The Squib and the Potions Master
The Squib and the Potions Master
a Harry Potter fan-fic
Everything in this story really belongs to J.K. Rowling
This story takes place during Harry’s first year.
Quidditch season inevitably means that a lot of extra dirt and mud will be tracked in all over the castle floors. But a blood trail? That’s a bit more unusual. (Unless it’s directly after a team practice or a match. In which case the blood will most often lead directly up to the hospital wing.)
This blood trail, currently defacing a corridor that I’d spent most of the morning scrubbing clean, wasn’t leading me towards the hospital wing. Mrs. Norris and I followed the path of small, red droplets, and the occasional larger splotch, away from Poppy’s domain. At least the blood was fresh enough to come up fairly easily, even from stone. As I mopped, I wondered irritably who was bleeding, and why they didn’t have sense enough to go have themselves looked after properly! As if I had nothing better to do than follow a bloody mess from one end of the Castle to the other!
It was evening, after the hour when most students had withdrawn to their common rooms. But it wasn’t late enough for everyone to be in bed. When I tracked this mess to its source I intended to drag the hapless student straight to the Headmaster. Obviously someone had been up to some sort of mischief, and didn’t want anyone to know they’d been hurt. The unfortunate miscreant was unaware that they were leaking blood. It was a clue even less subtle than Peeves. I grinned with satisfaction. There was no possible means of escape!
Large red blotches stained several of the big, porous flagstones where two corridors met. This was going to take a bit more elbow grease. Grumbling, I shoved my mop into the pail of Magical Mess Remover and reached for my scrub brush.
"Stay on the trail!" I told Mrs. Norris. "Whoever it is, don’t let them get away!"
I didn’t have to tell her twice. She was off in a flash of grey.
After giving the flagstones a quick, but vigorous, scrubbing I followed. There are few things in life more satisfying than hunting mischief-making students down, but blood is very difficult to get off stone, once it sets. Knowing that Mrs. Norris could be trusted to uphold her end of things, I cleaned up the messes as I found them, as swiftly as I possibly could.
As I turned a corner, I saw Mrs. Norris waiting for me, about halfway down the hall. Perhaps I didn’t clean up the last few drips as well as I might have, in my haste to reach her and see who we’d caught. Aha! Our bleeding quarry had finally been run to ground in ... the staffroom?
Oh, my, I thought gleefully. Defiling the castle corridors and trespassing!
Mrs. Norris let out a shrill mew.
"What?" I said, looking down at her. The look in her golden eyes advised me to proceed with caution.
This was not like her. I didn’t know what to make of it.
"I’m going in there," I said. This was one victory that was not going to be snatched away from me! "We can’t let ourselves be intimidated by a mere student, can we?"
She repeated her warning, perhaps a little more emphatically.
"You can stay out here, if you like," I told her.
Feeling a bit annoyed, I opened the staffroom door and went in alone.
"All right, you...!" I began angrily, only to have the words die in my throat.
I’d been greeted with a stare so caustic that I wished I could bottle it. I could peel centuries worth of grime off the castle’s stones with that much corrosive power. Unfortunately, the only wizard at Hogwarts who might be capable of bottling that look for me was the one who was glowering. And he didn’t appear to be in the mood to do anyone a favor.
"Professor Snape...?" I said. "You’re hurt!"
"You have an amazing grasp of the obvious, Filch..." he snarled.
He was sitting, one of his legs propped on another chair in front of him. A glance at his leg told me where all the blood had come from. That glance was enough to make my gorge rise, and I’ve always prided myself on having a strong stomach. From the knee down that leg was mangled meat.
"What happened...?" I asked in a strangled voice.
Did I say that the first look he gave me was caustic? Well, the second look could have dissolved the castle stones, if given half a chance! To escape his glare I looked down. There was a pile of used, bloody bandages resting on the floor. Some of them were bloody enough to stain the floor under them.
"Look at this mess you’re making!" I exclaimed.
I was expecting a sneer that would put the first two to shame. Instead he looked down at the soiled bandages, his expression turning pensive.
"You found blood in the corridor..." he said, softly.
It was a statement, not a question. But I couldn’t help answering.
"Yes, I did. In several corridors!"
"You’ve cleaned it all up, I suppose?"
"Then you have attended to your duties adequately, Filch. Thank you. And good evening!"
His tone was dismissive, and colder than a frost giant’s beard.
I started to say something angry, then I stopped. A bit belatedly, it occurred to me that he’d been hurt badly. His face was even paler than usual and he was clearly in pain.
"Professor, you really should have that leg seen to. Come. I’ll help you to the hospital wing."
Exasperated, I said, "All right then. I’ll go get Poppy and bring her here."
"No. You will not."
"Why not? Poppy doesn’t bite..." I crossed the room, kneeling down and forcing myself to look more closely at his wounded leg. I gave a soft whistle. "...but something else certainly does!"
And that ‘something’ had the biggest teeth I’d seen since...
Since I’d met Hagrid’s three headed monster in the Forbidden Corridor. Guarding the Stone.
"...Oh, my," I breathed. I did not have to say anything else. He saw what I knew, quite plainly in my face.
His eyes went so cold that they seemed to freeze two holes right through me. I could feel the temperature in the room dropping. The air itself seemed to thicken and solidify around us.
"Y-you went in there." My voice sounded thin and nervous, even to me. I could feel my pulse pounding in my throat. "No one is supposed to go in there."
"I had my reasons."
My eyes locked on his. "And they were?"
"My own." He smiled. It was not a pleasant expression.
I looked away first, my throat dry as dust. Snape was using no magic on me, it was all personality and force of will. I stared at his injured leg, watching the red blood glisten.
He continued to study me. "You seem oddly familiar with that creature’s ...handiwork, for want of a better term, Filch. How did you know?"
"Just a lucky guess. There’s nothing in the castle as big as that Cerberus. What else could have done this to you?"
The sight of his wound was making me feel ill, but I could not bring myself to look at his face again. I thought of snakes, trapping prey with their eyes. He’d been attacked attempting to get to the Stone! Of course he would want his injury kept a secret.
I was shaking. And I hated myself for it.
"We can’t let ourselves be intimidated by a mere student, can we?" I’d said to Mrs. Norris. And I remembered Snape as a student. Remembered him well. He’d been a skinny first year, when I’d met him, small for his age. I could still recall his somber little face, not yet grown into his proud nose, and the set of his thin shoulders, as he was usually hunched over either a cauldron or a book.
Contrary to what the children at Hogwarts think, I do not hate all the students. Only most of them. There are some I actually don’t mind too much. It’s true that I never forget the ones who were the most trouble. It is also true that I never forget the ones who treat me decently. And Severus Snape had always treated me decently, as both man and boy. Or at least he treated me no differently and no worse than he treated most people. There were always Slytherins who acted as if I was some sort of uppity house elf that they were not allowed to kick down the stairs. Severus had never been one of those. Never.
Young Severus had also never been one to accept help, even when he needed it badly. He’d been determined that no one should ever see him weak or vulnerable. Offers of aid would be met with sneers and threats. That child had long since grown into a man, but some things, apparently, had not changed.
I looked at him, willing my heart to stop racing. He’d gone quiet. Both of his hands were clenched tightly in his lap. Even his lips were white. I could not let him just sit there, bleeding.
"With all due respect, Professor, you are getting blood on that chair cushion, and all over the carpet. If you won’t accept help from Poppy, then you’d better accept it from me. You need something to clean this mess with, and I’m not talking about the chair or the rug. And you need fresh bandages.You wait here, and I’ll fetch what we need from the hospital wing."
Snape glared at me. Suddenly his wand was in his hand. He raised it in my direction, slowly, as if he were waiting to see if I would flinch or bolt. I did neither. I wanted him to see that I trusted him. Me, with no wand to defend myself, and no proper magic of my own.
My point was not lost on him. He gave me no verbal acknowledgment, but the tense set of his shoulders eased a little.
"Accio bandages..." he said, moving the wand.
My skin tingled and the fine hairs on the back of my neck rose. Something blew past me, a wind that felt somehow both hot and cold. Snape’s spell. A second flick of his wand opened the staffroom door to admit the roll of bandages he’d summoned.
"This is all I need," he told me. "These bandages were stored in my office. They’ve been soaked in a healing potion, specifically made to treat the Cerberus’s bite."
Snape must have been trying to reach the cache of bandages down in his office and had only managed to make it as far as the staffroom, I realized. The bandages hovered in the air in front of me. I took them, unwrapping until a section of bandage came free from the roll, so I could hand it to him.
"The healing potion also contains a pain killer," he said. "It may make your fingers a bit numb, but it will do you no harm."
"When did this happen?" I asked, nodding towards his leg.
"Halloween Night. When the troll got in." Snape flinched as he gently wound the treated cloth around his ankle.
"You’ve been limping around on that mess for all this time?" I exclaimed, shocked.
"Such bites are typically slow to heal. Poppy herself could not make it mend any faster."
"Professor, why did you go into the Forbidden Corridor?" I unwrapped a second bandage from the roll and handed it to him.
He said nothing. Just when I thought he wasn’t going to answer me at all, he sighed.
"You know that the Stone was moved here from Gringotts because someone was trying to steal it, correct?"
"I thought it possible that someone had let the troll into Hogwarts to serve as a diversion, while a second attempt to steal the Stone was made. I wished to make certain that the Stone was still safe."
"You should have gone to the Headmaster," I told him, handing over another bandage.
"There was no time. And Dumbledore’s first concern was the safety of the students."
"All right," I conceded the point. "That explains what you did on Halloween. Why are you still being secretive?"
Snape gave me a taste of the tone he usually reserves for particularly slow students.
"Has the thief been caught yet, Filch?"
"Is the Stone still in danger, then?"
"Well, yes, I suppose so."
"Very good. That’s two out of two. Shall we try for three out of three? Do I want the thief to know that I am watching for him?"
Snape’s tone was so abrasive that he could have lent it to the house elves in the kitchen to scour their dirtiest pots. And there would still have been enough left over, for me to use on the dungeon floor.
"I can see why you wouldn’t want to give yourself away." I said. "But there’s no reason for you to handle this completely on your own. You can go to the Headmaster."
He paused, while wrapping the latest bandage around his leg, to glare at me. "I will not bother Dumbledore with accusations and suspicions that may well be unfounded. This is far more serious than a bit of student misbehavior!" He gave me a sneer that should have been classified by the Ministry as "Dangerous/Requires Specialist Knowledge/Skilled Wizard May Handle."
"You think you know who the thief might be?" I asked.
The expression on Snape’s face changed, becoming almost ...haunted.
That look sent a chill down my spine.
"I am not going to tell you anything more, Filch," he said, very softly. "Only know that I will do whatever I must to keep the Stone from falling into the wrong hands." He reached out for another bandage.
I’d forgotten to keep unwrapping them for him. Hastily, I fumbled with the roll. Snape accepted the new bandage and added it to the collection already covering his wound. There was still quite a bit of mangled flesh left to cover. My fingers were tingling a little, but not really numb. The healing potion had made my hands slippery and I wiped them on my breeches. At least the potion appeared to be working. Snape no longer looked as if he were in quite so much pain. And his color wasn’t too bad. Not for him, anyway.
"Your leg’s feeling a bit better? Good. You were very lucky, you know. Fluffy’s much faster than any creature that size has a right to be. You could easily have lost your leg. Or worse."
"Fluffy?" Snape raised an eyebrow. "Is that what Hagrid named that thing?" He eyed me, speculatively. "One might suspect that you’d tangled with the monster yourself."
"Tangled? Hardly. Mrs. Norris got in there once when Hagrid unlocked the door to feed the beast. I went in after her, very stupidly, I might add. If Hagrid hadn’t been right there to call his monster off, then Hogwarts would have been advertising for a new caretaker this term." I shuddered. No one who had seen teeth like Fluffy’s at very close range would ever forget the sight.
Snape’s eyes glittered with satisfaction. "I knew you weren’t just guessing, Filch." He sounded quite smug. I supposed he had sufficient reason. He’d managed to escape the Cerberus alive, with all his limbs still attached (if not quite intact), without needing a rescue from Hagrid.
"And you will also know how seriously I mean this advice, Professor," I said. "If, in the course of protecting the Stone, you should find yourself going into the Forbidden Corridor again, I hope you will have some sort of plan?"
Snape’s voice turned glacial. "Of course I will have a plan. I had one the first time!"
"Yes, and it worked out so very well, didn’t it," I muttered. "You rushed in there and stuck your leg down one of Fluffy’s throats. Not exactly up to the usual Slytherin standard, was it?"
He all but yanked another bandage out of my hands. "Leave this to me, Filch. Do I tell you how to mop floors? I wanted to make certain that the Stone was still well guarded, and it is!"
I simply looked at him. Snape was powerful wizard and a cunning one, but I feared for him. He was determined to go about this alone, against a thief dangerous enough to put that haunted look on his face. He couldn’t afford to be overconfident. A dig at his house pride had seemed the best way of making my point. But I wasn’t sure he’d gotten the message.
I think, perhaps, he did see my concern. Not knowing what to make of it, he looked away.
"Blasted thing," he grumbled. "How are you supposed to keep your eyes on all three heads at once?"
Very softly, I said "I hope you will stay out of the Forbidden Corridor until you can answer that question, Professor. Reckless courage is supposed to be strictly a Gryffindor trait, isn’t it?"
The look on his face was indescribable. If he’d chosen to point his wand at me at that moment I know I would have fled. (Either that, or I would have ended up floating, pickled, in a big jar in his office, labeled "Insubordinate Wretch of a Caretaker.")
But he had no chance to do anything to me. At that moment, we both became aware that someone was listening to us. The door was partially open, and a wide-eyed student was in the doorway.
"POTTER!" Snape roared, moving his robe over his partially bandaged leg.
I turned to look at The Boy Who’d Just Distracted Snape. Poor Potter. He had just gotten the full force of Snape’s fury. And he would never know how grateful to him I was.