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By Theft or Force

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I. the tree that is in the midst of the garden

Hope for Wizard-born Squibs!
Getting Your Magic Back: It Doesn’t Have To Remain A Dream!

Dear Recipient,

We are pleased to inform you that your name is listed in the registry of wizard-born Squibs whose wizarding ancestry can be traced back at least five generations. This makes you eligible for compensations offered by the Ministry of Magic under the new government.

As recent research undertaken by the Department of Mysteries has revealed, magic can only be passed from person to person when wizards reproduce. Where no proven wizarding ancestry exists, Muggle-borns – or more correctly: Mudbloods – are likely to have obtained magical powers by theft or force, by draining the rightful heirs of their powers and leaving them bereft and destitute.

These so-called Squibs, offspring of wizarding families who are unable to perform magic, have been cheated out of what is due to them by birth. They exhibit the same characteristics as Muggles and have therefore no place in wizarding society. But this is about to change: The newly appointed Muggle-born Registration Commission has embarked on the mission of re-introducing Squibs to the society to which they belong. We are currently in the process of investigating Mudbloods who have insinuated themselves into our world, and we will soon launch a nation-wide cleansing programme designed to extract the magical powers that they have obtained by fraud and to return them to the rightful owners.

We would like to offer you our warmest congratulations and are looking forward to welcoming you back in our midst.

A Ministry official will be in touch shortly.

Please address any questions to:

Miss Dolores Umbridge
Senior Undersecretary to the Minister
Head of the Muggle-born Registration Commission
Ministry of Magic
London

 

Arabella stared at the slip of pink paper that she had just picked up from the doormat. The golden letters on the cover had caught her eye, their glow only slightly dimmed by dried cat sick. It was bewildering news, she would have to peruse the pamphlet later. Right now, Mr Tibbles was weaving around her legs and miaowing expectantly. Snowy was already waiting in the kitchen, she could see her perched on the worktop, her white tail wrapped neatly around her front paws. She looked very innocent. She had probably egged on Mr Paws and Tufty to open the fridge or drag out the bag of cat food from the cupboard under the stairs. Snowy didn’t like to get her own paws dirty, and Arabella had never succeeded in pinning any of the misdeeds that happened around the house on her.

“There now, Mr Tibbles, there now,” she crooned at her favourite and leaned down to scratch him behind the ears. “Who’s a good boy? Who’s a furry little darling?”

Mr Tibbles mrrrowed, and then he chirped like an excited young kitten the moment Arabella stepped over the threshold to the kitchen. He was a smart boy. He knew that it paid to greet the caregiver at the door. Thus, she knew that he loved her best and could be sure of getting his treats first.

And he was hardly ever implicated in any of the crimes that got committed around the house.

II. the calls are coming from inside the house

“…because you see, Mr Tibbles, I don’t know if I want to have magical powers at all. I would have to learn how to use them, wouldn’t I, and I’m far too featherbrained for that I’m afraid. How could I ever learn to open the tin for you with a wand? I would make such a mess of it. They would make me get rid of the fridge and the telly, too. And we likes our Corrie, don’t we, Mr Tibbles, you big old soppy, don’t we? Yes, we do. And Countdown, what would we do without Countdown? We like to have our nap when Countdown is on, don’t we? Yes, we do, yes, we do. Here, Mr Paws, this is for you. Don’t scoff like that, you’re not a goggie, are you? Are you, Mr Paws? Here you go! No, don’t fight, you silly children! Don’t fight, there’s enough for everyone. Where’s Snowy? Has any of you seen Snowy? Has she gone off in a huff again, the silly girl? Now, now, there’s no need for scratching, Tufty. This is my best skirt, please take your claws out. There, that’s better. We must be on our best behaviour today, my loves. We’re expecting important visitors. Yes, the Ministry of Magic is sending someone to talk to Mummy. They want to check if Mummy should be permitted to carry a wand. Would you like that, Mr Tibbles? Mummy carrying a wand? I could conjure up a full bowl of tuna any time I wanted. You’d like that, wouldn’t you, Mr Tibbles? All the tuna you can eat. Yes, all right, Tufty, come here, you’ll get your ear scritches, there you go, there you go… Where’s Mr Paws? Where are you, you big ginger brute? Don’t you dare make a mess in the living room today! No, not on the armchair, I have just brushed your hairs off the cushions. We don’t want the nice Ministry lady to end up covered in cat hair, do we? She might decide Mummy’s not eligible for a wand after all…”

Arabella straightened up with a struggling ginger cat in her arms and stared unseeingly at the wall.

“Perhaps, perhaps… But no.”

III. we are experiencing technical difficulties

Dolores, the Ministry official had said her name was, Dolores Umbridge. She was a short woman, shorter than Arabella, wore a fluffy pink cardigan over her robes and looked vaguely familiar, though Arabella could not place her. She liked her instantly. She had been worried they would send someone big and imposing, someone like Amelia Bones, may she rest in peace, someone who would try to trip her up and make her feel stupid and insignificant. But Dolores was nice. She wore a bow in her neat hair and she took plenty of milk and sugar in her tea. She didn’t mind Tufty sitting in her lap, either. Well, Tufty was not the greatest judge of character and she’d purr at anyone who offered ear scritches and belly rubs, but it did put Arabella at her ease. Dolores explained to her the difficulties of extracting magic from Muggleborns who had no right to them. The Department of Mysteries were working day and night to develop a method for transferring magic from those who had stolen it to those whose rightful property it was, but the process proved to be a long and difficult one. Despite herself, Arabella felt a pang of disappointment. Even though she was not absolutely sure that she wanted to trade the life she was accustomed to, the quiet, withdrawn, almost entirely Muggle-like life, for a life of magic, she found that, now that it had come within her grasp, she would very much like to have the choice.

“And so, you see, my dear Arabella,” Dolores twittered, one hand buried in Tufty’s lush fur, the other busy dunking a digestive into her cup of tea, “we are doing our best to round up all Mudbloods and get them to surrender the powers that they shouldn’t have in the first place. But they are not very cooperative. Let me tell you, my dear,” she leaned in, and Arabella mirrored the motion involuntarily, “they are all for what they can get! We haven’t found out yet how they manage to steal a wizard’s or witch’s powers from them, but our dedicated team at the Department of Mysteries has devised a range of cutting-edge experiments to be performed on Mudbloods that will allow us to find out more about their tricks and resources.”

Despite herself, Arabella shuddered. For a split second, the ghost of Lily Potter appeared to glide across the room. Tufty, who didn’t care for being squashed between Dolores’ lap and bosom, gave a sharp miaow and leapt onto the backrest of the sofa, where she joined Mr Paws. He swatted her playfully on the head and she bit his ear.

Dolores was watching Arabella with wide eyes. “Is there anything wrong, dear?” she trilled.

“Sorry? No, no,” Arabella took the tea cosy off the tea pot and poured herself another cup. It was silly, really. She was being silly. “Would you like a top-up?”

“Yes, please.” Dolores held out her cup. “This is lovely,” she sighed, wriggling back into her chair. “You’ve got a lovely home here… all things considered.” Her eyes flicked to the television set, then to the radiator and finally to the lamp on the occasional table in the corner.

“Oh, sorry, Dolores. I didn’t even notice it got dark. Would you like me to turn on the light?” Arabella was halfway out of her seat when Dolores stopped her with a hand on her arm.

“Please, my dear, don’t be such a Muggle. You should start getting used to your new way of life.” She flicked her wand and lit candles appeared on the coffee table. Mr Tibbles, always the inquiring mind, took this as an invitation to explore the miracle of fire. He leapt lightly onto the table, seated himself between the tea pot and the sugar bowl, and, his head tilted and his eyes narrowed, reached out a careful paw towards the dancing flame.

“Mr Tibbles!” He jumped back down in a flash of grey.

“You’ve got to excuse Mr Tibbles, Dolores,” said Arabella. “He has to explore everything with his own paws. This is why I don’t use candles around the house,” she added, rather pleased that she had come up with an excuse that had nothing to do with her lack of magic. “Open fire in a house with cats is quite a hazard. Especially if they’re still young kittens and don’t understand the dangers.”

“Naturally,” Dolores agreed, dunking another biscuit in her tea and showing her teeth in a broad smile. “Real cats can be such a bother, can’t they? But there is a way to keep them so that they’ll give you pleasure without causing any inconvenience. I’ll teach it to you, once you have your own wand.”

IV. thoughts that go bump in the night

“Mr Paws!” Arabella sighed, exasperated, and rolled onto her side, pulling her knees up. Somewhere by the foot of the bed, a pair of eyes gleamed – rather mischievously, as she found. She had never succeeded in teaching Mr Paws that night time was sleep time, even for virile young toms like him. Her own eyes accustomed to the darkness, she watched him wriggle his butt and pounce at the spot where her feet had been. Seeing him look around bewildered and disappointed when all he encountered was a bit of bunched-up duvet almost made up for everything. Mr Paws, she had to admit not for the first time, had not been the sharpest kitten in the kindle.

“Oh, go out and play with the others,” she pushed him lightly with her foot, forcing him to leap off the bed. “Go on, shoo!”

Somewhere in the hall, Mr Tibbles miaowed commandingly. He, too, often found Mr Paws exasperating. Arabella was very grateful that he was prepared to keep him busy so that she could go back to sleep.

But once all cats have left her bedroom – the girls had suddenly decided that they had enough beauty sleep for one night, thank you very much, and followed the boys out – and she had settled back into her pillows, the thoughts that had rested curled up at the back of her mind began to stir and, like tendrils of strange underwater creatures, spread out until her whole head was filled with them.

There had been a dream. Arabella rolled onto her back and, blinking up at the ceiling in concentration, tried to remember what it was. There was something about a flight and possibly a bear. Or two bears? No, it wasn’t a bear, it was something more powerful. Razor-sharp teeth and blazing eyes. And someone had saved her.

Was it wrong? What she was thinking of doing, was it wrong? She hadn’t asked for it. In fact, she had never asked for much, and she had never got much. She had been quite content, moving to Little Whinging to keep an eye on Lily Potter’s son and breeding cats and kneazles.

Lily Potter had been a Muggle-born.

She had been quite content living a life that she owned to somebody else. She had managed to carve out a small niche that was her own in it, though. She owed a lot to Dumbledore, without him her life would not have been so… content.

If Lily Potter were still alive, would they experiment on her?

She was not welcome in the wizarding society, her parents had made it very clear, and she did understand where they were coming from. Sometimes, she wondered if her brother had ever missed her. He had been so young, then.

Dumbledore had never offered to give her her powers back.

If she was allowed a wand – would she be allowed to meet her nieces? They must be quite grown-up young ladies by now; still, she was sure they would like a half-kneazle kitten. Everyone must love a kneazle kitten, delightful purry little fur balls that they were.

Dolores did offer. Dolores had come to her all the way from London to talk to her. And she liked cats. The way she had petted Tufty, there was something – odd, disquieting, predatory – no, what was the word, funny, how words slipped away from you when you were dozing off, something comforting about it, yes, comforting. The other cats did not want to be petted by Dolores, Mr Tibbles had darted out through the cat flap, and Snowy had stalked off upstairs, but Tufty did. Tufty wasn’t the brightest cat, but she was affectionate.

Affection, that’s what it was. Physical affection, the simple act of petting. Tufty’s tortoiseshell fur and her hand, Dolores had petted her hand, patted her hand, just before she left, patted her on the back of her hand, where the half-healed scratches were that Tufty had left there three-four-five days ago, and it had been nice and warm, and it was warmth that she was falling into as if into an embrace, warmer and softer than cat fur, and all-encompassing and there wouldn’t be any beasts in her dreams now and she clutched a wand in the hand that had been touched by a witch.

V. roses and forget-me-nots

“Well, my dear Arabella, the good news is I have submitted my report to the Minister of Magic, and he and I quite agree that you will be eligible for magic transfer as soon as a batch becomes available.”

“Have you found a… a…” Personally, Arabella didn’t care for the term ‘Mudblood’, but as far as she understood it was in common usage in the wizarding society. “A Muggle-born willing to give theirs up?” The word would not pass her lips, no matter how hard she tried.

Dolores’ eyebrows shot up. “Willing?” She gave a twinkling little laugh. “Oh, but my dear! They will never willingly give up what they have stolen! That would amount to admitting to the crime. Oh no, no. It will be only thanks to our dedicated and highly trained Unspeakables that we will succeed in retrieving your powers from them.”

“I see.” Arabella nodded. Her head felt somewhat heavy today, her mind sluggish and slow. She hadn’t been getting enough sleep lately.

“Of course you do. You’re so very smart.” Dolores looked around, lounging quite comfortably in Arabella’s favourite chair, with Arabella’s wool blanket wrapped around her legs. The room was dim and warm, lit only by a handful of candles floating above their heads. One of them was dripping hot wax onto the carpet, drip-drip-drip, but Arabella couldn’t be bothered to say anything about it. Dolores looked so very much at home in her living room, it was nice. It was nice to have someone to talk to, someone other than the Muggles amidst whom she lived and from whom she kept so many secrets; someone other than members of the Order who would arrive every now and then with new orders, expecting her to fetch and carry at the drop of a hat.

Dolores did not expect her to do anything. She had visited Arabella five times now. Her first visit had been quite formal; there was a clipboard with forms and questionnaires and Ministry pamphlets. Now, though, she popped by at tea time, presenting Arabella with a bag of Chocolate Frogs or a flask of pumpkin juice, and Arabella could not help but feel proud that she had made friends with such an important member of the Ministry. She remembered now where she had seen Dolores before: at Dumbledore’s funeral. Dolores had been one of the mourners, and Arabella remembered her looking pale and drawn.

“You have been quite close to Dumbledore, haven’t you, Arabella?”

Arabella startled. Sometimes, it was as if Dolores could read her mind. Or perhaps she had spoken aloud? It happened occasionally, she was so accustomed to talking to the cats that she couldn’t be sure that words did not escape her in unguarded moments that had only ever been intended for the privacy of her head.

“What makes you say that?”

“Oh, I’ve just thought of how we almost met at his funeral,” said Dolores. “I saw you there, you know. Had I known what a delightful little person you were, I would have certainly talked to you then.” She snuggled deeper into the armchair and pulled her legs up. “We are quite happy friends, aren’t we?”

“Yes,” said Arabella.

“Oh dear, have I said the wrong thing?” Dolores reached out from the depth of her comfortable fluffy nest and patted Arabella’s hand. “You look like you’ve seen a ghost. There are no ghosts here, I assure you.” She giggled quite like a little girl. “I would know.”

“No,” said Arabella. Something in the back of her mind was screaming at her, but she couldn’t make out the words.

“Here, my dear, have another cup of tea.” Dolores removed the tea cosy and filled Arabella’s cup, then her own. “And perhaps we could make it a teensy little bit stronger, what do you think?”

“What do you mean?”

“I think we two girls deserve a little fun,” said Dolores, unscrewing a small bottle that she had pulled out from her handbag and pouring a few drops into Arabella’s cup. “There you go!”

“What about you?”

“Oh, don’t worry about me, petal. There’s more than enough. There now, drink up!”

Arabella carried the cup to her lips obediently and took a careful sip. And another one. Pleasant warmth blossomed on her tongue and her lips, spreading across her face and down her neck, tingling over her breasts and pooling between her legs. That was nice.

“Are you comfy?” Dolores trilled from her chair. “You look quite flushed.”

“Mmh, yes,” said Arabella, tipping her head back against the backrest. Her skin tingled.

“I wonder: where have the kitties disappeared to?” Dolores purred. “I wouldn’t mind a nice pussy in my lap now.”

“Yes, that would be nice.” Arabella shifted on the sofa, desperately trying to find a position that would help with the tingling. She slid to and fro, increasingly desperate, and, eventually, pulled her legs up and sat on her own heel, rubbing herself against it.

“Oh dear, oh dear…” She had not seen Dolores move. Suddenly, there was warmth and the heady scent of rose potpourri, and a warm, slightly damp hand that patted her own. “You really are quite flushed, my dear Arabella, I think we should take off this silly cardi… that’s better. And what about your pretty skirt? Let’s pull it up a bit, there… There, there, dear, it’s all right. Just let me- Yes, that’s better, isn’t it?”

Her head swam, yet a tiny part of her brain, the same one that had been trying to get her attention for a while now, finally made itself understood.

“No,” Arabella croaked. “Please, don’t.” Memories surfaced all of a sudden, memories of heat and pressure and wetness, and of Dolores’ all-embracing rose-potpourri scent, weighing down on her. This was something that she did not want, and it had happened before. She had not remembered before, but she did remember now.

“Now, what were we chatting about?” Dolores snuggled against Arabella’s side, her hair tickling Arabella’s cheek. A plump hand stroked up Arabella’s thigh and disappeared under the hem of her skirt. “Oh yes, Dumbledore. You were friends with him, weren’t you?” The hand snaked deftly underneath Arabella and slithered between her legs. This did feel good, the warmth and the pressure. Dolores was petting her like she had been petting Tufty, her short fingers surprisingly deft. “Tut, tut, dear, what are you wearing these Muggle contraptions for?” Dolores said into her ear, tugging at Arabella’s tights to pull them down. “Our undergarments are so much nicer, look.”

To her stomach-turning horror, Arabella found her hand seized and shoved between the yielding flesh of Dolores’ thighs, into moisture and heat. “Let go!” she moaned. “Please, let go!”

“But my dear Arabella, you didn’t mind it the other day!” Dolores’ words dripped into Arabella’s ear like syrup. “In fact, you rather enjoyed it. Let me see if we can recreate the magic together.”

The waistband of her tights cut into the soft flesh of her hips and thighs, and, despite herself, Arabella was pushing down onto the fingers that had found their way inside her. “Lovely,” Dolores was purring against her skin, “lovely, isn’t this lovely? Such a good girl. Such a sweet little fanny, so wet. Has Dumbledore ever made you feel like this? Or anyone of that nasty Order of his? No, they haven’t, have they? No, they haven’t. They never made you feel good, they just wanted to use you. What did they make you do, Arabella? What did they ask of you?”

The fingers inside her stilled, and Arabella moaned. This was torture. “Oh, please!” she gasped, rubbing herself against the heel of Dolores’ hand. Her head spun, and nausea was building up somewhere in the pit of her stomach, but she didn’t care. She couldn’t stop now.

A hand had slipped underneath her blouse and bra, quite unnoticed, and Dolores pinched her nipple. “What do they ask of you?” she whispered, her mouth so close to Arabella’s face that she could feel the moisture of her breath. “I know you were helping Potter… Where is he now?”

“I don’t know!” Arabella moaned. “I don’t know.”

“There’s no use, Arabella. I know that you were friends with Potter when he still lived here.” The plump hand kneaded Arabella’s breast. “Where did he go? Does he ever come back here?” Under the caresses, her breasts were getting heavier and heavier, she could actually feel them swell. “If you’re still friends with Potter, you can’t be friends with me. And you wouldn’t want us to not be friends any longer, would you?”

Arabella scrambled away from the rose-potpourri scent and, blinking her eyes rapidly, shook her head to clear it. “I don’t know where Harry is,” she said in a voice that sounded almost like her own. “I’m not friends with him.” I’m friends with you, she wanted to say, but her tongue didn’t cooperate.

“Hmm… Perhaps you really don’t know. They don’t let you in on their secrets, do they? They don’t really trust you. They’re not your friends, Arabella,” the voice, so soft and sweet, slithered out of Dolores’ mouth and into Arabella’s ears, filling out her head until there was no room for anything else, just like her fingers were filling her out below. Dolores had come after her, burying Arabella beneath her body as Arabella melted into the cushions. “But I am your friend. If I weren’t your friend, we would not be doing this. This is something you only do with friends, with people whom you trust. You trust me, Arabella.”

“Yes.” She was too weak and dizzy to protest. “Please go on.”

“Go on doing what?”

“Doing that.” And as the hand didn’t move, Arabella swallowed and breathed, all aflame with embarrassment: “Rubbing my fanny.”

“Rubbing your fanny?” Dolores lifted her head and raised her eyebrows. “Rubbing your fanny? My, my. That’s a nasty word, isn’t it? What a dirty mouth you’ve got, who would have though it? I think we need to find a good use for that nasty, dirty mouth, don’t you?”

She pulled back, quite abruptly, leaving Arabella gasping and breathless.

“Now, let’s see…” Dolores pulled off her cardigan and her robes. Underneath, she was wearing an old-fashioned flesh-coloured corset and chunky suspenders that held up a pair of likewise flesh-coloured thick stockings. Her knickers were off-white and covered the best part of her belly and thighs. “I think you should help me take these off,” she said, patting the suspenders clasp on her left leg. Her right hand was clutching her wand – a short, stubby one, very thick at the base. Arabella obeyed with trembling hands, sliding down from the sofa and onto her knees before Dolores. Her head had cleared a fraction and she was aware that this was not a good idea, but it felt so good, and Dolores was so pretty, with her round curves and soft skin. Undressing her was intoxicating, a bit like drinking too much sherry, which wasn’t good for you, either, but you didn’t really care, not in the moment of drinking.

Naked from the waist down, Dolores patted her on the cheek and leaned down until they were at eye level. “You’ll be a good girl now and this will feel really nice for you.” She pressed her fingers to Arabella’s lips and Arabella smelled the scent of her own arousal. “As you have such a dirty mouth already, we will make it do something really nasty.” She turned around, crouched on her hands and knees before Arabella and rested her head on a cushion. Then, she reached back and pulled her thighs apart. Arabella startled. “There. Be a good girl and get licking now.”

It was an odd sensation; it felt wrong, and dirty, and Arabella knew that she should have refused it, but something about the sight of the shocking pink, very moist flesh was irresistible. And then there was the taste… she had never tasted anything quite like it before, salty-sweet and potent, it coated her tongue and shot to her head. Dolores was making tiny little noises, like a kitten, and she was babbling into the cushion, gasping “yes” and “please” and “suck my pussy”, and Arabella liked to have her at her mercy, to see her quite so needy and full of abandon. She reached around, groping her way up Dolores’ torso until she reached her breasts. They were big and very soft and she squeezed them, carefully at first, then harder, keeping Dolores in place, lapping at her pussy with the flat of her tongue.

“The bumhole!” Dolores gasped out. “Now do the bumhole.”

“What?” Arabella pulled back, bewildered.

“Lick my bumhole.” Dolores wriggled her behind and reached back once again to spread her cheeks.

“But…” Surely, that couldn’t be right.

“Oh dear,” Dolores turned her head and frowned at Arabella. “What did we say about girls with dirty mouths? We said that we’ll find a nasty use for them didn’t we? Lick the bumhole, Arabella.”

And she did. Arabella leaned back in, her heart attempting to break out of her chest, pumping blood to her face and between her legs. Her ears were ringing and her hands trembling, and this was oh so wrong. She poked the tiny hole tentatively with the tip of her tongue, and Dolores yelped. Emboldened, she pushed her tongue in firmer, until the muscle gave way and it slipped in, just a tiny bit. Arabella pulled back, her heart pounding so fast she feared she’d pass out.

“Tut-tut, you don’t quite have the hang of it yet, my dear.” Lightheaded as she was, she had not noticed Dolores turn back to face her. “Let me show you how it is done. Pull your skirt up. And pull those ridiculous things off.” Arabella wriggled out of her tights. “Now, show me your fanny. Oh, what a silly girl you are, there’s no need to be shy. Get down on your knees and show me your fanny. Now, reach back and spread your bum cheeks, like I did for you. Lovely.” A stubby finger drove inside her pussy forcefully, making Arabella squeal in shock. “There now. Push back. Yes, just like this. Pull away now. And push back. Now, isn’t this nice? I told you us two girls would have so much fun together.”

The heat had become almost unbearable, and Arabella feared she might die if something didn’t happen, and fast. And then, something did: a wet, slippery sensation, and with a sudden jolt, she realised that Dolores was using spit to ease her way into her bum. She tried to pull away, but wedged as she was between Dolores and the sofa, it was impossible. Panting, she resigned herself to the sensation – it wasn’t painful, but it was new and very odd. Behind her, Dolores whispered a spell that Arabella didn’t catch, and then, she pulled her fingers out of Arabella’s pussy and replaced them with something blunt and thick that filled her out completely. “Oh, fuck!” Arabella exploded.

“You filthy slut!” The words were accompanied by a sharp smack on her bottom. “What kind of language is this? We can’t have that, can we? This kind of language has to be punished, doesn’t it?” Arabella didn’t answer, rendered speechless by the contradictory sensations that rattled her to the very core. There was another smack, harder than the first one, and she could feel Dolores’ ring leave a bruise. “Doesn’t it?”

“Yes,” she gasped.

She had sensed what the punishment would be. “Nasty, nasty…” Dolores was muttering, as she shoved the… thing into Arabella’s pussy and her fingers into Arabella’s bum, punctuating each thrust with a gasp. “Nasty. Little. Filthy. Muggle. Whore.”

Her lower body on fire, her limbs trembling and her head swirling, Arabella was fucking back, like a cat in heat. It was too much, her thighs wouldn’t be able to support her much longer, her body was not her own anymore, it was an entity over which she had no control, it was shoving and panting and rocking and then, something gave way and erupted in her cunt and flooded her with wave after wave of pleasure.

“Lovely.” The sound of the familiar, girlish voice brought her back to reality. “That was lovely, wasn’t it?” Towering above her, Dolores had already put on her robe and was buttoning up her cardigan. She looked as neat as ever, only her cheeks were very flushed and her hair was in a bit of a disarray. The pink bow had slipped off and dangled above her ear, to great comical effect. Arabella couldn’t suppress the giggle that bubbled up inside her.

Dolores raised her eyebrows. “Oh dear. Someone’s being a silly girl,” she trilled. “Nevermind. We will exercise that out of you in time. We just need a teensy bit more practice, don’t we? But we’ve had enough for today. Now, where did I put my wand…”

Still trembling, Arabella picked herself up from the carpet. As she rose to her feet, she came eye to eye with Snowy, who must have come in unnoticed and was perched on the backrest of the sofa. Her expression was unreadable, but the tip of her tail flicked rapidly. Confronted with the cool yellow gaze, Arabella blushed. She looked away from Snowy and spotted Mr Tibbles crouching under the rubber plant, his eyes slits, his tail slashing to and fro. Arabella took a step back and almost stepped onto Dolores’ hand, who was groping around on the floor.

“Ah, there it is,” Dolores said, straightening up. She grabbed her wand from where it had rolled under the sofa, wiped it against her robe and pointed it at Arabella. “Obliviate!”

VI. hag-ridden

What a strange thing the body is. She’s had hers for many decades now, and yet it sometimes seems as if she does not know it at all. Sleep is too hot, sweat clotting every pore, drenching her nightie, burning in her eyes and mouth. Arabella wakes up with a gasp, there isn’t enough air, and yet the window is open, and the room is chilly. She shivers and curls up under the duvet, in a hot burrow of cotton and flannel. There is too much heat in her these days, where does it all come from? She can’t sleep, and her dreams are a whirl of red-hot images that suffocate her until she quivers back to consciousness. She should not be sleeping with the window open – who knows what kinds of beasts and beings crawl into her room at night, into her mouth and eyes, clogging them until she can neither see nor breathe. Once she is a witch, she will be able to see them, the hags of the night, the spirits that harass the sleeper, and she will make them disappear.

But no, there are no demons here. Mr Paws is lying on top of her, his whiskers twitching in his sleep. Tufty and Mr Tibbles are curled up against her belly. Snowy is a warm weight against her back. She is glad of the company. The cats stay in at night these days, they do not wake her up to be let out, they don’t want to roam outdoors. They guard her dreams.

They’ll keep the hag away.

Tufty starts to purr against her belly. Arabella drifts off to sleep.

 

VII. the cat o’ nine tails

“We are having our tea early today, Mr Tibbles, and then you and Snowy and Mr Paws and Tufty, you will go out for a nice long walk. Dolores is coming to have tea with Mummy, and she doesn’t care for you kitties being around, she doesn’t-“ Arabella broke off and stared down into four upturned faces. Their gazes were intent and expectant. Nobody, not even Tufty, had tried to claw at her legs, and Mr Tibbles had not miaowed a word today. “I don’t think she likes cats very much,” Arabella said, and even as the words were coming out of her mouth, she could hear the uncertainty in her voice. She frowned and rubbed the bridge of her nose. “No, that can’t be right,” she said, slowly. “Dolores likes cats. I’m sure of it.”

Mr Tibbles gave a loud mrow and leapt onto the worktop. He stalked over the open can of tuna, ignoring it completely, walked up to her and looked her straight in the eyes.

“I know,” said Arabella. “Something isn’t right. What is it, Mr Tibbles?”

He exchanged a look with Snowy, who miaowed – a sound so rare that Arabella’s knees gave way and she sank onto a chair. “Oh Merlin! What is happening here?” She looked from one furry face to another. The sharp sound of the doorbell tore through the air. “Don’t leave me,” Arabella whispered at her cats. “Please don’t leave me alone.”

“Arabella, my dear!” the bell-like voice of her friend chimed on the other side of the backdoor. “It’s me, let me in! Arabella! If you don’t let me in, I will have to let myself in, and that wouldn’t be nice, would it? Where are our manners, Arabella?”

Mr Tibbles and Snowy exchanged another look, and then, to Arabella’s horror, they shot out of the kitchen, Snowy swatting Mr Paws over the head as she went, telling him to get a move on. They dashed through the cat flap like furry bullets. Arabella heard a high-pitched shriek on the other side of the door.

She rushed to the window, and, crouching behind the net curtains, watched her cats circle her friend slowly, deliberately, ears flattened and tails slashing. She was never quite sure just how much magical power half-kneazles had – just as she wasn’t sure how safe her house was, exactly. Dumbledore had told her that it was protected by spells. How many spells? What kind of spells? And were they still in place, after Dumbledore’s death? Dolores could not get in, it seemed, not unless Arabella let her in. Or perhaps she wouldn’t? No, no it looked like she couldn’t, or she would have magicked open the door or simply Apparated inside. Instead, she was backing away, step by step, trying to keep her eyes on the cats, her wand poised. “Oh, please, no!” Arabella whispered with numb lips. “Don’t hurt them. It was all my fault. Don’t hurt them.”

She closed her eyes, her lips moving soundlessly, her hands clenched into tight fists. One, two deep breaths – and her eyes snapped open. Her chin held up high, she grabbed the string bag from the table. She had not unpacked her shopping yet. With firm and purposeful steps, Arabella strode to the backdoor and threw it open.

“Dolores!” she said, and her voice did not waver. “Go away. You are not welcome here.”

For a split second, fury distorted Dolores’ face, its expression a grotesque mask. She grappled for control. “Arabella!” she simpered, breathless and giddy. “My dear Arabella, what’s wrong? Why won’t you let me in? We are such good friends.”

“No, we’re not,” Arabella said firmly. She took a few steps closer, gripping the handles of the bag firmly. Its weight was reassuring. “They are my friends,” she pointed at the circling cats. “And you,” she added in a flash of inspiration, “you have raised your wand at them!”

Dolores’ sickly smile flickered, but she kept hold of it, just. “Oh, but we’re just playing, aren’t we? Aren’t we, my darlings?” she cooed at the cats.

Mr Tibbles hissed like a serpent.

“That’s not what they think,” said Arabella. She was praying for the scene to be over, praying for her cats to make it back to safety. Before, in the kitchen, she had almost been prepared to invite Dolores inside if that meant that she would stop threatening the cats. However, a rational part of the brain, that part that had been trying to communicate with her for a while now, had told her that letting Dolores back into her life would not make them safer. Whacking Dolores over the head with several cans of cat food was a much better idea. All she had to do was get close enough.

Snowy growled, a long, drawn-out sound that reverberated in the pit of Arabella’s stomach.

“I see,” Dolores whispered, her eyes on Arabella, “it’s like that, is it?” And she raised her wand arm.

Arabella screamed like a banshee and charged, swinging her string bag like a morning star. In a blur of fur and an almighty snarl, all four cats soared at Dolores as one. A loud crack tore through the mild evening air, and the spot where Dolores had stood mere seconds ago was empty. Mr Paws collided with Snowy, who shrieked at him and buried her claws in his fur, and they stumbled to the ground together, locked in a vicious embrace and lashing out with their hind legs. They had been at loggerheads for a few days now, it would do them good to clear the air in a good, honest fight. Tufty shot under the forsythia hedge and began licking her paw.

Mr Tibbles alone came running and leapt into her arms. Arabella stumbled back over the threshold, kicked the door shut and slid to the floor, burying her face in the grey fur. He gave a weak sound of protest, but didn’t attempt to wriggle free, even though she was crying, drenching his fur with tears and snot. She would have to make it up to him later; for now, she was holding on to him like to a lifebelt, clutching the small furry creature to her chest. Mr Tibbles started to purr.

The cat flap rattled, and Arabella shifted to make room. One after another, Snowy, Tufty and Mr Paws slinked inside, Snowy with her nose and tail high in the air. Mr Paws looked sulky, and Tufty was nervous.

Arabella gathered them all close. Tufty, delighted that the conflict was over, snuggled against her belly and instantly began to lick Mr Tibbles’ head, all a-purr. Mr Paws kept a safe distance from Snowy, who deigned to curl up on Arabella’s thigh, and started kneading Arabella’s belly.

“Oh my loves,” Arabella said to the warm pile of cats. “I am so sorry for what I have done. I promise I will never again be so stupid. You were trying to tell me something was amiss, weren’t you? I remember now. I will listen to you in future. But for now, I’ve got another favour to ask. Mr Tibbles,” she said, and he raised his head to look at her. “Once you’ve cleaned yourself up a bit, you will have to go and leave a message for that nice Mr Lupin in the usual place. You will have to be extra careful,” she added, stroking the still slightly sticky fur. “But I need to make sure you are safe here. I need a wizard to come and check if there are spells in place to protect you.”

Slumped against the door, stroking her cats, she stretched out her legs gingerly and said, staring into the distance: “I need a wizard to come and check it, because I will never become a witch.”