The Sugar Quill
Author: Ozma (Professors' Bookshelf)  Story: Squib Caretaker  Chapter: Chapter Three: Good-byes and Hellos
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Where Squibs Fear to Tread

Squib Caretaker

a Harry Potter fan-fic

by Ozma

A sequel to Squib Puppet

Chapter Three of Eight: Good-byes and Hellos

Everything in this story really belongs to J.K. Rowling

 

"All righ’ there, Filch?" Hagrid boomed at me from the front door of his hut.

He was propping the door open, allowing a cool breeze to flow inside. Though the breeze was pleasant, it was also scattering the papers that I’d spread across his table. At the end of every term Hagrid invariably sends his paperwork off to the school’s board of governors late and full of smudges and misspelled words. Since I was still supposed to be on light duties, I’d offered to have a go at his forms.

"Close the door!" I growled at the gamekeeper.

Sighing, Hagrid obligingly swung the door shut. This created a strong gust of wind. The papers --notes that he had made throughout the term about things around the grounds that needed fixing, as well as receipts for items already repaired or replaced-- all fluttered to the floor.

I considered banging my head on the table in frustration. Instead I yelled a few rude words at the closed door. It was likely that Hagrid did not hear me. I knew that he was headed down to the station to see the students onto the train.

Another year was over. The Leaving Feast had come and gone. The Quidditch Cup had been awarded to Gryffindor. The House Cup had been awarded to Hufflepuff, accompanied by loud applause from all four tables. (The Gryffindors and Slytherins had been so glad that the other House hadn’t won the Cup.)

Even inside Hagrid’s hut I could feel the Castle’s immense inhuman presence reacting to the students’ exodus. It seemed to be stretching and sighing. Irreverently, I was reminded of the way that I feel at the end of long day when I can finally pull off my boots, put my feet up and relax for a bit.

I’d gotten some sense of this before, at the end of other terms. I’d always dismissed it as a foolish fancy. Now I knew differently. The Castle really does have an awareness of Its own.

When looked at from the Castle’s point of view, the students would be back soon enough. It seemed to know the children as a group, not as individuals. The places left vacant by the departing seventh years would be filled by the new first years just as it had been for a thousand Septembers past.

I wished that I could be as sure that things would continue just as they had always done. He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named had returned. Creatures of the Dark seemed to be gaining strength throughout the wizarding world. People were disappearing and dying. Everything felt fragile and uncertain.

Adding to my anxiety was the knowledge that within a few more days the Headmaster and the professors would be leaving the Castle too. No one would be left except for me, the house-elves, the ghosts and Peeves. Even Hagrid was leaving, as he had done the summer before. The gamekeeper could not reveal the details of his mission but it was evident that Madame Maxime, the Headmistress of Beauxbatons, was also involved. Hagrid had been wandering about for the past few days, grinning and singing tunelessly in French.

I’d missed him last summer though I never would have admitted it out loud. This year I’d be missing and worrying about everyone. Especially poor Severus, who walked a particularly shadowed path.

Severus was due to leave in a few days. I knew better than to ask him about his plans. The Headmaster had told me that the Potions Master was expected to return periodically over the summer.

Professor McGonagall’s plans for the summer were equally mysterious. I would miss Minerva most of all. It almost scared me to realize how just how I much was going to miss her.

Grumbling, I knelt and gathered the bedraggled papers off the floor. Keeping myself as busy as possible was the only thing that would help. Trying to find some order in the chaos of Hagrid’s forms was certainly a daunting enough task.

When I’d asked Hagrid for his records, the big man had found some papers in his sock drawer, located another stack in a box under his bed and found a few more stuck on a large nail driven into the wall over the fireplace. Then he’d produced some crumpled papers from his trouser pockets (those appeared to have gone through the laundry a time or two) and still more papers were removed from the pockets of his moleskin overcoat. A few papers in the latter group appeared to have been gnawed. Possibly by a small animal, also lodging in Hagrid’s pockets.

"Someone’s getting a filing cabinet for Christmas," I muttered.

*******

The Hogwarts Express had left the station long before I finished Hagrid’s forms. I’d already said my good-byes to the students I had grown to care for during the year, last night at the Leaving Feast. The ache that still lingered in my heart today was unexpected.

Ginny had put Bastet in my lap before patting Mrs. Norris and giving me a hug that had made my ribs creak. "Have a good summer, Mr. Filch," she’d said. "I’ll write to you and Mrs. Norris and I’ll send pictures of Bastet so you can see how she’s growing."

Colin, Dennis, Daniel, Hannah, Lilith and Gehenna had at various times during the feast also come over to me and Mrs. Norris with their kittens. The small cats were thriving, starting to look a bit more like proper cats now and less like silly little balls of fluff.

Neville and Callandra had both promised to send me postcards from wherever they went on holiday. They had made me promise them that I would look after myself properly.

I must have looked melancholy then, because Ron had cheerfully reminded me that Fred and George wouldn’t be returning in September. In answer, I had shown him my pocket-calendar for the year with each day numbered and crossed off. The date of the twins’ last Leaving Feast had been circled in gold ink.

When I mentioned that I had six other such calendars (counting down every single day of every single term until the twins finally left Hogwarts for the unsuspecting world beyond), Ron had snickered.

"Have you ever done a seven-year countdown for anyone besides Fred and George?" he’d wanted to know.

"Oh, yes indeed," I’d said dryly, as Snuffles dangled his tongue in dog-laughter.

Hermione had given me a short reading list. "Just a few books that you might find interesting, if you have some time," she’d said.

I was concerned about Harry. He’d grinned at me when Ron and I had been talking about Fred and George, but he was still pale and troubled. I knew without having to ask that he and the Headmaster had been unable to find the two people he’d seen in his nightmare.

He clearly wasn’t looking forward to spending the summer with his Muggle relatives. Hermione and Ron were trying hard to cheer him up, as was Sirius Black. The huge dog had energetically played tug-o-war with bits of food, causing a lot of laughter at the Gryffindor table.

At least they’d gotten him to smile and relax a bit.

Over at the Slytherin table, Draco Malfoy had been quiet and withdrawn. His father’s recent mishap with tainted Polyjuice potion was a likely cause, though Draco was unaware of the details. All the boy knew was that his father was "ill" again. Feeling sympathy for Lucius Malfoy was quite beyond me, but I felt badly for Draco.

Crabbe and Goyle had seemed at a loss as to what to do for him. The pair of them had looked gratefully at Pansy, who was at least able to coax a smile or two from their friend. Draco had said nothing to me. But when he’d seen me studying him, he had given me a very solemn nod.

*******

I chose not to use a Door to go directly from Hagrid’s cabin to the Owlery with the completed forms, now sealed in a large envelope. The exercise would do me good. However, I did wait to catch my breath before I summoned black-and-yellow, stepping through the Owlery wall into the hospital wing.

Poppy had told me not to overdo things. She’d wanted to have a look at me before she left, which she was planning to do today as soon as possible. (Hopefully she’d tell me that I could stop taking things easy.)

The medi-witch was surrounded by a pile of bags and bundles. The pile kept getting smaller as various house-elves kept noisily appearing, picking up parcels and noisily disappearing, taking Poppy’s things down to her carriage.

In the midst of the confusion, Poppy was leaning over Sirius Black. The Animagus, in his human form, was sitting up on one of the beds while Poppy checked him over with a strong Diagnostic spell.

"You’re still too thin," Poppy scolded, waving her wand. A small packet detached itself from the pile of packages just before one of the elves could disappear with it. "Here. Some more of the herbs I’ve been giving you. Goldenseal and Astragalus. The doses are written down. Remember to eat enough, and try to eat sensibly! No more rats!"

I shuddered.

Black took the herbs and pocketed them, nodding absently. His thoughts were clearly speeding along the track towards London, with his godson.

"Maybe, as Snuffles, you can look in on him while he’s at home," I said, trying to be comforting.

"Those people haven’t ever given Harry a home," Black said. "But someday he will have a proper home. With me." The young wizard’s voice was both wistful and angry. And his sadness was palpable. Not knowing what to say, I didn’t reply.

Poppy patted his shoulder. "You’d better learn to look after yourself then. Or you’ll never be able to keep up with that boy."

Sirius smiled as if Harry’s ability to attract the more innocent forms of trouble (quite unintentionally, as I was coming to realize) was a good thing.

After she’d given Black some more instructions, Poppy allowed him to get up. Then she beckoned to me. Her Diagnostic spell washed over me like a sunbeam.

"You still need to take things easy," she told me. "Let the elves help you as much as possible. Don’t you glower at me, Argus Filch. It’s for their good as well as yours. They miss having a Castle full of people to look after."

Poppy Pomfrey is a good friend. We’ve known each other for years. Widowed, with grandchildren that she looks forward to taking on holiday for the summer, I hoped that she and her family would have a pleasant time safely beyond the reach of anything Dark.

I was about to acquiesce to her orders when she gave me a smile that was fond and a touch mischievous.

"Take good care of yourself, or Minerva will be quite cross with you."

I would have loved to come up with some suitably sharp retort but I was too busy blushing. It wasn’t really being teased by Poppy that I minded so much. It was the fact that Sirius Black was standing there, grinning.

*******

A short while later, once we were both released by the medi-witch (who went back to her packing) Black asked me for a quiet word. The Animagus spends most of his time in dog form. This was the first chance he’d really had to speak to me in two days.

"Harry said that you took him through Godric’s Door. He told me that he didn’t get sick." The young wizard’s tone made it an anxious question.

"That’s true. He was fine, at least when we went through the Door. That vision upset him badly, though," I said.

Black frowned. "It’s still upsetting him. Those people he saw are very well hidden. No one’s found them yet. Dumbledore hasn’t given up. And Harry’s still trying to remember more."

Again, I was at a loss for something to say. It was clear that Sirius hated not being able to protect his godson from the terrible visions. He ached to give Harry a home and he couldn’t. He wanted to fight the boy’s battles alongside him but he was a wanted man who was forced to hide instead. The pain inside Black was obvious.

I thought of Severus and the way that he ached and feared for Draco. The two boys’ situations couldn’t be more different, but Severus’s and Sirius’s emotions were startlingly similar. (Not that I’d ever be brave or foolish enough to say such a thing aloud where either young wizard could hear me.)

"I’m sorry, what were you saying?" I asked. Black had been talking to me, but lost in thought, I hadn’t heard him.

"How about a shortcut? Take me out to the hippogriff paddock by Hagrid’s cabin," the Animagus said, giving me a fainter version of his old devil-may-care grin. "Or," he continued, impudently, "are you afraid that I might give Professor McGonagall some real competition and come out wide awake, on all four feet?"

I glowered at him, mostly because he seemed to expect it. I’d already decided to take him through the Door. At the very least it might take his mind off poor Harry for a little while.

"You could just grab me by an ear," Black suggested. "I’d rather not bite you again. You tasted terrible."

"Holding your ear isn’t good enough," I said, frowning. "Maybe we can improvise a leash with some bandages."

Poppy was kind enough to stop packing long enough to help us fashion a harness, which she strengthened with Charms. Then Sirius Transfigured and we tied it around him.

With that taken care of, Poppy wished both of us a good summer and took her leave. The house-elves had finished with her bundles.

I summoned red-and-gold.

The tapestry responded slowly, taking several minutes to arrive. That was odd. The Door had been unusually exuberant for the past two days, but now it almost appeared to be moping. Its colors were looking particularly muddy and faded.

"Poor thing," I thought, giving it a pat when it finally appeared. "It must be missing the children like the elves and Peeves always do." (The wretched Poltergeist always misses the students so much during the summer that he goes off and sulks by himself for most of July and makes up for it by tormenting me mercilessly all the way through August.)

Taking a deep breath and a good, strong grip on the Animagus’s bandage-leash, I stepped into the tapestry with Sirius. It was like moving through waist deep water, through muddy swirls of red and gold. I caught hold of the dog’s shaggy fur with my other hand for good measure.

When we emerged in front of the hippogriff’s paddock, Sirius promptly returned to his human form and lost consciousness. I lowered him to the ground carefully so he wouldn’t hit his head.

The hippogriff had been at ease, mismatched legs folded under him and wings neatly folded along his back. He was snacking on something small, reddish-brown and furry. It was hard to tell exactly what it was under all the blood. I tried not to shudder.

Black’s condition appeared to distress the hippogriff. Beaky rose. Stamping his taloned forefeet anxiously, he pulled at his tether.

"It’s all right, Beaky..." I murmured nervously. "He’ll be on his feet in a moment." I stared at the beast. Normally a pinkish-roan color, the hippogriff seemed to have turned grey! Then I noticed that the strawberries-and-lemon scent of the glamour was absent.

"Black!" I choked out. "Beaky’s really a grey hippogriff! Just like the one that mauled Draco Malfoy!"

"He’s not ‘just like’ that one. He IS that one..." Black said woozily, untangling himself from the harness. "Whole thing wasn’t Beaky’s fault, really. Hagrid did tell the kids to be polite, didn’t he? Don’t worry, Filch, he’s gentle as a lamb... aren’t you, Buckbeak?"

The Animagus tottered to his feet and climbed unsteadily into the paddock with the hippogriff, patting his beak affectionately.

"The glamour was wearing off," he explained. "Time for me to renew it. Filch, what’s got into that tapestry of yours? I hope it wasn’t something I did."

Red-and-gold, apparently too forlorn to hold itself up straight, was now drooping sadly over the paddock fence.

"I’m sure it wasn’t you," I assured Black, patting the Door. "It’s been acting very strange lately. Why don’t you go into the Castle and have a nice rest," I told the Door.

Still drooping, it vanished.

I was about to say something else to Black but the words died in my throat. Forgetting my anxiety over Buckbeak, I scrambled over the fence trying to get as close to the Animagus and the hippogriff as possible, for protection.

A very huge dog had just ambled around the front of Hagrid’s hut. A dog with three heads!!!

"Erm... that wouldn’t happen to be Fluffy, would it?" Black asked me, wide-eyed.

I nodded mutely.

"Big, isn’t he?" the Animagus said, in a remarkably calm voice. He was trying to hold onto Buckbeak. The hippogriff seemed determined to charge at the Cerberus. And Fluffy was headed straight for the paddock!

*******

Buckbeak was greatly agitated; screeching, he reared up onto his equine back legs and strained violently at his tether. Black changed his mind about holding onto the hippogriff. Instead he used his wand to blast the tether so that Beaky could escape.

"Oh, that’s just fine!" I thought snidely as Beaky soared over our heads. "Save the bloody hippogriff!"

The young wizard’s attempt to protect Buckbeak was futile. The winged monster seemed unwilling to abandon the Animagus. Instead of flying away, Beaky dove at the advancing Cerberus!

Sirius is a powerful wizard. Though, after spending so much time as a dog, he’s evidently more accustomed to fighting with his teeth than he is to fighting with a wand. He Transfigured.

"Wait!" I shouted, summoning red-and-gold back again. I meant to grab the Animagus and pull him through the Door to safety. Perhaps Buckbeak would fly away if Sirius was no longer in danger. But it was already too late. The hippogriff had just been knocked down and was lying stunned on the ground at the huge dog’s feet. Sirius made a mighty leap, clearing the paddock fence. The Animagus ran at the Cerberus, growling, preventing Fluffy from injuring Beaky.

"No!" I yelled, helplessly. "You idiot!! You’ll be torn to pieces!!"

Fluffy is the only dog I’ve ever seen who makes Snuffles look small. The Animagus didn’t have to face the Cerberus alone. Buckbeak staggered upright, still groggy, but screeching and flashing its talons.

With my attention focused on the monsters, I didn’t see Hagrid until the big man was right in the middle of the melee. The half-giant’s roaring voice boomed over all the screeching, snarling and growling.

"YEH TRY’N CATCH BEAKY, AN’ I’LL HOLD ON TER FLUFFY!" Hagrid shouted at the Animagus.

Buckbeak had managed to get airborne again. Fluffy leaped into the air after the hippogriff, all three sets of jaws snapping. Catching the Cerberus in mid-leap, Hagrid grabbed the creature’s massive body. He used his considerable strength and Fluffy’s own momentum to flip the dog onto its back.

Even as the mighty crash shook the ground, Black resumed his human form. Dodging slashing talons to keep Beaky away from the downed Cerberus, he jumped and caught the creature around its glossy feathered neck.

"Easy Beaky, easy," the Animagus crooned soothingly, though his voice was hoarse from the snarling and growling he’d done.

"Easy now, Fluffy, there’s a good lad..." Hagrid’s voice had softened to a much gentler rumble.

The half-giant continued to keep the Cerberus pinned to the ground while the Animagus caught the broken end of the tether and coaxed Beaky back towards the paddock. Scrambling to open the gate, I helped to hold Beaky still while Black used a spell to repair the tether. Once that was done, he restrained the hippogriff once more.

All of them, men and monsters, were bleeding. Ignoring their own wounds, Black and Hagrid checked the beasts over carefully. They didn’t seem too disturbed by anything they found. I hoped that meant their hurts were fairly superficial. A good thing too, since Poppy had just left and I wouldn’t have known what to do if any of them were seriously damaged! Weak with relief, I sagged against the paddock fence.

"Thank you for coming back," I said to red-and-gold. The tapestry had become a little less droopy. Responding to my call had perked it up a bit.

"Sorry. It was jus’ bad timing," Hagrid was saying to Black. "I didn’t know that the two of yeh would be here with Beaky. I was planning ter introduce ‘em nice and quiet-like. But Beaky was trying ter protect yeh..."

He sighed. "After we let ‘em settle down fer a while, will yeh help me try ‘em again?"

Black nodded, proving once again that Gryffindors have no sense of self-preservation.

"Hagrid?" I said quietly, not wanting to yell or do anything that might set the monsters off once more, "what is that ...dog doing back here?"

Hagrid beamed at me. "Why, Fluffy’s here ter help yeh, a’course!"

"H-Help me?" I wheezed.

"Sure. Did yeh think Dumbledore an’ I’d leave yeh ter guard the Castle an’ grounds all alone? Things being what they are?"

My jaw dropped open in shock. I’d already promised to look after Fang for Hagrid. I wasn’t pleased about it really, but Mrs. Norris and I could manage Fang. Did Hagrid actually intend to leave me to cope with FLUFFY as well???

For a moment or two I just stared, hoping that he was joking. The oaf continued to beam as if he’d just given me the most wonderful surprise ever. Biting back an incoherent howl of astonishment, disbelief and fury, I turned away from the barking mad Gryffindors and their monsters and stormed through red-and-gold.

"Maybe this wasn’t the best moment to give him the good news," I heard Black say to Hagrid wryly, as I disappeared through the Door.

*******

"Headmaster, you can’t be serious!!!" I wailed. "You’re letting that thing... that beast... roam the grounds all summer? Without Hagrid, who’s going to stop it from tearing my legs off? And who will stop it from tearing up the Quidditch pitch and all the bushes and flowers and whole stands of trees? What’s to stop it from getting loose and wreaking havoc in Hogsmeade? Unless you mean for me to allow it to roam inside the Castle, which would be unthinkable!!" I paused to gasp for breath and another horrible thought struck me.

"Medusa’s Dugs! There’ll be vast, reeking mountains of dung everywhere! I’ll be the only one here to clean up after it! Ohh, it’s not fair... the last straw... I won’t stand for it... I won’t...!"

Dumbledore said nothing, since he wouldn’t have been able to get a word in edgewise unless he used magic to shut me up. Instead he let me go on until I’d ranted myself into exhaustion. Eventually he handed me a cup filled with something that I assumed was water. I gulped it down and choked. It was Ogdens Old Firewhiskey.

I did the only sensible thing that I could do under the circumstances. I held out the cup for a refill.

*******

The second cup went down a lot more smoothly. I collapsed into a chair, listening as the Headmaster spoke to me in the same sort of soothing voice that Hagrid and Black had been using to calm Beaky and Fluffy.

"Hagrid told you the truth, Argus. Fluffy is here for your aid and protection," Dumbledore said. "Hagrid has a week left before he is scheduled to leave. He will be able to make the Cerberus understand what is expected of him. Rest assured, Fluffy will not harm you. As for the trees, plants, flowerbeds and bushes, Professor Sprout is placing strong protective charms around them. Madam Hooch is taking similar measures to preserve the Quidditch pitch. And I have placed charms around the boundaries of the Castle grounds to prevent the Cerberus from straying into Hogsmeade.

"You’ve been understandably anxious about being here alone," the Headmaster said gently. "You have never had to bear the responsibility for such a length of time. Hagrid has always been here with you in the summer."

"Last year..." I started to protest.

"Last year," he reminded me, "I remained at the Castle for an unusual amount of time. When I could not be here, Minerva came. Filius was here when neither of us were available. This year, the situation has changed."

"Worsened..." I said, miserably.

"Yes, for the most part," he said, sounding tired. "Minerva, Filius, all of us... we have much work to do elsewhere, beyond the Castle."

My first thought was for Minerva. I was overcome by a wave of fear for her. It was foolish I knew, as she’d always been able to take care of herself quite well, plus any number of other people besides. I didn’t care if my fears were foolish. Nothing must ever happen to her.

"Argus, not every situation has changed for the worse," the Headmaster told me. "There is a good reason why I feel that you do not need any of us to stay."

I knew what he was going to do before he did it. Wandless, he reached out with his magic, touching a vast, slumbering inhuman presence. His touch was so deft that the Castle did not wake. He knew as well as I did that attracting the Castle’s attention is almost always very painful, not ever a thing to be done lightly.

"There have been caretakers here and Caretakers, if you know what I mean. And headmasters and Headmasters," Dumbledore said. His connection to the Castle was palpable. I could feel Its link with him resonating through my own bond. And, as he spoke, I could feel the potential for a third bonding that still waited to be completed.

"Groundskeepers and groundskeepers," Dumbledore continued, smiling at my suddenly wide-eyed expression. "Yes, it shouldn’t be too much longer before Hagrid gets himself Noticed by the Castle. Though it’s a bit more complicated for him. His connection with the Forest, and with the Wild creatures that dwell there, is very strong. It may muffle the Castle’s ‘voice’ a bit."

The Headmaster’s mention of the Wild magic in the Forest me shiver.

‘It’s not like the magic that we have in the Castle,’ Apollyon Pringle had told me long ago. ‘There’s no order to it, no allegiance to either Light or Dark. It simply Is what it Is, without a rhyme or a reason.’

Unlike most people, Hagrid had never feared the Forest. He loved it as he loved the Castle.

"Sir," I said, "can’t we just TELL him?"

Dumbledore shook his head. "There are some things that one must discover on one’s own, Argus. Speaking of which, let’s go see how they’re managing at Hagrid’s cabin."

*******

The Headmaster and I found things under control at Hagrid’s hut. Hagrid and Black had patched the monsters up, washed their assorted bites and gashes clean of blood and bandaged their worst wounds. Buckbeak, minus a few feathers, but not looking too much the worse for wear, was in his paddock around the back of Hagrid’s cabin.

The Animagus had restored the glamour and Beaky was a pinkish-roan hippogriff once more. Hagrid had comforted Buckbeak with another pile of what looked like either dead stoats or weasels, it was difficult to tell.

Now Dumbledore was seated on Hagrid’s front steps with Black (in dog form) resting at his feet. The Headmaster was gently cleaning a bloody wound on Black’s left ear. Fang lay sprawled, sleeping beside the Animagus. With bright interested eyes, Black and the Headmaster watched as Hagrid introduced me to the Castle’s new guard dog.

"All righ’, Fluffy?" the big man asked gently, patting the Cerberus with a bandaged hand. "See, Filch here needs yeh ter look after him. An’ yeh’ll be helping him ter keep the Castle safe."

Hagrid’s abilities with monsters have always impressed me. Much as I dislike admitting this, the oaf does have the makings of a really fine Care of Magical Creatures teacher. And some day Hagrid will finally realize that most people are honestly terrified of creatures like Fluffy. Then I shall be forced to start treating him with the same deference and respect that I reserve for the other professors at this school.

That day has not yet arrived. Hagrid was patient with his Cerberus but he was exasperated with me.

"Yeh don’t have ter be so scared, Filch," the big man sighed. "Yeh’ve got nothing ter fear. Fluffy’s met yeh before and he knows that yeh’re not a thief. Relax."

He might just as well have asked me to kiss a Dementor! I trembled while Fluffy sniffed me with all three noses. But I received moral support from an unexpected source as Mrs. Norris joined our gathering. Meowing loudly, she leaped into my arms and climbed onto my shoulder. My cat and the Cerberus are old friends.

Immediately Mrs. Norris and I were engulfed by a wave of foul breath as Fluffy’s middle head licked both of us with a massive tongue.

"Eurgh!" I choked, gagging as I wiped rivulets of hot drool out of my eyes. Mrs. Norris leaped to the ground and began giving herself a dainty bath.

"See? He likes Mrs. Norris, an’ yer with her. That makes yeh all righ’ too," Hagrid said, beaming. He handed me an enormous sack filled with huge doggy-treats. "Here. Give him a few a’ these."

Trying not to cringe, I did as he instructed. Tossing the treats into Fluffy’s mouths wasn’t so bad. I could do that from a distance.

Glancing around as I dodged some flying drool, I noticed (to my alarm) that the Animagus appeared to have sprouted a pair of eyes in the middle of his back.

Then I realized that Azoth, Severus Snape’s small black cat, must have followed his mother out of the Castle. The tiny cat had draped himself across Snuffles. He was blending in so well that only his eyes were visible. Azoth looked as amused as everyone else did.

"Yeh’ve made a good start, Filch," Hagrid told me kindly as he took the sack from me.

Grateful to be released, I picked up Mrs. Norris. My cat regarded me with some disapproval, as I was covered with drool.

"Professor Dumbledore," Hagrid said, happily, "Fluffy an’ I have got summat ter show yeh! He’s been workin’ hard. Watch!" Pulling a wooden flute from one of his pockets and raising it to his lips, the big man began to play a soft, soothing tune.

The head on the right became a bit droopy-eyed and started to yawn. The center head quickly gave it a nudge to wake it up. When the center head yawned and drooped, one of the others gave it a nudge. The head on the right didn’t even yawn. The dog listened to the whole song and then, wide awake, he barked for an encore. Both Hagrid and Dumbledore were as pleased as if the Cerberus had gotten up and danced.

"Excellent! Well done!" Dumbledore beamed and conjured up some more doggy treats for the Cerberus.

"That’ll be a shock fer anyone who thinks they know an easy way ter get past him," Hagrid said, with satisfaction.

*******

Both Dumbledore and Hagrid wanted me to learn to be more relaxed around Fluffy. Obediently, I agreed to take the Cerberus for a stroll around the Castle grounds. The dog was a massive shadowy presence looming over me as I wandered aimlessly towards the lake. I was actually starting to get used to the situation. Perhaps even starting to feel a bit calmer with the monster at my back, when the sound of barking shattered the late afternoon stillness.

It wasn’t Fluffy who was making all the noise, it was Snuffles. The Animagus was racing uphill towards the Castle, barking a frantic warning. When I saw who he was trying to warn away from Fluffy I felt anything but calm. Severus Snape was coming down the hill towards us.

"Yeh’ve nothing ter fear," Hagrid had reassured me. "Yeh’ve met Fluffy before. He knows yeh’re not a thief."

The poor Potions Master could be offered no such reassurances.

 

 

 

 

END OF CHAPTER THREE

 

 

Author’s Notes:

Durayan: Thank you for reviewing! Your thoughts on Squibs in the Muggle world are very much like mine. Poor Severus will hear the term ‘Snape effect’ used in a conversation later in this story, but I haven’t yet chronicled his response to Moody, when he figures out what it means.

Mr. Roberts III: Thank you for reviewing! Filch will find out about Harry’s Invisibility Cloak in the story after this one, ("Squib Summer," co-written with Jelsemium.) He hasn’t yet found out about the Marauder’s Map.

Sabre: Thank you for reviewing! I have no plans to reveal any other Heirs, but the question of how red-and-gold would react to Harry was too intriguing not to address. You are right, the Doors are generally far more dog-like than they are cat-like, obedient rather than independent. But, lacking a tail to wag, Godric’s Door showed Argus affection and happiness in the best way that it could. (Mrs. Norris was its role model.)

The Doors’ relationships with their respective Heirs are quite different from their informal relationships with Filch. The Caretaker is comfortable old friend. The Heirs are ‘Master.’ (Or ‘Mistress.’) Red-and-gold was too shy to frisk about to get Harry’s attention. Poor Harry was quite distressed and preoccupied during the last two days of the term. He didn’t notice the extremely plain-looking tapestry that appeared on the wall of whatever room he happened to be in.

And now Godric’s Door is mourning and moping because the Heir has gone for the summer. When next they meet, red-and-gold intends to be a lot less shy, and much more noticeable.

Godric’s Door hasn’t abandoned Filch, but Harry’s wishes and commands would now take precedence over Filch’s. As of yet, Harry has no idea that he’s the Heir of Gryffindor with the right to command Godric’s Door.

Stephanie: Thank you for reviewing! Good prediction about Moody. But he and Dumbledore will keep their speculations to themselves. Another good prediction about Harry and green-and-silver! Filch’s ‘bad feeling’ about taking someone through the wrong Door is accurate. The effects would be worse. A child taken through the wrong Door would be sick for a few minutes longer, and an adult would be sick for a few days longer. An Heir using the wrong Door would have an especially bad reaction, depending on their age. (Moody would call this the ‘Use Your Own Door’ effect.)

Murasaki99: Thank you for reviewing! I’m looking forward to your e-mail! Poor Harry is desperate enough to accept help from Snape’s potions.

"Filch’s Tapestry Transport - We Get You There... More or Less In One Piece" LOL!!! I love the idea of insurance from Lloyds too!

Ara Kane: Thank you for reviewing!! Poor Harry. Those visions are really awful for him.

Jestana: Thank you for reviewing! Minerva is one of my favorite characters too. I was going to keep the relationship between Minerva and Filch a warm friendship, but the characters surprised me.

The Good Doctor Monaco: Thank you for reviewing! Dumbledore would be affected by the protective wards on the Doors, being neither an Heir nor a Squib.

What kind of cat is Mrs. Norris? Well, I suspect that she’s at least part Kneazle. Other than that, I don’t know. She’s obviously highly intelligent.

Julie: Thank you for reviewing!

B. Nonymous: Thank you for reviewing! Don’t worry, Voldemort doesn’t have his own private entrance into Hogwarts. Remember how green-and-silver reacted to Snape’s Dark Mark. The Doors are specifically and powerfully warded against Dark wizards, Heirs or not. Voldemort has given up his humanity, changing himself into something other than human and mortal. He’s lost his connection to the Door.

(When Tom Riddle was at Hogwarts, he stumbled through green-and-silver on an upper floor of the Castle and came out into the dungeons -- Salazar’s Door’s "default" exit. But, to Tom the tapestry was nothing more than a tool, a convenient shortcut which he used at need. He never knew about the other three tapestries. He didn’t know that green-and-silver has an awareness of its own and could be called to him and ordered to take him anywhere within the Castle. When he went Dark, he was lost to Salazar’s Door. The tapestry is still mourning his loss.)

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