrast, wore pale blue trousers and tunic and had bare feet. Her wand was tucked behind her ear, and she was running a hand over Auri's forehead.
Auri had slept through it all. Something that wasn't even remotely typical for a boy his age.
The worry that had lodged somewhere inside Eileen blossomed. Ignoring Severus, she went over to the bed and stood next to Luna. She examined Auri, noting the unnatural position of his body and the pallor of his face against the riotous colours of his sheets and pyjamas, and asked, "Healing sleep?"
With one of those smiles that made her look like a dimwit, Luna brushed her hands through Auri's hair. "He'll wake up when the dreaded lurgies stop trying to get past the wards."
Severus snorted and rolled his eyes. "Or when Augustus's spell wears off."
"As you wish," Luna said agreeably.
"What I wish," Eileen allowed a hint of asperity into her voice, "is to find out what happened here and why Mundungus Fletcher brought this--" she pulled the Erumpent out of her pocket "--to my shop this morning and implied that it belonged to the boy."
"Rumpy!" Luna held out her hands.
Bemused, Eileen handed the toy over.
Luna tapped a finger on the tip of the horn and slipped the wooden Erumpent under the covers. "He's been waiting for you."
"Something else to keep the lurgies away?" sneered Severus.
"A friend to keep him company while the potions and spells help him get better," Luna corrected. She shook her head. "And I thought you were the sensible one."
Severus looked as if he'd swallowed one of Luna's Gulping Plimpies.
Biting back a smile that she knew her son wouldn't appreciate, Eileen gestured in the direction of the door. "Perhaps we should take this into the sitting room, where we can talk without waking him."
The answers, when they finally came -- complete with buttery biscuits and a cup of the herbal muck Luna called tea -- had Eileen cursing Marcus Flint. "If that man didn't have other children..."
"I've already made a fire call," Severus said. "The serpents will bring their nest up to code."
Satisfied, Eileen helped herself to another biscuit.
Luna felt a rush of gratitude at the predictability of Slytherins. They monitored the cobweb lines of their own private code with the same ferocity that Ravenclaws reserved for seeking knowledge. They would serve Auri well. She bent her head and closed her eyes. Bloody Wrackspurts were always popping in where they weren't wanted.
"He'll be fine."
Blinking, Luna parsed Eileen's odd comment. "Of course, he will. Snape would not permit any other outcome." She indicated the pot of hawthorn and raspberry tea. "Another cup?"
"I think not." Eileen placed her mug down. "It's past time I opened the shop back up. People will have been wondering where I'm at in the middle of the day. Severus?"
"I think not." He sent his own mug skimming over to the tray and stood up. "It would be wise for someone with the appropriate knowledge to stay and watch over the boy."
"You may stay." Luna injected as much graciousness into the invitation as she could manage, which was undoubtedly not enough.
"Why thank you," Snape said, his tone as dry as pixie dust.
To drive her point home, Luna replied with, "You're very welcome." Getting to her feet, she ignored him as she ensured Eileen got safely away on the Floo and followed the dirty dishes to the kitchen, where she started them cleaning themselves.
He was no longer in the sitting room when she walked through. He'd settled on the edge of Auri's bed and was running a set of scans. Brushing her fingertips along the feathery vine that surrounded the doorway, she triggered one of her built-in security systems. Shadowy wings wrapped around her, hiding her from human eyes, cloaking her scent, and muffling any sound she might make.
She stepped inside the room. He'd changed so little since he'd been her teacher and then her headmaster. Care and pain had carved deep lines into his face, bringing his eyes, nose, and mouth into stark relief. He was thin and severe, but his upright posture implied a strength that could be depended upon rather than an implacable rigidity.
His hands danced, weaving magic in the air and over Auri's face and torso as he cast spells and checked their results. His movements were graceful and gentle. He cared for this child who was, for all intents and purposes, a stranger. The realisation wasn't as much of a surprise as she'd thought it should have been. Despite his rudeness and impatience, Snape had defended the students of Hogwarts as best he could during that last year; his quiet, determined ferocity had belied his overt actions.
If he would only do something to prevent the Nargles from infesting his hair, she thought, people might not find him so off-putting.
Auri sighed. Realising he was waking up, Luna discarded her protective covering and went to stand next to Snape.
Arching an eyebrow at her, Snape said, "Interesting safeguards."
"You never know what will try to crawl in through the skirting boards." Luna tilted her head and considered him. "As I'm sure you're well aware."
"Kill one and another will attempt to take its place."
"And we are left to take care of what we can."
A tug on her hand drew Luna's attention down to Auri, who was smiling up at her and cuddling the Erumpent to him. "You saved Rumpy."
"Rumpy saved himself," Severus interjected.
"He's a very smart Erumpent." Luna ruffled Auri's hair. "He made sure people knew you were sick."
"Mama did that," Auri said, his expression turning solemn. "I couldn't do it myself. Not like Antony and Claude. That's why Papa--" He looked down at Rumpy and sniffed.
Words seized in Luna's throat as she felt the dreaded lurgies push against her wards and try to get to Auri. She murmured the charms that her mother had taught her.
"Your father is a dimwitted imbecile who has never been able to rub two brain cells together." Snape's upper lip curled in a way that made a shiver go through Luna. "Only a dunderhead would pay the least bit of attention to any words that spew out of his mouth, and you do not strike me as a dunderhead."
Auri looked up, doubt and hope warring in his eyes. "You knew my father?"
"I had the dubious honour of being both his teacher and his Head of House at Hogwarts. I am only grateful that I am no longer associated with that institution and won't be required to endure your siblings."
"Oh." Auri dropped his gaze again and went back to fiddling with Rumpy.
There's a compliment in there somewhere, Luna thought, one good enough to drive the lurgies away. She watched Snape examine Auri, his brow furrowed as he carefully palpated Auri's stomach, making sure the bleeding had stopped and he wasn't in any pain. He cast a spell that bathed Auri's torso in a coruscating rainbow of light and then fed him three potions that had Auri making faces, sticking out his tongue in disgust, and demanding chocolate frogs.
When it was all over, Snape settled Auri back against his pillows and pronounced, "Much better."
The extent of her relief told Luna just how worried she'd been. She'd barely known Auri for any time at all, and yet she knew that she would have lost the last part of her family with him. And she wasn't sure whether she could bear that, not after watching her father die in the middle of his trial.
To ease her discomfort at that realisation, she said, "I think it's time for lunch. Can Auri manage some soup, do you think," she took a deep breath and added, "Severus?"
"Clear broth, Luna." One corner of his mouth curved upwards. "No strange herbs or bits of odd creatures in it. And definitely no chocolate frogs. No matter how good you think any of it would be for him."
"Moon frog soup it is," said Luna, sharing a conspiratorial smile with Auri. "Omit the shrivelfigs, mandrake noses, and bowtruckle fingernails." She was hard pressed not to skip out of the room when Auri's giggle was joined by a deeper chuckle that curled her toes.
Luna had a pan of her own vegetable broth warming on the hob and was slicing a loaf of bread when Severus stepped into the kitchen.
"The boy -- Aurelius -- is asleep," he said, pulling out a chair and sitting down at the tiny table.
"Auri. He doesn't like to be called Aurelius."
"I can't imagine why not."
"Parents name their children with the best of their own hopes." Luna sent the bread and a crock of butter floating over to the table and began to ladle out bowls of soup. "Those hopes don't always survive the children's reality."
For a fraction of a second, Severus looked startled before his face returned to its customary half-frown. "I can't imagine hoping for anything more than not raising a dunderheaded hooligan."
"Happiness. Imagination. Wonder." She put a bowl of soup in front of him and took the other chair. "Perhaps a map to the hidden habitat of the Crumple-Horned Snorkack."
"Now there's a hope for the future."
"Must you always mock what you don't understand?"
"When it's utter tripe, absolutely." Severus tested his soup. "More salt?"
"It's bad for your blood pressure," Luna said, and handed him a pepper grinder.
Severus stretched out his arm and twisted his wrist. His wand dropped out of its holster into his hand. "Salis."
But Luna was ready for him, casting Finite and Banishing the salt crystals before they landed on his soup.
"Do you mind?" He raised his wand, ready to conjure more salt.
"Interfering busybody." Severus scowled, but he placed his wand on the table and ground pepper into his soup rather than hexing her or getting up and storming out.
They ate quietly. Luna tucked her left foot under her and swung her right leg as she considered and discarded several possible subjects for conversation. Potions seemed too predictable. Anything related to Hogwarts was infested with hinkypunks. Squibs and family and... and... and...
She wasn't sure, and she wanted to know so much about Severus. He was a study in attraction and repulsion, contrasts that merged with deceptive simplicity. He handled his cutlery with fastidious, delicate movements but slurped his soup. His hands were long, elegant, and deeply stained. He'd protected and attacked people on both sides of the war. She could spend a lifetime learning him and never be bored. And that was yet another entry in his catalogue of impossibilities.
Eventually, no matter how slowly she ate, her soup was gone. She idly traced the splotch in the bottom of her bowl with her spoon until the rattle of his spoon drew her gaze back up.
"The soup was excellent," he said. A quirk of his lips revealed how much of a surprise that had been. "The curry leaves were a unique addition."
"Yes," she breathed, and silently celebrated the idea that this man cooked. "Neville gave me a Muggle book last Yule. It held the strangest recipes. All of them for vegetables. "
"Do you not eat meat?"
"Only that which won't resent me for it."
Instead of teasing her or insulting her, he said, "A reasonably wise attitude."
Then they talked about cooking, and potions, and families, and... and... and...
And they moved their chairs closer and closer, and compared notes over book after book, until they were both yawning and Luna said, her heart beating rapidly, "You could sleep in the sitting room. The sofa transfigures into a lovely bed."
Severus contemplated her and arched an eyebrow. "Only in the event Auri requires assistance, of course."
"Of course," Luna agreed, bestowing her very best smile on him.
After she transfigured the sofa and made up the bed, after they'd checked on Auri one last time, and after she brought him a glass of water to keep by his bed, there was nothing left to do. She felt awkward, as if her body was too small -- or perhaps too big -- for her soul and thought he might feel that way as well.
So, before going to her bedroom, she caught one of his wonderful hands between both of her too-small hands and said, "Don't let the bed-doxies bite."
"Back again, are you?" Eileen looked up as Severus emerged from her Floo. "What is it this time?"
"I hardly think it's any of your business."
"You're using my Floo," she pointed out.
"Can't a man visit his aging--"
"I'd watch that mouth if I were you. The old adage about honey and vinegar is as true for mothers as it is for annoying insects."
Severus pursed his lips -- which did nothing good for his appearance, but she was hardly going to tell him that -- however, for once in his life, he had enough sense not to respond. Instead, with fastidious flicks of his wand, he Banished the soot from his clothes and shook the crease of his trousers into place over his highly polished boots.
By way of a peace offering, Eileen fixed him a mug of tea. Milky and sweet, just the way he liked it.
"Shop's not open?" he asked, getting a plate and knife from the draining board and helping himself to a few slices of toast from the stack in front of her.
"Not for another hour."
"Good." He spread butter and then marmalade thickly on a piece of toast.
Eileen watched him, her curiosity piqued by the fact that he'd tied his hair back with Grandmother Prince's silver clasp and was wearing new clothes. Sipping her own black, bitter brew, she decided it was time he told her what was going on. She was his mother, after all, and he'd been dancing around Luna for long enough. "Why?"
Shifting in his chair, clearly disconcerted, he tore his toast into smaller and smaller fragments -- heedless of the butter and marmalade he was smearing on his fingers and the crumbs he was scattering over the table.
"I'm not a nice man," he said, dropping his bits of toast and cleaning his hands with a look of disgust. "I have a vicious temper and a miniscule store of patience. I'm judgmental, and I hold grudges far beyond the grave."
Annoyance twitched in the corner of his left eye.
"I've not lied to you before. Why would you expect me to start now?" When he didn't respond, she continued with, "You're not your father, you've never been your father, and you're not about to start."
"The way I treated Potter and the other children--"
"Rubbish. You didn't injure a single one of those children, no matter how provoked. On the contrary, you risked life, limb, and reputation to protect them. Especially that ungrateful sod, Harry Potter."
Predictably, he defended Potter. "I hardly call him ungrateful after he saved my life, arranged a pardon for killing Dumbledore, and ensured I could collect a headmaster's pension from Hogwarts."
"None of which would have happened if he or Minister Shacklebolt believed you were a danger."
He raised his head, and her heart ached at the insecurity behind his scowl. "You can't know--"
"I know you, and I knew your father. You're nothing like him." She clasped his hands. "And, believe you me, I won't permit you to become another Tobias Snape."
"I'll hold you to that." He gave her hands a gentle squeeze and stood up.
"Good." Eileen started collecting the dishes. "Aren't you expected somewhere? Auri isn't exactly a fount of patience, now that he's feeling better."
"Will you take him tonight?"
"Aye. Have him ready by five. I'll Apparate over for him as soon as she leaves."
If she allowed herself to think about it, Luna was amazed at how easily she'd become accustomed to there being someone in the house when she came home from work. Auri was still there, because it had never felt right to send him away, even after Arabella Figg returned from holiday.
Most days, Arabella knitted cat cardigans while watching over Auri. But at least once a week, she'd find Severus in her kitchen. Her table would be covered in parchment, quills, ink, and books, and Auri would be sitting next to him, drawing pictures on scraps of parchment. On those days, she made dinner for three and spent a few hours talking with Severus.
One Saturday afternoon, about a month after Auri came to stay with her, she found Severus in her kitchen, but Auri was nowhere to be seen. At her frown of confusion, Severus placed his quill in his inkpot and said, "He's with my mother."
The oddness of that stopped Luna in her tracks, given that she'd just left there. "I see," was all she could think to say, although she didn't understand at all.
Severus scowled fiercely. "We need to talk."
Disappointment made Luna speak more sharply than she'd intended. "He's not ready to go. Even puffins remain in the nest until they're ready."
"I'll just go bring him home, then."
"Could you speak English?"
Ignoring him, Luna prepared to Apparate. There was no point in talking if he wasn't listening.
Severus reached out and laid a hand on her arm, startling her into lowering her wand.
"We need to talk about us, not Auri," he said, then added. "Mother's babysitting."
A hope rose in Luna, one that she'd pushed down harder than a yeti squashed iceflies, while she waited for him to explain.
The pots hanging from the ceiling rattled, and he turned away without speaking.
"Chizpurfles," she said. When he didn't move, she added, "No one knows why they're attracted to magic, but the Chizpurfles don't care. They just like how it makes them feel."
He spun around and stared at her. Then the vertical line between his eyebrows smoothed out, one corner of his mouth curved up, and he said gravely, "I expect we could do worse than to follow their example."
The idea that he understood her, that he hadn't mocked her or humoured her, but instead comprehended the layers of meaning and metaphor without needing additional explanation, made her eyes sting. "And if I were a Chizpurle?"
"But you're not." Stepping closer, he slid a hand under her hair and curled it around the back of her neck. "You'd make a terrible potion ingredient."
"Indeed," she breathed.
He bent his head, and she raised herself on her tiptoes, slipping her arms around his waist, and they kissed. His lips were thin and dry and as tentative as hers, but the kiss sent a frisson of arousal through her.
When Severus pulled back, clearly about to ask her something ridiculous, like whether she objected, she drew his head back down.
The soft press of his lips on hers deepened when she opened her mouth, using her tongue to encourage his. He wrapped an arm around her and drew her closer. His body was hard against hers, and she understood why her mother had said the butterflies would let her know when she'd met the right man.
Two days later, Eileen watched as Luna persuaded a very pregnant young witch that an antique table would make a perfect addition to her baby's room. She'd long ago given up on the idea that Severus would give her grandchildren, assuming that the lack of female companionship in his life indicated his proclivities. She was not upset to be proven wrong.
"Place your baby here at least once a day." Luna indicated a spot directly above the Felix Felicis stain in the hidden drawer. "And everything will be fine."
"You're sure?" The woman caressed her belly.
"Positive." Luna's smile didn't fade until after the woman left.
"It wouldn't have made a difference for Auri," Eileen said. "Felix Felicis is temporary luck."
Luna paused, long enough that Eileen almost succumbed to an annoying urge to hug her, but finally said, "He needs permanent luck," which hadn't quite been what Eileen had meant.
Luna released Auri as soon as she felt stable. He immediately dropped to his knees and held out his hand to a cat and kneazle, who were hissing and peeking out from behind a pair of oversized plant pots.
The Portkey had landed them in the middle of a terrace behind a cottage with a thatched roof. The garden was neat and tidy, filling the air with the mixed scents of herbs and flowers. Fairies buzzed around a bed of Puffapods, chittering loudly every time they knocked a pod to the ground and released its flowers. Beyond the fence, fields stretched along the valley and up the hillsides, some of them filled with cows.
After handing Severus the old funnel that had served for a Portkey, Luna hitched her bag higher on her shoulder and asked, "Where are we?"
A spot of colour appeared high on each of his cheeks as he shrunk the funnel and stowed it away. "Some friends insisted that we spend an afternoon here."
"Not without a lot of prompting," Pomona Sprout said, from where she was standing in front of the open back door. She beckoned, flapping the towel that she'd been using to dry her hands. "Don't just stand there. Come in. Come in."
"Who's that?" Auri whispered, tucking his hand into one of Luna's.
"One of my old teachers," Luna whispered back.
"Pomona doesn't bite," Severus said. "Although I make no promises for some of her plants."
Auri giggled and snapped at Severus with his teeth.
Inside, where dishes were flying over to set the table and spoons were stirring pots on the cooker, Auri wrapped his arms around her waist and clung tightly. She squeezed his shoulder and dropped a kiss on the top of his head.
"Welcome to our home." Minerva McGonagall's tartan apron with its border of roses made Luna blink even as she shook her hand.
"Thank you, Headmistress," Luna said.
"Oh, please, call me Minerva."
"And I'm Pomona."
"Oh." The noise squeaked out of Luna as Filius Flitwick hugged her, and because he hadn't let go of her, Auri. She bent down and hugged him back. She'd missed this man who had helped to make her school life bearable.
"You're littler than me," said Auri, wonder lacing his voice.
"I am indeed."
"Brilliant." Auri loosened his hold on Luna and grinned at Filius. "My Erumpent's called Rumpy. What are your kitties' names?"
"You'll have to ask Pomona and Minerva. I'm merely a guest here." Filius shook Auri's hand. "I'm Filius Flitwick. I used to be Luna's Head of House."
"Auri... erm--" he glanced up at Luna "--just Auri, okay?"
"That's a wonderful name." Pomona beamed at him. "As for our pets, the cat is named Godric, and the kneazle is Helga."
"Predictable." Severus snorted.
Luna responded, "A certain amount of predictability can make a person dependable."
"If you insist," said Severus.
"I always found Luna to be uncommonly smart." Pomona handed Severus a glass of Firewhisky and then asked, "What would you and your son like to drink, my dear?"
Son. The word struck Luna like a well-cast Silencio. She looked from Pomona's faltering smile to Auri's hopeful expression to Severus's expectantly arched eyebrow and back to Auri. Unable to think of anything to say, she held out her arms to Auri and, when he was safely in her embrace, she cleared her throat. "My... my son and I will have cherry syrup with soda."
"And an umbrella." Filius conjured two colourful paper umbrellas and presented them to Auri with an elaborate flourish.
His action and Auri's laughing thanks broke the tension. Luna was guided to a settee by Severus and drawn down to sit next to him. Succumbing to the urge to make their relationship clear, she manoeuvred until his arm was lying on her shoulders and she was curled into his side. Auri crouched at their feet, twirling his umbrellas and teasing Godric and Helga with them.
The rest of the night was filled with conversations about a wide range of subjects that occasionally came close to outright arguments, especially when Minerva and Severus talked Quidditch, but always retained an underlying edge of affection. Even Auri, who usually flinched at raised voices, seemed comfortable.
Long after the sherry trifle and strawberry rhubarb tarts had been reduced to crumbs, Auri crawled onto the settee and into Luna's lap. He yawned, belatedly bringing his hand up to cover his mouth.
"It's long past your bedtime," Severus said with one of those tentative touches to Auri's face that made Luna's heart ache.
"Severus is right." She gave an apologetic glance to Pomona and Minerva who were ensconced on the opposite settee. Minerva sat as upright as Severus, her rigid posture softened by the way Pomona had stretched out with her feet under Minerva's thigh.
"Thank you for coming." Minerva rose to her feet. "Perhaps you'd like to return in a few weeks, when my grand-niece visits? She's about a year older than Auri, and I'm sure they'd get along."
A magical child, Luna was sure. She stroked Auri's hair and contemplated how to respond.
"My nephew Patrick, her favourite uncle, is..." Minerva hesitated before continuing with, "like Auri. There would be no misunderstandings."
Standing up, Severus said, "We'll ask Auri tomorrow, when he's awake."
Minerva's agreement set off a flurry of goodbyes. Luna gained a shrunken tin of biscuits and tarts and an unexpected warmth in her heart at being welcomed and treated as a family by Severus's friends.
After they'd all said goodbye, Severus took Auri out of Luna's arms. Auri looped his hands around Severus's neck and settled his head on Severus's shoulder without waking up. They walked out to the edge of the terrace, where the trellises of moon lily vines were filled with white trumpet-shaped flowers.
"I had planned to Portkey us home," Severus said, "as it's easier on a Squib, but with Auri asleep... Apparating might be better."
"Straight to Auri's bedroom?" Luna brushed a kiss over his cheek and snuggled into his side. Then she closed her eyes and trusted him to take care of them both.
Eileen grimaced as she sent the latest bubbleheaded job applicant scurrying out of her shop. If that was an example of the witches Hogwarts was churning out, she had half a mind to Floo over to Minerva's office and suggest a few improvements.
"No wonder you haven't hired anyone yet," Luna said. "You look like you've been stung by a veritable swarm of Grimbumbles."
"Glumbumble," Eileen automatically corrected her.
"Definitely Grimbumbles." Luna cocked her head to one side. "A Glumbumble sting makes you sad, not angry."
Eileen fought the urge to smile. "I don't suppose you've changed your mind about moving in with Severus and come to take your job back?"
"Have the Wrackspurts returned already?" Twirling around, her skirt flaring out, Luna waved her wand in a complicated dance. She gave Eileen a satisfied nod. "That's taken care of them."
"Why are you here?"
"Her name's Lavender."
"Whose name is Lavender?"
"Your new shop assistant, of course." Luna came behind the counter and gave Eileen a hug. "You'll like her, I promise."
But I like you. Eileen watched Luna float out of the shop. It was hard to believe how much had happened since that day she'd trusted her instincts. Still, she told herself, far better to have Luna as a daughter-in-law than a shop assistant.
As he had every time they visited, Auri insisted on repeating the Fidelius ritual and watching the three-storey house slide into existence. Luna waited impatiently as Auri unfolded the well-worn note and read aloud, "Severus Snape resides in The Dower House, 1 Apis Lane, Sturminster Oldton, North Dorset."
The Dower House encouraged eccentricity. Every window was a slightly different shape. The front door was in the shape of a giant keyhole. Each of the five chimneys was shaped like a gargoyle. And, best of all, a tower rose up on one side, twice the height of the house proper, with many porthole windows on each floor and a rounded, beehive-style roof.
"Wicked," Auri breathed. He tugged on her hand, trying to drag her towards the house. "Come on, Mum. He'll be wondering where we are."
Letting the gate clang shut behind them, she and Auri walked to the front door hand-in-hand. Their trunks floated behind them, wings fluttering madly.
The door opened when they reached the bottom step, and she released Auri's hand to allow him to race up them and fling himself at Severus. The twist of Severus's lips and the helpless way that he hugged Auri with one arm and held his other hand out to her convinced her that they'd found their way home.
She'd just have to make sure the Nargles didn't infest Severus's hair again. It had taken her most of the previous year to eradicate them.