a Harry Potter fan-fic
a sequel to "The Squib and The Death Eaters"
Chapter 3 of 4: Tapestries
Everything in this story really belongs to J.K. Rowling
"Yes, Ginny. This is very bad," I said.
"I suppose you must have seen something like this before, Mr. Filch?" Neville asked me hopefully. "Youíve lived at the Castle for such a long time..."
I shook my head grimly. Things inside Hogwarts do tend to move about, but I had never seen an entire passageway seal itself off from the rest of the Castle. Well, thereís a first time for everything.
Finding oneís way around Hogwarts isnít easy. Iíd be the first to admit that. And I know the Castle very well indeed. From the lowest reaches of the dungeons, up to the highest towers. It had taken me many years to learn the Castle so well. For a moment, it seemed as if all those years had never happened. I felt as uncertain as I had during my days as an apprentice caretaker. As if at any moment, old Apollyon Pringle would find me and give me a terrible clout for getting myself lost again.
The fact that we shared this trap with a foul smelling, magic-eating vine-creature that was, even now, inching its tenacious, many-runnered way along the stone walls and floor of the passageway behind us did not improve matters one bit.
"Why do you think the passageway sealed itself off like this?" Ginny asked me. "Do you think someone ...outside the Castle... maybe You-Know-Who...?"
I shook my head. "I donít think so, Ginny. The Castle has more magical defenses than even the Headmaster knows. This might be one of them. That ...thing back there has somehow managed to get a foothold in the storeroom. Who knows how long itís been there, growing in the dirt? Iím the only one who usually comes down here, and I canít do magic. The monster never reacted to me. It never left the storeroom before. Perhaps when it did, the Castle defended itself by sealing off the passage."
"Then the Castle isnít trying to trap us in here, just the monster," Ginny said.
"Unfortunately," Neville pointed out, wryly, "weíre still trapped along with it."
The children and I turned to face back in the direction weíd come from. Mrs. Norris wound her way around all our feet, hissing, while I lifted my lantern to examine the walls and floor near us. So far we had managed to outrun the vines.
But their terrible stench filled the gloom all around us and we had nowhere else to go.
"It would have been better if Iíd simply chained both of you up in my office," I said, bitterly. "Maybe Professor McGonagall is right about it showing a lack of imagination. But, when allís said and done, you canít go wrong by sticking to the basics!"
Ginny gave me a wry smile. "Iím glad that you didnít chain us up. I liked restoring those paintings much better. Do you think the vines will bother them?"
"Is that what youíre worrying about?" I demanded incredulously
"We did do a lot of work on those paintings," Neville said. "And they turned out rather well..."
"The paintings were in that storeroom for a long while! And that vine-thing didnít just get there yesterday," I said. "Iíd imagine that the paintings will be all right. It would be much more sensible to worry about ourselves!"
I saw the looks on their pale faces and felt ashamed. Of course they were worried. But these children were two of Minervaís young lions, and they were trying hard to be brave.
In spite of the horrible smell I took deep breaths, struggling to stay calm. Breathing deeply hurt my bruised ribs, but at least the pain gave me something to focus on besides my fear. Squibs donít get Sorted so Iíve never worn the Hat. If I had, I never would have ended up in Gryffindor. Iím not a bit brave.
But the vine-beast ate magic and probably magical people as well. I was the only non-magical thing standing between that monster and Neville and Ginny and Mrs Norris. (That monstrous thing wasnít going to get my cat, either!) I couldnít be as brave as they were, but I couldnít help any of us by panicking.
The children were standing together, talking in quiet voices. Then Ginny looked at me.
"Mr. Filch, we think that you should stand behind us," she said, deep in thought.
Suddenly my fear was unimportant. Anger and bitterness, my two constant and trustworthy companions, did an excellent job of banishing all other emotions.
"What did you say, Miss Weasley?" I demanded, my voice a harsh growl. "Are you implying that Iím useless, just because Iím a Squib?"
Ginny blinked, as if she hadnít expected my reaction. But then her eyes flashed. "Of course youíre not useless!! But youíve already been hurt, protecting us!! Please, just do it!"
"Er.. Ginny...?" said Neville.
My voice rose, furiously. "If you think Iím going to hide behind two children, think again!! That evil thing doesnít even want me! It wants the two of you, because youíre magic!!! And Iím the fool who didnít stop you brats from using your magic down here! Do you really expect me to cower in a corner while that thing kills you!?!"
"Mr. Filch!! Ginny!!" Neville shouted. Heís not usually the type who shouts, but it was necessary in order to make himself heard. At the same moment, Mrs. Norris dug her claws into my leg and let out a yowl.
Ginny and I stopped yelling as we noticed what Neville and Mrs. Norris had already seen. The stinking vines had caught up with us. The first thin, sickly green creepers were winding their way along the floor and the walls in front of us.
"Ginnyís right, Mr. Filch. You should stay behind us," Neville said earnestly. "Not because we think youíre useless. Not at all. Youíre right, those vines donít want you. And we donít want them to circle around in back of us."
Ginny nodded, firmly. "If we stand in front, theyíll stay focused on us. If you stand in back, maybe they wonít close us in! And, you have to stand back there anyhow, so you donít get hurt when Neville and I use `Incendioí together."
I opened my mouth, and then shut it again. So, the Gryffindors were thinking on their feet, and they had a plan. As plans went, it wasnít too shabby. Professor Snape often makes disparaging comments about the strategic abilities of Gryffindors. But Ginnyís and Nevilleís plan wasnít nearly as reckless as others Iíve seen.
For example, there was a certain Slytherin Professor who wanted to make sure that a certain Stone was still well guarded. Oh, perhaps nearly getting his leg bitten off by the Cerberus hadnít been part of his plan, but still...
I didnít have the nerve to bring up that subject with Severus any more. But I had once overheard Professor Snape sounding off to Minerva and the Headmaster about the thick-headed, "rules donít apply to me so I can go off on my own any time I please, risk my neck and damn the consequences" tendencies of certain young Gryffindors.
Hands folded, Dumbledore had been waiting quietly and patiently for Severus to run out of steam. But Minerva had picked up her handkerchief and coughed into it, delicately. Her coughs had sounded remarkably like "Fluffy! Fluffy!"
The Headmaster had lost his battle not to grin. (So had I, but thankfully Severus wasnít looking in my direction.)
I hoped that we would all get out of this somehow, so I could tell Minerva how her young lions had done her proud. Obediently I stepped back to let the children confront the encroaching vines. Mrs. Norris stayed by my feet.
Reaching into his pocket, Neville turned to me. "Hold Trevor, please, Mr. Filch? Iím worried that he might get away from me."
Ugh. I donít much care for toads. But I accepted the cool, moist creature anyhow, cupping the hand that wasnít holding the lantern carefully around him. Neville didnít need any additional worries. Mrs. Norris gave me a hopeful, peckish look and I glowered at her.
Neville and Ginny had their wands outstretched. With one voice they cried out "INCENDIO!!!"
The resulting blast of mingled heat and magic was so strong that I reeled, even though I stood behind the children.
The vines burned brightly, filling the corridor with smoke, adding to the strong stench of decay. Not one vine touched the children. Not one vine got behind them.
I have always been able to feel the force and power behind the spells used near me. Whether he believed it or not, Neville was as powerful a young wizard as his old and noble family could have wished for. Still tired from his previous spell, he managed to put a respectable amount of power into this one. Ginnyís magic was incandescent, fierce and mighty. It seemed too much for such a small girl to carry inside her.
They were strong, yes. But not fully grown and not fully trained. Destroying the horrible thing they faced would have taken the combined efforts of many adult wizards and witches.
The two children could manage to make the vines retreat. But the heart and brain of this thing lay somwhere under the dirt floor of that storeroom. Someday, Neville and Ginny would have had enough power to burn the vine-runners to ash, and force their spells underground to destroy the creature itself. But, I knew that they could not do such a thing now. The vines would be back.
Ginny and Neville surely knew that too. This victory was only temporary. The children had bought us some time, but we didnít know how much.
In the smoky, foul gloom that the light from my lantern barely managed to penetrate, the three of us and Mrs. Norris huddled together on the stone floor of the passageway. The children were exhausted. It was almost certainly past their bedtime.
Neville wearily accepted Trevor back again and slipped the toad into his pocket. Ginny leaned against my shoulder. Mrs. Norris curled up in my lap.
"I wish Professor Dumbledore was here..." Ginny said softly. "Or Professor McGonagall."
"Iíd even be glad to see Professor Snape..." Neville said, wryly.
We were going to die. Minerva had trusted me to teach the children a hard lesson, and I had certainly outdone myself this time.
A few weeks earlier, Professor Snape had destroyed a scroll, a piece of Dark Magic, that could have awakened my own power. The cost would have been high; I would have had to sell myself to the Dark Lord, piece by piece. Severus had trusted me enough to know that I would refuse. And I had.
But if the Dark Lord were to come before me right now I knew that I would have given him anything he wanted from me, if he would only give me the power to save Ginny and Neville and Mrs. Norris.
"I hate being a useless Squib..." I said, bitterly. "Iím so sorry!"
"Mr. Filch!" Ginny sounded like Iíd broken her heart. "None of this is your fault..."
"Yes, it is," I growled, "but, donít worry, Iím not going to keep going on and on about it. Iím sorry, and I just wanted the two of you to know. Why donít you try to rest for a bit? Iíll wake you when the vines come back."
Neither child thought they would be able to fall asleep, but Neville was soon snoring, his head against my shoulder. Ginny was curled up against my side, which made my ribs ache. I didnít have the heart to move her.
Mrs. Norris and I stayed awake, staring at my oil lantern. The light was getting dim.
"Well," I said to my cat, ruefully, "Who would ever have thought itíd end like this? I always thought that caring about a couple of students would be the very last thing Iíd ever do. Guess I was right."
When the vines attacked us for the third time, one of them wrapped itself around Nevilleís arm. The boyís agonized scream tore a hole through my heart. Earlier, the vines had given me bruises and what felt like the beginnings of a rash on my throat, chest and back. But Iíd gotten off lightly compared to what the vineís touch had done to Nevilleís arm.
Heíd been burned, as if by dragonfire. Face white, body quivering with shock and pain, Neville had trembled in my arms while Ginny had shouted terrible things at the vines, words that sheíd probably learned from those wretched twin brothers of hers.
Iíd ripped the vile things off Neville with my bare hands. Those vines would have to pull me to pieces before I would let them touch either of the children again!
Screaming out Nevilleís name, Ginny renewed her own fiery assault on the vines.
I had learned to judge each member of Ginnyís family on his or her own merits. (Iíd gotten a double-dose of that lesson after Fred and George had followed Percy to Hogwarts!) Plentiful amounts of courage, red hair and freckles were the only givens when dealing with Weasleys. Little Ginny shared the good qualities her elder brothers had, but she possessed a deep, inner strength that was all her own.
Alone, with Neville in too much agony to help her, sheíd driven the vines back. She was already quivering with fatigue from the earlier battles, and all three of us knew that this respite would be our last. We no longer had the strength to fight for our lives.
Now my lantern had gone out. There was no more oil. Ginny had conjured a small, floating light to help her see while she kept a cooling Charm on Nevilleís burned arm. It didnít matter any more if Ginny used her magic. The monster knew right where to find us.
During the latest onslaught, some of the vines had gotten behind us when Iíd been ripping their cousins off poor Neville. The wall behind us was now burned black from Ginnyís last Incendio spell. I leaned against the filthy wall and cradled Neville while Ginny worked on him. Neville slowly stopped trembling.
Mrs. Norris stood by Ginnyís side, faintly singed around the edges and smelling of smoke. Her golden eyes stared intently down the passageway. Sheíd appointed herself our lookout.
The boy looked at me, a faint smile on his pale face. "Thank you, Mr. Filch. You and Ginny both saved me. I guess I owe you a wizardís debt now."
"You and Ginny have both saved each other tonight, Neville. All your debts are repaid. And youíve both already saved me too. Though Iím not sure if a Squib can be owed a wizardís debt, or if a Squib can repay one either... Iíve never asked anyone."
Neville looked at me curiously. Perhaps talking helped to keep his mind off the pain. "Have you ever met another Squib, Mr. Filch?"
"I donít know. Itís generally not the sort of thing that people just announce about themselves."
"I thought I was a Squib. My family did too. For ages." There was a familiar world of sorrow in his words.
"No one wanted to talk about it with you, did they?" I said, softly. "And you felt afraid..."
"Ashamed, guilty..." I continued, receiving another nod.
"You must have been so relieved when you discovered you were a wizard after all," I said, for once sounding more wistful than bitter.
"What... what did your family do?" Neville asked me. "Once they were sure?"
I knew how hard it had been for him to ask that question. Not many grown wizards and witches have had the courage to ask me that.
He deserved an honest answer. "My mother cried," I said. "All the time, when she thought I couldnít hear her. She blamed herself. Perhaps she hadnít said the proper protective Charms before I was born. Perhaps sheíd used some dangerous spells while carrying me, or maybe it was the boggart whoíd frightened her when she was six months along. Whenever one of her friends began to talk about how well their children were doing with their magical studies, her face would just go still."
These memories still hurt. I had never talked about this, with anyone.
"The year that the other children my age were starting their first term at Hogwarts I spent being dragged off to one Healer after another. Of course, none of them could tell Mum what she wanted to hear."
"What about your father?" Neville asked me.
"The poor man could hardly bear to look at me," I confessed. "His friends kept telling him stories about people they knew who had managed to "cure" a Squib. I overheard a few of those tales myself. There was one about a boy whoíd been tied hand and foot, placed in a sack and tossed in a river. ĎHeís about to start his fifth year at Durmstrang, now!í the boyís uncle told my father. I heard about Squibs being locked in dark cupboards, hung up by their thumbs, smothered with pillows and dropped from brooms. And one old wizard who worked with my father even swore that he could Ďbeat the magic right into me, with a stick!í"
Ginny was looking at me, horrified.
Neville was nodding again, with a rueful smile. "Great Uncle Algie wouldnít have done any of the really awful things. But he did almost drown me once, by accident. What did your father do?"
"Nothing. He was a very gentle man. Not much like me at all," I said, wryly. "Those stories made him go pale. But I could tell he was blaming himself for not wanting to do something, anything, as long as there was a chance it would make me be a normal wizard, like everyone else."
"They must have told you it wasnít your fault." Ginny said, her voice soft.
"They did. I still blamed myself for hurting them, disappointing them."
"It wasnít your fault!" Ginny said, vehemently.
"It can be hard to know when somethingís not your fault..." I pointed out. "You know that, Ginny."
"They still loved you, didnít they?" Neville asked, looking wistful.
"Yes, they did.Very much."
I looked at Neville and realized, for the first time in my life, how lucky Iíd been. In spite of the pain of those years, at least my parents had been there to tell me that I was loved. This realization was bittersweet, since my poor parents are long dead. But it was a gift, and it was totally unexpected. I smiled at Neville and brushed the hair back from his sweaty face,
"My mum has a second cousin whoís a Squib," Ginny murmured.
"Really? What does he do with himself?" I asked, genuinely curious.
Ginny looked embarrassed. "We donít talk about him much. Not because heís a Squib," she hastened to assure me. "The family was terribly hurt and angry when he ran away to live with Muggles. Heís an accountant, now. I think, maybe, he works at a bank like a sort of goblin."
I sighed. "I thought of doing that, long ago. Not working at a bank... running off to live with Muggles. But I was too afraid. It would have meant leaving everyone and everything I ever knew. It would have meant admitting to myself that I would never be able to use magic like a normal person. Your motherís cousin sounds as brave as all rest of your family."
"I never thought about it that way..." Ginny said.
Then she said, "I donít feel brave! Iím frightened. I donít want to just sit here and wait for the vines to come back! Neville, when you feel up to it, would you like to go back to that storeroom with me? We may not be able to beat that thing, but at least it will know itís been in a fight!"
"I think it knows that already..." I said, looking at them proudly.
Both children smiled.
"Iíd like to come too, if you donít mind," I said. "Touching those things isnít nearly as hard on me as it would be on either of you. Being a Squib has worked to my advantage, for once. Itís a pity there arenít more of us here. Squibs, I mean. With enough of us to grab hold of that monster perhaps we could even dig it out of the ground and hold it down for you witches and wizards to finish off properly..."
"Iím ready now, Ginny..." Neville said. "Letís go." This was clearly a lie. The boy was still so pale. Without Ginnyís cooling charm he would have been in awful pain. He would barely be able to stand up, yet.
"I canít stand waiting either..." Neville confessed. "I just want to... to get it over with."
Ginny and I exchanged a look.
"Itís all right. We can wait a little bit longer, Neville," she said softly.
Mrs. Norris rubbed against Ginny and the girl picked her up and cuddled her. Then my cat leaped lightly down from Ginnyís arms to resume her duties as lookout.
I had never felt so useless in my life. Why did these brave, good children have to be trapped here with me?
Oh, Iíve been fond of students before, here and there. There have always been some that donít seem as bratty as the rest. Generally it takes me a few years to figure out which children I mind the least. Sometimes I donít even know that I am fond of a particular child until that child leaves the school at the end of their seventh year.
Or leaves forever, in another way.
(Iím sorry, Cedric.)
Sometimes, years after Iíve figured out that a child wasnít so bad, the child comes back to teach at the Castle, as Severus Snape had done. Iíve never known quite how to treat the children Iím fond of. Iím not Hagrid, who has brats underfoot at all hours, feeding them tea and those horrid rock cakes he makes. Iíve always thought that the kindest thing I could do was simply leave them alone.
I wished Iíd chosen a different detention for Ginny and Neville.
This latest plan of theirs was pure reckless Gryffindor courage. A final, doomed charge into certain death. It was a waste. It was so unfair...! I could not think of a better plan, though.
The Castle wall was cold against my back. I leaned against it and sighed. This wall shouldnít even be here. Behind it, in other parts of the dungeon, maybe someone was trying to reach us? The thought had occurred to me before, but I hadnít said anything about it to the children, not wanting to give them false hope. If someone on the other side of the wall could reach us, they would have done so by now.
Such a dirty wall... blackened by smoke and the ashy residue from the vines. Absurdly, I felt a desire to give it a good scrubbing.
At my back, I felt a tingle of awareness. Something Iíve felt before, only a few times in all my years as caretaker. I donít know what it is. Itís definitely magic, but nothing human, nothing alive in the normal sense.
Sometimes I have wondered if it is the Castle itself. The sensation is very strange and frightening, and I usually shrink from it, like a terrified first year. Iíve never had the courage to ask the Headmaster about it, and heís the only one who might understand. (If he doesnít know what Iím talking about, then Iím afraid heíll think Iíve lost my mind.)
Now, weary beyond belief, I closed my eyes and just let the feeling wash over me.
"Please..." I thought. "Please...!" Our need was too great for any further words.
"Mr. Filch...?" I heard Ginny say.
"I think heís asleep." That was Neville. His voice was still tight with pain, but it sounded like heíd stood up.
"He wanted to come with us," Neville added.
"Thereís no reason for him to die too," Ginny said.
"Heíll be angry if we donít wake him. He wonít think of it as a kindness, Ginny. You know that."
"Mr. Filch?" Ginny was shaking me. But I couldnít move. The magical something at my back had grown stronger. Behind me, the wall was changing. My heart was hammering, I was covered with sweat. I felt like I had run a mile.
This surge of magic had not come from inside me. It didnít belong to me. But Iíd cried out to something with all my strength, and that something had answered.
"Where did that tapestry come from?" Neville gasped.
My eyes were still shut, but I didnít need to look to know what was behind me. A nondescript tapestry. The colors so dull, it was hard to see if the tapestry had scenes on it or just patterns. The boring sort of thing that most peopleís eyes just usually sort of slide over, without really seeing.
Like many of the very old, rare and magical things inside the Castle, this tapestry was not what it appeared to be.
I know the doors of the Castle. When their hinges creak, when their knobs get dingy, when the students have covered them with fingerprints and even worse muck, who comes to put them to rights again? The doors that insist on being tickled, the doors that like to be asked politely, these doors open for me without wasting my time with any nonsense. They know I have work to do.
(And if I do sometimes oblige them with a tickle or a kind word, when no one else is looking, then the doors are wise enough to keep my secrets.)
Not all the doors at Hogwarts have knobs and hinges.
Inside Hogwarts Castle there are four similar tapestries. Each one so dull and faded that the few people who notice them probably wonder why no one has thrown the ugly things out. I think of these tapestries as the wandering doors.
The doors seem to travel randomly around the Castle. Sometimes I donít see any of them for months. That strange surge of magic had never been connected with them before. And this was the first time that one of the doors had ever come to me when Iíd called.
"Ginny! Neville!" My voice sounded very weak. I opened my eyes, to see their white, frightened faces.
"Everythingís going to be all right," I said. "Weíre going to get out of here! We can walk through this tapestry."
I reached in back of me to show them. My arm disappeared. I held my other hand out towards the children. My hand was shaking.
"Itís too dark for me to see which one this is. Thereís four of them. They move around but each one always lets me out in a particular place, whenever I use them. Weíll come out near the library, or the trophy room, or near my office, or up in the Owlery."
"Anywhere is better than here!" Neville said, sincerely.
Mrs. Norris started to hiss, her fur standing on end. The vines were coming back.
"Hurry," I hissed.
Ginny was closest to me. I grabbed her hand and stepped through the tapestry, pulling her along. Or I tried to. I was able to go forward, into the trophy room. But Ginnyís hand had slipped from mine somehow! I returned through the tapestry to find her sitting on the floor, rubbing her head.
"It wonít let me in...." she said, dazed.
"Impossible!" I cried. "I go through them all the time. If I can do it, surely you can too."
I helped Ginny up and reached out to grab Nevilleís unburned arm.
"Come on!" I told Mrs. Norris.
My cat and I emerged safely into the trophy room. But no Ginny! No Neville! Snarling the foulest oaths I could think of, I went back through again for the children. Both of them were sitting on the floor, looking stunned.
"Ginnyís right, Mr. Filch," Neville said, tears in his voice. "We both really tried. We ran at it, like we do at Platform Nine and Three Quarters! It wonít let us in!"
The looks on their faces broke my heart. Iíd offered them hope and then snatched it away! Turning, I pounded my fists against the tapestry and screamed in rage and frustration.
"Itís all right, Mr. Filch..." Ginny said, very softly. "You can go through and get help for us."
She and Neville had risen to their feet, wands drawn.
"INCENDIO!" Grinny cried, her voice cracking.
All of us heard the vines slithering closer. Their stench was overpowering.
"INCENDIO!" Still in pain, poor Neville sounded like he was at the end of his strength.
"Go on, Mr. Filch..." Neville told me. "Youíd better hurry... we wonít last long."
"Damn right you wonít!" I growled at him. "Iím not leaving you! If this cursed thing wonít let me bring you through, what makes you think Iíll be able to bring anyone back to help you? I donít understand whatís wrong!!!"
"Maybe," Ginny paused to blast a vine, "that tapestry has an anti-wizard spell. Like an anti-Muggle spell. Except in reverse..."
"What would be the point of a bloody stupid spell like that?" I wailed.
The children were too busy to reply.
I felt Mrs. Norris brush against my feet. Unwilling to leave my side for months now, sheíd followed me back into danger, through the tapestry.
"Whatís wrong with you??" I cried. "I donít care if you do have nine lives!! Someone here has to do the sensible thing! I suppose itís come down to you. Go for help!"
With the Headmaster away for the evening, for a meeting with the Minister, Professor McGonagall was in charge of the Castle. And Mrs. Norris would have no trouble making Minerva understand her. Not giving my cat a chance to argue, I picked her up and pushed her, none too gently, back out into the trophy room.
"If all goes well, the three of us will be right behind you!" I called after her. My fingers hurt too much to cross, so I hoped it wasnít a fib.
An anti-wizard spell, Ginny had said. Like an anti-Muggle spell in reverse. Clever girl. Sheíd given me an idea. I wasnít sure if what I was about to try would work. But, if Ginnyís theory was right, Iíd been through something like this before. As a "passenger."
I knew I could never manage to do this twice. Being the passenger had been bad enough. I refused to choose a child to leave behind. All three of us would make it through, or none of us would.
Stepping up behind the children I wrapped one arm around Ginnyís waist, and the other around Nevilleís. Ginny was a small girl, but Neville had grown a good deal over the last year. I dragged them both backwards, and they struggled.
"Donít fight me!" I shouted. "Iíve got a plan. If it doesnít work, Iím sorry. Even if it does work, Iím sorry! Iím afraid that this is going to feel really dreadful, but thereís no help for it! Please, try to trust me!"
Moving as slowly as I dared, my arms locked tightly around the children, I pulled all three of us into the tapestry together.
END OF CHAPTER THREE