Anyone who might have been present in the entrance hall that February morning could have been forgiven for thinking that a grey, dishevelled, and rather grumpy whirlwind was attacking the area in question. Loose flagstones were upturned, tapestries ruffled to exhale great clouds of ancient dust, and suits of armour creaked as they shuffled and jostled to one side, revealing the perfectly empty space behind the spots on which they stood.
It was exactly this empty space - or, rather, its broader concept, of which the miffed armour's evacuated settling-place was merely exemplary - that was causing one Mr. Argus Filch, caretaker of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry for thirty-three years and counting, such profound distress.
"I know I left it in the safe," he muttered, nearly stepping on someone's stray toad in his haste to climb a ladder, "I always bloody do, don't I? 'Two turns of the key, no-one knows but me': that's what I always bloody say..." Brow bespangled with beads of perspiration, and his usual hang-dog countenance augmented with an unslept wildness to the eyes, Argus made an arresting sight. Students and staff alike took in the thrashing angles, the yellowing spikiness of it all - and then sensibly opted to cast eyes away and shuffle on by, rather than risk being caught near the eye of the tornado.
It was damned tough being the resident castle cat. So thought Mrs. Norris, at least. By her age, a comfortable basket by the fire would have been the decent thing – somewhere to rest the old bones; at last to be treated like a lady. But oh, no. A woman's work was never done. Those young whippersnapper familiars had to be kept in line. How many poncy pureblood Persians could a single castle be expected to hold during term, anyway? And as for those Muggle-raised cats – well, they had a thing or two to learn about being in the Magical world, now, didn't they? Harsh old place it was, for likes of them; all of a sudden not-so-clever, not-so-top of the tree – whether they actually climbed it, or not.
She did have her sympathies, though – with the ones from non-Magic homes. They got marginalized by the other cats: told they'd never be good enough, that they should just bugger off and live somewhere else, now that their humans were witches or wizards.
It was a bit like the lot of her poor old Master. He was lonely, Mrs. Norris knew. Really dreadful, it had been – when he'd grown up a Squib among all the magic folk, feeling useless and boring and crippled the whole time. - And he was a good man; good to her, at least. He'd taken her in, all those years ago, when she was bleeding in the forest. He'd given her meat and milk, and had put ointment on the gouges until they healed. He still did give her everything she wanted – except maybe peace and quiet, but that wasn't in his gift, not while they still worked as a team. He deserved some good luck.
So that is why the very same February morning saw a large, rangy old tabby cat pad along the dungeon corridors with a piece of contraband between her pointy teeth. Upon reaching a certain door, she dropped the booty, reached up on tip-toe to rattle at the door-handle, and then scarpered before the oak could swing open.
Severus Snape rarely had visitors. Unexpected ones were almost unheard-of - so, it was with some trepidation that he answered the unorthodox knock at the door: someone drunk, perhaps, or an elf who had forgotten how to apparate.
He was greeted, however, by no-one at all; just a well-worn, leather-bound journal on the floor, outside his quarters. Snorting down his nose at the uninvited mystery of it, Severus snagged the volume and retreated inside.
A glance at the cover gave nothing in particular away - grubby with spots of ink and grease, as if it had accompanied its owner though situations numerous and messy, but nothing to act as identification. Severus' eyebrows snapped together when he saw the title page, though. For there, on yellowing parchment in that scrawl so characteristic of notes pinned around the staff room – the ones that excelled far further in aggressive tone than in their grammatical precision – merrily danced the words:
Argus Filch's Philavery of Fucking - a Field Guide to Hogwarts
What? This seemed to be some sort of effortful joke. Yet it would be difficult to make a book look so genuinely worn, and the ink so old and soaked bluish-brown into the pages. The part of his brain that had nearly been a Ravenclaw was intrigued; the part that was most firmly Slytherin started to see a range of enjoyable and handy blackmail opportunities.
His intended marking for the afternoon quite forgotten, Severus plumped down in his wing-back chair and turned the page...
1.) Methods notes
- No bloody magic to use (oh Merlin, what I'd give for one of them Disillusion charm things). Ain't it always sodding well so.
- But! I know the castle better than anyone else. Must remember this.
- The gaps between the walls all join up. Just pull on a gargoyle to get at the secret doors.
- Sixth and seventh years are at it like bowtruckles in mistletoe. Some start even earlier though, 'specially Slytherins.
- Portraits will let me into dorm rooms if I ask 'em right. Just offer a bit of fresh paint for their knockers, and they're anybody's.
- The Quidditch changing-rooms have brilliant steam vents in the showers. Just hide in the shrubbery with a ladder (but try not to fall off too loudly).
- The teachers are damn well kinky. They might even be the best for this whole book; we'll have to see.
Well! thought Severus, somewhere between amused and amazed. What had the old man been up to, then? What sort of lunacy was this?
He turned greedily - and then turned again, and again - to reveal page on page of sketches; just stick-figures in the main, but elaborate and enthusiastic in their annotation. There were close-ups, case-notes, dates, times, poetic comments on sizes, sounds - even smells - and it was all written down in that scratchy hand with the care of a lover.
...Lucius Malfoy and Rabastan Lestrange
Seventh years: one dark and beefy, one trim and blonde like a girl - but so bloody flexible it makes me eyes water to watch 'em fuck...
...Augusta Pomona & Sybill Trelawney
Sweet and kind, that plant-lady is. But she does-an-a-half know how to go at it!... Every second evening in the Divinity rooms - Trelawney says a good shag helps with 'er mad visions...
...Filius Flitwick, alone every other Wednesday
...'ho would've thought you could charm feathers and a pint of orange juice to do that?!... Bloody amazing, that's what it is....
As it became clear that this was a bone fide voyeur's journal, a smile curved Severus' lips and a thrill sizzled through his blood. Filch, eh? There was life in the old dog, yet, it seemed. He could picture him now: wanking himself hard and raw while a watery eye peered through some keyhole, or gap between the masonry; coming hard and fast while the nubile young things on the other side of the wall shouted oaths that would last barely until the end of term... and then writing it all down afterwards, with almost scientific precision in his trusty old book. The image was not nearly as repulsive as it should have been. Indeed, Severus found it strangely arresting.
- And not so entirely unlike his own tendencies, Severus had to admit – as he glanced around his quarters overcrowded with books and jars. For it seemed that Filch was a collector. Not of butterflies, though, or antiques, or dark objects that bump in the night - but of sex. Lust and flesh, in every variety and perversion. Severus reasoned, on balance, that it was rather wonderful! A tingle ran beneath his robes at the thought; he found himself getting hard at the unbridled guilt and joy of it all.
He flicked through the book in indulgently random order, ranging from surprise, to disgust, to fascination at the full range of vagaries displayed there. Who would have thought that Minerva McGonagall likes to have it off with those of her students who get top marks in Transfiguration? Wily old cat, that's to be sure. And was it really possible that Lucius' lackeys, Crabbe and Goyle, could get into a position like that, given that they were both so bloody fat? It showed that desire truly is the mother of invention...
Some of the cases that had clearly filled Filch with the most delight in discovery, were less of a revelation to Severus, however. The damned 'Marauders' - as they liked to call themselves - had caused the caretaker no small amount of trouble, and he had exacted some sort of revenge, it seemed, by spying on their most vulnerable moments. Severus turned past Potter with Lily in an unpleasant flash, but there was something sickly fascinating about the drawings of Black and Lupin at it like dogs: quite literally. Filch had seen them change back to humans in the forest, once - while still in flagrante throughout. Charming.
It was certainly the case, however, that Severus would never again see his superiors in quite the same light, after this choice little book. He reflected for a moment that perhaps that was why Filch kept it in the first place; no-one looks particularly threatening or magical with their trousers down, after all. There was Dumbledore being sucked-off by Slughorn on a pretty regular basis - the sketch accompanied by the labels, 'big pointy hat means he's boss', and 'so that's what the little silver thing on the mantleshelf does!', and the footnote, 'how d'you draw a belly on a stick-man?' with a distended ovoid tacked on to the little figure performing the act from behind a handlebar moustache. Then there was the time the Minister of Magic came to visit, and stayed in the guest quarters:
That secretary of his – Umbridge, I think her name was – is an ugly cow, to be true. But she goes at it like nobody's business, and I'm sure Fudgey doesn't get sick of being told how sodding marvellous he is in the sack, all the time. 'e might not like being called 'me little kitten-poo' though. It'd get bloody tedious, I'd reckon...
When the denziens of the castle were providing diminishing returns on new acts to study, it seemed Filch took his book a bit farther afield. There was more detail on Acromantula mating than Severus had ever wanted to know - but the centaurs had a certain class to their coupling, he had to admit. Hagrid and the Squid, however, were really one thing too far -
...That's the good thing about tentacles, they can curl 'round both sides, can't they? And those little suckers at the end definitely know what to do...
Indeed, Severus was just about to pause, possessed by the rare feeling that information was not always a good thing to have, when he happened to turn to a section at the back of the book. These pages were reserved, and really quite different from the others: neater writing, no crude sketches or pithy remarks. There was just prose, considered and seemingly heartfelt. It felt incongruous with the rest, but a quick charm confirmed that it had been written at about the same time – years back to the present day.
...There was something about the boy that caught my eye from the first. And no, not like that, actually. Not to begin with, at least. He just seemed special; different, and better than all the other spawn. A little tragic. He looked like he needed someone to trust...
...Twice, it's happened now. Poor sod always gets overlooked even though he's cleverer than the others, by far. They just can't see it, can they? They can't look past the fact that his clothes are worn and his family doesn't sound right, being half-Muggle. Well, I'll tell you something, Prof. Slughorn: the bit of wizard that my boy's got in him is stronger than any double-dose you'll get elsewhere. Just mark my words...
...I don't understand why he always looks so sad these days. It's as if something inside him has broken, even though he can carry on talking and moving-like on the outside. I wish I could fix it. I don't suppose me old toolkit has a fitting for the sort of thing, though...
...Oh god, I almost saw him naked.... Had to run away before he started stripping off, though. - It's ridiculous, isn't it - just look at the rest of this fine old book! But I could never spy on him; it wouldn't be right... But he is bloody gorgeous...
...Gone and lost. This castle won't be the same without him; never the same for me, anyway. I had to clean the seventh-year dorms after they left, and that smell of potion ingredients lingered right in his corner, where he keeps all those jars I'm not supposed to know about. Didn't have the heart to wash it away, did I? Stupid old sod that I am. Well, good luck to you, boy. And remember, you're a better man than all those purebloods put together...
...They say he's guilty. I don't believe it. I know in me heart it ain't true, and there's no better knowing than that...
...I heard he was joining the staff; coming to teach here. Well, I couldn't believe it at first, could I? That I'd get to see him again, to live in the same castle. But he's arriving this afternoon, they say – coming to live in the dungeons...
...I just wish he had a bit of happiness. Really, I do. That's all I want. But he ain't got a friend in the world and he looks so bloody lonely all the time. I wish I could say, 'It's alright son. Someone cares, you know? Someone gets it: that you're brilliant, and better, and that you shouldn't be treated like shit.' But I can't. Of course I can't. So, I'll just watch, and hope for him with all me sad old heart...
Severus put the book down very quietly. He stayed there for what might have been hours; motionless in his chair, lips pursed and eerie calm.
By evening, Mrs. Norris was beginning to feel the strain. Her Master was going practically spare with worry – no amount of rubbing round his legs or presents of dead mice seemed to help, and she was pretty sure he'd checked all the secret passages five times, now – maybe six.
It was really too much for a lady to be expected to watch, all be told. So, after a good stretch and scratch she determined to set her paws dungeon-wards and retrieve the old book; it should be easy – there was a shaft that let right into those private quarters from the kitchen fireplace.
Never mind what might happen if the journal had been read. Obviously, her plan seemed to have failed, but oh well, can't blame an old girl for trying, now can you? Some human hullabaloo might come of it, but that would pass; it always did. Right now, all she wanted was for her Master to stop tearing the castle to bits and get some sleep, so they both could.
Having determined her course, and being all of a mind to set off, it therefore came as something of a surprise when the door to their quarters flung open, and the Potions professor strode inside.
“Filch, I need to see you.”
Her Master's eyes were wild with fright and admiration, and his jaw went slack as he struck a stiff pose somewhere between cowering and standing to attention. “Professor Snape, I...”
Snape silenced him with a wave of his hand, and then stalked forward, expression unreadable. When they were merely a breath apart, Mrs. Norris began to fear for her Master's safety. Human hullabaloo, or no, Snape looked so intense he could be murderous.
A long moment passed; Mrs. Norris was on the verge of fetching an elf who could perform healing charms. And then-
-Snape crushed his lips to her Master's - hot and hungry, like the first bite of steak from the kitchen table.
A small noise that sounded suspiciously like a mouse-squeak came from her Master as his back hit the fireplace... but then he responded, wrapping arms tightly around his prize showing no sign of needing to breathe for a good few minutes.
Excellent; no need to get my paws cold in the dungeons, then, Mrs. Norris thought. And then she headed directly to her fireside basket, a job well done.