Disclaimer: I do not own any of the Harry Potter characters or storyline created by the wonderful J.K. Rowling. Armilla Snape is my own original character.
A/N To new readers" Welcome! To old readers: Welcome back! I feel like I am about to get onto a rollercoaster by beginning the sequel to Armilla. It has been a long time in the works and I have the whole plot already planned. Please join me again to continue Armilla's journey – I hope you will love the sequel.
Warning: If you haven't read the first story, Armilla, I'd advise you to read that first. The storyline from my first story will run on into this one. You will pick up on things anyway, but you will find more emotional meaning by being well acquainted with Armilla.
An overgrown, dark and deserted park, well known for its depressingly gloomy atmosphere, seemed to personify a menacing character that had no wish to advertise any real beauty. Though for those who ventured to explore the grounds, and took the time to see what was there, it displayed a beauty so splendid, yet so rare that visits here became somewhat of an addiction.
It was the kind of place the average small child would be too intimidated to visit. Not that the child would have a choice – the average guardian would not permit the child to run freely without supervision in such a place. Not that it would matter. Little children who fit the stereotype for the happy-go-lucky child would be more content to pass their days in a lush green park, full of flowers, lots of sunshine and other chattering children.
No, this park was not one people would go to freely. Except perhaps, for two old souls, who knew and appreciated what real beauty it had to offer; two old souls who sought only comfortable companionship as they strolled through these gloomy surroundings.
The smaller, darkhaired figure walked about three steps in front of the other. Her step had a spring in it that did not match that of the older woman following close behind. The elderly lady watched as her little one turned around and offered a rare smile. She could never fathom why her little one delighted in wandering these dreary grounds.
"Don't you like the quiet, Merle?" she said, when questioned about her strange desire for coming to such a place.
"I think you would like that nice little park around the corner."
"You'd make me talk to the other kids if we went there," the little girl answered quietly.
"And what is wrong with that, might I ask?" Merle asked, a twinkle in her eye.
"I don't like talking to other children," the little girl murmured, looking a little nervous as she looked back at Merle. "Other children are too noisy."
Merle gave a little chuckle, disguising her worry that this child, for whom she was responsible, was not developing social skills as readily as she should.
"You're quite blunt sometimes, Armilla," she said, catching up to the child.
Armilla's dark eyes gazed up at her guardian. "What does blunt mean?"
Merle smiled as she took her little one's hand. "Blunt means you are very honest, dear. You say exactly what you think, whether you should say it or not."
Armilla pondered this for a moment, biting her lip as she thought. Merle had noted long ago that this habit generally appeared when the child was feeling nervous.
"Is being blunt a good thing, Merle?" Armilla asked, wearing an expression of the utmost seriousness. Merle was used to seeing this expression on the five-year-old's face.
"It depends, I suppose," she said finally, as they made their way onto a small wooden bridge that was built over a narrow stream. "Perhaps you wouldn't be so blunt if you learned to play with other children. They won't seem so noisy when you're playing with them."
Armilla didn't answer. She stopped in the middle of the bridge and peered over the side at the stream below.
"I like coming here," she said quietly. "It's only you and me when we're here. That's the way I want it to be forever. Just you and me."
Merle peered over at the stream as well, watching as the water hurriedly made its way over the pointy rocks. Thinking about the future always made her heart ache. She was old. True, her health wasn't too bad at the moment, but she wasn't the young, energetic parent Armilla deserved to have. Not that her lack of energy seemed to bother Armilla; the child was always perfectly content to sit and talk or practise her reading. Merle hoped that when death finally separated them, Armilla would be old and strong enough to fend for herself.
"When you go to school, you'll have to talk to other children," Merle told her, watching as Armilla threw a stray leaf into the stream below.
Armilla frowned. "You do magic at home, Merle. Can't I learn magic at home?"
"No. There's no better place to learn magic than Hogwarts."
Armilla didn't look convinced. "Can you live there with me?" she asked, biting her lip again.
Merle shook her head. "No, dear."
"Then I don't want to go."
"You have no choice." Merle smiled at the anxious little girl. "Don't you want to grow up and know as many spells as me?"
The two were silent for awhile, content to listen to the flowing water.
"Merle," began Armilla, looking thoughtful. "If you want me to talk to other children, why don't you have more children at home to talk to?"
Merle laughed as she took the child's hand to lead her off the bridge. "Because you came as a single package, dear," she replied.
"Perhaps it would have been nice for you to have a sister," said Merle. "Matilda's like a sister to me."
Armilla considered this for a moment before shaking her head. "No, I wouldn't want a sister," she said.
"Because there's already you and me at home. We don't need any more girls."
"A brother then?"
Armilla shook her head without hesitation. "No. I don't like boys."
Merle laughed. "I'm sure you'll feel differently once day."
"I don't think so."
They walked towards the edge of the park that led towards their house.
"Maybe I'd like a brother after all," said Armilla suddenly, looking up at her guardian.
Merle looked surprised. "Why the sudden change of heart?"
"I don't know," the child answered. "I don't think we'd be friends, but I suppose it wouldn't be too bad."
"There's an old Vietnamese proverb that states that brothers and sisters are as close as hands and feet," said Merle, thinking of her own brother.
Armilla looked at her own small hands for a few seconds before looking down at her feet. "My hands aren't too far away from my feet," she stated.
Merle laughed. "Well hands and feet have very different roles to play. Brothers and sisters have the same mother and father, but they aren't always close. Hands and feet are attached to one body, but they have very different lives."
Armilla looked confused for a moment. Merle often talked in a funny way that she didn't quite understand. "Well," she said slowly, thinking about Merle's words, "I think if I had a brother, we would have to be friends."
"Why is that?"
"Because my hands and feet are friends."
Merle chucked. "You do say some funny things, Armilla. Why are your hands and feet friends?"
Armilla looked very seriously at the old woman at her side. "Because I use my hands to put on my shoes," she answered. "That way, my hands are helping to keep my feet warm…and my feet do all the walking."
"And how does that help your hands?"
Armilla gave a small smile. "If my feet do the walking, then I don't have to walk on my hands."
Merle smiled. "So brothers and sisters are like hands and feet then?"
Armilla nodded. "They're different, but they look after each other." She looked thoughtful. "I think I would like a brother."
o o o o o o o o o
My dream was cut short as I felt someone shaking my shoulder. "Armilla…wake up…"
"Mmph." I tried to shut out the voice talking to me in an effort to hold onto the dream I'd be having. I wanted to remember it.
"Mm." The most annoying thing about having dreams was that, aside from them often disappearing from your memory as soon as you woke up, sometimes you couldn't remember if they were actually real memories being replayed.
I clearly remembered the park that Merle and I had taken many afternoon strolls in and I knew that bridge very well, but I wasn't sure if that conversation about brothers had ever taken place. Perhaps it was my mind mixing my present situation with the past. Obviously, I hadn't known about Severus back then.
The shaking suddenly became more purposeful. "As riveting as this conversation is," said my brother's stern voice, "I haven't the time for it. I must insist that you wake up."
I opened my eyes to see Severus sitting on my bed, looking quite disgruntled. At least, I thought he looked disgruntled. It was still quite dark in the room.
"The sun's not even up," I grumbled, sitting up.
"How perceptive of you," he said snidely, raising an eyebrow. "I know it's early, but I have some Order business to attend to and I don't expect to return until this evening. I thought I'd tell you in person rather than leave you a message on your chocolate frog card."
"Oh," I said, rubbing my head, trying to keep the memory of that proverb in my head. The dream must have been a real memory. How else would my mind have picked up a proverb like that? I must have forgotten that particular conversation with Merle. I was suddenly torn between being perplexed about the strange dream or worrying about not seeing my brother for the whole day. "This evening?" I repeated, feeling crestfallen.
He nodded. "I was called out last night by the Dark Lord. I have business for Dumbledore to do today."
I sighed, the worry creeping back once more. This was only the third time since the holidays had started that Severus would be out for the whole day. He was frequently out for Order related business, but only for a few hours at a time.
"You still have homework to complete, I trust?" asked Severus. It was business as usual with him. He didn't like delving into his double agent life with me and I knew not to ask. He was generally in a darker, irritated mood after Death Eater gatherings especially and so I knew not to touch the subject. Not that I blamed him being foul tempered sometimes. I wouldn't like to have to answer to a psychotic dimwit like the Dark Lord.
"Yes," I answered. "The Disillusionment Charm essay you set." Severus had been giving me homework every few days since we had come home. I would have found it annoying, but it did pass the time when he was away.
"Very well," he said, nodding. "I will contact you as often as I can during the day, so keep your chocolate frog card on you."
I nodded. I didn't like being home alone, even though our house elf, Docky, was there too, as well as my owl, Morag.
"You're very safe here," Severus assured me. "No one with Merrigan blood can be harmed on this property. Mother saw to that when she was alive."
I nodded. "I know," I said quietly.
My brother reached for my hand and squeezed it. "I will see you this evening at dinner." He smirked. "The meals suddenly get a lot better around here on the days when you help Docky in the kitchen."
I smiled. "I go down there for the company when you're not here. Docky readily provides it."
Severus shook his head. "I'm sure he does; damn hyperactive elf. I'll see you later." He moved to the door. "Don't go back to sleep," he called over his shoulder.
"Alright," I said, lying down again. Minutes later I had drifted off once more and the same dream replayed in my mind.
o o o o o o o o o
All day I had been trying to do what Severus had repeatedly asked me to do over the last few months: not think about the danger of his job. It was easier said than done, which he acknowledged, and I didn't think I was getting any better at it. The separation anxiety I had felt only weeks ago, just after I had escaped from Father, had not gone completely; during Severus' longer absences I found myself spending a lot of time looking at the clock.
"Are you sure you don't want to make treacle tart, Miss Armilla?"
"Yes, I'm very sure, Docky," I answered, watching the house elf's ears droop slightly. "Severus will give you more housework and me more homework if he thinks we waste our afternoons making desserts."
Docky smiled. "Master Severus won't say no to dessert on Saturday if Miss Armilla receives perfect OWL results."
I shrugged. "Maybe, but I don't think I'll get perfect results. In fact, I'm not expecting all Outstandings, especially not for History of Magic or Astronomy."
"Well, Docky does not include those," said the house elf, looking serious. "History of Magic and Astronomy homework always gave Miss Hazel headaches in the summer."
Docky was fond of talking about my mother. He had been doing a lot of it since my brother and I had returned home a few weeks ago. Usually, I would be happy to listen to Docky's ramblings, but my mind had been preoccupied most of the day with the dream I had dreamt twice.
Perhaps it was a sign that I was worried about Severus' position. True, he hadn't really been in the dream, but my mind had gone back to a time when I had felt incredibly safe. It wasn't that I was desperately longing for my old guardian, Merle; I missed her, but I had well and truly accepted her death. In a way, the park I used to visit with Merle now reminded me of Severus. Like the park, he had an intimidating disposition, but I had looked deep enough to find the warmth that I could now not do without.
I couldn't work out why I had dreamt the same thing twice. It had stopped at the same place both times. I was now sure that it was a memory, not a figment of my imagination. I knew my mind wasn't in the habit of inventing proverbs. I had really enjoyed listening to Merle's voice again though; I had enjoyed the dream more than I cared to admit.
Docky and I had been in the kitchen since about four o'clock, chatting as we prepared dinner together. Rather, Docky had done most of the chatting for the past two hours and I had tried to concentrate on what he was saying instead of focusing on my worry for Severus or thinking about my dream. When Severus was away, I spent a lot of time in the kitchen cooking with Docky. I enjoyed the hyperactive elf's company more than Severus did, and it was better than wondering the empty halls of the large house by myself.
We had returned to the Merrigan Estate about three weeks earlier and I hadn't left the house in that time, except to walk in the gardens. There had been no visitors to the house either. Severus had been quite busy with Death Eater or Order business and so I had many hours in which to amuse myself. A lot of this time was spent on the homework Severus had insisted on giving me, playing the piano (which Severus had also insisted upon, apparently for my own wellbeing) or exploring the library.
When he did have time to spend with me, Severus and I practised duelling. Ironically, we generally found this relaxing. Since my shield had survived a couple of bouts of my father's Cruciatus Curse before it had failed completely, Severus had a new interest in strengthening the shield. Speaking of Father, as far as we knew, he and my old governess, Madam Rougier, were still in hiding somewhere. The media had not paid a lot of attention to Father's absence from the wizarding world. Kidnappings and mysterious disappearances were daily occurrences at the moment. There wasn't a day that went by where there wasn't something horrific on the front page of The Daily Prophet. Everything, as expected, linked back in some way or other, if not directly, to the Dark Lord.
"Has Master Severus decided what to do with Miss Hazel's ring yet?" Docky asked, reaching for the carrots. We had told Docky about how it was Mother's large, silver, dinner plate-sized ring that had led to my discovery of the relationship between Severus and I. That, and the silver bracelet I would never be rid of until my own death.
I shook my head. "As far as I know, he's still experimenting on it."
As we had anticipated, Mother's spirit had vanished from the ring when Severus had finally been granted full custody not long ago. The spell that held her spirit in the ring was only meant to last long enough that she could be satisfied with my situation. With Father still in hiding, things were far from perfect, but Mother had been satisfied enough to be released into the afterlife. Severus had been experimenting with the ring her spirit had inhabited, testing for any magical properties Mother might have overlooked.
"The chicken's done," I said, pushing the dish towards Docky. "You can cook it."
Docky grinned. "Can I add red wine to the sauce?"
"No, you may not," came a dangerous voice from the doorway. We both turned to see my brother striding into the kitchen, his black robes billowing out behind him, an ill-tempered look on his face. He looked terribly tired to me, not that he was likely to admit it.
Severus stopped at the kitchen bench where Docky and I were sitting. He looked down his hooked nose at Docky, his usual sneer in place. "The last time you cooked with red wine, Docky, you sang all night long. I swore to put an end to your incessant, mind-numbingly nauseating tunes."
Docky looked far from put out at such an insult. "Yes, Master Severus," he said cheerfully. "Docky does have a questionable singing voice. Docky shall find a new hobby to replace singing."
Severus pinched the bridge of his nose, closing his eyes. "Merlin, help me," he muttered. Opening his eyes again, he sighed and addressed himself to Docky once more. "Docky," he said, "there are a range of herbs in the second greenhouse that I left in a small basket near the door. Kindly retrieve them and leave them in my lab. I have some brewing to do this evening."
Docky got up and bowed, his long nose scraping the floor. "Yes, Master Severus." He purposely walked very gracefully to the door (having learnt not to run after Severus seventh, very exasperated rebuke). At the door however, he turned around again.
I looked up from cutting the broccoli. "Yes?"
"Do you think knitting would be a good hobby?"
Before I could answer, Severus, who had sat down in the place Docky had vacated, answered for me. "Yes, Docky," he said smoothly. "It would be a perfect hobby for you. In fact, I'll even provide you with wool. Knit some clothes and then I can use them to threaten your release if I ever catch you singing again."
Docky's mouth dropped open and I looked at Severus in annoyance. Really, he did seem to take out his bad mood on the poor elf.
Severus ignored my look. "Was there anything else, Docky?" he asked curtly.
Docky shook his head before running off, clearly happy to be in any place but the kitchen.
"And what have you been doing today?" Severus asked, taking out his wand to start cooking what Docky and I had prepared.
"I finished that Disillusionment Charm essay this morning," I answered, getting up to retrieve the plates and cutlery. "Then I skinned the Abyssinian Shrivelfigs that you left out last night for me, and then this afternoon I answered letters before helping Docky down here."
Severus nodded, frowning slightly as he picked up the bowl of sliced carrots. Docky had cut them into star shapes. "That house elf needs a good spanking," he muttered. He looked up at me. "Whose letters were you replying to?"
"Lisa's and Hermione's," I answered, not quite meeting his eye. I had not mentioned Hermione's name since we were at Hogwarts. My brother did not approve of our friendship, though we only really socialised during the classes we shared together. I was much closer to my Ravenclaw friends, Lisa Turpin and Terry Boot.
"Ah, Miss Granger," he said, his lip curling. "Has she been writing you unnecessarily long letters?"
"No," I answered shortly. "She never does."
"Well in your next letter," he said smoothly, after sending me a warning look to watch my tone, "kindly ask her to send along any of the homework I set for her. She may need a fairly large owl to carry the weight."
"I suppose Hermione is busy," I said finally. "She mentioned being at the Weasleys' house. I'm sure she's spending all her time with Harry and Ron."
Severus eyes flashed at the mention of Harry. "Potter," he said, sneering, "is due to go to The Burrow tomorrow. In my opinion, he should not be spending his time lazing about with Weasley. If someone would bother taking him in hand we would not have to get him out of the quandaries he gets himself into."
"Have you told Professor Dumbledore that?" I asked.
He narrowed his eyes. "Do you think the Headmaster will hear a word against his golden boy?" he said scornfully.
"No, I suppose not," I admitted.
"Indeed. The Headmaster is too sentimental. He believes it will be beneficial for Potter to spend the rest of the summer with his friends."
We were silent for a few minutes. Severus looked lost in thought; the glare on his face told me that he was probably thinking about the various detentions he could bestow upon Harry in the upcoming school year.
"I do apologise for leaving you home by yourself all day," he said finally, his black eyes meeting mine.
"I wasn't completely alone," I pointed out.
"Docky and Morag hardly count," he scoffed, narrowing his eyes. "It's not good for you to be home by yourself all the time."
"I'm fine," I insisted. I knew Severus worried that I would revert back to my old habit of wanting to stay away from people. I had gone through it in the days after I had escaped from Father. I had been petrified that any of the people roaming Hogwarts could be in disguise as my father, or someone working for him.
"Even so," Severus went on, his face hard, "I think it is about time we organise some sort of social outing so you can get out of the house. You haven't seen anyone except me since we left Hogwarts."
That didn't bother me that much. I did miss my friends, but they knew there was a possibility that I wouldn't see them over the summer. Lisa was currently holidaying in New Zealand, and as far as I knew, Terry was at his grandmother's house.
"That said, I will contact Matilda tonight and see if she is free to see you tomorrow."
I nodded. Matilda had been Merle's best friend. Matilda and I had still kept in contact since Merle's death last October, and Severus had promised Matilda that we would visit. "What if you…suddenly become busy?" I asked.
Severus frowned. "I don't anticipate anything coming up tomorrow, but I am sure Matilda won't mind postponing the visit if we must."
"I think you'll be bored, you know," I said. "Matilda will probably want to talk about nothing but Merle and the past."
"She's an old woman with little happening in her life," he said indifferently. "I am sure it means a lot to her to see you. I'm sure I can put up her nostalgia for a couple of hours."
"Wouldn't it less risky for Matilda to come here?" I asked. "Wouldn't it be safer?" Maybe I was becoming paranoid about being taken by Father again. There were such horrible things happening in the wizarding world at the moment.
Severus shook his head. "You need to get out of the house," he said firmly. "You'll become too antisocial if I let you stay in your own environment, visitors or not."
I stared at him. He was making the same point Merle had been making in my dream.
Severus raised an eyebrow. "What?"
I shook my head. "Nothing."
He frowned, narrowing his eyes. "In any case," he went on, "I think you need a change of scene. I'm taking you out on Saturday as well."
I groaned. "Not to the cemetery again?" He had a thing about me visiting Merle's grave at the cemetery. I had never liked going.
He smirked. "No, not the cemetery. "
"I will need to collect a report from Tonks on Saturday, so you can accompany me to do that, he said.
My spirits certainly lifted at that. I adored Tonks. She had sent me a Handle with Care T-shirt as a joke a week earlier. Upon seeing it, Severus had pursed his lips and disappeared behind his newspaper, muttering about setting it on fire when I wasn't looking. Not that I cared too much; Tonks knew I wouldn't wear it.
o o o o o o o o o o
"The area's certainly very…muggle…isn't it?" Severus remarked disdainfully, as we walked down the path to Matilda's front door. "Those letterboxes are such ridiculous things…anyone could walk by and steal other people's mail. Muggles seem so trusting of their neighbours."
Severus hadn't realised that Matilda lived in a muggle neighbourhood. Matilda had worked in Muggle Relations before retirement and her love of combining muggle and wizarding culture had resulted in her buying a home amongst muggles. Most of my muggle knowledge had come from Matilda. She was the reason that I had seen movies and knew more about muggle life than the average pureblood witch. My brother was rightfully insistent that I not make this knowledge known amongst our pureblood acquaintances, in particular, the Malfoys.
Severus had cast a disillusionment charm on us so that the muggles wouldn't notice our presence. He seemed to prefer that to donning muggle attire.
"I don't understand this desire to live amongst muggles," said Severus, shaking his head for about the fourth time since we had apparated into the street.
"Don't hold it against her," I said quietly, as we stepped onto Matilda's front porch.
"It's difficult not to," he muttered, staring at a group of hollow pipes hanging together from the porch ceiling. They made a clanging noise in the light breeze. He gestured to them. "What are those? The muggle form of an alarm? How absurd."
"No," I said, trying not to laugh. "They're wind chimes. Most muggles seem to enjoy the sound."
He rolled his eyes, but offered no comment as he knocked on the front door. A moment later it opened and I was swept into a tight hug by a small elderly woman.
"Armilla!" Matilda said happily, squeezing the breath out of me. "It's been too long since I saw you last, dear."
"Questions first," Severus said quietly.
"Oh yes," said Matilda at once. "Ask away."
Most safety conscious wizarding folk had taken to asking questions of their visitors and vice versa as a security precaution.
I had a question ready. "What did you give me for my birthday?"
Matilda smiled. "My favourite muggle book," she said promptly, "Winnie the Pooh."
Out of the corner of my eye I saw Severus sneering. He hadn't opened the book, even after Mother had recommended it, and still thought the title was very juvenile.
Matilda cleared her throat. "What did you once bury in the backyard when you were four?"
"Angela," I answered offering no more explanation.
Merle laughed. "Correct."
Severus gave me a strange look, but gave no comment. He turned and held his hand out to shake Matilda's. "Matilda."
"Nice to see you again, Professor Snape," she said. "Thankyou for taking time out of your day to bring Armilla. I know you are a very busy man."
"Not at all."
"Come in, come in!" Matilda beckoned to us. "I've made scones."
"Who was Angela?" Severus muttered to me, as we followed Matilda inside. "An unfortunate hermit crab?"
I shook my head. "A fatally ill doll," I murmured.
He stared at me, a sneer on his face. "Why was she fatally ill?"
"I didn't want her; she was a present from Shar."
"Ah." He seemed to understand now. I had never wanted to play with anything that Shar had given me. He had only given me presents to impress Merle.
Matilda led us into her lounge room and we sat down. Matilda took out her wand to summon a tea tray.
"I must say that I was thrilled when you contacted me, Professor," said Matilda, now pouring out three cups of tea. She handed a cup to Severus. "I've been looking forward to seeing Armilla."
"Indeed," said Severus, accepting his tea from Matilda.
"That's Merle's favourite cup," Matilda said to me, as she handed me my cup.
Was her favourite cup, I thought.
"Have you been to the cemetery recently?" Matilda asked, passing us scones.
I shook my head. "Not since Easter time," I answered. We had seen Matilda standing at Merle's grave when we gone to the cemetery the day after Easter. I felt a little guilty admitting that I hadn't been back there for a few months.
Matilda just nodded, her face blank. "Oh."
"Armilla has had a lot of study to do, you understand," said Severus, his eyes slightly narrowed as he looked at the little old lady sitting opposite us. "She had her OWL exams to sit for."
Not to mention other things. We hadn't told Matilda about my abduction by Father on the afternoon of my final exam. The repercussions from that event had certainly distracted me long enough not to go to the cemetery.
Matilda's face lit up again. "Oh, your OWLs!" she said, smiling at me. "When are your results due?"
"Tomorrow morning," I said quietly. I had been trying to not think too much about my results. Of course, I was thrilled that I didn't need to be sweating on getting all Outstandings just to avoid my father's wrath; but I hoped that I was getting at least two or three Outstandings just to show Snape that all the extra work we had done together wasn't a waste of time.
Matilda clapped her hands together. "Well," she said happily, "I think we can expect great things from you, Armilla. Merle always said that you would go far. Are you going to become an Auror like Merle?"
I shook my head. "No…"
"Why not?" Matilda asked, looking surprised. "You could follow in her footsteps; she was very highly thought of at the Ministry."
"I know…" I suddenly felt uncomfortable. Conversation with Matilda wasn't normally so awkward.
Severus suddenly cleared his throat, looking agitated. "There are many career paths that Armilla is capable of taking," he said in a low voice, "there is ample time yet for Armilla to make up her mind and it will be her decision."
Matilda laughed, looking a little nervous. "Oh, I'm sorry," she said, good-naturedly, "I didn't mean to imply that you had to do what Merle did, Armilla." She looked at Severus. "I don't suppose you've tried to talk Armilla into taking on a Potions apprenticeship, Professor?"
"Not at all, I assure you," he replied. "As I said, it is Armilla's decision."
"But surely you would object if Armilla expressed an interest in pursuing a career similar to mine," Matilda went on, her eyes fixed on my brother's, apparently ready to scrutinise every word.
Severus merely raised an eyebrow. "Armilla has already told me that Muggle Relations is not a field she wishes to pursue."
Matilda looked a little offended. "I suppose you're thrilled about that?"
He looked sharply at her. "What is that supposed to mean?"
"Simply that not all wizarding folk approve of learning about muggle culture."
I stared at Matilda. This visit was not going at all in the way I had anticipated. Matilda was usually in high spirits and was always good humoured. A moment later, I found out why her attitude was a little questionable.
"I realise there is a war going on," she said quietly, directing her conversation to Severus. "I understand you have a very demanding and undoubtedly dangerous role to play. When I first heard of Armilla discovering her identity, I must admit that I was a little doubtful in regards to your abilities as a guardian."
To his credit, Severus didn't retort in the usual cold manner he used with people he didn't know well. In fact, he didn't react at all. He was looking at Matilda with an expression of complete indifference. "Do continue," he said dryly. "I suppose there is a point you are going to reach with this."
Matilda flushed a little. "I don't mean to imply that you aren't a caring guardian, Professor," she said. "Armilla understandably went to a horrid time in the months following Merle's death. I would be foolish to deny that her happiness in recent months is to be attributed to you."
"I feel a point to all this sentimentality is due," he drawled.
Matilda narrowed her eyes. "I don't doubt your heart, Professor, however cold and aloof you like to keep your façade. I do doubt your suitability as a guardian because of the danger of your role. I believe it places Armilla in danger."
Severus folded his arms, looking more than a little agitated. "I assure you, Armilla is extremely safe with me."
Matilda sighed. "Do you not think she would be safer if she was removed from someone who practically lives in the danger zone?"
I hated it when adults held conversations like I wasn't in the room.
"What would you have me do?" Severus asked dryly.
"Find a family that is unlikely to be attacked," said Matilda promptly. "Hide her if you have to."
He raised an eyebrow. "You do realise that such a family is hard to find. Even then, I have no wish to do so."
"You must put Armilla's needs first," Matilda said, her face beginning to redden. "How could you live with yourself if anything happened to her?"
Severus took an unusually long time to answer. He seemed to be struggling between giving a patient, understanding answer or just telling her to butt out.
"Let me assure you," he said slowly, enunciating every word, "that my sister's needs are being met. That is all I have to say on the subject." His dark eyes were fixed on Matilda's blue ones. "I do not feel a need to express myself any further."
Matilda opened her mouth and then closed it again. There was an uncomfortable silence in the room. Suddenly she changed tactics and turned to me. "Armilla, Merle wanted you to be happy. But your safety must come first. Merle would have wanted-"
"Please do not insult Merle's memory by using her as a means to emotionally blackmail Armilla," said Severus furiously.
Matilda glared at my brother. "I know what Merle wanted," she said heatedly. "I would never blackmail Armilla." She turned to me. "Would I?"
"I-" Oh god, why had we come to visit?
"I can see you have no intentions of placing Armilla in a safer situation, Professor," Matilda went on, turning back to Severus.
"She already is as safe as she can be," Severus snapped, glowering at Matilda.
"Armilla," said Matilda quietly, turning back to me. "Think about what Merle would have wanted for you. You're in a very dangerous position. Merle would have told you to stay in a safe environment. Do you really want to do something that would make Merle unhappy?"
I stared at her for a moment, weighing up my mixture of thoughts. "Merle was a retired Auror," I said finally. "Living with an ex-Auror wouldn't have been incredibly safe either. After all, Merle had been a member of the Order of the Phoenix. That hadn't made our family extremely secure. I believe I'm safer than most people."
Matilda glared at me. "I'm disappointed in you," she said. "Merle would be disappointed in you."
Severus stood up abruptly. "Perhaps it is time to take our leave."
Matilda and I didn't move. I stared at her, trying to suppress the mixture of emotions I was feeling from hearing such words. Outrage topped the list. Hurt wasn't too far behind.
"I'm sorry," said Matilda finally, looking away. "I didn't mean that, dear."
I said nothing, but waited until she made eye contact with me again.
"It's just that…we're living in such dangerous times," she whispered. "I've already lost Merle…"
"Armilla lost Merle too," said Severus curtly, "a loss which had quite an impact. Perhaps you should remember that before you think to use Merle to influence Armilla's thoughts."
Matilda didn't meet my brother's eye. It seemed she wasn't sorry for what she had said to him, just to me.
"I am sorry, Armilla," said Matilda again.
I nodded. "It's alright." I was annoyed, but I didn't want to upset Matilda more.
We ended up staying for another half hour, though the conversation was a little forced in places. Severus barely spoke at all and I was grateful that he had sat down again. I had thought he was ready to storm out. I couldn't say that I enjoyed the visit; the air was a little too tense to call the experience enjoyable. Matilda did give me a small package upon leaving though, which she explained had been magically shrunk down, and contained presents as well as a few of Merle's old things.
"You do realise, Professor," said Matilda softly, as she opened her front door, "that I have nothing against you, it is merely your position I worry about."
Severus nodded curtly. "Duly noted," he said quietly.
"Well, Armilla," said Matilda, turning back to me. "Mind you keep in touch with me. I want to hear about your OWL results."
I nodded. "I'll write to you," I assured her, as Severus made his way down the path to wait for me.
She pulled me into a hug. "I am sorry," she whispered in my ear. "I hope you forgive me."
I nodded as she released me. "I don't know when I'll see you again."
She nodded. "Probably not for a long time if Professor Snape has his way," she said stiffly.
I opened my mouth to reply but she held a hand up to stop me.
"I didn't mean that as a slight, dear," she said hastily. "I do know that Professor Snape is a fine guardian, but you do understand why I worry, don't you?"
I shrugged. "Everyone is in danger, Matilda," I said quietly. "But now is not the time to abandon the ones we love. The war could last a long time."
o o o o o o o o o
I side-along apparated with Severus back to the forest clearing near our house.
"Well," said Severus, as we climbed into the carriage that would drive us to our house. "How often does Matilda entertain? I don't suppose she normally assesses the worth of every guest who steps into her home."
"I'm really sorry," I said, feeling awful. "She shouldn't have said all those things. I don't know why she has suddenly changed her mind."
"Don't apologise," he said stiffly, as the carriage started to move. "It is not your fault. From experience I know that living in dangerous time tends to make people reassess their values and priorities. Obviously, Matilda has reassessed hers."
"Don't hold it against her," I said quietly. "I know it was wrong of her, but…" I wasn't sure how to finish.
He looked over at me. "You don't feel quite right about thinking badly of Merle's best friend?"
Slowly, I nodded.
"It's alright," he said indifferently. "I suppose that is understandable…" He suddenly smirked. "About as understandable as burying a doll in the backyard…"
I laughed. "Angela had a decent funeral."
He smiled. "How very noble of you, especially since it was Shar who gave it to you. I would have blown it to smithereens. Why didn't Merle make you dig it up again?"
"She did," I said, frowning. "She made me stay outside until I had dug it up again."
"How long did you give it before you gave up?" he asked, looking a little amused.
"Most of the day. In the end I only dug it up again because it was getting dark and I didn't want to sleep outside."
"So what did you do with the doll?"
"Merle cast a cleaning charm on it and insisted that it should stay in the house. She left it near the back door, but when she got up in the morning it wasn't there anymore."
Severus sneered at me. "You got up in the middle of the night to bury it again?"
I shook my head. "No, I hadn't touched it. I refused to."
"Then where was it?"
I smiled. "After much searching, Merle thought to dig around where I had first buried it. That's where it was."
He shook his head. "I expect you were in trouble for that."
I nodded grimly. "My behind certainly was."
He smirked. "How long did it take for Merle to believe that you didn't do it?"
"Not long," I said, smiling. "After the fourth morning of waking up to find Angela back in the garden, Merle realised that I had been doing accidental magic."
Severus sneered. "Your first piece of magic was subconsciously condemning a doll to a garden burial?"
I nodded. "Merle was so happy that she left the doll there and made me promise not to tell Shar that I had buried his present."
"Perhaps it is a good thing to see Matilda every now and then," my brother said, looking thoughtful. "It seems that when we meet I find out strange new tales about you."
I smiled. "Well then, what was your first piece of magic?"
He suddenly became distracted. "Ah, there's the house up ahead," he said. "Damn, I forgot to order some wool for Docky."
"You didn't answer my question."
"I know. I very skilfully sidestepped it," he said dryly.
He sighed. "Father used to drink Firewhisky," he said. "I wasn't allowed to try it, and though I was only three I thought it a gross injustice. At dinner one night my water suddenly became Firewhisky and Father's Firewhisky became water."
I laughed. "And you drank it?"
He smirked. "I tried it. Then Father discovered smoke coming from my drink and rightfully concluded that it wasn't water. He was so pleased he forgot to be annoyed that I had drunk alcohol."
"I never see you drink Firewhisky now," I commented. I occasionally saw him drink red wine.
He shook his head. "Father adored it back then. I detest it now because it reminds me of him."
The carriage came to a stop in the courtyard our house was built around. As I opened the carriage door, Docky came jumping down the front steps.
"Actually, my second piece of magic was much more impressive," said Severus in a low voice, as we climbed out of the carriage. "I accidentally cast some sort of silencing charm on Docky. He couldn't speak for weeks. It was like Christmas."
o o o o o o o o o o o o
A/N I hope you enjoyed it. Please review!
The Armilla yahoo group is still open with the pictures of Armilla, Severus and Hazel, as well as the Merrigan family tree. The link can be found on my profile page.
A.A. Milne's Winnie the Pooh
Vietnamese proverb: Brothers and sisters are as close as hands and feet
The film Meet Me in St Louis: I borrowed the idea of burying a doll – Tootie did it first!