The Sugar Quill
Author: Ozma (Professors' Bookshelf)  Story: Squib Apprentice  Chapter: Chapter One: Of Caretakers and House-Elves
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Squib Apprentice

Squib Apprentice

a Harry Potter fan-fic

by Ozma

a flashback story

about Filchís early days at Hogwarts

Chapter One: Of Caretakers and House-Elves

Everything really belongs to J.K. Rowling

(Special Thanks to Rabbit and Jinx, who let me borrow a bottle of their

Ellaís Enchanted Everkleen!)

 

 

 

"Argus Filch is hungry?"

"No," I said miserably, keeping my face buried in my pillow. My words were muffled and barely audible.

The house-elf heard me anyhow. A house-elfís ears are as sharp as they are large. "Argus Filch is thirsty, then?" the little creature asked me.

"No," I mumbled, untruthfully. My throat felt as dry as sandpaper. But I wanted to be alone.

The house-elf wasnít leaving. I heard the soft clunk of a tray being set down on the floor by my bed. Then I felt the bed move slightly. The little creature was suddenly right beside me. She patted my head gently. "Poor boy! Browly knows that he is not meaning to be so bad."

At nineteen, I was older than the oldest of the Castleís students. If I had been born a proper wizard then Iíd be considered of age in the wizarding world. But Squibs have no real place in our world, and I could never truly come of age as a wizard. So Browly wasnít wrong when she called me a boy.

The elfís kindness brought on the tears Iíd been holding back. It was like a dam breaking. She smoothed my hair and made comforting sounds while I wept.

"Browly, I swear that I closed up that bottle of Ellaís Enchanted Everkleen tightly!" I choked. "I really did! And even if I had been careless enough to leave the bottle open, I never would have left it balanced right on the edge of the shelf."

The storeroom had been such a dreadful mess. Broken glass everywhere and Everkleen in a huge puddle on the floor. And thousands of tiny bubbles (each bubble containing a tiny charwoman, singing a song about a nightingale) had completely filled the small room, along with the overpowering scent of primroses.

Looking furious enough to breathe dragon-fire, Apollyon Pringle -- Castle caretaker and my master for all of a fortnight -- had ordered me to clean up the storeroom. When Iíd finally finished, heíd dragged me down to his office. Glaring at me, heíd taken off his belt, coiled it in one hand and tapped it meaningfully against his other hand.

"That Everkleenís EXPENSIVE stuff, boy!"

My parents had believed in long, earnest lectures. But Mr. Pringle took a more physical approach to teaching lifeís hard lessons. "Pain is the best teacher!" he often said.

When Mr. Pringle had finished expressing his displeasure over the spilled Everkleen and the mess in the storeroom heíd gone on to make his views plain on a number of other things that Iíd done wrong. And heíd let me know, in no uncertain terms, that these mistakes were never to be repeated.

It seemed that yesterday, Iíd misplaced an entire toolbox. He still hadnít found it. "Tools must ALWAYS be returned to their proper places!" The day before yesterday Iíd knocked over and chipped a statue of Winnifred the Woebegone while dusting. "Always pay attention to what youíre doing!" On the same day, Iíd nearly knocked Pringle himself down the stairs while helping him carry a ladder. "Always watch where youíre going!"

Mr. Pringle was fond of saying that he wasnít a well man. Bitter experience was teaching me that he a good deal stronger than he looked. Particularly when he was angry, which seemed to be most of the time.

"Circeís Pigs, Filch!" the caretaker had growled when my punishment was done. "Isnít it bad enough that Headmaster Dippet saw fit to send me a Squib for my apprentice? Why in Merlinís Name did he have to choose one whoís careless and clumsy and completely incompetent into the bargain?

"Listen, boy," Pringle had continued, grimly, "it may be that only one of us will survive your apprenticeship! At the moment, Iíd say the odds are in your favor. Iím not a well man!"

"Iím sorry, sir..." Iíd mumbled. It had seemed the safest thing to say.

"SORRY!?!" heíd snarled. "Does "sorry" sweep up the glass and mop up the puddles?"

"N-no, sir..."

"Donít ever be SORRY, Filch! Just learn to work hard and do what I tell you!! In the likely event that your ineptitude is enough to put me into an early grave, itís important that Hogwarts Castle is left in GOOD hands! Now, do something right for a change and get yourself out of my sight!"

*******

"Iím sure that I put his toolbox back on the shelf exactly where he told me it should go," I told Browly. "I donít know how it got lost. And, that statue that fell...? I-I hardly even bumped it!"

I wiped my eyes with the back of my hand. "Almost knocking him down the stairs with the ladder... well, that really was my fault," I confessed, sadly. "Iíve never carried such a big ladder up so many stairs before. I didnít mean to be clumsy. I truly donít want to hurt the old man, let alone put him in his grave. Itís just that the ladder was so heavy..."

Gingerly, I sat up to accept the cup of pumpkin juice that the house-elf was offering me. The cool drink soothed my throat.

"Do you think that Mr. Pringle will have me dismissed?" I asked. My voice quivered.

"Browly cannot say for certain. But Apollyon Pringle is waiting so very long for an apprentice caretaker. Browly is hoping that sir will give Argus Filch another chance before he is wanting to send poor boy away."

"I canít afford to make any more mistakes," I said, miserably. "He mustnít send me home. My poor parents... they were so glad when I was given this chance. What would they say to me if I was sent away from the Castle in disgrace? Iíd never be able to face them."

Browly patted my hand. The elf looked thoughtful. "Sir is wanting to be a good boy," she said, gently. "Browly is seeing this plainly. It may be that the clumsiness and accidents is not Argus Filchís fault at all."

"I donít understand," I said.

"Argus Filch should be resting now. ĎTis a new day tomorrow. And maybe Browly can be helping Argus Filch."

*******

"Cursed brats!" Pringle snarled. "Gorging themselves into a stupor on sweets from home, and then going off to be sick in dark corners! Itís an absolute disgrace! Inconsiderate little wretches! At the very least, whoever did this could have tried a little harder to make it all the way to a toilet! If I had my way, Iíd forbid all the families from sending their brats sweets from home!"

He paused to glower at me. "Whatís the matter with you, Filch? Youíre positively green!"

"Iím sorry, sir, I-Iíve never cleaned up another p-personís..."

"Well, youíd better get used to it then, hadnít you!" Thrusting a mop into my hands, Mr. Pringle stalked off down the corridor.

Swallowing hard and averting my eyes from the reeking pile of vomit, I leaned against the wall. A suit of armor nearby began to shake. Then, right before my horrified eyes, the whole thing simply fell to pieces! It made an incredible noise. And the helmet landed right in the puddle of sick.

What had made the armor fall? I hadnít even touched it! Aghast, I waited for Pringle to come storming back to scold me about my clumsiness. But apparently he was out of earshot.

Trying not to breathe too deeply, I picked up the helmet as carefully as I could and dipped it into my scrub bucket to wash it clean. Clouds of tiny charwomen rose like miniature valkyries, warbling sweetly. I had no idea how to go about putting a suit of armor back together again.

Deciding to deal with one problem at a time, I mopped up the pile of vomit, too upset about the broken armor to gag at the stench. Then, carrying the bucket of dirty water, I went to the nearest broom cupboard to rinse out my things.

With a sound like whip-crack, Browly appeared in the broom cupboard the moment I opened the door. I wanted to ask the house-elf if she knew anything about fixing suits of armor, but she was scowling fiercely.

"Oh! Bad!" Browly hissed, "Is very bad! Not you, silly Argus Filch!" she added, when I flinched. "Is HIM!" The house-elf shook a tiny fist at the empty air behind me.

I didnít have time to ask her who she meant. A small man had appeared, floating in mid-air in the corridor just outside the broom cupboard. He was cackling wickedly.

"Peeves!" Browly shouted, stamping her foot. "Why is you getting poor Argus Filch in so much trouble?"

"Wh-what is that?" I asked, wide-eyed. Iíd already met some of the Castleís ghosts. They were pearly and transparent. And they made the air grow cold around them. This little floating man wasnít like that at all. "It doesnít seem quite like a proper ghost..." I said.

The creatureís nasty little eyes glittered. "Oh, so Iím an ĎItí am I? And a ĎThatí too? Fine beginning! What is THAT, then? Surely, IT doesnít seem quite like a proper wizard! ITís been here for over two weeks now and IT hasnít done a single spell! Can IT be a Muggle?"

Cupping his hands around his wide mouth, the little man began to shout, "Invaaasion!! Attaaaack!! Muggle in the Castle!!"

"Bad Peeves!!" Browly shouted. "Be quiet!!"

"Iím NOT a Muggle!" I yelled angrily. "Iím a Squib!!"

As it happened, neither Browly nor Peeves had been making noise at that particular moment. My shout echoed loudly. The young witches and wizards, all resplendent in their black Hogwarts robes, were poking their heads out of doors up and down the corridor.

My face flamed in humiliation. I wanted to crawl into a deep hole somewhere and stay there until I died.

Peeves howled in glee. He rolled about in mid-air clutching his sides. "An ickle Squib, is it? What fun!!"

Hissing, Browly grabbed a dust-cloth from a sack in the broom cupboard. Dipping it into my bucket, now filled with vomit-water too repulsive now to produce any singing bubbles, she flung the soiled, dripping cloth at Peeves.

SPLAT! She caught the wretched creature in the head.

"You is the one who is hiding Apollyon Pringleís toolbox!!" Browly cried. "You is knocking down statues and suits of armor! You is leaving bottles open and balanced on the edges of shelves! Bad, BAD Peeves!!"

"Bad house-elf!" Peeves retorted, venomously. (Apparently he didnít like getting hit in the head with disgusting dust cloths very much.) "Good house-elves are supposed to be quiet! This one is rude and loud! Maybe itís really a Goblin, eh? Little Goblin wants Pringleís tools, does she? Well, she can have them!"

Poor Browly squealed in pain as a rain of hammers, screwdrivers and wrenches began to fall all around her.

"Leave her alone, you foul thing!" I bellowed. Without stopping to think about what I was doing, I picked up the scrub bucket. Then I flung the filthy water at Peeves.

Shrieking in revulsion, the creature vanished. Most of the foul water went through the place where heíd been floating. The putrid mess splashed all over someone whoíd come up behind Peeves to see what all the noise was about.

I stared in horror at Apollyon Pringle.

The caretakerís stunned expression slowly turned livid. He reached out a gnarled hand, befouled with dirty water, and grabbed me by the ear.

********

The old caretaker was in a dreadful rage. His grip was threatening to tear my right ear from my head.

"Filch," Mr. Pringle snarled as he dragged me after him into his office. "Do you understand that we do NOT fling buckets of filthy water about? EVER? No matter WHAT the provocation?"

I stumbled as he released me, then caught myself on the edge of his desk.

"Yes, sir," I gasped, clutching at my numbed ear. "I understand. Iím terribly sorry!"

"What have I told you about being SORRY, boy!"

"Iím sorry!" I repeated, not knowing what else to say. Then I shut up. I didnít want to make him angrier than he was already.

The students feared Mr. Pringle even more than I did. With good reason. Pringle had a cat oí nine tails. Heíd told me that he used it on the students. I didnít doubt it, as Iíd heard the young witches and wizards screaming in pain when he punished them.

Until now, heíd treated me less harshly. This was not done out of kindness. "A flogging like that would put you off your work, boy. Then youíd be even less use to me than you are now!"

He kept manacles and heavy chains in his office, hung on the wall for use in "really severe cases." The thought that he might use those things on me now made me tremble with fright. When Pringle continued to remain silent, apparently trying to get himself under control, another dreadful possibility occurred to me. A punishment that would be more devastating yet.

"Please, sir? A-Are you going to have me sent away?"

"Dismissed, you mean?" the old man growled at me. "Is that what you want?"

I thought I might be sick. "Oh, no, sir, please...! I canít go back home! Donít dismiss me. Iíll do anything, Iíll work harder, I swear it! Please!"

Pringle ran a gnarled hand through his hair, grimacing at the smell. "Merlinís Teeth, I need a bath..." he growled. Then he sighed. "Who said anything about having you dismissed, Filch?"

"N-no one, Mr. Pringle. But Iíve been doing everything wrong. And I-I thought..."

"If I could send anyone away, itíd be Peeves!" Pringle snarled. "I heard what the house-elf said. Peeves was the one who took my toolbox, chipped the statue and spilled my Everkleen!" The old man sighed again, visibly wrestling with his temper. "You havenít got enough magic to turn cream into butter, youíve got ten thumbs on your hands where you should have fingers, and Iíve never seen anyone who can get lost in the Castle as easily as you manage to do! But it appears that none of the things that I blamed you for yesterday were actually your fault."

As incredible as it seemed, the fact that heíd punished me for things I hadnít done appeared to be troubling him.

"But I did almost knock you down the stairs with a ladder," I said, not wanting him to remember that detail later and grow furious with me all over again.

Pringle shook his head. His anger had faded, but he was still scowling. "Youíre not a very bright lad, Filch," he said, after a moment. "But youíre an honest one, which is a rare enough thing. No, I wonít be sending you away. Merlin help us both."

Weak with relief, I sagged against his desk.

The old man studied me for a long moment. "Being sent home is the worst thing you can think of? Was living with your Mum and Dad as bad as all that?" he asked me.

"Oh, no, sir!" I was ashamed of myself for having given him the wrong impression. "I miss my parents," I said, earnestly. "And I miss being at home. Itís just that, well, Mum and Dad have always been worried about whatís going to become of me."

Explanations were probably unnecessary. But I wanted him to understand. "Years before I was born, my Mum and Dad knew someone who was... like me," I continued softly. "Gerrity. I donít know if that was his first name or his last. He was a tramp who wandered about doing odd jobs, sometimes even for Muggles. When he couldnít find work to do, he would go begging. Gerrity froze to death, sleeping out of doors. It was early spring. No one knew thereíd be snow.

"Mum and Dad donít mention Gerrity much, but I know that they think about him. They want to know that Iíll always have a roof over my head and enough to eat. I donít want to make them worry about me again, just when they thought I was settled. Thank you for letting me stay, sir. You wonít be sorry!"

"Iíd better not be," Pringle muttered, gruffly. He rubbed at his eyes, then grimaced again.

"Iím not a well man, Filch" he said, taking refuge in his familiar refrain. "I wonít be able to bear too many weeks like this one. Give me your word. No more hurling slop-water at poltergeists, eh?"

I gave him my word. "A poltergeist?" I asked, a moment later. "Is that what Peeves is?"

"Yep." Pringle settled into the chair behind his desk. "Havenít you ever met one before?"

I shook my head.

"This Castle has stood for nearly a thousand years," he said. "Think on it. All those centuries of adolescent witch-brats and wizard-brats with all their fears, their mischief, their uncontrolled powers and their nasty little urges soaking into the walls. That sort of thing leaves a foul residue. And, near as I can figure, that loathsome little creature is the result. If anyone wants proof that the brats are evil to the core, well, Peeves is it!

"And, if it was up to me," the Caretaker went on, "Iíd have Peeves Exorcised and good riddance! But the Headmaster says Ďheís always been hereí and thatís the end of it."

Pringle waved me toward his officeís other chair. When I sat down, wincing a bit, the old man gave me a look that was almost sympathetic. "By rights, I ought to beat you for dumping that water on me," he said. "But you didnít deserve the beating you got yesterday. Weíll say that your account is settled, for now."

His bushy, iron-grey eyebrows lowered threateningly. "Filch, so help me, if you ever breathe a word to anyone that I let you off, Iíll hang you up by your thumbs."

"I wonít tell," I said. "I promise."

"As far as everyone else in this Castle is concerned, Iíve just thrashed you within an inch of your life. Iíve got a reputation to uphold, I do."

"Yes, sir."

Pringle studied me for a few moments in silence. "I didnít want to take you on," he said, gruffly. "I suppose Iíve made that much pretty plain."

"Yes, sir," I said softly.

"I thought youíd be completely useless. But youíre not afraid to work hard, Iíll say that much."

"Thank you, sir."

"You donít have to keep calling me Ďsirí, boy. Iím not a professor, am I? Call me ĎMr. Pringleí."

"Yes, Mr. Pringle."

He frowned. "I wonít lie to you. I have my doubts that youíll ever make a proper caretaker. Thereís a lot of things that need doing in this Castle that you simply need magic for! I donít know what the Headmaster was thinking when he took you on. Hogwarts is a grand place, Filch. Old and deep, full of secrets and mysteries from the deepest dungeon to the tallest tower. But, make no mistake, itís full of dangers, too. And itíll be worse for you, being what you are. Keeping the brats safe and out of trouble is one of my responsibilities. And now Iíve got to make sure that I keep you safe too. Even if it kills me. And it probably will..."

His frown deepened. "I never would have expected Peeves to choose you as a target. Normally he picks on the students and leaves the staff alone."

"Sir, what should I do about the poltergeist?" I asked plaintively.

"You? There isnít much you can do. Iíll have a word with the Baron. You do remember the Baron? I introduced you to him in the dungeons, on your first day."

I nodded, shuddering.

"Peeves is terrified of him."

How sensible of Peeves, I thought.

"Iíll ask the Baron to keep an eye out for you. We canít have the poltergeist annoying the staff, can we?"

"No, sir. I mean, Mr. Pringle." I smiled, tentatively.

The old man gave me a grimace that actually had smile-like overtones. Then, standing up and sliding his wand out of his pocket, he sent a small wave of magic towards a kettle on his desk.

"Iím going to go and have a bath now, Filch. You can stay here for a bit and have some tea."

"But, Mr. Pringle, what about the corridor upstairs? The bucket and the dirty water? I should go clean up the mess."

Exasperated, Pringle glared at me. "Not now, Filch. Consider my reputation! Youíre indisposed at the moment. Remember, youíve just been beaten black and blue for the second time in two days. Iíd wager thereís a whole corridor full of brats laying odds against your survival, even as we speak.

"Intimidation," he whispered confidentially, leaning towards me. "Itís the best way I know of, to keep the brats in their proper place."

His voice deepened to a threatening growl. "But, if youíre having some difficulty in following my line of reasoning, then your new bruises can always be genuine ones."

I shook my head, quickly.

*******

Apollyon Pringle went to take his bath. After a decent interval which included time for a cup of tea, I crept slowly back up to the corridor where Iíd thrown the dirty bucket.

The corridors still had a few black-robed students hurrying to class. I kept my head low and didnít meet anyoneís eyes. The thought of the young witches and wizards making bets on how bad my punishment had been was dreadfully humiliating.

I was scrubbing the floor when Browly appeared beside me. The house-elf flung her arms tightly around my neck. "Poor Argus Filch!"

"Ow! Browly, donít!" I gasped. House-elves may be small, but they are quite strong.

The little creature let go immediately. "Argus Filch is hurt?" she asked sadly. "Apollyon Pringle is beating you again?"

I couldnít bear to lie to her. But I didnít dare break my promise to the caretaker either. How should I answer? "It was nothing worse than I deserved," I said, after a moment.

"At least Mr. Pringle saw what Peeves was doing," I comforted her, quickly. "And he heard and believed what you said about the poltergeist. He knows I didnít break or lose his things. And he said that he wonít send me away if I work hard and try to be good. Thank you for helping me, Browly. Are you all right?"

The house-elf nodded.

"I was afraid that Peeves had hurt you with all those heavy tools," I said.

"Browly is fine," she said. "And armor is not needing fixed any more."

"Thank you, Browly! You havenít seen Peeves anywhere about, have you?" I asked.

She shook her head, solemnly. "The Baron," she said, in hushed tones. "He is come to look for Peeves! Wicked poltergeist is hiding. So Peeves is not bothering Browly or Argus Filch for a while."

I smiled.

"Is Argus Filch wanting Browlyís help with this floor?"

I shook my head. "No, you have enough work to do, Browly. This is my job!"

 

 

END OF CHAPTER ONE

 

 

Authorís Notes: Unlike my other stories, this one is open-ended. There are four chapters currently written, but I may write more chapters if ideas and inspiration permit.

My thanks to everyone who reviewed the last chapter of "Squib Caretaker."

Sreya: Thank you for reviewing! In regard to Salazarís Secret Chamber being dour, Snape did say that Slytherins have more secrets than anyone...

Jessanndi: Thank you for reviewing! Snape shows up again in the story that Iím trying to write now.

Brocurra: Thank you for reviewing, and for the kind words on my stories! What are my views on how God fits into the Potterverse? Well, this is just my opinion, but I believe that God is evident in the Potterverse as a force that looks after the characters, rewards their loyalty and their love for each other. Helps them to find comfort and strength when theyíre in despair. Offers characters who have fallen a chance for redemption and repentenance. Rowling doesnít have to discuss religion openly in order for me to see God in her stories.

Your reassurances, in regard to not being a fundamentalist of any sort, is appreciated. Any questions/discussions on God and religion tend to make me wary. It is so easy to unintentionally cause offense.

Sabre: Thank you for reviewing! The school term may have ended peacefully, but in "Squib Summer" (co-written with Jelsemium) Filch goes to London for a short holiday. He manages to find Harry and some trouble as well. ĎSquib Summerí will be posted after this oneís finished. The one after that is the one Iím stuck on. Iím glad that my stories brighten your day... your reviews brighten mine!

Mr. Roberts III: Thank you for reviewing! There probably is a spell for bed-making, but maybe it involves Ďfoolish wand-waving,í which Severus doesnít like to do.

I laughed out loud at the thought of Terry Boot and the Wizarding Cliff Notes!

Jestana: Thank you for reviewing! Having been cat-owned for most of my life, Iíve had lots of opportunities to observe the little felines.

Iím really happy that these stories have helped you to see Filch in a new light! When I first started reading Potterverse fan-fic it bothered me that Filchís appearances were so rare. And it was even more rare to see him treated with any sympathy. Sure, Filch is an unpleasant person in canon, but so are Snape and Draco. And there were plenty of stories that focused on them in a positive way. I wondered why Filch-love was so scarce. Poor old Squib.

Muraskai99: Thank you for reviewing! Durayan has just posted a glorious illustration of Diabolical!Polyjuiced Snape, and Azoth too! Speaking of illustrations, I hope that you draw Drenched!Snape!

Snarky!Snape is one of my favorites too.

Thank you for the kind words on the Foundersí Secret Rooms!

My cat, Sheila, loves to lie on the beds when Iím trying to make them. And she gives me such a LOOK when I disturb her. I couldnít resist putting that bit in about Azoth on the bed.

Lilac: Thank you for reviewing! Ah, the mysterious footprints... well, it seemed a shame to have that lovely Library with no one to use it. Rowena intended her books to be read.

The Good Doctor Monaco & Whiskers: Thank you for reviewing! Of course you can borrow the idea of Dumbledore paddling his feet in the lake! Yes, he does that to relax. (The first two chapters of ĎSquib Caretakerí were written during a camping trip that we took near an incredibly lovely lake. I spent many happy hours on a dock, notebook on lap, pencil in hand and feet in the water.)

"Salad Bar Slytherin?" LOL!!

Harry may get to see Godricís Keep. Itís a plot idea in the back of my mind. Interesting question about the battle-magic in the practice yard! The Secret Rooms were reserved for their particular Founder and for members of that Founderís House. But, with sufficient strength of will, Salazar could have commanded green-and-silver to take him to Godricís Keep if he wished for a confrontation. Commanding a Door is a privilege reserved for the Founders and their Heirs. (Filch canít command, he can only ask politely.) Under ordinary circumstances the Doors will only visit the private sanctuary of their own Founder.

Why did Salazar want Helga to hide the instructions for the Alchemistís Door? Salazar chose to destroy the Alchemistís Door that he and Helga had made. And he didnít want another one to be made in its place.

Filch couldnít tell Dumbledore about the Secret Rooms. They donít like to be spoken of. (But Dumbledore may know about the Secret Rooms already; as Filch guessed when he saw the footprints in the Library, there are other paths that can lead to the Secret Rooms.)

Wise observation that the time moves differently in the Foundersí Rooms. Those footprints donít have to be recent ones.

Filch can summon any of the Professors at need, but most of them have summer plans. Theyíll return before the new term starts.

Mary Anne: Thank you for reviewing! I am honored to be the recipient of your first review! Check out Durayanís illustration, titled "Diabolical!" Sheís listed on the Professorís Bookshelf. Durayan has done some other wonderful pictures of Filch, Snape and Mrs. Norris. Her Lupin pictures are especially yummy too! All her artwork is marvelous!

Ara Kane: Thank you for reviewing! I liked the image of Dumbledore doing something so simple and childlike too. The idea of the Moaning Myrtle game show made me LOL!

Portia: Thank you for reviewing! Iím glad that you think Filch and Minerva make sense together. itís fun to write them and show sides to their personalities that arenít usually shown.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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