Mrs. Norris was nowhere in sight when Hagrid unlocked the door to the Forbidden Corridor. I would have sworn to it. I was standing right behind Hagrid, watching for her, just in case. No one had told me if the Stone was in place yet, but I knew most of the dangerous traps and enchantments that would be protecting it were already there. Including one truly monstrous guard dog. The Forbidden Corridor was no place for a cat.
Suddenly, as Hagrid paused to adjust his burdens (his keys, a large shovel, a sack of meaty, bloody bones, two water jugs, and a second sack filled with an assortment of extremely large doggy toys,) my cat was there. She raced towards us, a small feline Seeker who’d seen the Snitch.
In a moment she was past me, leaping lightly over my feet. I dropped the food bags, the water jug and dog bowls I was carrying for Hagrid, to make a frantic grab for her. I missed. She bounded past Hagrid, evading his futile clutch as well. The door to the Forbidden Corridor was barely open at all, just a crack, but it was more than enough to admit a thin, grey cat, too curious for her own good!
That locked door had intrigued her for weeks. She was often there, pawing at it, clawing at it, determined to get in. Mrs. Norris was accustomed to going almost everywhere she wanted to go inside the castle corridors. No corridor was "Forbidden" as far as she was concerned. I’d given her stern warnings and a very serious lecture concerning cats and the dangers of curiosity. Apparently, she’d thought I must have meant other cats.
"Mrs. Norris!" Hagrid’s exasperated yell was followed by a second, even more exasperated yell as I raced after my cat, shoving past him, sending his supplies crashing to the floor where they bounced and rolled in all directions.
"Filch!" Hagrid paused to sneeze; cats have that effect on him. Then he bellowed "STOP! It’s NOT SAFE!"
`Not Safe.’ Hagrid has a decided gift for understatement. Poor Mrs. Norris had no idea what was on the other side of the locked door. At the moment I didn’t care if Hagrid’s beast had an important task to do. I had no intention of letting that monster kill my cat!
Heart pounding, I stumbled into the Forbidden Corridor.
What I found was not what I expected.
I’ve been Caretaker at Hogwarts Castle for more years than I want to remember. I know the secret passageways of the school better than anyone. At least anyone living. But the Castle can still catch me off guard.
Suddenly there was the smell of the sea all around me, the crying of gulls overhead. I heard waves breaking on rocks. I was standing on a beach. No one had said anything about this sort of spell! I felt confused, until I saw the Cerberus. Massive as a dragon, three huge, drooling heads, each with its own impressive set of sharp teeth. Six angry eyes fixed on me hungrily. A triple set of rumbling growls made my bones rattle. Hagrid’s monster was something I’d expected to see, but I was still terrified. Desperately, I looked for Mrs. Norris.
My cat stood, feet firmly planted in the sand, directly in front of me, fur bristling. Looking like a fierce little dust mop, she met the growls with a warning hiss. Incredibly, she padded forward. She wouldn’t even make a mouthful for one of those huge heads!
"Oh, no you don’t!" I gasped, lunging for her.
Just as the creature lunged for me.
"...Filch? Say somethin’!" Hagrid’s voice was very loud and very close.
I dragged my eyes open. The light made my head ache and I felt terribly dizzy. After a brief glimpse of Hagrid’s huge, hairy, worried face, I closed my eyes again. At least in the dark nothing was spinning.
"Talk ter me! Anything feel broken?"
Everything did, actually, but that wasn’t what concerned me most.
"Where’s Mrs. Norris...?"
There was a rustling movement and I felt a familiar weight curled on my stomach. I cupped my hands around her bony body and listened to her purr. She, at least, appeared to be whole and undamaged. My relief made my aches unimportant. At least nothing had happened to her.
"It’s all your fault, Missy," I scolded her. "If you were a student, I’d give you detention! Every single day, for the entire term!"
"It’s not her fault." Hagrid contradicted me. "Yeh were in far worse danger from Fluffy than she was."
"FLUFFY?" I yelped.
"Perfectly good name. Chose it meself," Hagrid said, with dignity.
"That creature just hit me harder than the Hogwarts Express!" I wheezed. "There’s nothing remotely "fluffy" about it!"
Hagrid had the gall to laugh. Then he said, more seriously, "Sorry I couldn’t get ter yeh before Fluffy did. He’s that quick. ‘Least yeh wasn’t bitten. Took a bad fall, though. He flung yeh clear across the room. An’ yeh got a nasty knock on yer head when yeh hit the floor. Better get yeh ter the hospital wing."
"No one’s there. Poppy’s gone out to Diagon Alley to get some things she needs before the term starts. And she’s meeting friends for lunch. She said she’d be gone a while. I’m supposed to be mopping the hospital wing now." I tried opening my eyes again, but the brightness still hurt too much.
Hagrid sighed. "The next time I tell yeh ter stop, Filch, yeh’d best do it."
"Believe me, I’ve learned my lesson. And, the next time I see you carrying too many things at once, dropping rubbish all over the stairs, I’ll just keep walking!"
Hagrid sounded amused. "Didn’t say I wasn’t glad ter have yer help."
I ignored him and kept grumbling. "I’ve more than enough work of my own to do, with the term starting in less than a week! Classrooms still need to be opened and aired, and that cursed girls’ bathroom on the first floor is flooded again. Now I’ll never be caught up in time! Rest assured, you will be getting no more help from me...!"
Hagrid sighed again."Yeh should’a just stayed behind me. Mrs. Norris would’a been fine. She an’ Fluffy were only gettin’ ter know each other. Can’t blame yer cat fer wantin’ ter meet a new, interestin’ creature, can yeh?"
I snorted. Mrs. Norris poked me with a reproachful claw.
"Where’s that beast gotten to, anyhow?" I asked nervously.
"Fluffy’s nearby. Don’t worry; it’s safe now. He knows yer with me. Lie here an’ rest fer a bit. When yeh feel up ter walkin’ I’ll help yeh ter the hospital wing, an’ we can wait fer Poppy."
I felt Hagrid’s big hand moving carefully under my aching head, sliding an empty sack there as a cushion. Thankfully, it did not smell like one of the same ones he used to clean up after his monster, several times a day.
Still woozy, I did as he said. Mrs. Norris kneaded her claws gently against my stomach and continued to purr. The sound soothed me, as did the waves breaking in the background. I wondered why Hagrid had bothered to put the sack under my head. The warm sand felt soft enough.
My eyes flew open. Ignoring the pain and an awful bout of nausea, I sat up. Mrs. Norris, who landed in my lap, gave me an indignant glower. I stared all around me. At the beach, at the sea, which sparkled against a clear, blue sky. At the entrance to what appeared to be a cave, a black hole leading into a cliffside.
I watched Fluffy emerge from the cave and trot towards Hagrid, who was busy gathering up all the things we’d both dropped. He’d gone back through the door, which sat incongruously in the middle of the sand. Hagrid moved towards his creature, his arms filled with the water jugs, the bag of bones, and the assortment of bowls. Fluffy’s tail wagged as he barked joyously in greeting.
Both the huge man and the huge dog left deep tracks in the soft sand.
Making no comment about being unexpectedly at a seashore, Hagrid continued fetching the creature’s things. As he carried in the sack of pet toys, a wave broke across his feet, soaking his boots. He made no reaction to this at all.
"The Professors..." I said, "the ones who have done the enchantments... the traps, the charms... d-do you know if any of them have cast any sort of ...glamour on this room, some sort of illusion to help protect the Stone?
He frowned and shook his head. "No. None of ‘em mentioned anything like that."
I took a deep breath. "When you look around, at this corridor, what do you see?"
"Jus’ the corridor. Like it always was. Except fer Fluffy, an’ his things. Trapdoor’s new, a’course."
Trapdoor? Oh. There it was. A few of Fluffy’s body-lengths away from the door, with sand all around it.
"Hagrid...? Does anything else in here look a bit ...er...different to you?"
If this seashore wasn’t one of the professors’ protective spells then what was it? Hagrid couldn’t even see it! Perhaps there was something wrong with me. Not something caused by my fall, or the blow to my head. I’d seen the beach the moment I entered the Forbidden Corridor! My hold on Mrs. Norris tightened. She butted her head against my chin, comfortingly. One of the gulls flying overhead let out a loud cry. I jumped.
"Filch? What is it? What do yeh see?"
Ignoring Hagrid, I pushed Mrs. Norris gently off my lap and ran my fingers through sand that felt warm and real. Still too dizzy to stand up, I crawled forward to the water’s edge and let a wave splash me. It was cold, and felt as real to me as the sand did. I shivered, soaked to the skin.
Staring out to sea, towards the horizon I could see several triangular fins breaking the water’s surface. Sharks? No, I thought, as one leaped from the water. Dolphins. In spite of the warm sun, I trembled harder.
Fluffy moved from Hagrid’s side to the water’s edge, beside me. All three heads barked in chorus, the same joyful sound he used to greet Hagrid. He bounded up and down the beach, clearly greeting the dolphins.
What? He saw them too?
Hagrid looked at his Cerberus and back to me, in confusion. Then he blinked. Comprehension appeared to dawn. "Ah. That must be it. But I don’ understand. Yeh shouldn’t be able ter..." He shook his head again. "Filch, don’t worry. Whatever yer seein’ now, yer not losin’ yer mind. It IS a spell, but not one cast by the teachers. An’ its got nothin’ t’do with the Stone."
"I-I don’t understand."
"That spell’s meant just fer Fluffy! Dumbledore put together a small charm. A very small one. Ter make Fluffy feel at home. It’d be so hard fer him otherwise, shut in here on his own. I don’t know how often Fang and I will be able ter come up here an’ have a good, long visit, specially after the students come an’ the term starts."
For a moment I wanted to grin. The idea of Hagrid fretting because his monster would feel lonely and bored guarding the Forbidden Corridor was ...ludicrous.
And then Hagrid continued. "No one should be able ter see it. It’s such a little charm. Dumbledore said that no wizard or witch would even know it was there."
I felt a choking wave of bitterness, and a pain that had nothing to do with any physical injury.
It shouldn’t hurt so much, still, after all these years, should it? I am getting old, even as we reckon time in the Wizarding world. I have had plenty of time to get used to being what I am.
Non-magical misfit, born to a family of wizards. No acceptance letter from Hogwarts, or even one from any lesser school of Magic. Fit only to scrub floors and clean toilets. Some witches and wizards, fearing that a child of theirs might be a Squib, will do things to shock and frighten the non-magical child, trying to awaken the power in them.
I suppressed a very bitter laugh. Getting tossed about by a Cerberus was certainly more exotic than any attempted Squib-cure I’d ever heard tell of. Still hadn’t done the trick, though, had it? Here I was, just as unmagical as ever. Vulnerable to a charm that no true witch or wizard would even notice... a charm meant to amuse a dog. How humiliating!
"Er... sorry, Filch." Hagrid said, looking uncomfortable.
"Forget it." I growled. Hagrid might be an oaf, but I knew he wasn’t deliberately cruel. He’d probably just forgotten. I’ve never talked about being a Squib, but everyone on the staff surely knew. Just as I knew Hagrid is a failed wizard, expelled during his third year, his wand broken as a punishment. I don’t know what he did. Whatever his crime was, they couldn’t take his magic away because of what he’d done. Magic is part of him, in his blood and his bones, in his huge body and his wild, black hair. He’ll always have the magic in him, no matter what.
Mrs. Norris jumped in my lap. I stoked her fur, and she purred like a small, furry thunderstorm.
Hagrid cleared his throat, a little nervously. "Er... Filch? C-could yeh... er... I mean.. would yeh do me a favor? Would yeh mind tellin’ me exactly what yeh see when yer in here?"
"I never did ask Dumbledore what sorta charm he made fer Fluffy," he explained, a bit sheepishly. "An’ I’m curious."
I gave him a hard look, to see if he’d asked me this out of pity. But he almost looked envious because I could see the charm and he couldn’t. Imagine being envious of a Squib.
"Must be something lovely..." he prompted me. "Fluffy seems ter really like it in here."
I nodded, sighed, and told him about the sun, the sand, the cave and the dolphins. The Headmaster does exquisite work, even when he thinks that no creature, except Hagrid’s three-headed dog, is ever going to view the result. How would it feel to be able to do magic like that?
In front of us Fluffy rolled contentedly in the golden sand. Each head chomped gleefully on its own toy. The head in the middle had a red ball that squeaked incessantly, an incredibly annoying sound.
Mrs. Norris flicked an ear at Fluffy with amused disdain. I wondered if she could see the Headmaster’s charmed beach or the real corridor? Perhaps she was even aware of both, simultaneously. I could only guess, for she can keep secrets, even from me. Cats do love to be mysterious.
Hagrid grinned, watching me pet her. "Just got ter clean up after him an’ we’re done in here." He took the empty, folded sack I had been lying on, picked up the large shovel and headed up the beach. Or up the corridor, depending on your point of view.
"Sack’s clean. Hadn’t used it yet, had I?" he said cheerfully, over his shoulder, in answer to my glare.
In a few minutes he returned and dropped the dung- filled sack near the door. "I’ll get that later. Let’s see if Poppy’s back yet. Can yeh walk?"
With his help, I climbed unsteadily to my feet, trying not to groan. I hurt all over, especially my head, but the dizziness wasn’t as bad as it had been. Leaning on him, I should be able to make it to the hospital wing.
Even with Poppy’s best efforts, I knew I’d be feeling the aftereffects of this mishap for the next day or two. I’m not as resilient as I used to be. It did not matter, as long as I would be fully healed by the start of the term. Hellions like the Weasley twins would ride over me roughshod if I weren’t strong enough to deal with them properly.
Before we left, Hagrid patted each of Fluffy’s three heads, murmured endearments and promised to come back as quickly as he could. Mrs. Norris padded silently across the sand, weaving in and out between Fluffy’s huge front paws. Three enormous black noses lowered to sniff at her, each in turn. I watched a little anxiously, but she remained calm and unafraid.
"Yer welcome ter visit Fluffy again with me, any time yeh like," Hagrid addressed this comment to Mrs. Norris. "Seein’ how the two of yeh know each other now." His black eyes glittered mischieviously. "Unless Mr. Filch wants ter try’n stop yeh?"
"No..." I said, ruefully, "pain is an excellent teacher. Particularly when it’s mine. I won’t try to prevent her from coming in here again, if she wants to. As long as you are in here too. Just take care not to lock her in when you leave."
"Yeh’ve got my word on it."
Hagrid moved me towards the door, patient with my slow, hobbling walk. Mrs. Norris passed us, trotting almost jauntily through the door ahead of us. Her tail was in the air, and she had the look of a cat who had more than adequately proven her point. No corridor should be Forbidden to her. She was a cat who could look after herself.
"Strut all you like now, Mrs. Norris," I said, gruffly. "And someday, if you should meet a creature who turns out to be more than you can manage... promise me that you will at least have the sense to be a bit more cautious, eh?"
She jumped into my arms, purring, as Hagrid paused to lock the door.