The Squib and the Death Eaters
The Squib and the Death Eaters
Chapter 3 (of 3): Abyss
a Harry Potter fan-fic
(This story takes place during Harryís fifth year.)
Everything in this story really belongs to J.K. Rowling
I was expecting Professor Snape to be furious. Or defensive. I was expecting him to attack me. But he did nothing that I expected him to do.
I was standing before him, with real magic in me for the very first time in my life. Wandless, Iíd just shattered his protective wards, blasted the door of his dungeon to pieces and then reduced those pieces to dust!
But those spells had taken a toll on me. My head ached, my legs were shaky and I could hardly focus my eyes, let alone my magic. (It occurred to me that there is a reason why most wizards do not perform wandless magic. It will drain them from within, much more quickly than any outside threat.)
Mrs. Norris stayed beside me as I made my way into Snapeís classroom. My cat was looking at me as if she wished she could drag me out of there by the scruff of my neck, like an errant kitten. She clearly didnít think that I was behaving wisely. But she remained with me anyhow, while I faced Snape.
The professor was sitting at one of the student desks. Beside him was a student-sized cauldron, heating slowly over a very small fire. On the desk in front of him were a small silver dipper and a tiny porcelain container, shaped like an inkwell, with a quill sticking out of it. The scroll that had formerly belonged to Lucius Malfoy was in his hands.
Severus Snape simply looked at me as Mrs. Norris and I came closer. And something in his pale face made me think of Cedric Diggory.
Poor Cedric had only ever gotten one detention from me. Years ago he and his team-mates had muddied up a corridor during Quidditch season. Struggling with my usual once-a-year bout of flu, Iíd been in an even worse temper than usual. Cedric had listened to my wheezing, hoarse voice and stared at my red, dripping nose. Even before Iíd stopped complaining and started handing out punishments, Cedric had looked stricken. As if heíd unwittingly done something unforgivable, and was only just realizing it.
Snape was looking at me with almost exactly the same sorrowful expression.
Why was he looking at me like that? I had been angry. No, Iíd been furious, but now I was baffled. It wasnít as if Iíd expected him to be afraid of me... that would have been ridiculous. He was one of the most powerful wizards at Hogwarts. Even with the newfound power in me I was still no match for him, magically, and both of us knew it.
"This is something I truly had not anticipated..." Snape said, softly. Then he sighed. "I should have listened to Albus. I should have destroyed this cursed thing."
"You used that scroll to wake up my magic, didnít you?" I asked him, growing more confused by the moment.
"Yes, Filch, I suppose I have done so. It was unintentional."
He was clearly angry, but it was with himself, and not with me.
"I have used a very Dark spell," he continued, bitterly, "to activate this scroll. A word of power must be written across the top of the parchment. The ink must be made from a potion that contains, among other things, a Squibís blood, hair, nails, skin and bone. Apparently, I have finally discovered all the ingredients and used them in their proper proportions."
I gulped, queasily, remembering how Malfoy had given Snape the collection of "bits" that Crabbe and Goyle had removed from me. Some of those pieces must have been usable after all. Snape never would have dared to ask Dumbledore if he could have one of my bones.
My tongue went automatically to the empty space where one of my molars had been. My mouth was still a bit sore.
"What did you do? Go and steal my tooth from Crabbe and Goyle somehow?"
Snape closed his eyes. "I didnít steal it," he said, tonelessly. "I challenged them to a game of chance, and won it from them."
"Did you get my blood from them too?" I asked him. "I suppose there was enough of it left on the floor and walls of that place. I know you wouldnít have dared to ask Poppy for any."
His dark eyes opened and met mine. "Dried blood would not have been usable," he lectured me, sounding like the Potions master he was. "Fresh blood was obtained from my cloak. The one I had wrapped around you that night, when I carried you to the Apparition point for Minerva. She transfigured you into a stone so that she could Apparate with you safely. She handed my cloak back to me, the lining all streaked with your blood."
"All right, so youíve used Dark magic," I told him. "I canít say I mind the results too much."
"It was not the result that I intended! I was simply trying to read the scroll!" The self-hatred in Snapeís voice made me flinch. Iíd never heard him sound like that before.
It was true that Iíd spent the past month fearing, doubting and avoiding Snape. But for many years before that Iíd trusted him. He sounded so tortured. I wanted to console him. "Professor, itís all right! What youíve done hasnít harmed me. Iíve been hoping for this all my life! Until now I was never sure if I had any magic in me at all!"
"Of course you have magic, Filch," Snape said, sounding as if I was being unbearably thick. "You were sired by a wizard, and carried under a witchís heart. Squibs have some magic within them, even if it is locked up in a place they can never reach. Youíre a fool and you donít understand what Iíve done to you!"
His dark eyes looked haunted and miserable. "Iíve left you balanced on the edge of an abyss," he said.
"Youíre right, I donít understand," I replied.
"You will. Come here." He used the same tone that he uses when he teaches a class. I obeyed him quickly. Itís not magic, itís just his personality.
"Closer, Filch. I want you to see this scroll that has awakened your magic."
As he spoke, he was unrolling the thing. When I saw what was on it I gasped. The portion of the scroll that I saw seemed, at first glance, to be covered in blood.
Then I realized that the ink was the same color as fresh blood. The words were written in a crabbed old-fashioned hand, in a language that I couldnít read. But the pictures spoke plainly for themselves. They horrified me.
Images of severed body parts... fingers, eyes, a tongue. A diagram showing a man with the skin being flayed from his back. Swallowing hard against a wave of nausea, I stepped back.
"Squibs differ from other wizards in several interesting ways," Snape said. "Itís true that they can not create and sustain spells, at least not under normal circumstances, but a Squib is not magically ...inert."
He fixed me with eyes like two deep black holes.
"There are ways that the magic trapped inside a Squib can be tapped and used by a more powerful wizard. The Squibís store of unused potential can be added to that of the other wizard, increasing his powers. This particular scroll contains spells that might enable a Dark wizard to Apparate within the walls of Hogwarts, even inside the Headmasterís own chamber. If he wears a charmed cloak, made from the skin of a Squib."
I sat down on the student table next to the one he was using. My legs were no longer able to support me. Mrs. Norris leaped up lightly beside me and I took her onto my lap.
"This thing must be destroyed." Snape rolled the scroll back up again, hiding the dreadful diagrams and pictures from view.
"Wait..." I heard myself say. "Professor... must you? You donít have to use those dark spells! Just keep the scroll, and let me keep my magic! Please!"
I sounded mad and desperate. Because I could feel that whatever it was he had done to awaken my magic was starting to wear off. The song inside me was growing still and silent once more. I knew that I would feel more empty than ever when it was gone.
"Please," I repeated, begging him, clutching at his sleeve. "You donít have to read the spells, you donít have to use them, ever. Just write one more word of power on the page... just one!"
"No, Filch. Keeping this scroll was never one of my choices. Dumbledore wants the thing destroyed. As for the Dark Lord... he wants the scroll brought to him, its secrets revealed, along with a Squib he can use to access its spells. The Death Eater who brings him what he wants is sure to be rewarded."
I stared at Snape, my eyes wide with horror.
"This scroll is a very ancient piece of Dark magic," he said. "One that even the Dark Lord had not seen before. Malfoy had the scroll in his collection, but he was unable to unlock more than a tiny fraction of its secrets. I was able to figure out a way to activate it and read the spells, but I didnít fully understand the true Darkness in this thing until I saw its effect on you."
His voice grew softer, sorrowful and deadly cold at the same time. "Did you like being able to work spells, Filch? Did you like it well enough to crawl before Lord Voldemort? Would you kiss the hem of his robes just to have another little taste?"
"Stop..." I whispered. "Professor, please..."
"As near as I can understand, a stronger spell would be needed to activate the scroll each time. And the cost would be higher in blood and pain. Are you willing to give yourself to him, one finger, one eye, one tooth at a time? Make no mistake, Filch, he would have some use for every last bit of you. Or you could always pay him with the suffering of others. Would you be willing to betray any trust to be able to use your magic again? He would take the lionís share of your untapped power for himself, of course. But he might feel generous enough to throw you scraps every now and then. Scraps like the magic that you used to force your way in here."
I was weeping. Dry, wracking sobs choked me. Mrs. Norris pushed her small head against my chin. She stayed still, even though my tears were falling on her.
"Would you beg him for those scraps of magic, the way you begged me?" Snapeís voice cut into me like a knife and scraped me raw.
"You donít understand...." I managed to gasp out.
"Of course not." His tone was harsh enough to strip the skin from my back, like that poor Squib in the scroll drawing. "How could I possibly understand? I know absolutely nothing about the seductive temptation of power!" Sarcasm dripped from his words like acid.
It was a while before I could speak. "I only meant..." I whispered hoarsely, "that you donít understand what it feels like to be powerless..."
"Donít I?" Snape snarled bitterly. He sounded very near tears himself. "Do I have the power to change the past, and undo the terrible mistakes Iíve made? Can I rescue the innocents Iíve failed to save, the innocents left broken at my own hands?"
He was looking at me. I realized, to my shock, that he was adding me to the number of innocents he felt he carried on his conscience.
His harsh anger was turned inward again, against himself. "I do not even have the power to keep the children of my own house, my Slytherins, safe from the Dark! Not when some of them have whole families already too far gone along Voldemortís twisted path!"
The only sounds in the room were my wretched sobs. Snape fell silent. He would not allow himself the release of tears. But Iíd seen deeper into him than I ever had before. Every Slytherin child who fell to the Dark was another piece wrenched from a heart he didnít want anyone to know he had.
"So, Filch." His voice had grown silky, but underneath the smoothness I could still hear the painful rasp of his unshed tears. "The Headmaster did say that I must defer to you, in matters concerning the scroll. Tell me. Which of my two masters shall I serve now? Shall I destroy this ugly thing as Dumbledore wants me to do? Or shall I please my Dark master by bringing him the prize he seeks?"
He looked at me coolly, dark eyes fathomless.
"Destroy the scroll, Professor," I whispered.
An abyss, heíd called it. I had been able to step back from the edge. I thought of Severus walking his lonely shadow path between the Dark and the Light. Heíd fallen into the abyss once, and pulled himself back out again. He had returned to walk along its edge, a guide to help others find their way back. Heíd let me choose my own path. I wondered how anyone could be that strong.
We had scored a small victory against the Dark, but I felt too shaken to rejoice.
I held Mrs. Norris tightly and tried to stop crying into her fur. She was beginning to look like a soggy dust mop.
She gave me an annoyed look, but rubbed her head against my chin. I sniffled and wiped my eyes and nose on the sleeve of my nightshirt.
With an annoyed expression rivaling that of Mrs. Norris, Snape reached into one of his pockets. He handed me a clean handkerchief and glowered at me until Iíd used it.
"How are you going to destroy that scroll?" I asked him.
"There are a number of mistakes that I could have made while performing the activating spell. I might have used the wrong balance of ingredients in the potion for the ink. I might have heated my cauldron a bit too much, or not enough. The ink must be kept precisely at the temperature of human blood, so a few degrees either way would have been disastrous."
Snape paused. "I think, perhaps, my fire was a bit too hot." He drew his wand out of his sleeve and pointed it at the small fire under the cauldron. The flame grew, almost imperceptibly.
He let the potion heat up for a few moments before he reached into the cauldron with the small silver dipper. He poured the blood red mixture into the small porcelain inkwell and dipped the quill inside. The he reached for the scroll.
"You may feel this, Argus," he warned, sounding sorrowful again. He touched the quill to the scroll and began to write in blood red letters. The letters hissed as they formed on the page, turning it a mottled black. The blackness spread across the parchment, like some sort of fungus. The scroll began to crumble in places, slowly falling completely to pieces.
Snape was right, I did feel the effects of the scrollís destruction. The little bit of magic that still remained from his earlier spell went silent and dead. The emptiness hurt me deep inside, and I couldnít help crying out.
"Itís over," he said quietly.
Both of us looked at the pile of black dust on the student desk.
"What will He Who Must Not Be Named do to you, Professor?" I whispered. "You told the Headmaster that you didnít think youíd be killed. Are you sure about that?"
"Iím sure that whatever Voldemort does to punish me for my failure wonít be pleasant, but I will probably survive." Snapeís tone was dismissive. He didnít like it when other people fussed over him. Iíd learned that years ago.
"Iím almost more worried about what Lucius Malfoy is going to say to me," Snape said, ruefully. "Heís going to gloat unbearably. The Potions Master, making such a first-year mistake..."
He turned away from the concerned look on my face.
"The next thing we must do is get rid of this lot. Keeping it around might well present a danger to you," Snape said. He nodded down at the cauldron.
"I will just melt the whole thing down into a puddle of unrecognizable slag. Whereís Longbottom when I need him?"
I stroked Mrs. Norris, watching as Snape proceeded to melt the cauldron. He used a spell to contain the fumes when they got too bad.
"Professor...?" I asked him, hesitantly. "If Iíd chosen differently, if I had said that you should take me to He Who Must Not Be Named, along with the scroll, would you have done that?"
"I would have truly been surprised if youíd made that choice, Argus." His voice was quiet as he watched the cauldron melt.
His faith in me was the highest praise I had ever been given. I was deeply moved.
"Ah, well. Theyíre a messy lot, Death Eaters," I said. "Blood all over their walls... rusty chains and holes in the roofs of their dungeons. Iíd much rather choose to stay here and make the bratsí lives miserable. At least thereís a hope of getting a few of them to wipe their feet sometimes."
Snape smiled, but spoke with an echo of his earlier sadness. "I regret forcing you into a position where you had to make such a choice."
"I donít regret it..." I told him.
I wanted Snape to see that what heíd done hadnít broken me. Instead, he had shown me that I could be strong. Powerful enough to refuse the thing that I wanted most in all the world, when the price was too high.
I waved a hand towards the empty doorway, taking in the wrenched hinges and the huge piles of dust out in the corridor.
"Iíve had a chance to do real magic, Professor! And perhaps some day, my magic might decide to wake up on its own. I can wait, Iím used to waiting. At least now I know my magic is really there."
A little more softly, I added, "I am sorry about your door, though. Iíll have it fixed as soon as possible. Do you want me to take care of the mess for you?" I nodded towards the melted cauldron on the table and out towards the piles of dust in the hall.
"It will keep till morning."
I grinned. "Professor, it is morning. And Iíve spent almost a month resting. Itís time I got back to work."
"Youíre right, the castle is in desperate need of some cleaning..." Snape said dryly. "But shouldnít you at least get dressed first?"
I remembered that I was still barefoot and in my nightshirt.
Mrs. Norris gave me an amused look and began washing her paws.
"Thereís still a few hours yet before breakfast," Snape said. "Go back to bed, Filch. Iíll see you in the Great Hall."
I was glad to see a faint smile on Snapeís face. A real one this time, untouched by guilt or shadows.