Chapter 1 : A Warm Welcome
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The warmth emanating from the open, welcoming doors of the Great Hall hit Argus Filch like a tidal wave as he stepped from the chilly exterior of Hogwarts Castle into its foyer. Liquefied snowflakes melted off the soles of his shoes, leaving a trail behind him. The few white crystals that dotted his black hair, too, faded into oblivion. The cold sheen that covered his thick overcoat was the last to dissipate.
Unfortunately, all the fireplaces in the castle couldn’t make the visitor feel welcome.
He followed the tall, stern-looking witch ahead of him dutifully, though he couldn’t help but pause briefly as he passed the sequence of moving staircases in the main area of the castle. He longed to stand and admire them for a few moments, having heard many stories about these and other Hogwarts wonders from cousins and family friends. His own parents had attended the school, a fact he recalled without fondness whenever they looked at him with disappointment reserved for an only son. It wasn’t my fault, he had said a hundred times over half-finished family meals.
The witch paused, turned, and trained her bespectacled eyes on him, sizing him up. “This is the headmaster’s office, Mr. Filch,” she said. “He’ll be waiting for you inside.”
“Yes, madam,” he said, nodding shortly and stepping inside the darkened alcove. As the sound of the witch’s footsteps became more distant, he found his attention absorbed by moving portraits on the walls and the sweet smell of lemon candies. He didn’t even notice that he had stepped onto the staircase leading to the headmaster’s office until it came to life beneath his feet, causing him to lurch for the curved rail and hold on until the stone structure halted before an open doorway.
“Ah, Mr. Filch, isn’t it?” a welcoming voice said.
Argus turned. There was an old man sitting at an ornate desk at the back of the room. The streaks of gray in his mostly white beard, which he kept neatly trimmed, cast a sharp contrast with the brilliant red bird sleeping contentedly at his side.
“Yes, I am,” he replied, stepping into the room. “It’s a pleasure to meet you, sir.”
“Oh, a bit too early for that judgment, I think,” the headmaster said, and Argus did not miss the faint twinkle in his eye. “My name is Professor Albus Dumbledore.”
I know who you are, Argus thought.
“Welcome to Hogwarts,” Dumbledore added.
“Thank you, sir.”
“As I recall, you wrote to express interest in becoming our gamekeeper.”
“That’s right, sir,” Argus said. He glanced at the chair in front of the headmaster’s desk. Dumbledore nodded, gesturing for his guest to take a seat.
“What sort of experience with magical creatures do you have?”
“Well,” he replied. “My family keeps a pair of house elves, and it’s always been my responsibility to keep them on task and discipline them if they don’t follow orders. I’ve also developed a serum made from the rue plant that will treat viruses in owls.” He paused. “Oh, and I once chased a banshee and a few pixies out of my aunt’s attic. My uncle says she probably got a few extra years because of that.” He smiled tightly, folding his hands in his lap, but Dumbledore did not look amused.
“Forgive me for speaking so boldly, Mr. Filch, but most wizards have experience caring for house elves and owls, and even your one-time run-in with a banshee does not put you considerably ahead of the pack.”
“I see,” Argus replied shortly, the smile fading.
“Given your experience, I would suggest looking for work as a Healer or in another position related to Potions or Herbology, except that we have no openings there.”
Argus tried not to sigh audibly. “I don’t think those paths would fit me well, sir.”
“You seem to have taken an interest in the subject,” Dumbledore pressed.
“I can’t do magic,” he finally said rather flatly.
“Ah,” Dumbledore remarked. “Why, then, look for work at a magical school?”
“My lack of ability does not imply a lack of interest, sir.”
“Hmm,” the headmaster said. Then, he fell quiet, and Argus occupied himself with avoiding the man’s inquisitive eyes. After a few tense moments, he stood up, offering Dumbledore his hand.
“Thank you for meeting with me. I’m sorry if I’ve wasted your time.”
“No, no,” Dumbledore said, putting up a hand as if to refuse to shake Argus’s own. “Help will always be given at Hogwarts to those who ask for it.” He offered a smile to the young man standing before him. “While I do not believe that the gamekeeper position is a good fit for you, Mr. Filch, I am in need of a caretaker for the castle.”
“Don’t you have house elves?” he frowned.
“Well, yes, but even the best team of house elves need someone to lead them, especially in a large dwelling such as this one,” he mused. “As well, I believe your banshee-clearing experience would be helpful, seeing as we have a poltergeist that sought shelter in the school when it was first built and has refused to leave ever since.”
Argus nodded. However, he must have looked skeptical, for Dumbledore went on.
“It’s never a dull moment, as they say. The compensation is greater than what might be expected for the position you were seeking, and there is an office, and meals…”
He nodded again. “I’ll take it. Thank you, sir.”
“Lovely. Please, make yourself at home. I’ll ask Minerva to show you to the office.”
Over the next three hours, Argus indulged himself in exploring every nook and cranny the castle had to offer. He traversed the moving staircases time and again, turning different corners and riding up to different floors; after a while, he managed to figure out how to steady himself quickly after the staircase had taken flight, no longer experiencing pangs of panic in his stomach. Dumbledore’s poltergeist had taken him by surprise in the basement, quickly chasing him back up to the light. He would have to strategize about that particular duty. Fortunately, along with him came a dust-colored kitten, and she had provided quiet company for him all evening.
He wandered through the Great Hall, staring up at the remnants of Christmas decorations and candles that softly lit the room. Dishes quietly clinked together as the elves finished cleaning up the evening meal, and the few faculty members who had not retired for the night stood talking in a small circle at the center of the room. Argus wondered if he could make friends with them, despite many of them being much older than him, just so that they might show him the powers he so coveted. Perhaps, he thought, it would be good to have found work inside the castle after all.
Suddenly, his daydreaming was interrupted by the sound of rapid footsteps and swishing cloaks. The nameless cat, still trailing along at his feet, hissed loudly as several young boys in Muggle clothing rushed by. One of them, who looked about thirteen and had untidy black hair and thick-rimmed glasses, called back to the others from his place at the front of the pack.
“Hurry up, or I’m going to keep all this Christmas candy for myself!”
“Come on, James, slow down!” another boy, smaller than the others, wheezed.
“Yeah, the reason we stayed was to be able to eat our fill without competition!”
The leader laughed at his companions. “That’s only if you can catch me!”
The boys pushed ahead, nearly knocking Argus over and leaving a trail of candy carelessly in their wake. He watched them go, frowning. They could easily have whipped out their wands to pick up the candy they’d obviously stolen from the kitchens, but instead they were just going to leave a mess in their haste to get back to their dormitories and feast upon the sweets. It was downright selfish.
“Nasty little things, aren’t they?” a voice called to him.
Argus turned, meeting the eyes of a dark-haired woman as she came up the stairs, carrying a large load of ancient-looking books. The woman offered him a thin-lipped smile, but something about her otherwise plain brown eyes was fierce and focused.
“Could I help you with those?”
“Oh, would you?” the young woman replied, handing him half of her pile. He noticed a Muggle book that he knew, Mansfield Park, sitting atop the stack.
“Where are you taking them?”
“The library, of course,” she said, leading the way. Argus had a bit of a challenge balancing the stack and stepping onto the moving staircase at the same time, especially given that he could barely see over the top of the pile, but he managed.
“Are all the students that way?” he asked.
“No, some of them are tolerable. Most, though… ungrateful brats. If they knew how much their parents paid for them to attend this school, they’d shape up, I tell you.”
“One would hope so,” Argus said, unable to conceal a tiny note of resentment.
“I should know. I had to pay my own way. I graduated half a term early.”
“What house were you in?” she asked as she turned into the library, offering another tight smile.
“Oh, erm… I was never a student here.”
“I see,” she said, repeating his words more slowly.
“I went to another school,” he added, though he felt it should have been obvious.
She nodded, turning to the librarian’s desk and setting her stack down. Argus followed suit, watching as she rounded the desk and began checking the books back in. “Oh, you’re the librarian?” he asked. “I suppose one would have to love to read…” He gestured to the books, which she noted one by one in a logbook with neat script.
“Those weren’t mine,” she said, not looking up. “They were late returns from the staff. Never mind that I specifically asked for all books to be in before the holiday.”
“A whole school of rule-breakers, then,” he attempted.
“Precisely,” she replied, rewarding him with a small show of teeth. “I’m Irma Pince.”
“Argus Filch,” he answered, shaking her hand formally.
“It’s lovely to meet you. I overheard Minerva saying that you were the new caretaker.”
“Your timing is impeccable. There’s sure to be plenty to clean up tomorrow night.”
“It’ll be New Year’s Eve.”
“Oh.” He didn’t know how he’d forgotten—perhaps because he wasn’t one for parties. “Well, the headmaster said that I would have the elves to help me.”
“They won’t be much use after having to prepare the feast, too,” the librarian said. “But yes, I would say that you will likely need all the help you can get.”
It was his turn to smile with tight lips. “Well, I suppose I should turn in, then.”
“Could you help me put these away first? It will only take a moment.”
“Of course,” Argus said. The two of them trailed through the high bookcases, and Argus busied himself with handing her each book as she requested it, watching her levitate them into their proper places. Toward the end of the pile, she glanced down, noticing the small kitten for the first time.
“Oh, how adorable!” she cooed, and a new light came to her face. “I love cats.”
“She’s been following me all night—at least, I believe it’s a female.”
“Does she have a name?”
“Not yet. We’ve only been acquainted for a few hours.” He looked down, finding himself holding only the Muggle book. “Where does this one belong?”
“Oh, that’s one of mine,” Irma replied, blushing as she realized her white lie from earlier. “Would you like to borrow it? I’ve read it a dozen times already.”
“Yes,” Argus said, looking it over.
“I do love Muggle literature.”
“Mmm-hmm.” He turned, feeling an awkward sort of tension settling between them now that his hands were empty, and headed for the door. “Goodnight, madam.”
“Oh, Miss Pince is fine. Irma is fine.” She blushed slightly, wringing her hands a little. “I would suggest, Mr. Filch, that you try to relax during your first day. I’m sure that book and your little friend there would be good company. You’ll need your strength after the sun goes down.”
“Right,” he said. “Argus is fine, by the way.”
“Argus,” she repeated. “Perhaps we’ll run into one another again.”
He nodded, and they exchanged one last identically nervous smile before he exited.
Half an hour later, as he tried to relax in bed with the softly purring kitten, Argus found that sleep evaded him. There were too many adventures to be had—it would be wretched cleaning up after children, but here he would be surrounded by the thing he had craved all his life. Besides, the young librarian was quite attractive.
Sighing, he turned to the bedside table, being careful not to disturb the cat. There, he noticed the book, softly lit by his new lantern. It was worth a try, wasn’t it? If he liked it, he could tell Irma so tomorrow. If not, at least he would get some sleep.
Argus picked up the book, opened it with care to the first page, and began to read.
This story is a secret santa gift for the lovely Zayne. Hope you enjoyed it!
The quote “Help will always be given at Hogwarts to those who ask for it” is taken from the fourteenth chapter of Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, which was written by J. K. Rowling and published (in the U.S.) in 1999. Mansfield Park was written by Jane Austen and published in 1914, and it is the actual source for Mrs. Norris’s name, taken from one of the characters.
Thank you for reading, and as always, please review!
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