The Sugar Quill
Author: Ozma (Professors' Bookshelf)  Story: Squib Wizard  Chapter: Chapter 3: An Abuse of Power
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Squib Wizard

Squib Wizard

a Harry Potter fan-fic

by Ozma

a sequel to "Squib Doors"

Chapter 3 (of 7): An Abuse of Power

Everything in this story really belongs to J.K. Rowling

 

 

All my life I have longed for some magic to call my own. Just a little bit would have made me happy. (All right, I would have been happier with a lot of magic, but beggars canít be choosers. A little bit is better than no magic at all, isnít it?) But even a little bit of magic can cause harm. Even a little bit of magic can be abused. I ought to be grateful that my Doors were only minor magic. A helpful way to get from one place to another within the Castle. A very small power for a very small man.

Professor Snape hadnít seen it that way. "Terrible danger," heíd said. "To Argus, and from him."

Poor Severus had been concerned about the damage I might be forced to do as a helpless tool of the Dark Lord and his Death Eaters. Funny, even when he was picturing me as a potential threat he still saw me as `helpless.í A pawn of wizards more powerful than I was.

Yes, it was very funny...

I moved zombie-like through the front ward of the hospital wing, carefully cleaning up the mess. There was vomit everywhere. Vomit streaked with blood.

Mop inserted in pail. Mop wrung out. Mop moving across floor in slow, serpentine patterns. Wiping out the mess. Another stain, gone. The floor would be clean soon. I felt as if Iíd never be clean again.

Mop inserted in pail. Mop wrung out. Mop moving across floor.

Again.

When I finished with the floor, Iíd have to start scrubbing the walls.

"The jokeís on you, isnít it, Professor," I thought. "I wasnít acting under anyoneís control but my own."

The sound I made wasnít much like a laugh. And my face was wet with tears.

******

Poppy was still in the far ward tending to Severus when Iíd finished cleaning up the mess. She generally reserved the back ward for ill or injured staff members. It was more private.

I didnít have the nerve to go back there and ask her how he was. But I couldnít leave until I found out. Putting my back against the wall, I slid down to the floor. Rocking forward and back helped to keep my mind blank, the same way that mopping and scrubbing had done. I didnít want to think about what Iíd done to Professor Snape.

"Argus?"

Dully, I looked up to see the Headmaster standing in front of me. His face, usually mild and humorous, looked grave. Poppy must have called him through the wardís fireplace.

"Is he all right...?" I asked.

Dumbledore nodded. "Severus is sleeping now."

Relieved but not comforted, I rested my head against my knees. I wasnít guilty of murder, but I was still guilty.

"Tell me what happened, Argus," the Headmaster said, quietly.

"I pulled Professor Snape through one of my Doors," I said, miserably. "I thought that he would only get sick, like Neville and Ginny did. I-I didnít know... I didnít know he would react like that..."

The memory of Severus, retching violently, his nose bleeding, his body curled up in helpless agony, rose in my mind. I saw him convulsing on the floor, unable to breathe. Choking on the blood and the vomit, his skin nearly blue...

"I didnít know the Foundersí spells would hit him so hard..." I whispered, shutting my eyes.

No one else at Hogwarts could get into the Doors unless I took them through. The Founders hadnít taken Squibs into account when creating their protective spells. Iíd taken Ginny Weasley and Neville Longbottom through a Door to save their lives. Theyíd been terribly sick for a few very long minutes afterwards but theyíd recovered.

The Doorsí effects on an adult wizard were apparently much, much worse. That possibility had honestly never occurred to me. It was still no excuse for what Iíd done.

"Poppy was right there when we came through into the hospital ward. Without her, Professor Snape would have died..." I said.

"Why did you pull Severus into the Door?" Dumbledore asked me.

Too ashamed to meet his eyes, I whispered, "He made me angry, Headmaster. I lost my temper with him."

******

The day that was ending so badly, had begun badly too.

The night before, Iíd fallen asleep at my desk, trying to catch up on some paperwork. Assigning detentions was a simple matter these days with so many cleaning jobs still to be done. There was a stack of detention forms on my desk, incomplete except for the studentsí names. Iíd been meaning to finish them and file them away for days now. Instead I had put my head down on them and fallen asleep.

Iíd only meant to close my eyes for a few minutes. Even I needed more rest than Iíd been getting lately. Within moments I was slumbering as deeply as if Iíd been given a sleeping draught.

Vaguely I recalled Mrs. Norris purring loudly in my ear and poking at me with her claws. Unable to wake me, she decided to join me. Cats can sleep comfortably anywhere. Humans arenít so fortunate. And, for the record, a stack of parchment makes a dreadful pillow. Very bad for the neck.

When I woke up, it was late morning. My neck felt like some one had been using it for a bludger bat. My mouth and nose felt full of cat fur. Someone was shouting my name from my fireplace.

"Filch! Curse you! Wake up!"

"Professor Snape...?" I said, dazedly.

"Finally!" he sneered. "Come at once to the corridor in front of the Potions classroom. Bring your tools and a ladder! Weíll see about this!" the Professor added, to someone I couldnít see. Then his head disappeared from my fireplace, with a pop.

Stiff and hobbling, my spine feeling as twisted as a strand of Devilís Snare, I did as he told me. Mrs. Norris, still curled up enjoying her catnap on my desk, didnít stir.

Snape was waiting for me in the corridor outside his classroom. His students, a class of fifth year Gryffindors and Slytherins, were with him.Tension was thick in the air. The Slytherin students were clustered around Professor Snape. The Gryffindors stood apart from them, surrounding Neville Longbottom. It looked like battle lines had been drawn.

Nevilleís round, usually cheerful face was as white as ashes. The boy stood up straight with his eyes locked on Professor Snapeís. I wanted to ask Neville what was wrong, but I didnít want to say or do anything that might make Snape even angrier with my young friend then he was already.

"What did you want me to do, Professor?" I said, instead.

"It seems," Snape said, sneering, "that Mr. Longbottom has gotten a case of the vapors. He is claiming that he can actually sense more of those hideous vines somewhere in this corridor!"

He gave Neville a look that was pure venom. "Filch, I want you to check out his story and discover if he is lying and wasting my time!"

"...and trying to give my Slytherins more nightmares!" his tone said, plainly.

The children of both Houses only heard his fury. But I heard the fear under it. I knew that he was afraid for his Slytherins.

Professor Sprout had warned everyone that ridding the dungeons of the last bits of the vine-creature could take a long while. New vine growths appeared to be taking root in unexpected places down in the dungeons. Everyone at Hogwarts knew that the vine-creatureís "brain" was dead and that the new vine growths could be dealt with easily as soon as they were found. Life at the Castle was slowly getting back to normal. But the Slytherins were all edgy. Many of them, especially the younger ones, werenít sleeping well.

Perhaps it was understandable that some of the children in the other three houses were teasing the Slytherins. Danger had stalked the Castle in the past, but none of the students could remember the last time that the Slytherins had been its primary target.

Neville wasnít one of the ones who teased. No matter what Severus thought of him, Neville would never do such a thing. Ignoring Snapeís tone, I turned at once to Neville. "Where?" I asked him.

"The ceiling.... I think..." Neville told me. "Iím not sure exactly where."

"Go on and look then," I said. "When you find it, show me."

Potter, Weasley, Granger, Thomas, Brown, Patil and Finnegan all relaxed when they saw that I believed Neville.

Well, of course I believed him. Neville Longbottom and Ginny Weasley were the only students to have fought the vine beast and theyíd acquitted themselves as bravely as any of the professors. If Neville said he could sense the vines, then he could sense them.

Neville moved his wand slowly, the tip pointed up at the stones in the ceiling. He walked cautiously down the corridor, sweeping the wand back and forth.

"Longbottom!" Severus said in a cold voice. "You have already lost fifty points for Gryffindor because of your cheek! Would you care to lose any more points? Hurry up with your foolishness!!"

Poor Severus. He wanted so much to keep his children safe. He felt helpless, a feeling that he utterly loathed. He would be furious with Neville for wasting his time if the boy was wrong about the vines. But heíd be even angrier if Neville turned out to be right. No wonder Snape was in such a foul temper.

My heart sank when I heard the amount of points that Severus had taken from Gryffindor. Fifty points was the exact number Iíd awarded to Neville and Ginny for their bravery. I should have known that he wasnít going to just let that go.

(I supposed I ought to be grateful that Snape had waited until I was recovered from the injuries inflicted by his protective curse before he started looking for an opportunity to get some of his own back. I blamed myself for the lost points. Snape ought to be angry with me over that, not with poor Neville.)

"Please, Professor..." It was Hermione Granger. Like most Gryffindors, she tends to choose valor over discretion.

"Itís not foolishness," she said, earnestly. "Nevilleís been doing extra credit with Professor Sprout and her seventh-years. Theyíve been working on spells that will help them sense the vines while theyíre still small and dormant. Nevilleís spent hours, practicing..."

Snape gave her one of his most caustic glares. "Do you really expect me to believe that Longbottom is capable of such advanced Herbology study?" the Professor sneered.

Hermione was speechless with anger for a moment.

Draco Malfoyís drawling voice filled the silence. "If Sprout is as capable as all that, weíd be rid of the vines already. Maybe itís taking her so long to destroy the things because she depends on Hufflepuffs and Squibs for help."

His voice, an adolescent echo of his fatherís cultured drawl, could send shivers of fear down my spine. The sight of Draco and his cronies, Crabbe and Goyle, still made me feel sick with anger. The contempt that young Malfoy managed to put into his words defied description. I bit my tongue until I tasted blood to keep myself from saying anything to him.

I had no pity for Draco and his two friends but I could still feel for the other Slytherins. All of them looked scared. Just when they thought that their dungeons were finally safe again, someone had raised the specter of more vines.

"Without Sprout and her Hufflepuffs going over the dungeons regularly, Malfoy, youíd be covered in those vines right up to your scaly...!"

Ron Weasley didnít get to finish his sentence. Hermione had poked him in the stomach. She didnít want him getting in trouble.Still, heíd gotten his point across well enough. Luckily, before tensions could rise any higher, Neville gave a shout. "Over here, Mr. Filch."

Placing my ladder under the area of ceiling he was indicating, I climbed up to examine the stones. I could see one that was cracked, with pieces loose. Wiggling one of the smaller pieces, I was able to wrench it free.

"I need a light..." I said.

Immediately, the air around me was filled with little floating lights. I felt as if I was standing in a cloud of magic. An instant later all of us could smell the foul odor of the vines as they reacted to the magic lights.

"Everyone, back!" Professor Snape moved swiftly between the ladder and all the children, both Slytherin and Gryffindor. Just as he did, a tendril of vine thin as a wire, whipped out from the ceiling like a tiny deadly snake, moving towards his head.

Without its brain the vines had lost the defense mechanism preventing them from attacking prey that was obviously too powerful. It made the bits and pieces much easier to deal with.

I grabbed the vine with my bare hands before it could touch Severus. All the children either flinched or gasped. The vine would have given any of them terrible burns if theyíd tried doing the same. Nevilleís right arm was still in a sling. Professor Snapeís hands were still bandaged. The pair of them were fortunate compared to little Gehenna Morgan, who was still in the hospital wing, with burns on her throat. The small quantities of magic I possessed werenít enough to get that kind of reaction.

"Youíd better send someone for Professor Sprout..." I said to Severus, the vine still wrapped around my hand. "I think there could be a lot more of them in there."

"Draco... go to the Greenhouses and find Professor Sprout," Snape said. "The rest of you, go into the classroom where itís safe!"

Draco, apparently having forgotten his earlier comments about Sprout and the Hufflepuffs, left at a run.

As pale as Severus, the other Slytherins began filing into the Potions lab. The Gryffindors, only slightly less pale, lingered behind.

"Neville was right, Professor. About the vines." I could tell that Ron Weasley was trying hard to be as respectful as possible.

"Gryffindor lost fifty points..." Seamus Finnegan pointed out. He was also trying to be polite.

I could have told them that they were wasting their breath. But it wouldnít have done any good. As a rule, telling Gryffindors that they are behaving recklessly will only encourage them.

"You should all be grateful that I didnít take away more!" Severus snarled.

I didnít know who I felt sorrier for. The poor Gryffindors, angry over their Professorís blatant unfairness or poor Severus who was faced with a seemingly endless nightmare invasion of his dungeons. He was angry, feeling helpless and lashing out at the only targets available to him.

"Itís all right," Harry Potter said quietly, to Neville, who looked stricken. "Donít worry about the points. You were right and we all know it. Thatís more important."

Now I knew who I felt sorriest for. Potter. That boy has an uncanny gift for angering Severus. Now Snape looked ready to take away every point Gryffindor had earned since the beginning of the term. Either that, or simply feed poor Potter to the vines.

"Professor...?" I said plaintively, to distract him. "Would you mind getting this vine off my hand?"

Glowering, his wand balanced carefully in his bandaged fingers, he moved towards me.

I gulped, realizing how stupid Iíd been. Considering the mood Snape was in, I had visions of him shouting "INCENDIO!" and blasting my whole hand clean off.

Snape might be seething, but his control over his magic was as excellent as ever. His spell, slow and careful, burned the vine tendril without touching my skin. It took both Severus and me a moment to realize that the young Gryffindors were still watching us.

I was not used to having the students at Hogwarts see me as anything more than a bad-tempered old man who took delight in making their lives miserable. But the whole pride of young lions were evidently standing guard to make sure that Professor Snape would do me no harm.

"Donít shout at them," I murmured to Severus. "Itís your own fault. Thanks to the trick you and the Headmaster played on Peeves and those damn protective curses in your office, they think youíve beaten me twice in the past month."

"Oh, for Merlinís sake...!" Severus hissed at me. He turned and gave the Gryffindors a look that a Basilisk would have been proud to own. "Iím not going to damage him!" he snarled. "Someone has to clean up the mess in my corridor after Professor Sprout has finished!"

Hermione Grangerís pale face began to grow red with anger. "Professor Snape, sir," she cried, "thatís the most appalling...!"

"Ten more points from Gryffindor!" Severus snarled. "Shall I make it twenty? Into the classroom!" He glowered at the children until they obeyed him. Neville was the last one to leave the corridor. The worried look on his face made me feel dreadful.

Severus continued to snarl imprecations against the Gryffindors under his breath. I couldnít hear most of what he said. But I did catch the names "Potter" and "Longbottom."

I rubbed my hand, now free of the vines.

"Professor," I pleaded with him, trying to get the circulation back into my fingers, "just let it go. Isnít sixty points revenge enough?"

"Let it go?" His dark eyes narrowed. "Youíre a fine one to talk about lettings things "go," Filch! When have you ever managed to do that? You, with your filing cabinets filled up with every petty little grievance youíve encountered here in the castle for the past thirty years or so?"

I had half-expected him to lash out at me. Better me than the children. I had not expected him to attack me in such a personal way! I was shocked into silence the way Hermione had been earlier. All I could do was stare at him.

"Wait here for Professor Sprout!" Snape ordered me. His satisfaction at how well his barb had drawn blood was almost palpable. Then he turned on his heel and went into his classroom, slamming the door behind him.

******

It took a while for Sprout to dig out the vine infestation that Neville had discovered.. She finished working just before dinner and I didnít get a chance to start cleaning up the corridor outside Snapeís office until after dinner.

I was back on the ladder, patching up the cracks in the ceiling stones, when Snape came out into the corridor.

"Professor," I said coolly, not looking at him.

"Filch," he snarled.

I gritted my teeth. All right, it wasnít as if Iíd been expecting an apology. Iíd known Severus since he was eleven years old. He had an abundance of regrets and he carried them all deep inside where their sharp edges could cut him to pieces. Heíd never been one to apologize.

He was quite correct about the way I could nurse a grievance. I knew full well that I collected them, counted them and poured over them lovingly like a Goblin with a pile of gold. Thatís the way I am. Sometimes Iíve felt that my grievances are all that I really have to call my own.

This morningís incident had troubled me all day so I had a heap of new grievances to nurse. Different aspects of what had happened had all taken their turns upsetting me.

Severus had called Neville a liar. Heíd slighted the boyís abilities at Herbology. Neville was brilliant at Herbology. Anyone who doubted that was simply being spiteful!

Then there was the fact that the only fifty points that Iíd ever given to any house had been coldly taken away with ten more points to keep them company.

And there were Dracoís rude comments about poor Professor Sprout, who was working day and night to figure out a way to rid the Castle of those vines once and for all. If it wasnít for Ron Weasley, Dracoís comment would have gone completely unchallenged. Severus really ought to have insisted that his Slytherins should show respect for his fellow professor. Especially since she was working so hard to keep them safe.

There were other things too. The expression on Hermione Grangerís face when Snape had said why he wouldnít hurt me, truly rankled. Iíd seen Grangerís "save the house elves" look before, but not directed at ME. It was humiliating! It was bad enough that the brats in the Castle sometimes thought of me as a sort of jumped-up house elf. When the good children started doing that and pitying me... well!

I knew that Granger really was a good child at heart, despite the fact that sheíd fallen in with the wrong companions during her first year and had been a troublemaker ever since. She was one of only two students in recent memory whoíd come down to my office and asked to see my List of Objects Forbidden Inside the Castle. (Percy Weasley was the other one.)

And then there was Severusís expression of contempt when heíd made his remark about the way I nursed grievances. As well as his satisfaction when heíd seen how the remark had hurt me.

Those particular thoughts ran themselves over and over in my mind.

I patched the ceiling with an almost savage ferocity, so intent on mulling over my new collection of "petty grievances" that I almost didnít hear Snape when he spoke to me.

"...Never be rid of those cursed things! When youíre finished with the ceiling, I want you to go and fetch Longbottom. Have him do that... trick of his again. Make certain that this part of the dungeons are really clean now!"

My very real sympathy for Professor Snape and his continuing fear for the children of Slytherin had retreated to the back of my mind. I couldnít believe his nerve!

Teeth gritted, I snarled, "Professor Sprout told everyone that thereís no way yet to detect the vines before theyíve actually taken root somewhere! Werenít you listening, Professor? If there were any more vines growing here at this very moment, then she or Neville would have been able to sense them already!"

My patch-up job on the ceiling finished, albeit somewhat more sloppily than my usual neat work, I climbed down from the ladder to face him.

"No, sir, I will certainly not go and drag Neville away from whatever else heís doing. I doubt heíd want to help you, anyhow, after the way you spoke to him this morning! Not to mention those points you took from Gryffindor for no reason except your own childish pique!"

He glared at me, black eyes smoldering like coals about to burst into flame at any moment."What did you say to me, Filch, you petty little man?"

Usually that tone in his voice, like a column of fire burning brightly inside a pillar of ice, would have sent me into a full retreat. But not now. I matched him, glare for glare.

Poor Severus. First Neville had started standing up to him and now I was doing the same thing. He must have felt as if his world were crumbling.

I didnít care. All my life I have walked, subservient and bitter, among the wizards who surrounded me. Iím a Squib, Iím useless, Iím nothing!

Recently, Alastor Moody has started trying to teach me to stop thinking of myself that way. It was difficult to change the attitudes of a lifetime but I was trying.

I knew that Severus had incredible pressures on him. He was living a dangerous double life as one of the Dark Lordís Death Eaters and as Dumbledoreís spy. He still had the heavy responsibilities of his lessons and his students. And as the Head of Slytherin House he had all his children to look after, too. There were Dark things he couldnít protect some of his children from, a fact that broke his heart over and over again.

So many things beyond his control, so many things that left him feeling as lost and helpless as I ever had. And now those foul vines had invaded his dungeons to haunt his childrenís dreams. My heart ached for Severus, but heíd made me so furious that I no longer cared. I was tired of being one of the few "safe" targets for Severus Snapeís anger.

"You heard me, Professor! Iím not getting Neville for you. Not even if you promise to apologize to him for your behavior this morning, on bended knee. Not even if you were to give Gryffindor one hundred points into the bargain!"

We stood, practically nose to nose.

"You... pathetic wretch!" Snape hissed at me. "Consider yourself fortunate that you are a Squib!"

"If I was a proper wizard then you would duel with me?" I shot back. "You should consider yourself fortunate that Iím a Squib! If I could Iíd...!"

He laughed then, a cold, bitter laugh that sent chills down my spine in spite of my anger. "A wizardís duel with you would be quite amusing, Filch. The most fun Iíve had in years."

"Really..." I hissed. "How about it, then? Here and now!"

He laughed again, derisively. "Finish cleaning up this mess and get yourself to bed. And be grateful that I have too much self control to take advantage of your momentary lapse of reason."

"Self control!" I was so enraged that my voice squeaked. "Ask Neville if you have any self control! Or ask Potter! Youíre lucky that the Headmaster doesnít keep you away from them, the way he wonít let me near Malfoy, Crabbe and Goyle!"

The barbs that hurt the most are the ones which hold the most truth. Pain showed briefly in Snapeís eyes before he managed to hide his expression.

Too furious to enjoy my triumph, I focused and called one of my Doors. It was the green-and-silver one that came.

(Later, I realized that this was probably fortunate. A trip through any of the other three Doors might have come even closer to killing him.)

I was so angry that I was just going to leave this mess until tomorrow. As I was stepping through the Door, Professor Snape grabbed my arm.

"Filch," he said. "Wait."

I do not know what Snape meant to do. Threaten me, insult me or perhaps even apologize for the first time in his life. I didnít give him a chance to do anything. Responding as if I was being attacked, I pulled him forward so that we stood side by side. And then, taking him with me, I stepped into my Door.

******

I looked up into Dumbledoreís stern blue eyes.

"Thatís what happened," I said, miserably. "I didnít expect it to nearly kill him. Thatís no excuse. Iím sorry, Headmaster."

"Stand up, Argus," the Headmaster said.

Iíd been braced for his condemnation. For his slow-to-waken, terrifying and rarely seen anger. But the Headmasterís voice was gentle. His eyes, when I looked up to meet them, were sorrowful. I was too shocked and numb to stand up. Iíd just confessed to the near-murder of one of his professors! In his place I knew that Iíd already be getting out the manacles and the chains.

When I did nothing except stare in bewilderment, he reached down and carefully pulled me up from the floor. Moving me across the hospital ward towards a chair, he asked,

"Did you originally intend to bring Severus here, to Poppy?"

"N-no... I was going to take him into the staff bathroom in the dungeons..." I took a deep breath.

"I knew that he was going to be sick. Heíd want to clean himself up afterwards. And the bathroom floor would have been easy for me to clean..." my voice trailed off in misery.

Iíd meant to strike back at Snape, to teach him a lesson, but I hadnít wanted anyone else in the Castle to see him wretchedly spewing his guts out. Giving Snape a chance to recover in private had been my original plan.

And, yes, perhaps (I confessed to myself) I would have enjoyed gloating at him a bit too. All right, probably more than just "a bit." Gloating is one of my few real pleasures in life. That and my treasured, carefully filed collection of "petty grievances."

I shivered. So much for my original plan. Poor Professor Snapeís reaction to a journey through the Squib Door had been far more terrible than anything Iíd anticipated.

"When I first pulled him into the Door, he made the most horrible sound," I told Dumbledore. "As if he wanted to scream, but he couldnít breathe. I wanted to pull him back out at once. But there was too much ...resistance behind us. So I had to keep moving us forward."

My trembling increased as I remembered that nightmarish journey. Iíd had my arm wrapped around Severusís chest and I recalled the fast, frantic beating of his heart. Like the rapidly fluttering wings of a snidget beneath the thin cage of his ribs.

My struggle to get Neville and Ginny through the Door had been nothing compared to my journey with poor Snape. It had been like battling against a river current through water nearly up to my neck, carrying a struggling, drowning man in my arms.

"I donít remember even asking the Door to take us to the hospital wing instead. When we finally came out, I was surprised to see Poppy. But then... Severus... he..."

Even with my eyes tightly shut, I could still see Professor Snape convulsing on the floor in helpless agony. Iíd never seen anyone being so horribly, mercilessly sick. His skin had been waxy and blue and his nose had been bleeding profusely. Blood and vomit, everywhere. Poor, poor Severus.

My eyes shut, I rocked helplessly forward and back in my chair. I didnít realize that the Headmaster had moved until I felt the blanket that he was wrapping around me.

"No!" I protested, miserably. "Headmaster... Iíve done something terrible! Severus could have died! A-arenít you going to do something to me, punish me?"

"Argus." His voice was terribly sad. "What would you have me do?"

I couldnít believe he was unable to come up with something appropriate on his own. "Take me into the Forbidden Forest and leave me there, alone, chained to a tree all night!" I blurted out the first possibility that came to mind. "Iíd deserve that!"

"Thereíd be nothing left of you in the morning," Dumbledore said firmly, shaking his head. "Out of the question."

"Then thereís the chains in my office and plenty of dungeon space," I said.

"With all the work to be done in the Castle I cannot afford to keep our caretaker chained up in the dungeons."

A wry note had crept into the Headmasterís voice. "Argus, weíve had this discussion before, many times. No one here is going to be clapped in chains. Not the students and not the staff. No matter how richly you may feel that such treatment is deserved."

I stared at him in disbelief.

"All right," I said, harshly. "Old Pringle had other things besides those chains you never let me use. He had a cat oí nine tails... itís still in the desk, exactly where he left it. Iíve never mentioned it to you since youíve never seen reason on the matter of the chains. You c-could..."

"No." Dumbledore sounded grave and serious again, every trace of humor gone from his voice. He sounded sickened as well. "There has already been too much pain tonight. Adding more will not change a single thing that has happened."

I wailed in frustration. The Headmaster and I have never seen eye to eye on the matter of punishment.

"Please... " I cried, "please, Professor Dumbledore, you have to do something. For Severusís sake... for pityís sake..."

I couldnít say any more, I was weeping.

Dumbledore said wearily, "Oh, Argus. The point of punishing someone for a misdeed is the hope that the culprit will understand that what they have done was wrong. That they will repent, feel true regret, and never repeat the misdeed again."

"No...!" I cried. "Repentance isnít enough! Regret isnít enough, without suffering..."

"You are already suffering." Now he sounded as frustrated as I felt.

"If you did not understand the seriousness of what could have happened," Dumbledore continued, "if you had not told me the truth, if youíd lied or made excuses or tried to put the blame on poor Severus... that would be different. If..." his voice grew very soft, "if... we h-had ...lost Severus... that would be another matter entirely." Dumbledore stopped, unable to speak, the blue eyes behind his glasses full of deep sorrow. He looked like a father who had nearly lost a child.

The Headmaster cared very deeply for Severus Snape and the Potions Master counted Albus Dumbledore as one of his very few real friends. Iíd known that for years. Recently, Iíd seen them laughing together like children. Even if I hadnít known how strong the bond between the two men was, the catch in Dumbledoreís voice and the look in his eyes would have told me.

My heart felt full of thorns. "Please..." I whispered. "You have to do something to me... something terrible." Inspiration struck. "Severus will be upset if you donít. You know how he gets..."

Dumbledore sighed. "Yes, I do know. You and that poor boy are a perfectly matched set!" He sighed again, heavily. "Itís enough to make my pull out my beard, sometimes. Argus, what would you have me do to you? Is there anything I could do that would make you feel worse than you already feel?"

I nodded. Alastor Moody has been teaching me to use my strengths and coming up with punishments was certainly one of them.

"My Doors," I said in a very small voice. "You should forbid me to use them. Ever again." I took a deep breath and continued, my voice a little stronger. "Then you could report me to the Ministry. For abusing my magic."

"Argus...." Dumbledore was shaking his head, seemingly caught between tears and laughter. "According to the Ministry, you have no magic to abuse. The Doors are a secret that I feel it would be prudent to keep from the Ministry, at least for the present. And I will not forbid you to use them."

He frowned at me, to forestall my cry of protest. "What happened tonight was very terrible, but it has made me realize what a truly formidable defense those Doors of yours can be. Hogwarts needs every available bit of defensive magic that everyone here, including you, can muster. You know that."

"Besides, Alastor is enjoying his lessons with you. Heís told me about the two of you chasing each other all around the Castle, nearly till sunrise. Heís pleased with your progress."

That last statement had been a gentle attempt to comfort me, because I was weeping harder than ever. He wasnít going to do anything to me! My pain and guilt were overwhelming.

"Headmaster, you donít understand...!"

"I understand, far more than you realize," Dumbledore said quietly. "It isnít punishment you truly want from me, Argus. You want absolution, which is something far more complex. I do not know how I can grant it to you."

"All right," I said, defeated, my head in my hands. "Iím sorry." Then inspiration struck again. "Severus!" I said. "Headmaster, when he recovers, let Severus himself decide what to do with me!"

"Oh..." Dumbledore said. "Argus... that is truly not a good idea. Believe me, itís not."

"B-but...!" I stammered. "Itís perfect..."

"Hush!" The Headmaster sighed and frowned.

"Headmaster, you canít grant me absolution, and I donít know how to find it on my own! But Severus could find some way. I know he could, and he deserves the chance. Please, please..."

Iím nothing if not tenacious. The Headmaster himself had sometimes compared my persistence to an endless series of water droplets, wearing away a stone basin.

(Unbidden, a memory came to mind, as fresh as if it had happened yesterday. Dumbledore had never allowed me to chain anyone up, but during Severusís childhood in the Castle, there had been four incorrigible brats whoíd called themselves Marauders.

During their third year, after an especially horrid prank involving fireworks and the toilet in my office bathroom, Iíd been given permission to place the four of them in four different broom cupboards in different parts of the Castle. Each cupboard had one thing in common; an especially drippy water tap.

Listening to the endless dripping of water for a few hours can be quite an effective punishment. Little Pettigrew had been in tears when Iíd finally let him out. Lupin had been white as a ghost, his nails chewed to ragged stumps. Both Black and Potter had emerged drenched. Theyíd attempted to stop the leaks and had managed to flood their respective cupboards. Theyíd looked so wretched that I didnít even mind cleaning up the additional mess.)

Thereís a difference between outright torture and justly deserved punishment, though the line is very fine sometimes. Severus Snape was one of the few people, besides myself, who understands that.

Dumbledore sighed. "Severus will be unable to do anything for the next few days except stay quietly in bed. Heís very ill."

I winced as if heíd struck me.

"When heís recovered enough, Iíll discuss this with him. After we talk, Iíll make my decision."

"All right," I said, morosely. It was the best I was going to get.

The Headmaster and I heard a soft sound. We looked up.

Mrs. Norris was suddenly there, leaping up onto my lap. The look in her golden eyes said plainly that she didnít know what she was going to do with me. Sheíd only let me out of her sight for a short time and look what trouble I had gotten myself into!

I held her tightly. My life has been a bitter one, and sheís often been my only real comfort. Despite all my faults, my lack of magic, (not to mention my similar lack of charm, good looks, or almost any sort of redeeming qualities whatsoever) I have a cat who truly loves me.

The Headmaster left me in her capable paws while he went to the back ward to check on Severus again.

Dumbledore was back in a few moments, looking more cheerful. "Poppy has said that you should come and see him now. He seems to be resting more comfortably. He doesnít keep waking up to be sick any longer. Sheís finally gotten him to keep the sleeping draught down long enough for it to work."

Cuddling Mrs. Norris, with the blanket still around my shoulders, I followed the Headmaster.

Severus lay curled up on his side, lank black hair spread out on a pillow only a little less pale than his thin face. One arm was flung up, over his head. One bandaged hand dangled over the side of his bed.

To the Headmaster, Poppy and me, he looked like an ill and vulnerable child. Hardly older than the small Slytherin girl who sat perched on the bed next to his, with bandages around her throat.

"Gehenna has been helping me look after the Professor," Poppy said fondly, ruffling the childís mousy hair.

"Heís going to be all right..." the girl said, softly, in a hoarse voice. "Madam Pomfrey says heís going to be fine." She gave Professor Snape a protective look.

"Iím sorry, Gehenna..." I told her, miserably.

"Why?" the girl asked me. "Madam Pomfrey said that he took sick very suddenly and you brought him here as fast as you could."

Speechless, I stared at Poppy. I knew that my Doors were supposed to be a secret, though Dumbledore had now added Poppy to the "need to know" list. I didnít want to be thought of as a hero in this incident! The unfairness of that was unbearably painful!

Madam Pomfrey met my gaze evenly. "Severus has been running himself completely ragged lately. Heís been through so much." Her tone hinted at things she wouldnít say in front of Gehenna. Severus had endured the Cruciatus Curse, and his battle with the vine-creature had happened shortly afterwards.

Ever since the creature had been killed, Snape had spent most of his time worrying and fretting over his children. Even before Iíd hurt him, heíd looked exhausted and heíd been losing weight he couldnít afford to lose.

Poppy answered my look of dismay with a firm expression. "Heís exactly where he needs to be," she said. "And heís going to rest here until heís well, whether he likes it or not."

None of this was going to improve Snapeís temper. When he finally recovered enough to talk to the Headmaster, and they decided what my punishment would be, it would be something truly awful. Well, good. That was what I wanted, wasnít it?

I watched Severus sleeping for a while, grateful that he was still alive. Then Poppy ushered the Headmaster and me out of the room.

"Youíll tell me when heís well enough to talk..." I said. "Wonít you? Please?"

Dumbledore nodded.

"Thank you," I said.

With Mrs. Norris following at my heels, I headed back down to the dungeons. I still had some cleaning to do in the corridor outside Severusís classroom.

 

END OF CHAPTER THREE

 

 

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