Arabella Figg walked confidently into the little house, clutching a hamper of food almost as large as she was. Having dispensed with her usual housedress and cats, she was attired in a faded black dress and cardigan, liberally sprinkled with evidence that Snowy, Whiskers, Paws were alive and well. Her springy curls were carefully topped by an absurd turquoise hat. Two spots of rouge stood out on her cheeks, and she smelled strongly of some sweet perfume.
Snape felt his stomach drop greasily. Oh Merlin, what had he done? He suppressed his urge to slam the door in her face and gestured her in. "Arabella, how…delightful. To what may we owe the pleasure of your company?"
Mrs. Figg gave a trill of laughter that made him want to punt a small child. "Oh, Albus just wanted me to see how you boys were getting along." She laughed again, apropos of nothing. He carefully knotted his fists at his side and tried to look pleasant, not a small feat for someone who can quiet a classroom of teenagers with a single well placed sneer.
"Harry, darling! How have you been? Do come here, I've brought a whole hamper of goodies for you!" Harry wasn't sure what would be worse; running and coming home to an irate Snape or actually having to eat something made in Mrs. Figg's cat-strewn kitchen. He took a hesitant step towards her and was enveloped by two doughy arms and a cloud of lilac perfume that would have made a buzzard think twice about a dead antelope.
"I didn't know you were a witch, Mrs. Figg." He said for lack of anything else to say. The woman ceased her rummaging in the hamper and trilled again. Unbeknownst to Harry and his guardian, they shared a moment of complete sympathy- they both wanted to stab themselves in the ears to avoid that nails on glass noise.
"Oh, I'm a squib. But from time to time dear Albus asks me to give him a bit of a hand, and so… here I am!" She drew out a dodgy looking plate of hard, lumpy things that Harry eventually determined were biscuits (ideally). She held one out and he obediently took one and nibbled the corner. It crumbled, spilling a drift of burned cinnamon into his mouth like a malign snowstorm.
"Well, Arabella, we're certainly glad you could stop in, but as you can see, I've done nothing to the boy. He hasn't been mauled by rabid selkies, nor dropped down a well, so if that's all you needed to do…"
"Oh, Severus, how you do go on! I'm going to visit my daughter Lucinda, she lives in Bamstaple, you know. You remember Lucinda, she married that nice plumber from…"
Four hours later, Snape was wondering exactly how many years in Azkaban it would cost him if he accidentally transfigured her into a mouse and fed her to her filthy cats. He was now intimately familiar with the dealings of her entire extended family, muggle and magical alike, their loves and hates and horrible, brain scarring medical problems ( he'd never had to slightest inclination to find out what an episiotomy was, but he knew he'd never rid himself of that particular mental image, thank you very much). To make things worse, Potter had seemingly defected.
"Can I get you another cup of tea, Mrs. Figg?" The boy would ask with a nauseating doe-eyed expression that, had Arabella the sense given a flea, she would have recognized as an errant fraud. Of course, she was charmed, the foolish old baggage, and simpered obligingly.
"Potter, haven't you somewhere to be?"
The boy gave him that same sickeningly sweet smile. "No sir. I thought I'd help you entertain our guest." He tried to look as winning as possible. Fortunately, Mrs. Figg was very nearsighted and couldn't see the way Potter was shaking with laughter. First the old woman, and then Potter. Divide and conquer, Snape, divide and conquer.
"Arabella, I would love to invite you to dinner, but the boy and I have plans. We're going to take… a walk …in the woods."
"We are, sir?" Potter was relishing this. Well, Snape would see how he felt once he'd been transfigured into a seven year old girl, wouldn't he? With pigtails and a little flowered dress. He shot Potter a look of pure death and Potter responded with a sunny grin. Picture the little ruffled socks…hair bows, hair bows…
"Oh dear, the woods. I'm afraid my knees simply aren't up to that any more. Just the other day I was telling my daughter Louise that…"
"My goodness, Arabella, didn't you say you were to meet Lucinda at four thirty? It's nearly half past three."
"Oh, my! You're too right. Well, it was wonderful, boys. I shall be sure to tell Albus you're doing splendidly. I've made you a nice hamper of food, especially my famous pasties… Don't hesitate to owl if you need anything…anything at all." And then, Snape noticed with faint horror, she seemed to be batting her eyelashes at him. As though she were flirting. He suppressed his gag reflex and ushered her out.
The door slammed. Snape was ready for payback. Potter was sitting, head on his arm, shaking. For a second Snape was alarmed; was the boy having some of attack or something? Snape was momentarily halted in his resolve to skin the boy alive. "Potter? What are you--"
Harry gave in. Clutching his stomach, he fell on his side, laughing. He tried to speak but all that would come out was giggle after giggle. Snape, now that he was assured the boy was not in distress, could kill him with impugnity.
"You terrible, ungrateful, wicked little brat, I ought to--"
Harry tried to stop laughing but could not. He waved his hand frantically, trying to interject, but Snape hadn't had a decent tirade in weeks and would not be denied.
" Skin you alive, you malicious little horror, having poor Mrs. Figg on that way! If I had done such a thing when I was young, my father would have--"
Potter was still laughing. How dare he laugh at a Snape tirade! The boy would scrub cauldrons until he had a permanent smell of iron about him. Perhaps that would teach him some manners…though transfiguration still had it's charms…
" But sir---sir---Bulstrode--"
"What are you on about, Potter? What in the world does Bulstrode have to do with--"
"It's rather sweet, she's a lovely---lovely girl, you'll be very—very happy—together--"
Snape suddenly realized what the boy was talking about. He snarled as menacingly as possible "You cheek brat, I have half a mind to--"
"Is there a problem, sir?" The boy was sobering slightly. Tears were running down his cheeks and his newly shortened hair was sticking up at angles. He smiled up at his guardian, looking thoroughly naughty and pleased with himself. Snape didn't know whether to box his ears or laugh aloud.
The boy had, he admitted, behaved in deeply Slytherin fashion. Taking revenge in a subtle and torturous way, making an unexpected and perhaps valuable ally, creating a reputation to confuse his enemies ( because Potter wasn't half that polite and attentive to his elders), and doing it all in a way that few would suspect and fewer could prove. He felt a little swell of pride; all his doing, no doubt about that.
"How…Slytherin of you, Potter." That sobered the little monster, right enough—Potter had done well, but a person should never kid a kidder, so to speak.
"Since Mrs. Figg was good enough to bring us food, let's tuck in."
It was exceptionally bad food. Snape picked up a pasty and tried to force himself to eat it. Beside him, Potter paled a little. " I wouldn't eat that, sir. Who knows what's in?"
"Potter, it's a pasty. Just meat and vegetables."
"She has an awful lot of cats, sir, and getting them hauled away is expensive…"
Snape set the pasty down and gave the boy a look. "What a thing to imply. I ought to smack you and send you from the table."
"I wouldn't worry too much, professor. I mean, cats are hard to catch and all…it probably died of old age. It's a mercy, really. Save a lot of graves, do Mrs. Figg a favor. It's not as though the other cats are going to come poking about looking for him."
Snape tried to smother his mirth. Wretched little creature, ought to…
" Go on, Potter. Go read that book I gave you and I'll make us some sandwiches."
Potter sauntered off and Snape performed a quick silencing charm and then, unheard by anyone, laughed.
He hoped Potter would enjoy his cheek. He had to go and check on that blood orchid, after all, and needed a diversion. Pocketing the strip of toweling, he went to the ice box to see what they had.