She was waiting in the shadows across the street when Dumbledore finally arrived.
"Ah, my dear Arabella, have you checked upon the Dursleys as I asked?" How the man managed to smile and twinkle at a time like this, Arabella Figg would never understand.
"Yes, Albus, and I have to say that they seem to be wholly unsuitable for raising-"
"Now now, my dear, there is no telling as of yet what sort of guardians Petunia and her husband may be." Dumbledore chided her softly. "And sadly, we have no choice in the matter regardless. Harry will only be truly safe, and able to live a normal childhood, if he is hidden away with his muggle relatives."
Arabella had to bite her tongue to keep from arguing the point further, and was saved from making any unsavory comments by the arrival of a rather large man on a flying motorcycle.
It was hard, seeing how choked with emotion Hagrid became, when he had to hand little Harry over to the Headmaster. Arabella looked on sadly, again forcing her anger down as the man set the tiny, precious bundle on the front step with nothing more than a Warming charm and a carefully written note. Hagrid blew his nose rather noisily, before departing on the motorcycle. Dumbledore offered her a brief pat on the shoulder, and then Apparated away.
There were a few minutes of indecision as Arabella stood by the curb, warring with her orders to return to the newly purchased house on Wisteria Walk, and her instincts to protect a child oh so recently orphaned do to no true fault of his own.
In the end, she wound up tip-toeing to the front step of Number Four, and scooped up the still sleeping babe before hurrying off into the night.
Arabella spent the first few days on edge over whether she'd be discovered and ousted of her new home, little Harry sent for the second time to his horrid relatives. But with no messages from Albus, or invasions by Aurors, or indeed anyone from the Wizarding World so much as sending her a Floo Call, the woman began to lose her anxiety over the situation.
Only for it to be replaced by new fears, those concerning the matters of raising a child. She was getting on in her years, sadly, and keeping up with a human toddler was infinitely more difficult than looking in on the litters of kittens her cats and kneazles periodically would produce. And then, inspiration struck - Arabella knew raising Harry by herself would be a monumental undertaking, so she decided to take a hint from her beloved animals.
On the third morning after disobeying Albus' orders, Arabella penned a couple letters to a pair of people she was confident would side with her in the matter of Harry's upbringing: young Remus Lupin, and Minerva McGonagall.
The first time that Remus babysat for Arabella, he nearly had a heart attack every time little Harry tugged on the tail of one of the numerous felines in the Figg household. He kept having visions of snarling animals whipping about in a fury, claws slashing and blood pouring. But, time and again the man didn't witness his unpleasant prediction occur. Arabella's animals were perfectly aware that they were being played with by a human kitten, and as such didn't bother to attack him for it: when their tolerance reached its end, the respective cat or kneazle stood up and walked away, prompting Harry's attention to turn to the next nearest creature.
It really was quite harrowing for poor Remus. Not exactly on the same level as dueling Death Eaters, but definitely up close to it.
On the first occasion that Minerva babysat, she promptly Scourgified a spot on the settee, settled herself down with Harry on her lap and opened up a photo album in front of the two of them. The little boy promptly squealed with delight upon seeing a picture of his parents, smiling and waving up at him. Later, Minerva would claim the sound as being one of the few things still capable of moving her to tears.
Once they'd finished with the album, the woman's inner Hogwarts professor made an appearance, and the remainder of the afternoon was spent going through some beginner's picture books of Hogwarts lessons - simple rhymes and other such reading that helped children get a better idea of what they would learning at the school. Perhaps it was a bit over the head of a child not yet a year and a half old, but Minerva was determined to get him an early start.
And, quite possibly, instill in the boy an appreciation for learning that his father seemed to have completely disregarded the majority of his time spent at Hogwarts...
When Harry's second birthday rolled around, Arabella and her two helpers fixed an assortment of treats that appealed to both the toddler and themselves, decorated the living room with streamers, banners and will-o'-wisp lights, and gave the boy a pile of gifts almost as tall as he was.
Remus had gotten him a pair of wizarding children's books, one describing the four Hogwarts Houses and the other an adventure about a young witch and her friendly dragon. Minerva got the lad a stuffed lion, one wearing a red and gold bowtie, and refused to back down even when Arabella sent her a skeptical look. The Transfiguration professor also gifted Harry a set of pajamas that became a different color each night, and a few little toys she'd picked up in Diagon Alley on a whim. Arabella, not having the same access to magical items that the other two did, had gone and put together a homemade toy kitchen for the toddler to play with, which Remus enchanted just before the small party to generate real noises and smells. Harry loved it immediately, giggling as everything he did with the little spoons and whisks and pots made different reactions. The adults were entertained just watching him explore it all - though even they had to laugh when one especially curious cat tapped at the miniature tea pot, and leapt a clear five feet away when the thing began to whistle.
"Thank you both, for all of this, for everything," Arabella tried to say at the end of the evening, when she'd finally put Harry to bed and was cleaning up alongside the witch and wizard.
"It was our pleasure, dear." Minerva replied, smiling.
"We're both just grateful you've let us into Harry's life again." Remus added, banishing the torn wrapping paper. "It's certainly more than the Headmaster would have done."
The squib woman frowned at that, glancing towards the stairs. "Indeed... I wonder, sometimes, how Harry would be faring in his Aunt's household right now, if I'd gone along with Albus and left him there..."
"It's not worth thinking about, Arabella." Minerva grasped her shoulder. "Regardless of how it might have been, what matters now is how he fares in this life. And from what you told us of those Dursleys, I have to say I'm quite glad you kept Harry from falling in with them."
"He's happy here," Remus added as he came up to pat her on the other arm. "That's what's important."
"Yes, it is." Arabella smiled tearfully at them both. They all returned to work, then, and soon enough the two magical folk were bidding their host goodnight. As soon as they'd left, Arabella went upstairs herself. Before turning into bed, though, she tip-toed into Harry's little room, and spent a few minutes just stroking a hand through the boy's messy black locks.
"You're happy here." She murmured. "And safe. And I'll be damned before I let anyone interfere with either of those things, little one."
The following years had their ups and downs for the small family. Harry's spurts of accidental magic got more common, and more impressive (most memorable was perhaps the time he managed float the entire settee several feet off the ground in order to retrieve a toy from beneath it). Arabella eventually had to enroll him in the local primary school, but for security's sake used the name Harold Figg. There were a few instances when she had to be called down to the headmaster's office, because Harry got in trouble for fighting - every time, it was the same story: someone mentioned the 'crazy old cat lady' on Wisteria Walk, and the little boy couldn't help but stick up for his Nanna. This unfortunately meant Harry didn't make more than one or two friends during his time at school, instead retreating into books and drawings.
Not just any books, though. Remus and Minerva continued to visit all through this time, bringing with them stories and knowledge of the wizarding world, ensuring that Harry knew all about the society that he'd one day become part of. Arabella was grateful for this, as her own status as a squib kept the woman from being truly part of the world she'd been born into.
There was also the matter of her income; thanks to Minerva putting in a good word and Remus helping with transportation, Arabella was able to sell her kneazle crossbreeds directly to pet stores across wizarding Britain instead of only other breeders or individual households. This increase in her profits led to the woman opening an account at Gringotts, making the trip in the company of both Remus and Harry, the latter suitably disguised, of course. However, while at the bank, one of the goblins still managed to recognize the boy by his scar - and by the time they left, a meeting had been had with the manager of the Potter and Evans accounts, monthly transfers set up between Harry's trust vault to Arabella's, and a key given into the squib woman's keeping until such time as Harry was old enough to have it himself.
That day remained as a truly memorable one in Arabella Figg's mind for a great long while, but it was another, slightly more than a year later, that marked a true turning point in young Harry's life...
"Oh, Mummy, look at the kitten! Can I go pet it?"
"No, Ginevra, we aren't going into the store to play with the animals." Her Mum said sternly. "Now hold on- twins! Stop that!"
Ginny sighed wistfully as she peered in the pet shop window. The little orange tabby cat just looked so cute, tapping at the glass as though inviting her to come in. Even as she watched, though, a boy her age with messy black hair and round spectacles walked up to the pen inside, and picked up the very kitten Ginny had been watching. She sighed again as he walked away, mournfully this time. Nothing ever went her way...
"Excuse me?" Turning, Ginny blinked with surprise to realize the same boy was now standing just outside the shop door, holding the squirming kitten in his hands. "Do you want to pet him?"
"Ye-es!" Not bothering to see where her Mum and brothers had gone, Ginny skipped over and cooed over the fluffy orange animal as she stroked a finger through his fur. "Ohhh! I wish I could take him home!"
"Don't you get pets at your house?" The boy asked her.
"There's Scabbers, he's my brother Percy's rat, but no one gets to play with him but Perce. And Errol, but he's an owl, an' no fun."
"Oh. My Nanna and I have lots and lots and lots of cats and kneazles - she breeds 'em, see, and we sell 'em to shops all over Britain!" The pride in the boy's voice was obvious, and Ginny wished she could say something equally amazing about her family.
"You're really lucky," was what came out instead.
"Yeah. Hey, do you want to come over some time and see 'em all? I don't have many friends back home who like to come inside..."
"I'd love to!" Ginny beamed. "What's your Floo add-er-ess?"
"Number five Wisteria Walk! You can come any afternoon between three and five o'clock, if you want."
"That's great! I'll ask my Mum! Oh, and what's your name?"
"Harold, but people call me Harry too. I live with my Nanna, Arabella Figg."
"Brill! I'm Ginny, and I live with my Mum and Dad and six big brothers!"
Harold's eyes got really wide. "Six brothers? And they're all older than you?"
"Yeah." Ginny made a stink-face, and her new friend giggled.
"Then you do know what it's like to have a bunch of animals in the house - that's what my Nanna would say." They both laughed, and then an old woman was calling Harold back into the shop, at the same time that Ginny's Mum was gathering all the boys together again.
"I'll ask Mum if I can come over tomorrow - bye, Harold!"
"Bye Ginny!" With that, the redheaded five year old dashed back to her family, excitedly chattering about the new friend she'd made and how he raised kitties and was going to let her come over to pet them all. Her words got a bit lost in the bustle of the Weasley family, but she repeated them all to her parents and brothers again that night at dinner.
"How old is this friend, Ginny?" Her Dad frowned.
"I don't know. But he was the same size as me!"
"Five or six, then." Bill said, further up the table. "Probably orphaned by the war, too, if he lives with his grandmother."
"Now Bill, you don't know that for certain." Their Mum waggled a spoon at him. "But I'll probably find out whenever I take Ginny over for a playdate - I have to meet the woman, after all. What did you say her name was, dear?"
Her Dad blinked. "Figg? As in Arabella? I remember her from the O- from the war. But I thought she'd never married?"
"Well, the boy might be a great-nephew or some such relation, Arthur. Regardless, as I said before, I'm sure I'll find out all the details when we visit."
"Oh, yes, fine, tomorrow it is, Ginny." The girl spent the rest of that night with a smile on her face.
A/N: IMPORTANT NOTICE
This story is part of my HP Round Table Project. Every Thursday, I'm updating a different onf of seven Harry Potter AUs, so that over the course of seven weeks they all get a new chapter (since I have a history of losing inspiration and letting stuff sit stagnant for months at a time). After the first seven week period, I start over, but the order in which these stories are updated changes depending on what was the most popular during the previous chunk of time.
So, if you really like this or one of the others, be sure to let me know!