FIC: "The Caretaker and the Cat Lady" for donnaimmaculata Recipient:donnaimmaculata Author:eeyore9990 Title: The Caretaker and the Cat Lady Rating: PG Pairings: Argus Filch/Arabella Figg Word Count: ~3300 Warnings: None Summary: After giving testimony at young Harry's trial, Arabella goes to the Leaky for a bit of something to soothe her nerves. There, she meets a man who does nothing but unsettle them. Author's Notes: As I was looking through your list of preferred characters, this pairing leapt off the screen at me. I've never seen the pairing before, nor even any fic featuring Mrs Figg, and the idea of these two cat-loving Squibs finding each other utterly charmed me. I do hope you enjoy your fic as much as I enjoyed writing it, donnaimmaculata.
Beta read by the incomparable A.
Arabella pulled open the door to the Leaky Cauldron, fighting her way inside as the bustle of London shoppers repeatedly tried to snatch the door from her grip. She garnered several angry glances from rushing Muggles before their expressions turned puzzled, then glazed, as the charms surrounding the wizarding establishment forcibly diverted their attention.
"Here now! Watch where ye're goin'! Damn Muggles." The door was yanked from Arabella's hand and forced open against the tide of bodies on the pavement. Arabella looked up to give her thanks just as Mr Tibbles jumped from his place in her crocheted handbag, howling as he tore off after a scrawny-looking cat that darted through the doorway.
"Oh, my! Mr Tibbles! Come back here this instant." Arabella rushed into the Leaky, clicking her teeth as she patted her thigh. To no avail. Mr Tibbles had the other cat cornered now and, if he wasn't careful, was about to get a face full of irritated feline claw.
"Eh! Get away with you now." The voice belonged to the same man who'd helped her with the door, an older gentleman, and he stomped the floorboards directly beside Mr Tibbles before swooping to pluck up the other cat.
Arabella pulled open her handbag, shooing a disgruntled Mr Tibbles into it. "Thank you so much," Arabella said, turning to the gentleman who was stroking at the ruffled fur of the other cat. "For holding the door and for saving Mr Tibbles. He isn't usually so ill-behaved." She frowned down at the cat just as he let out a low yowl of displeasure.
"Mrs Norris must be in heat," the man said gruffly, glaring at Arabella as if it was her fault his cat was attracting male attention.
Frowning, Arabella clutched her handbag closer to her before nodding brusquely at the man and turning toward the bar. Tom looked up at her approach and gestured to one of the empty stools. "What can I get for you, Mrs Figg?"
"Just a small sherry please, Tom," Arabella said, depositing Mr Tibbles on the bar with an admonition to behave himself.
A small glass appeared before her and Tom leaned over the bartop, his voice low as he asked, "How's young Harry?"
Arabella shuddered, recalling the courtroom scene she'd left less than a quarter of an hour earlier. The grim expressions of the Wizengamot as they'd glared down at her from their high seats, the still chains that threatened to spring to life and pin her beneath them, the recollection of the aching emptiness the Dementors had filled her with... "He's free," she said, bringing the sherry to her lips and sipping at it. "Going back to Hogwarts, thank goodness. Dumbledore arrived just in time and fixed it all."
Tom nodded, wiping the bar with a dirty rag. "Good man, that Dumbledore."
Arabella nodded as she knew she was supposed to, but the feeling that something had been very wrong indeed with the scene she'd witnessed left her feeling disturbed. "He is. He is." She'd never speak ill of the Headmaster, even if he was acting strangely towards young Harry. "A very good man."
"You just stopping in before catching the Knight Bus, or were you planning a spot of shopping in Diagon?"
"I need to purchase a few odds and ends."
Tom nodded just as a young witch slid onto a stool at the other end of the bar. Swiping his rag one last time, he muttered distractedly, "Let me know when you want through the gate."
Arabella didn't bother responding as he was already taking the witch's order. With a small sigh, Arabella slowly sipped her drink, watching the goings on of the room behind her in the mirror that hung along the wall behind the bar. Her eyes were inexorably drawn to the corner table where the rather rude gentleman she'd encountered was seated, a mug of bitter in front of him and his cat drinking from a bowl of milk on the tabletop. There was something different about him, but it was hard to put her finger on it.
Her lips quirked up as she watched him pat his cat with a bit of a heavy hand, the movement of his lips telling her that he was like her: not above talking to his pet. Arabella frowned, dropping her gaze to her drink. His familiar, more like. The man was a wizard, and she'd be doing no one any favours to pretend otherwise, least of all herself. Not that it really mattered if he was a wizard, but sometimes it was lonely, being on the outside of the wizarding world.
When she was alone, with no one around who could possibly read her thoughts, Arabella sometimes wished she could be as oblivious as the common Muggle.
Shaking that traitorous thought from her head, Arabella drained her sherry, deposited three Knuts on the bar, and signalled to Tom before gathering her things and walking out the back door. The oppressive heat of drought-ridden London beat down on her as she stood there, patiently waiting for Tom to come open the entrance to Diagon Alley for her. Feeling a drop of sweat beading up at her temple, Arabella sighed and reached into her bag, shifting Mr Tibbles about until she found her handkerchief.
The linen was drenched, as was her Sunday-best suit, by the time Tom turned up. "So sorry, Mrs Figg! A bunch of young hooligans on holiday came in just as you left. So sorry. And it's gone warm, hasn't it?" Tsking, he turned to her with his wand out. "Let me cast a Cooling Charm for you."
"Oh, no, that's all right, Tom. I'm fine." Arabella smiled tightly, even as she held up a hand to ward him off. "Mr Tibbles and I are quite accustomed to the heat, I assure you."
"Nonsense. No need to suffer when there's something can be done about it." Waving aside her protestations, Tom muttered a spell.
Arabella swayed dizzily as the magic twisted through her, turning her stomach even as it made the heat of the afternoon more bearable. Pushing down her nausea, Arabella gave her best attempt at a grateful smile, hoping that Tom would hurry with the portal. After he tapped the bricks, she steeled herself and stepped through the entrance, concentrating on the cracks in the pavement as she tried to block out the feeling of magic zinging all around her. Grimacing, she shuffled Mr Tibbles around until she could reach the tin of candied ginger she kept for her special shopping trips and fumbled it open. Her stomach gradually settled as she sucked on the candy, and she gave a great sigh of relief.
Avoiding a family with four little ones, she walked through the door to Eeylops' - open to catch a breeze on this stifling afternoon - and walked out moments later with owl treats. She consulted her list as she shuffled along the lane, muttering to herself as she circled items with the stub of a pencil and crossed a few others off. Distracted, she didn't see the large group of boys until they were surrounding her, jostling her along with them. Holding tightly to her handbag and to Mr Tibbles - who was making his displeasure known - Arabella tried to use her pointy elbows to good effect. Instead, she caught the attention of the young men.
The one she'd attempted to shove aside rounded on her, his narrow little eyes reminding her uncomfortably of the Dursley boy and his propensity toward boyish pranks of the violent variety.
"Watch where you're going," he hissed, crowding her against the massive figure of one of his friends. Mr Tibbles, picking up on Arabella's unease, flew out of his perch in her handbag, claws unsheathed as he growled and struck, slicing up the boy's light-weight robes and catching skin underneath if the howls of pain were anything to judge by.
Before Arabella could do anything - call Mr Tibbles off or urge him to further acts of aggression,she heard a familiar voice shouting, "'Ere now! Back away with yeh." She saw the stringy grey hair of her ill-mannered rescuer as he fought through the throng and gave a short sigh of relief. "What are yeh up to, young Malfoy? Think I don't know what yeh're about? Move along."
"Shove off, you old Squib," the boy who had been menacing her said, though oddly, he was staring at the gentleman as he said it. Malfoy, though; she should have known. His father had been a right pain in the arse back in the old days...
"Squib, am I? Maybe you'd like me to drop a hint of your activities into your Head of House's ear, eh?" The gentleman loomed over the boy, and Arabella couldn't help but appreciate the sight. He might be getting on in years, but he was far more agile than she'd have thought. Rather like a rangy old tom, actually.
Arabella forced her thoughts onto a more appropriate track as she watched the boys run off down Knockturn, occasionally sending dark looks back toward the two of them. Attempting a smile, she turned back to the gentleman and was about to say a word of thanks when he shoved Mr Tibbles into her arms.
"Yer cat. Best keep a better eye on him."
Arabella's eyes narrowed, but she stroked a soothing hand over Mr Tibbles' back before urging him gently into her bag. She'd have to stop and get him a mousie as a reward for his bravery. "Thank you," she said, her voice a bit scratchy.
He didn't respond, merely turned to walk away.
"Wait!" she called before she could think better of it.
He didn't quite stop, but his steps did sort of hesitate.
"Let me buy you lunch. I owe you a debt of gratitude."
He rounded on her so fast, his hair whipped against his face. "Why? Charity for the poor Squib?" he sneered.
"I...what?" she asked, speechless.
"Don't play the fool, missy. I know yeh heard those boys. Well, Squib I may be, but I ain't in need of no blasted charity!" He drew himself up proudly, glaring at her.
"I'm not the fool," Arabella said through her teeth, poking him in his puffed out chest. "You are, if you think I'd be feeling pity for you. Why should I? I'm a Squib." She tossed her head. "It's nothing to be ashamed of." She watched him deflate a bit, though he still looked suspicious. "You saved me a bit of trouble with those boys. I would make the same offer to anyone. Take it or leave it."
He stared at her, considering for such a long time that she tossed her hands in the air and turned to go back to her shopping.
She turned back to him slowly. "You accept my offer?"
"I have to eat, don't I?"
She nodded slowly. "We both do, at that."
"Then I'll eat with you. But I'll pay my own way. You said yer thanks already. That's enough."
"I'd feel better about it if you'd let me buy your lunch, but I understand that you aren't comfortable with such a gesture. So." Glancing around, she suggested, "The Leaky, then?"
At his brusque nod, Arabella turned with a smug sense of triumph and began to lead the way back up Diagon. After a mostly silent few moments - broken only by the chatter and noise of the wizarding shoppers around them - Arabella thought to ask, "Where is your cat?"
"Mrs Norris is around. She'll find me when she needs me."
Arabella nodded. She had enough cats to understand the sentiment. Searching the cobbles for another topic of conversation, Arabella had nearly given up when she realised she still didn't know her rescuer's name. Turning abruptly right there in the middle of Diagon Alley, she stuck out her hand and said, "I'm Arabella Figg."
He stared down at her hand, as if was contaminated by some dread disease - she'd seen the look often enough growing up as a Squib to recognise it immediately - and gingerly took it. His grip was completely limp for all of two seconds before he squeezed hard enough to crush the fine bones in her hand and muttered, "Argus Filch."
Arabella's eyebrows arched high on her forehead as recognition dawned. "You're the caretaker at Hogwarts!"
And a man of few words, obviously. "How... exciting that must be."
He tugged at his ear as they stopped before gateway. "Nah. Not really. Mostly just cleaning up. Supervising the brats in detentions. Shinin' the hardware."
"Oh, but with all the activity there, especially these past few years..."
The gateway opened as a wizarding couple stepped through. Arabella nodded quickly at them - they looked vaguely familiar, but it might just be the red hair - and passed through the arch before it could disappear. She nearly tumbled to the ground when she turned to check that Mr Filch had made it through only to find that he'd been right on her heels. "Ooomf!" Her arms pinwheeled, she dropped her bag, and just as she was losing her fight with gravity, strong hands wrapped around her upper arms and jerked her upright.
Directly into Mr Filch's chest.
Arabella hadn't felt her heart race like this since the late Mr Figg had passed. And if she were being completely honest, she would have to admit it had been many years prior to his passing that had seen anything to make her pulse beat faster. Sighing dreamily, Arabella stared up at Mr Filch and said, "Thank you."
He pulled his hands away quickly and left them floundering in the air for a moment, as if unsure what to do with them, before he dropped them back to his sides. Grunting, he stepped around her to push open the back door of the Leaky Cauldron.
Arabella patted her hair to check it hadn't become too mussed, collected her bag, chased down Mr Tibbles, and finally followed behind Mr Filch, who had apparently grown impatient waiting for her and entered the Leaky to secure them a table. As Arabella stood in the doorway to allow her eyes to adjust to the gloom of the pub, something brushed past her ankles. Looking down, she chuckled. It was Mr Filch's cat.
Arabella followed Mrs Norris to a small table in the corner. With a stern word to Mr Tibbles to mind his manners, she poured a small mound of kibble onto the floor from a pouch she'd slipped into her bag that morning. Mr Tibbles dropped silently to the floor and settled to eating, only growling once when Mrs Norris decided to allow him share with her. Arabella smiled at the sight and said, "Well, they seem to have become friendly."
Mr Filch hmmph'd, his nose nearly pressed to the grubby menu. Arabella raised her reading glasses - attached to an elegant chain around her neck - and peeled the other menu from a sticky spot on the table. She looked up, nose wrinkled, and was just in time to see Tom waving his wand in their direction. Bracing herself, Arabella sat through the nauseating sensation of the magic that washed over their table, leaving it, the chairs, and the menus as clean as magic could make them.
From the corner of her eye, she saw Mr Filch raise a shaking hand to his forehead, pressing his fingers to his temple as a vein throbbed there.
"How do you stand it?" she asked before she could stop herself. Biting her tongue, she chided herself for her impulsiveness. As if he would want to acknowledge it...
"Two fingers of whiskey. Good whiskey, not the dragon piss these wizards drink."
Arabella smiled and leaned in to whisper to him behind her menu. "I take a sherry." Realising how that sounded, she hurried to say, "Not everyday, mind. I live in a Muggle neighborhood and - Not that there's aught wrong with a bit of drink now and then - Oh, bugger." She clapped a hand to her mouth. "Pardon me!"
Mr Filch certainly didn't seem offended, if his rusty chuckle was any indication. He waved her concern away and said, "Eat yer meal."
"Oh!" Arabella hadn't realised the food was on the table until Mr Filch drew her attention to it. "They must employ house-elves."
"Best part o' my day is mealtimes. Bloody buggers are ugly as sin, but at least they don't give me a ragin' headache with any wand-wavin' like the professors and the brats do." Argus blinked a few times after he said that, then coloured slightly before he muttered, "Eh, sorry. Didn't mean to ramble on."
Arabella hid a smile in her napkin. Ramble on, indeed. Argus Filch reminded her more and more of her Tufty, a cantankerous cat to be sure, but one with a heart of gold.
The rest of the meal passed far too fast for Arabella. It was lovely to be able to talk to someone who knew the grey, in-between world that Squibs inhabited. She found herself detailing her morning at the ministry - "I was uncomfortable enough already, what with all the magic around, and then there they were. Sitting up there on their chairs as high and mighty as you please. And not even willing to allow Mr Tibbles to give testimony! As if he didn't see everything plain as day!" - listening to his accounts of past misdeeds by students too willful and arrogant to think of the extra work they were loading onto his shoulders - "Those redheaded demons are the worst of the lot. Identical as anything, as if one of them wasn't enough! But you'll see. I'll have them out on their ears. Yes, I will." - and enjoying herself greatly. Even Mr Tibbles seemed happy with the company, if the way he was trying to woo Mrs Norris was an example.
"Well. My train leaves in an hour. And I still have to run into Muggle London for some things." Mr Filch dragged the tines of his fork across his empty plate, a small frown creasing his forehead.
Arabella bit her lip. She hated to have the afternoon end so soon, though a glance at her watch revealed that they'd been eating lunch for more than two hours. A warm glow filled her, giving her just enough courage to quietly say, "Thank you for the lovely meal. Perhaps next time you're in London...?"
Mr Filch dropped his fork with a clatter and made a few false starts before he pursed his lips and said, "This ain't no date, woman."
Arabella blinked back the sudden sting of tears in her eyes at his harsh words. "Oh."
"If it were a date, it'd be dress up. And toilet water. And me holdin' out yer chair. Ain't you ever been on a date?" Before Arabella could say 'yes' or 'no' or 'mind your own business', Mr Filch harrumped and slapped the table. "Next Friday. I'll show ye a date." He up-ended a small pouch onto the table, separated some wizarding money from Muggle, and shoved the remainder back into the bag. "When ye come to town, do ye use the Knight Bus or Muggle transport?"
Gaping a bit like a fish, Arabella could only whisper, "Kn-knight Bus."
"Have it drop ye here. Here! I'll be outside waitin' for ye." Scooping up Mrs Norris with a heavy handed pat for Mr Tibbles, he turned and barked, "Don't forget the toilet water!"
Arabella sat, stunned, until long after he was gone before a small smile stretched her lips. "Did you hear that, Mr Tibbles? Toilet water. I do believe I have a beau."