a Harry Potter fan-fic
A sequel to "The Squib and The Death Eaters"
Chapter 1 of 4: Vigil
Everything in this story really belongs to J.K. Rowling.
Wielding my scrub brush with a vengeance, I attacked the dirty flagstones on the floor of the castle’s entry hall as if each stone was a deadly enemy.
Hogwarts’ entrance hall is huge. I knew that trying to give the floor an extremely thorough cleaning during the school term was an exercise in futility. By tomorrow evening, the students would have it covered with muddy footprints all over again. This task was usually one of my projects during Christmas holidays, when the Castle is nearly empty. But I had been an invalid for most of December and part of January. As a consequence, my regular cleaning schedule was lost beyond all hope of recovery. Keeping the floor really clean for just one night was the best I could manage. It wasn’t good enough, but it would have to do.
As a Squib surrounded by witches and wizards, I can admit (if only to myself) that I am a petty tyrant when it comes to the few things I can actually control. Keeping the Castle clean, keeping the students sufficiently cowed, these things can make me almost content with my lot in life. But now, matters inside Hogwarts felt as if they were slipping out from under me. Even though I had recovered, I moved more slowly than I had done before and I tired more easily. My work took me longer to accomplish.
Frustrating as this was, it was only half the problem. I’d been accustomed to keeping an eye on mischief-making students with the help of my cat, Mrs. Norris. But Mrs. Norris was still being overly protective. She refused to leave my side in order to patrol the corridors on her own. She was near me now, sitting on a section of freshly scrubbed flagstone, like a small, dusty sentinel. I knew that students were probably breaking rules all over the castle, and there wasn’t a thing I could do about it!
And Peeves was still treating me as if I was something breakable. Usually, this would not be worthy of comment. The poltergeist most often deals with breakable things by simply breaking them. Peeves was actually treating me as if I were something that he wanted to keep in one piece! It was most unsettling.
But tonight my smaller troubles had been dwarfed by a much bigger fear.
Earlier this evening, Professor Severus Snape had been summoned by the Dark Lord.
I’d seen the summons. It had happened right in front of me. We’d been in a corridor, surrounded by a mob of yelling Slytherins and Gryffindors. There had been an altercation; three young Slytherins against two young Gryffindors. Curses had been thrown. The commotion had attracted more students of both houses, and their professors. Professors Snape and McGonagall were trying to sort out what had happened.
I’d been shouting about detentions. The two Gryffindors had already been assigned detention with me, but I had been determined to get my hands on the Slytherins as well. I really wanted those three!
Suddenly, Professor Snape’s face had gone paler than usual. I hadn’t understood the significance of his slight wince, and the involuntary clutch at his left forearm as if something there had hurt him. I might have missed the whole thing, if it hadn’t been for Professor McGonagall and Harry Potter. Both of them had reacted. Potter’s green eyes had widened and he’d taken a sharp breath. Minerva had reached out to Snape, as if to support him.
Still clutching at his arm, Severus had stepped back. He’d drawn himself up to glare coldly at both of them, and then at me.
"You may do what you like with Mr. Longbottom and Miss Weasley, Filch!" he’d snarled. "But Mr. Malfoy, Mr. Crabbe and Mr. Goyle belong to my house! I shall attend to their punishment!" Not waiting for my reply, dismissing me from his attention as if I didn’t exist, he’d addressed Professor McGonagall.
"I leave matters in your capable hands," he’d said, silkily. He’d stalked off down the corridor, black robes swirling around him, drawing his triumphant, satisfied Slytherins in his wake.
I still hadn’t understood. Under the loud sounds of Gryffindor outrage rising all around us, Minerva had leaned closer to me.
"Argus, leave young Malfoy, Crabbe and Goyle to Severus. It is for your own good, and for his as well." It was the look of concern on her face, concern for Snape, that had finally made me see. I had framed a silent question at her. She’d nodded, grimly.
Resting a gentle hand on Potter’s shoulder, she’d turned away from me then, to soothe her angry young lions.
Feeling suddenly weak, I’d leaned against the wall. I owed Severus Snape my life. In early December, he and Professor McGonagall had rescued me from Lucius Malfoy’s fourth or fifth-best dungeon, after a terrible night spent under the not so tender mercies of Crabbe and Goyle, senior.
Professor McGonagall had masqueraded as my cat, Mrs. Norris, to free me. Professor Snape’s continuing masquerade, as a loyal Death Eater, was far more dangerous. In order to keep me safe he’d had to "fail" a mission for the Dark Lord. I hoped that saving my life would not cost him his own.
Mrs. Norris, who hears better than I do, looked towards the marble staircase. I glanced up from my scrubbing. Minerva McGonagall was coming down the stairs. In her arms she carried a neat stack of parchments. I guessed that these were student essays she needed to read.
"Has Severus gone yet?" I asked her, hoarsely. "And does the Headmaster know?"
"Yes, to both questions."
"Merlin help him!" I thought. I could only hope that Snape returned to us in one piece. I could wait up for him. It wasn’t much, but it was all I could do.
Mrs. Norris and Professor McGonagall exchanged a polite feline greeting, meeting each other’s eyes for a moment, and then looking away.
"Severus may not return for many hours," Professor McGonagall told me. "He may not even return tonight."
"He may never return at all!" I thought, wretchedly. I didn’t have to say that out loud. My expression must have been eloquent enough.
Minerva didn’t try to deny that possibility. Her mouth compressed into a thin, worried line. She sat, ramrod straight, on a lower step of the main staircase, with the essays beside her.
"Professor, you don’t have to wait down here, with me," I said. She didn’t look very comfortable sitting on the step like that.
"I will stay here for a while," she said. "You and I do have things to discuss, Argus. There is the matter of Neville and Ginny, and their detention. They have told me what happened. How much of the incident did you see?"
"None of it!" I confessed angrily. "I only came later, after I heard all the noise." I couldn’t help glowering at Mrs. Norris. "I should have been one of the very first on the scene!" I grumbled. No creature living could spot trouble about to happen like my cat managed to do. If only she’d been there, just as the trouble was starting, instead of wasting her time shadowing me!
Mrs. Norris returned my glare with a soft hiss and an indignant flick of her right ear. She twisted away from me to lick daintily at her left shoulder.
Professor McGonagall smiled. "She intends to keep a close watch on you until she feels that it is no longer necessary to do so. And she feels that if you want a companion to give you blind, unquestioning obedience, then perhaps you should consider getting yourself a dog."
"I was able to take her general meaning, thank you very much, Professor. A literal translation was not required."
Turning to Mrs. Norris, I muttered, "I can look after myself perfectly well, Missy. It wasn’t me who once got myself Petrified by a Basilisk, now was it?"
Mrs. Norris gave me a long, cool look before shifting her attention to her right shoulder.
"She did have the wit to look at the Basilisk’s reflection in a puddle before the sight of the actual creature could kill her," Minerva pointed out. "And I remember how you refused to let her out of your sight for months after Poppy gave her the Mandrake juice."
"That was different!" I said. "After all the terrible events of that year, it’s no wonder that I felt protective..." I broke off in dismay. The year of the Chamber had been a terrible one, but that disaster had only been the first of many. Things had grown worse since. No wonder Mrs. Norris was concerned.
I sighed, and admitted defeat.
Gracious in victory, neither Minerva nor Mrs. Norris pursued the subject any further.
"Well, at any rate, I didn’t see what happened," I continued after a few moments. "What did the children tell you?"
"Neville said very little, but I gathered that he was having some trouble with Malfoy and his friends. The other boys had gotten hold of Trevor somehow and were refusing to return him. Then Ginny stepped in to help Neville and matters escalated from there. Neville confessed to using a body-bind on Goyle. And Ginny confessed to cursing all three of the Slytherins with boils. In some particularly uncomfortable spots!"
"Well, good for her!" I said, before I could stop myself.
"Minerva, I do not feel that Mr. Longbottom deserves a detention at all. It was only one curse and he used it in self defense! As for Ginny Weasley, her actions are perfectly understandable, really..."
Minerva was staring at me incredulously. "Who are you and what have you done with Argus Filch?" She was smiling, but her eyes held an expression of concern.
I saw her worry deepen as I continued. "If anyone deserves to be severely punished it’s those three Death Eater Spawn!" My knuckles whitened on the scrub brush as I dipped it into my bucket. Drips of Magical Mess Remover flew as I gestured with it. Mrs. Norris hissed at me in annoyance and Professor McGonagall turned to shield her essays.
"Hanging them up by their ankles would be too good for those three!" I snarled. "I’d like to..."
"To what, Argus?" Minerva’s voice managed to be both very gentle and extremely stern. "Leave them chained up someplace dark and bitterly cold? Cut bits and pieces off them?"
"I..." my throat had closed up. "I...can’t help it, Professor! I know I’m not supposed to remember anything about what happened. And I don’t want anyone to know that Severus worked no memory charms on me. But every time I see those three...!"
"They’re children, Argus. They are not the ones who hurt you."
"I know that," I said, bitterly. "I’ve already had this conversation with the Headmaster, twice now. I know that, no matter how badly I wish it were otherwise, I shall not be permitted to punish young Malfoy, Crabbe and Goyle at any time in the foreseeable future. It seems that the Headmaster is worried about what I might do to them."
"Albus is concerned about you, just as he is about the boys."
"I know that," I muttered.
Minerva stood up and came over to me, careful not to step on any wet parts of the floor. She knelt beside me, resting a hand on my shoulder. "I shall never forget what you looked like when I found you that night," she said softly. "You were so torn and bloody. I was afraid that Severus and I were already too late. But you’re strong, Argus. Stronger than even you know."
The grey eyes behind her glasses were calm, steady.
I looked into her eyes, wishing that I could be the person that she saw. I didn’t feel strong at all.
"It’s not fair, Minerva."
It was a soft cry, torn from my heart. I knew that she would understand. Minerva and I both agreed that the world could be cruel and unfair sometimes. Minerva tries to compensate by being as fair as she possibly can. I just become angrier and more bitter as the years go by.
"No one can make them pay for the terrible harm that they do!" I said. "They nearly killed me. For all we know, they’re killing poor Severus at this very moment!"
"They will pay. Someday." She spoke firmly as if she believed it with all her heart. "As they should. But the fathers should pay, not the sons."
"The boys are still young and they have not yet chosen their path," she continued. "It is not easy, but I know that Severus tries to show them, very subtly, that there are other paths besides the ones that lead to He Who Must Not Be Named. I know that, if he could, Severus would cut himself to pieces if he thought it would save the children of his house from the Dark."
I nodded. I’d seen that in Snape too.
"It’s hopeless," I told her. "Maybe he has a chance with some of the other Slytherins. But no one could save those three brats from the Dark. They’re black-hearted little Death Eaters already!"
"Severus is determined to try. And he will find a way, if anyone can." Minerva said.
"If he lives..." I pointed out, bitterly.
McGonagall’s eyes became sad. "Severus was certain that he would survive the Dark Lord’s displeasure. He told Albus that it was a calculated risk."
I snorted angrily. "Oh, yes, he told me that as well. So I told him that there were times when the difference between a Slytherin’s `calculated risk’ and a Gryffindor’s `reckless courage’ was too fine a distinction for a mere Squib to grasp!"
This earned a faint smile from her. "Oh, my. What did he say to that?"
With the best sneer I could manage, I attempted to imitate Professor Snape’s caustic tones.
"A Slytherin’s careful planning is nothing at all like a Gryffindor’s reckless stupidity! That should be obvious to anyone, even the merest Squib!" I grinned. "Then he called me an ass, and stalked away down the corridor in a huff like a great, black manta!"
"Hmm. He said `Reckless stupidity,’ did he?" Minerva raised an eyebrow.
"Er... you aren’t going to mention that to him, are you?" I said.
"Of course not, Argus. I wouldn’t dream of it," she said, sweetly.
"If you do say anything, please remember that you never heard about that conversation from me. If you like, you can blame it on Peeves, and say he overheard us. I hope you do get your chance..."
Minerva smiled sadly and reached out to stroke Mrs. Norris. She is one of a very small number of people in the Castle, besides me, who can get away with doing that.
"We still haven’t discussed the matter of the detention, Argus," she reminded me. "What about Neville and Ginny?"
"You haven’t taken away any points from them, have you?" I asked her. "I’m sure that Severus was going to take points away from Gryffindor, but he never had the chance."
"Neither of us had a chance to take any points from either house. There was so much noise and confusion. And then we were both distracted."
"At least there’s that," I murmured. "So, you really want me to punish your young lions? You’re not afraid of what I might do to them?"
"Rules exist for a reason." Minerva said quietly. "Hogwarts exists to train responsible witches and wizards. Curses should not be used lightly, no matter what the provocation. Neville and Ginny are good children. They know that one need not sink to a foe’s level in order to defeat them. They know that all unpleasant actions have consequences. And they are both capable of understanding the sort of hard lessons that you can teach better than anyone. And, no, I am not afraid of what you might do to them."
Her grey eyes studied me closely. I felt, again, that she was seeing me as someone stronger than I really was. And again, I wished to be the person that she saw.
"I am not giving you leave to clap them in chains, of course. I’ve always thought that sort of thing showed a lack of imagination anyhow," Professor McGonagall added.
"I will try my best to think of a detention that is both suitable and imaginative, Professor," I murmured. This would be my first detention since I’d been out of the hospital wing. I was surprised to find that I was actually quite nervous.
"I will, of course, discuss my plans with you, before we schedule a time for the detention to take place," I added.
"Thank you, Argus."
Around us, the Castle was going quiet. It was after the time when the students should be in their dormitories. The good students undoubtedly were exactly where they should be. The bad ones...
I sighed and gave Mrs. Norris a very pointed look.
She ignored me and arched her back under McGonagall’s gentle hand. My cat purred, perfectly content to remain exactly where she was. The bad students were going to run about, unchecked for another night.
Sighing again, I went back to scrubbing the floor.
Professor McGonagall went back to the stairs and her stack of essays. Conjuring a light, she began to read. Mrs. Norris padded after Minerva, curled up on the step beside her, and kept her golden eyes on me.
Hours later, Minerva had long since finished reading her stack of essays. She sat on the step, with Mrs. Norris in her lap, both of them watching me. I had nearly finished the floor.
The Castle’s huge front door swung open with a creak. A tall, thin figure in black stumbled painfully inside.
Minerva and Mrs. Norris got to Professor Snape first. Professor McGonagall didn’t seem to be half as stiff as I felt, I thought ruefully, as I stumbled after her.
Snape’s face and hands, the only parts of him visible under his cloak, were horribly pale. His eyes looked like deep, black tunnels. He was trembling. Echoes of the Dark Magic that had been used against him surrounded the Professor like a second cloak.
I did not need to be told that I was feeling, smelling, almost tasting the malevolent magical aftereffects of the Cruciatus Curse. Severus was so weak he could barely stand.
When we reached out to steady him, he flinched. It hurt him to be touched, though we tried to be gentle. Snape hated to be fussed over. He hated for others to see him when he was vulnerable. But seeing him this way hurt both Minerva and me, so I decided that we were all a little bit even.
When he spoke, his voice was a sandpaper raspy ghost of its usual silky self. "Well. It seems that I have calculated the odds of my survival correctly, after all."
Professor McGonagall carefully maneuvered his right arm over her shoulder. Just as cautiously, I did the same with his left arm, taking particular care not to touch his forearm. I knew very little about such matters. But I supposed that the Dark Mark might still be very sore.
"Yes, Severus. So you have," Minerva said, gently.
She and I helped him towards the staircase. Mrs. Norris helped us all by staying out from under our feet.
"I need to see Albus..." Snape whispered. "Let me go. I’ve made it this far... I can make it on my own."
This was such a blatant lie that Professor McGonagall and I ignored it by unspoken mutual consent. Behind his back, we also silently settled the matter of where we were taking him. Straight to the hospital wing, whether he liked it or not. Neither of us thought that the Headmaster would object to debriefing his spy there.
"The two of you shouldn’t have waited.... foolish of you." Snape murmured.
We started carefully up the stairs.
"It didn’t seem like such a long wait..." I lied. I saw Minerva hiding a wry smile.
"Professor McGonagall and I had time to discuss the students’ detentions," I added.
"Oh?" Severus murmured, though he was concentrating mainly on keeping himself upright.
"She’s convinced me that you are right to insist on handling the punishment of your Slytherins however you see fit. I will restrict myself to the matter of disciplining the Gryffindors."
"Very good, Filch. I am delighted to know that you’ve finally seen the light of reason."
In spite of his condition, Snape actually managed to achieve a respectable level of sarcasm. But it was several moments before he could speak again.
When he did, he sounded very cold. "Believe me. I will teach young Mr. Malfoy, Mr. Crabbe and Mr. Goyle a lesson they will not soon forget. They will not get off lightly."
Minerva flinched. She has a kinder heart than I do. I was pleased to hear this. But, looking at Severus Snape’s face, hearing his voice, I think that both Minerva and I were equally glad that we would not know the details.
"I do believe you, Professor," I said.
END OF CHAPTER ONE