To Save a Squib
To Save a Squib
a Harry Potter fan-fic
sequel to The Way of the Squib
Chapter 1 of 4: Calculated Risks
Everything in this story really belongs to J.K. Rowling
I staggered away from the collapsed ruins of Malfoy’s tower to the grove of birch trees. Tumbling down the small hill, I landed, gasping, in the cold water of the stream.
The shaggy black animal who plunged in to help me was as huge as a bear. He was the largest one-headed dog I’d ever seen. But he was more than a simple dog. The wand I clutched tightly in my shaking hands belonged to him. He was a wizard. An Animagus. Beyond that, I had no idea who he was. Severus had simply referred to him as "that idiot Gryffindor."
Severus had given me the wand. The Animagus and I couldn’t have escaped without it. My hands had been bound behind my back. Snape had slid the wand between the ropes holding my wrists together. None of the other Death Eaters had seen what their Alchemist had done.
"Take the dog with you, when you go!" Severus had hissed in my ear.
Poor Severus. I had not known how difficult it would be to control so much powerful magic. I hadn’t meant to make Malfoy’s tower fall. I hoped that I hadn’t killed the Professor! Beneath the rubble, Malfoy still lived and fought me, but the fate of the other Death Eaters was uncertain. Surely Malfoy had shielded Severus when the tower fell! Blessed Merlin, I hoped so.
It was spring and the stream was running fast and high. Weakened by pain, I collapsed face down into the water. Snape’s potion had worn off precisely when he’d predicted it would. I’d been able to fight when he’d needed me to fight. And then I had been able to run.
The Animagus had been injured far worse than I. His fur was matted with blood. Yet he grabbed my shoulder in his powerful jaws and wrestled my head up and out of the stream. Choking and sputtering, I clung to him as well as the wand, hiding my face in his shaggy side.
A battle raged inside me. I held a mighty serpent by the tail while his fangs sought my throat. Lucius Malfoy wanted his magic back. I felt as if he was tearing me up inside. I did not know how much longer I could keep this up. Professor Snape had told me that I had to fight Malfoy for as long as I possibly could.
"He needs to be shown that the Squib scrolls are double-edged swords, Filch," Severus had said, grimly. "I am counting on you to teach him a lesson he won’t soon forget!"
Only a week earlier, I had seen the black dog for the first time. He’d been with Harry Potter at Hogwarts, for the garden party.
Cornelius Fudge, Minister of Magic, had wanted to show the wizarding world that everything was "perfectly normal" at Hogwarts. And so the Minister had strongly suggested to the Headmaster that Dumbledore should open up the Castle and have a party for the students and their families.
Albus Dumbledore knew that nothing was perfectly normal in a world where the Dark Lord had risen once more. And he knew that opening up the Castle to the students’ families (a mixed group that included both Death Eaters and Muggles) could be potentially quite dangerous.
But he had liked the idea of a party.
"What a splendid idea! We can have it outside!" he told the Minister. "The weather is turning quite nice."
The Headmaster had neatly sidestepped any arguments about refusing to let so many people into the Castle to wander about unsupervised.
Minister Fudge had been expecting another debate about He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named. He was so relieved not to have had one that he hadn’t objected to a garden party instead.
On the grounds in front of Hogwarts Castle four large pavilions had been erected, one for each of the four Houses. Around each of the pavilions plants and flowers had been artfully arranged, all carefully chosen to represent the four Houses’ colors.
I was actually looking forward to the event. Not because I wished to attend. Quite the opposite. I meant to spend as little time as I could at the festivities. But the Castle would be quiet during the party. Better yet, the bulk of the cleaning up would not fall to me, though I would help a great deal, of course.
For many years I would have been able to get away with lurking in my dungeon office, far from any noisy, crowded celebration. But now I had a young friend who insisted that I do otherwise.
"It’s too much excitement for Mrs. Norris!" I told Ginny, stubbornly. "She needs a lot of rest and quiet in her delicate condition!"
Ginny was stubborn too. "Bring Mrs. Norris upstairs and let her have a nap on your bed, Mr. Filch. She won’t mind if you go outside, just for a little while. Isn’t that right, Mrs. Norris? You know that I won’t let anything happen to him."
My traitorous cat had purred acquiescence at Ginny.
"I’ll wait for you outside," my little red haired friend had said firmly.
And so, a short while later, I found myself obediently walking out the Castle’s front door and down the stone steps to meet her. Ginny would not allow me to hide myself somewhere out of the way. The Castle grounds were full of people, mingling everywhere. She caught me by the hand and pulled me into the throng.
I could have pointed to the Headmaster and each of the Professors with my eyes closed. Each of them, aware of the dangers in such a gathering, were surrounded by a corona of magic as they kept an eye out for potentially difficult situations. All of them were making especially sure to watch over the Muggle relations of the students who came from mixed or Muggle families.
Professor Snape had an especially difficult task.
"You make sure that you keep those cursed Death Eaters away from the Muggles!" Alastor Moody had snarled at his fellow Slytherin. The old Auror had thought that Dumbledore was completely mad to have allowed the Minister to talk him into a party.
Snape had voiced a similar opinion when the Headmaster had told the staff about the upcoming event. But rather than openly agree with Mad-Eye, the Potions Master had just sneered.
"I do not need you to remind me of my responsibilities, Moody," he’d said.
Dressed in somber black robes a bit more elegant than his everyday ones, Severus moved easily among the assorted Slytherin families, both those with ties to the Death Eaters and those who were innocent of such Dark alliances. He knew who deserved his special scrutiny. By the end of the day, I knew that the poor man would have a pounding stress-headache.
Ginny was pulling me towards a knot of mostly Gryffindors. "Don’t worry. It’ll be fine. You already know my family," she was saying, reassuringly. "My Mum and Dad and Percy are here. You’ve always liked Percy. You told me so yourself."
"Ginny, they don’t want to see me," I protested.
"Hush! You’re not as awful as you want everyone to think... not by half. You’re just shy."
My look of outraged indignation completely failed to intimidate her.
"See?" she coaxed me. "Hermione’s parents are with my Mum and Dad. And the Creeveys. And Mr. Finnegan is over there with Mrs. Finnegan, and there are the Thomases too. You told me that you’ve never met any Muggles before. Here’s your chance."
Ginny introduced me to everyone that I didn’t already know, but the names and faces were all a blur. I felt terribly nervous though Ginny’s parents greeted me kindly and Percy did his best to set me at ease with earnest talk concerning his work at the Ministry.
The Muggles were dressed a bit oddly but they were friendly enough. They must have thought it decent of the Headmaster to have a mute Squib as caretaker since I couldn’t manage to do more than nod at them.
Mr. Creevey was a surprise. The mousy-haired Muggle milkman who had sired two small wizards was a giant. (Well, not compared to Hagrid, of course. But he towered over almost everyone else.) His dainty wife was the tiny one. I wondered if Colin and Dennis might someday take after their father.
Harry Potter’s mysterious Muggle relations were nowhere in evidence. But the boy seemed happy enough. He was with Ron and Hermione. All three of them were alternately playing with the huge, black dog, and stuffing the beast with food. At the time I did not know that anything was unusual about the creature. I just hoped that they weren’t going to overfeed it until it got sick.
A grumpy old misanthrope like me is simply not used to being around so many people at once. Especially so many people that I can’t even yell at or threaten with detention. Before long I had a headache every bit as bad as the one that Snape was surely getting.
There were too many witnesses about for me to just call a Door and vanish. So I made my excuses to Ginny and the others and headed back towards the Castle.
On the way, I bumped into Neville. Fortunately, Neville did not take me off and introduce me to his family. (He knows what I think of his great-Uncle Algernon, who once dangled my poor young friend out of an attic window.)
Neville was carrying an untouched plate of food. He’d clearly intended to eat it himself, but he gave it to me instead.
"You’re not feeling well," the boy said, studying me. "Maybe you should eat something? You don’t want to upset Mrs. Norris. She’ll hiss at you if you go back inside looking so pale. Wait here and I’ll fetch you something to drink too."
Neville darted away before I could thank him for the food and ask him if he could find me something to drink that was a bit stronger than pumpkin juice.
My young friend collided with a slender dark skinned girl, her ebony hair done in many small beaded braids. Both children tumbled to the ground.
"Oh! I’m sorry... terribly clumsy of me!" Neville said, blushing as he helped her up. "Are you hurt?"
"I’m fine," the girl said, shyly. She looked to be about the same age as Neville. I didn’t recognize her. She wasn’t a student at Hogwarts. This puzzled me because she wasn’t dressed as a Muggle either.
"Callandra! Oh, my dear! Are you hurt?"
A slim, dark skinned woman in blue robes came hurrying up to the girl. Her manner was anxious and protective. I was puzzled by this too. Callandra did not seem frail or sickly.
I recognized her mother. Hyacinth Murray had been the Ravenclaw Seeker during her school days. She’d married Reuben Moffitt. The Murrays and the Moffitts were both old wizarding families. They’d been primarily sorted into Ravenclaw for many generations. Their son, Daniel, was a Ravenclaw in his second year. Callandra should have been at Hogwarts too. But she wasn’t.
Yes, the reason should have been obvious. To me, of all people! It must have been the headache. It was several moments before I realized that Callandra was like me. I had never actually met another Squib before.
Hyacinth Moffitt was looking Neville over, clearly making sure that his collision with Callandra had just been an accident. Fortunately for him, Neville is the most harmless-looking person imaginable.
Callandra’s mother turned her sharp gaze on me next. Most of those who have been students here find out what I am, eventually. Hyacinth knew that I was like her daughter. Her Seeker’s eyes raked me up and down. When our eyes met, hers were full of pain.
My child is not going to end up anything like you! Hyacinth Moffitt was clearly thinking. No gloomy dungeon offices for my baby! No mops, no brooms! No scrubbing acres of stone floors on her hands and knees. She won’t be bitter and old before her time... not my Callandra!
She clutched her daughter to her fiercely, as if she’d just seen the girl’s death-omen.
"Mum!" Callandra protested.
"Thank you, Neville, but I’m not hungry," I murmured.
The expression of pain on Hyacinth Moffitt’s face was so familiar. I’d seen the same sorrow on my own mother’s face many times. Watching me struggle through the world without magic had hurt her deeply.
I handed Neville back his plate and left, before he could speak.
The day after the garden party, I had been carrying a ladder which Professor Sprout had borrowed from me back inside through the entrance hall. I had watched Neville coming down the stairs with his fellow Gryffindors, Parvati Patil and Lavender Brown.
"Your poem doesn’t really have to rhyme, does it?" Parvati was saying to Neville, who was looking shy and nervous. "Some of the most romantic poetry doesn’t rhyme at all."
"It’s hard for us to judge how good your poem is, if you won’t even let us see it," Lavender said, gently teasing him.
Parvati’s dark eyes sparkled. "It’s easy to guess who you’ve written it for, though. You hardly left her for a moment yesterday, all afternoon!"
Neville blushed like a ripe tomato. Then he caught sight of me. "Mr. Filch!" the boy called, sounding relieved. "Wait! Let me help you with that ladder."
I cringed. Neville is my friend. He’s saved my life and I would trust him to do so again.
But allowing him to help me carry a ladder down the dungeon stairs would truly be asking for trouble. Even Neville’s friends are forced to acknowledge that he can be remarkably clumsy.
Neville looked at me, a pleading expression on his round, good-natured face.
"Thank you, Neville," I said, trying to be brave. "I could use a hand."
Miraculously, we made it all the way down the dungeon stairs without any mishaps.
After we’d carried the ladder to my main storeroom in the dungeons, I breathed a sigh of relief.
"Mr. Filch? Do you know anything about poetry?" Neville asked me, timidly.
I shook my head. "Not a thing. Writing poems for Callandra, are you?"
The fact that I was a bit embarrassed by the subject myself appeared to bolster Neville’s confidence.
"Not `poems.’ Just the one. And it doesn’t rhyme or anything," he said. "Callandra is the most amazing girl... I could never write anything for her that would be half as perfect as she is, but I wanted to try anyhow. She sent me an owl. At breakfast this morning. She wrote me a letter! It was more of a note really. But she said that she had a wonderful time. At Hogwarts. With me!"
Fifteen. I’d been there, a very long time ago. Not long enough ago for me to have forgotten what it had felt like, unfortunately.
At fifteen, I’d been ashamed to speak even to the people I already knew. And terrified of meeting new people, always dreading the moment when they’d figure out that I couldn’t do any magic. I’d felt worthless. An outcast. Certain that no young witch would ever want anything to do with me.
Young Callandra was certainly far braver than I. What courage it must have taken for her to send an owl to Neville.
"Callandra asked me to tell you something, Mr. Filch," Neville said, hesitantly. "She says that she hopes you won’t mind her Mum. Mrs. Moffitt is a nice lady, really. She’s just a bit... erm... you know."
I did know. My own parents had also ached for me, worried about me and wanted the best for me. "I understand. Tell your young lady that I said it’s quite all right."
"I will." Hearing Callandra referred to as his `young lady’ made Neville smile, shyly.
The boy took a deep breath before he continued. "Callandra knows that you’re one too. A Squib, I mean. I told her."
He looked at me, apologetically. "I hope you don’t mind. She told me that she’s never met another one before. So I told her that I’m practically a Squib and she smiled at me and shook her head. She told me that I’m not a Squib at all! She doesn’t go to school. Her Mum teaches her at home. She loves to read and she loves to paint, though she doesn’t think she’s good at it. I’m sure she’s better than she thinks she is. She’s really clever and she’s got such a wonderful memory. I introduced her to just about everyone in Gryffindor yesterday, and she remembered who was who!"
I could not help smiling. Callandra hadn’t needed any magic to enchant Neville. The boy was clearly smitten. I was pleased for them and frightened for them at the same time.
Six days ago, the prospect of Neville’s first love had been the scariest thing I could imagine.
Earlier this evening, Severus had come to my office.
"Lucius Malfoy has found another Squib scroll," he’d said, grimly.
Tonight, a fifteen-year-old Squib had been kidnapped on Lucius’s orders. Presumably to allow Lucius to access the scroll’s magic.
I’d guessed the unfortunate child’s name even before Snape had told me. Callandra Moffitt. Feeling sickened, I buried my face in my hands.
"Lucius or one of the others must have noticed the Moffitt girl at that cursed party!" Severus snarled.
I heard guilt beneath the anger in Snape’s voice. At the party Severus been preoccupied with looking after Muggles. It had not occurred to him to wonder why Callandra had never attended Hogwarts. Fortunately for Callandra, one of Dumbledore’s other hidden agents had noticed the Death Eaters watching her. After informing the Headmaster, this wizard had been instructed to watch over the girl. Severus admitted to me, rather grudgingly, that the other agent had foiled two kidnapping attempts earlier in the week before being unable to stop the third. Then Death Eaters had captured both Callandra and her protector.
"Lucius does not appear to have the child, at least for the moment. I suspect that the idiot Gryffindor must have Transfigured her into something else to keep her safe. But she is still in terrible danger. If that careless lout should die then we shall have a very difficult time finding the girl! No one else knows where she is, or even what she’s been Transfigured into! The fool clearly did not understand that his instructions were to observe without interfering!"
"Of course he had to interfere!" I cried, lifting my head to glare at Snape. "Was he expected to merely ‘observe’ while those Dark wizards cut poor Callandra to pieces?"
Snape gave me one of his most caustic glares. "He was expected not to make a bad situation even worse!" Severus snapped.
Then, making a effort to calm down, he spoke more quietly. "Filch, Lucius plans to demonstrate the use of that scroll to the Dark Lord tonight, one way or another. He has demanded that I bring you to him, since the girl has been ‘misplaced.’ Naturally, I have plans of my own. I intend to see the child rescued, and Lucius strongly discouraged from further experiments with those accursed scrolls. I fear that your role will be difficult and painful, but it is necessary. There is no one else who can do this. Will you help me?"
I was terrified at the thought, but Callandra was dear to me. Both for her own sake and for Neville’s. The idea of Malfoy’s cronies attacking her with knives and pliers was sickening.
"Yes, Professor," I said, relieved at how steady my voice sounded. "I’ll help you."
Snape smiled. When he told me what he wanted me to do, I was aghast.
"What? You expect ME to defeat Lucius Malfoy?!"
"It is not as far-fetched as it sounds. I know something about those scrolls that Lucius doesn’t. The link between the Squib and the wizard who activates the scroll can permit the transfer of power to flow either way."
"Y-you mean when you used that scroll on me, I could have stolen your magic?"
He nodded. "There’s a brief moment at the start of the spell when you could have done exactly that. For that one moment, it doesn’t matter which wizard is stronger. It only matters which one is faster. Malfoy understands the principles behind the Squib scrolls but he has not experienced the spell’s workings as you and I have done. You will be able to take him unawares."
I stared at him.
"It should be simple enough for you, Filch!" Snape said, exasperated. "Albus keeps me up to date on your progress with Moody. By all accounts you’re doing well enough with your training to handle a mission. And I have been informed that you can sense the ebb and flow of magic better than any normal wizard. Simply recognize the right moment and react accordingly."
"Yes, Professor. I’ll do my best." I could only hope that my best would be good enough.
"As you know, wandless magic will drain you very quickly," Snape continued. "I can get a wand for you to use. That will help. The idiot Gryffindor has a wand. I doubt he will be in any position to object to your borrowing it."
"How do you know that the poor man is even still alive?" I asked, worried. No matter what Severus thought of this Gryffindor, Callandra owed him her life.
My concern for the Gryffindor wizard appeared to amuse Severus for some reason.
"They need him alive, Filch. Dead, he would not be able to tell them where he’s hidden the child. She remains their contingency plan if I should fail to ‘capture’ you. But even after they have you, they will still have a use for him."
The Potions Master’s voice was grim. "The Squib scrolls require a certain amount of blood and pain. Lucius understands now that he must not risk damaging you any more than necessary. Squibs are rare and difficult to come by. Lucius was not pleased that our Gryffindor colleague was able to take the girl from under their very noses. They will make him pay dearly for that."
Headmaster Dumbledore was not in the Castle. He had gone with Callandra’s parents to see the Minister. The Headmaster was doing his best to help them convince the Minister that the poor child had in fact been kidnapped by Death Eaters. Severus gave me a few minutes to tell Minerva McGonagall where we were going and to ask her to look in on Mrs. Norris for me.
"Are you ready, Filch?" he asked me quietly, when I returned to my office. "Have you everything that you need?"
I gave my pockets a quick pat. "Yes, Professor. I’m ready."
Severus withdrew a small glass bottle from his pocket and handed it to me.
"I apologize for the taste. Drink it all, quickly. It will make what I must do to you bearable. Don’t worry. You will be able to do what you must. I’ve been careful to calculate all the risks in advance."
The potion in the bottle was the most foul thing I have ever tasted. Drinking it quickly was the only way that I could get it all down.
Severus pulled a long, slender knife out of his sleeve.
I stared at it. "P-Professor? What are you...?"
"This is just a portkey, Filch," he said, dryly.
Wrapping his hand around the knife, Snape turned the hilt towards me. Obediently, I placed my hand on the hilt. A moment later, we were gone.
Numb and drugged, I lay on the stone floor of Lucius Malfoy’s fifth-best dungeon. Turning my head slowly, I could see a huge, black beast lying in the shadows against the wall. The animal was unmoving, except for the barely perceptible rise and fall of his ribs as he breathed.
Mostly because of his size, I recognized him as the black dog that Potter and his friends had been feeding. A bit slow on the uptake, I realized that this dog must be Callandra’s Gryffindor protector. He was still alive, thank Merlin.
Severus knelt beside me, taking precisely what he needed. One tooth (another molar, from the opposite side of my jaw as the last time.) One nail from my right index finger. A hank of my hair. Finally, he cut a long, bloody strip of skin from my right shoulder. He was careful to catch the blood and collect it in a small crystal vial.
I felt strangely detached. As if these terrible things were happening to some other unfortunate Squib. I could even admire Snape’s expertise with the knives and pliers. He had not wasted a single motion nor had he spilled one unnecessary drop of my blood.
After turning me on my back to conceal the wand he’d given me, Snape rose from my side and went to join the others. There were six wizards besides himself, anonymous behind their frightening masks. They were waiting for Snape.
Nearby, a small cauldron floated in mid-air over a low fire. Beside the cauldron, also floating, were a small silver dipper and a tiny porcelain container shaped like an inkwell, with a quill sticking out of it. That side of the room was better lit, both by torches and by the Death Eaters’ wands. The area where I lay was mostly full of shadows.
I knew which of the masked figures was Lucius Malfoy, even before the Dark wizard spoke. He was the one holding the scroll.
"Excellent, Severus. Do remember to take proper care with the temperature this time," Lucius Malfoy drawled. "We cannot afford any more mistakes this evening. He will be here very soon."
There was fear hidden within the light mockery in Lucius Malfoy’s elegant voice. He was trying to conceal it from everyone. But, with my own emotions numbed, nothing distracted me from perceiving the emotions of those around me.
Malfoy was afraid for his own sake. But I saw that he feared for Severus as well. Even detached as I was, I approved. The Headmaster’s subtle work had borne fruit. Dumbledore had reminded Lucius Malfoy that the safety of his son rested in Snape’s hands.
"There will be no mistakes, Lucius," Severus murmured coolly. "Not this time."
Snape’s last comment was spoken so softly that only I heard him. "I know precisely what I am doing."
Lucius Malfoy held the quill. The Squib scroll floated in mid-air before him. He wrote words of power in blood-red letters. The ink he used had been made in part from my flesh, hair, nails, blood and bone.
Severus was correct. I knew exactly the right moment. It was just after every nerve in my body had begun to tingle. I felt magic, my magic, whispering in my ears, gliding up and down my spine, rushing through my veins along with my blood. Then a part of me that usually remains crippled and silent awakened and began to sing.
The link between us, formed by the scroll, became secure on both sides.
Malfoy was quick, but I was quicker. His magic flowed into me! My small song had seemed to belong to a single instrument. Now it swelled to become an entire orchestra!
Lucius Malfoy felt the spell begin to slip from his control. He pulled, hard. I pulled back, harder. My fingers wrapped around the wand hidden behind my back. I felt the mighty surge of magic singing through the wand’s core.
"Recingo!" I shouted wildly, drunk with power. The spell freed my hands. Oh! Magic was so much easier with a wand!
It’s amazing how many spells one can pick up while mopping floors and cleaning toilets at the finest school of Witchcraft and Wizardry in Europe. Without magic the spells had just been empty words in my mouth. But now I had the power to back them up. The magic, both mine and his, rippled through my hair, sparked from my eyes, danced along my skin. It filled my belly and went straight to my head faster than any drink Hagrid had ever given me. Pain and fear forgotten, I was on my feet, the borrowed wand held out before me.
Across the room I heard the Death Eaters shouting as the other Dark wizards realized that something was terribly wrong. Over the shouting I heard somebody laughing like a madman. (It took a moment for me to recognize the wild laughter as my own.)
"Pendeo!" I cried, aiming the wand at the two biggest Death Eaters. They were masked, but I knew that they had to be Crabbe and Goyle, senior. The two huge men were yanked up to float helplessly in midair.
"Ferio! Pulso!" I bellowed. Both burly wizards were suddenly reeling under a hail of powerful blows, jerking about like tormented stringless puppets.
Malfoy recovered from his shock. He tried to attack me. "Cesso!" he roared.
I recognized this spell as a slightly different version of Finite Incantem. Unfortunately for Malfoy, I was drawing so much of his power that he couldn’t make the spell work.
"GET HIM!" Malfoy snarled at Severus and the three remaining Death Eaters.
"Expelliarmus!!" I shouted, offering a silent apology to Severus as I aimed for him first.
That particular disarming spell seems to be a great favorite with the students at Hogwarts. (Rumor has it that Severus himself is the one who taught it to most of the school, at the first and only meeting of a dueling club started by Professor Lockhart a few years back.)
Poor Severus hit the stone wall with a sickening thud. He crumpled to the floor and lay still, joining Crabbe and Goyle, who also unconscious and out of the fight.
I felt a blast of power aimed at me, a concerted effort from the other three wizards.
"Clipeus!" I cried. It’s a Shielding Charm, one that Professor Flitwick teaches his sixth years.
The Charm had turned out to be even more useful than I expected! It "shielded" me by deflecting the attack over to the source of my power... Malfoy himself! Lucius roared with pain as the three-fold assault knocked him to the floor.
"FOOLS!" he bellowed.
"Stupefy!" I hissed three times rapidly, while the other three wizards were busy stopping their misdirected attack. All three of them went down.
The score was Six to Nil, in my favor! Now, it was just Malfoy and me. We faced each other, both breathing hard. Inexperienced as I am, I had not been pacing myself. I was tired.
Lucius Malfoy smiled, then. And he began to fight me in earnest. He had been taking my measure and planning while I faced the others. Unlike them, he could attack me from within. He spoke no spells. His attack came through the link between us. I felt my heart begin to race. It was suddenly hard for me to breathe. Blood began to flow from my wounded shoulder, my hand and my mouth. I tried to scream and found myself choking on my own blood.
"How aptly named you are," Malfoy said, coldly. "A pathetic ‘filch.’ Did you think that you could duel me and win?"
There was an agonizing pain running up my left arm. My head struck something hard. It was the stone floor. I had collapsed, still coughing blood. My vision was greying out when the terrible pressure inside me finally eased.
"That’s enough, for now. You’ve learned your lesson. And I do need you alive," Malfoy said, almost lazily. He knelt beside me, reaching for the wand that I still clutched in my right hand.
"Now, how did you get this?" Malfoy murmured, curiously.
My fingers tightened convulsively around the Gryffindor’s wand as Malfoy reached for it. He thought I was beaten but the link between us remained open. Desperately, I pulled at his magic again. I shouted the most powerful spell I had ever heard any wizard use.
Albus Dumbledore had cried out this thunderclap word, in a language I did not know. He’d disarmed both Severus Snape and Lucius Malfoy with it, stopping their attacks against each other as if they had been nothing more than a pair of squabbling first year students.
Malfoy was a powerful mage. Was his magic sufficient enough to work that spell?
Apparently, the answer was ‘yes.’ Just barely, though. I thought that the spell’s power would shatter me from within. The thunderclap word reverberated through the already half-ruined tower. Magic flowed out in a mighty wave, shaking the stones until they began to fall on us like a deadly rain from above.
And then, the tower fell.
The next thing I knew, I was lying on the ground near a huge pile of rubble. The black dog was nudging me and whimpering. There was no sign of Lucius Malfoy. I’d felt the pull of his magic as the Animagus and I had fled, but Malfoy hadn’t been trying to stop us. Had he been attempting to shield himself and the other Death Eaters from the debris? I hoped so. And, for Severus’s sake, I hoped that Malfoy had succeeded.
For a moment or two I could only lie there, trembling. Severus had brought me to the tower in the early part of the evening. From the look of the sky, it was now shortly before sunrise. It had been a very long night.
And it was not over yet. We still had to find Callandra and get ourselves out of here.
We made it as far as the stream.
Shivering, my hands trembling, I slid the wand into the dog’s open jaws. Badly hurt as he was, the Gryffindor Animagus was clearly a powerful wizard. He might still have the strength to Apparate if he was willing to abandon me.
The Animagus did not abandon me. He was strong enough to pull me over to the bank. The dog-wizard stayed at my side, preventing me from slipping back into the stream. His wand was now clutched in his teeth. I was in too much agony to wonder why the Animagus seemed reluctant to resume his human form.
Carefully calculated risks, my....! I thought, as a new wave of pain made me scream.
Then abruptly, my pain gave way to a terrible, aching emptiness.
Malfoy must have done what Severus had hoped he’d do. He had destroyed the scroll.
"Mission accomplished..." I whispered to my companion. I was barely conscious.
The dog was no longer beside me.
"Mobilicorpus..." a hoarse voice said.
The injured Animagus used the spell to support my weight, but he put one arm gently under my shoulders and the other under my knees, carrying me as he staggered up the bank of the stream.
He was limping. And his breathing was ragged, as if something in him had broken. I did not know how he had the strength to stay on his feet, let alone look after me. I tried to get a good look at him but I was so weak that I couldn’t focus. I got only a vague impression of a thin badly bruised face and long, tangled black hair. His battered face was unrecognizable.
"Callandra?" I whispered, anxiously. "S-Severus?"
"Callandra will be fine. I’ll fetch her. There’s nothing I can do for Snape at the moment," the Animagus said, gruffly. Something about the angry way he spoke the Potions Master’s name teased at my memory.
His feelings about Snape aside, the Gryffindor was gentle when he put me down. The roar of power inside me was gone. Empty of magic, I could only feel the magic of others once more.
The Gryffindor’s power crackled around me as he said, "Accio Callandra!" A few moments later he was holding a small, ordinary stone in his hand.
"It was simple, really," he murmured. "I hid her in plain sight. One more stone among the many stones that had already fallen from the crumbling walls. She was safe, impossible for them to hurt. Even when the tower fell, she was unharmed."
The Animagus sighed. "I’ll have to leave her like this for just a little longer while I Apparate. And I’ll have to Transfigure you as well."
Something in his tone nagged at me. He was a clever boy, this one. Tricky. I felt that I should know him. His name seemed to be hovering just out of reach.
There was a sudden movement behind us and a blast of incredibly strong power. A wave of Darkness, icy and foul. Someone else had just Apparated into the clearing. I heard a high, cold voice. And my thoughts scattered in terror.
"Well. What have we here? It seems that my Death Eaters have been somewhat...careless with their toys."
There could be no mistake about this newcomer’s identity. It was He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named. The Dark Lord.
END OF CHAPTER ONE