Chapter 19 : Argus Filtch

Publish Date: 1 January 2006

Disclaimer: I do not own Harry Potter, its characters, or anything associated with it. I'm not making any money from this story, and I don't intend to. I'm writing it purely for the satisfaction of it, and because several people warned me that there would be dire consequences if I didn't finish it. The resemblance of any character to an actual person is completely accidental. Please don't sue -- I don't own enough to make it worth your while.

Note: This is a Harry / Severus slash story -- and while their relationship is also accompanied by plot, action, and drama, if you seriously object to the slash element -- or to the particular pairing -- then don't read the story!


THE MIRROR OF MAYBE: Chapter 19
-- Argus Filch --

On Monday Harry attended breakfast in the Great Hall with no indication that anything significant had happened over the weekend. He also observed that his nonchalance at the breakfast table was a great relief to Severus. There'd been a subtle tension in the other man's shoulders that only dissolved once he realised that Ash wasn't going to shower him with unwanted displays of public affection.

Harry sighed. It was obvious that he and Sev really needed to talk.

While it was true that the Potions Master had finally agreed to a relationship with him, it was also true that right now neither of them really knew what to expect from the other. Well, Harry probably had a slightly better idea thanks to his time in the Mirror, but even then, the Mirror version of Severus had been older and had known Harry fairly well by the time they'd become intimate. The current situation wasn't really the same at all. And of course, on top of the purely personal aspects there was also Voldemort to consider.

Unfortunately, the opportunity to talk had not yet presented itself. After leaving Albus' office yesterday they'd each gone their separate ways -- Harry to write his letters and re-think his plans, and Severus to clean up his workroom and attend to his duties as Hogwarts' Potions Master. Harry still hadn't managed to catch up with the other man by dinner, and he wasn't stupid enough to knock on Sev's door after that -- at least not when he knew how tired they both were and how much marking 'Professor Ash' still had waiting in his office.

That made breakfast this morning both a pleasure and a hardship. On the one hand Harry got to sit beside his love and be entertained by the snarky morning attitude, but on the other, he didn't want to do or say anything personal in front of a bunch of nosey students and even-more-nosey staff! However, since there was nothing he could do about it right now, Harry decided to simply enjoy Sev's company for as long as he had it.

Regrettably, weekday mornings weren't known for their long leisurely breakfasts, and all too soon the Potions Master rose from the table and headed off to the dungeons. Harry waited just long enough so that it wouldn't seem they'd left together, and then departed for his own classroom.

As if to make up for the weekend's trials, Harry's first class was perfectly ordinary and entirely trouble-free. Happily, he realised that after seven weeks of school he still found teaching to be both enjoyable and challenging. He was, however, somewhat surprised to realise just how comfortable he'd become with his new profession. He actually awarded five points to a fourth-year Hufflepuff and didn't feel the least bit strange doing it!

Lunch came and went with no sign of Severus, but then that wasn't unusual. Several other teachers were also missing from the staff table and Harry hoped the Potions Master was enjoying a peaceful midday break rather than cleaning up any disasters left over from class.

By the end of the day Harry was back where he'd started: sitting beside Severus at the staff table wondering when he'd get the chance to talk to the other man privately.

Dinner proceeded as usual until the Headmaster unexpectedly rose from his seat and announced a Halloween ball. It was apparently going to take place on the thirty-first of the month -- which was Tuesday next week. "And unfortunately," Albus added, "as it is a school night, I'm afraid the festivities must come to a close by 10:30." Then he peered sternly over the top of this glasses and warned: "Please note that a rigorous curfew will be enforced."

The announcement did not greatly concern Harry until he heard Severus muttering about it not being his turn to watch over the hormonal little monsters. Harry knew some of the teachers would be required to act as chaperones, but until that moment he hadn't realised he might be one of them. The idea struck him as bizarre in the same way that taking House points used to seem peculiar. He wondered whether being the newest member of staff automatically put him on the list for chaperone duty. But since he had no idea how chaperones were chosen, he'd just have to wait and see.

After dinner, Harry had a quick chat with Albus and made arrangements to be away on Wednesday. The old wizard obviously thought he was going to talk to the Mage council, and Harry did not disabuse him of the idea even though he didn't actually say where he was going.

He then went looking for Severus to see whether the Potions Master would agree to another dinner date to make up for the one they'd missed. But the other man had a detention to supervise and the offending students were already scrubbing out cauldrons by the time Harry found him. The War Mage decided not to interrupt since he wouldn't be able to talk freely in front of the students anyway.

As he made his way out of the dungeons, Harry reflected that although the student body would eventually have to learn about his relationship with their Potions Master, he was not ready for the little gossip-mongers to find out just yet. He wanted things to be more settled between Severus and himself before the two of them had to deal with rumours that would be reported back to Voldemort. They also needed time to plan their strategy and decide how they were going to handle the public aspect of their relationship. If their 'affair' developed too quickly it would look suspicious to the 'Light' side -- but if it was too slow Severus would suffer for his 'failure' at the end of Voldemort's wand.

Actually, the whole 'failure' thing worried Harry a lot. Severus would never be able to present Voldemort with the secret of becoming a mage simply because there was no secret. But of course, now that the Dark Lord was a Soul Mage he hardly needed such an imaginary secret anyway. Therefore, it was barely possible the bastard wouldn't kill Severus for his 'failure' when the time came. But Harry wasn't counting on it. It was far more likely that Voldemort would expect his Potions Master to present him with a mindlessly enslaved War Mage -- and the Dark Lord would not be happy when he found out he wasn't going to get one.

Harry truly hoped that accelerating his plans would allow him to defeat Voldemort before it came to that. But in case it didn't, he needed a backup plan. Unfortunately, the only thing that came to mind was a rather vague idea, which -- upon first inspection -- was about as courageously stupid as anything he'd ever done. He decided then and there that he was going to research his idea, come up with as many safeguards as possible, and hope like hell he never had to try it.

With a sigh, Harry acknowledged that his best course of action was the one he'd always intended to follow anyway -- defeat Voldemort as quickly as possible. The unexpected lack of time to nurture his plans meant that he was now a bit less certain of the outcome, but there was really no help for it -- he had to move forward.

And with that in mind, it was probably just as well Severus was busy tonight. When he'd gone looking for the Potions Master, he'd only intended to stop by and set up a time for dinner so they could talk later. He really didn't have time to get involved in a lengthy discussion, or be invited in for a glass of wine and a strategy session. He also didn't want to explain why he didn't have time.

A crucial part of Harry's overall plan involved a vital role that could only be filled by one specific person. But at the moment that person barely knew War Mage Ash existed, and certainly didn't have the faith, trust, or commitment that Harry was going to need from him. And unfortunately, there were some things in life that could not be rushed -- things like faith, trust, and commitment. That meant Harry had to lay the groundwork for those qualities as soon as possible.

Tonight, in fact.

Thus, not long after Harry left the dungeons, he found himself standing in front of a rather nice painting of a bowl of fruit. He reached up to tickle the pear, and, after the painting swung open to reveal a hidden entrance, continued his journey down to the kitchens. Once there, he easily acquired a rather nice fillet of raw fish from some confused houselves, and then retraced his steps until he was back out in the castle's hallways and corridors.

It was time to talk to a certain squib.

----oo00oo----

//Not having Dad's map is a bit of a pain sometimes,// Harry mused as he casually strolled through the castle in search of its caretaker. He was reluctant to ask for directions from any of the paintings or ghosts because he didn't want to advertise his interest in the elusive caretaker. At the moment, Professor Ash's leisurely walk through the castle could be ascribed to any number of things -- like insomnia, patrolling for out-of-bounds students, exercise, or even just plain old curiosity and exploration. But as soon as he started asking directions... //Well,// Harry thought ruefully, //let's just say some paintings and ghosts are every bit as nosey as some wizards and witches.//

And Harry really didn't want any witnesses for his first meeting with Argus Filch.

Of course, if he were honest with himself, there was one more rather... childish... reason Harry refused to give up and ask directions -- he was damned if he was going to quit when he'd already slimed his robes with raw fish for the man's bloody cat.

As he continued his discreet search, Harry mentally reviewed what he planned to say and do to get the man's attention. In some ways he regretted the course of action he'd chosen. In the Mirror, he and Argus had not really had much to do with each other in the early stages of the war. But even so, they'd slowly developed a grudging mutual respect. After Albus' death, it was Filch's knowledge of the castle and it's ever-changing corridors that had become the backbone of the school's security.

As the victim of so many pranks over the years, it was no surprise that the bitter squib knew all the best places to lay traps for unauthorised visitors. And when Harry offered to perform the magic Filch needed for some of his plans, Harry discovered that Filch also knew the best places to set up protective wards, as well as the best routes to use for evacuation and safety drills.

The man also had a rather nasty repertoire of 'jokes' -- all of which had been played on him at one time or another.

And then, of course, Harry had discovered Filch's hidden talents. After that, they'd worked closely together on honing the man's newfound abilities -- which in turn strengthened their mutual respect until it was a solid friendship. But that friendship had taken years to develop, and this time around Harry simply didn't have time to play "Hi, let's be friends". He was also pretty sure that such an approach wouldn't work on the sour mistrustful man.

So instead of a pleasant introduction followed by the tentative "getting-to-know-you" phase, Harry was going to go straight to shock-tactics and bribery. Then, once he had the man's attention, he would set himself up as both teacher and mentor. That would hopefully create the feelings of trust and commitment he needed.

The 'faith' part of the equation would have to come from Argus himself.

Harry wasn't too happy about the manipulation he was going to use on the Hogwarts caretaker. He himself loathed being manipulated. But no matter how he tried, Harry couldn't see any other way of getting the results he needed so quickly. As it was, he might still be pushed for time since he would have to wait for Filch to come to him after their first meeting. And Argus Filch was a bloody stubborn bastard.

At least he could console himself with the knowledge that he knew Filch desperately wanted everything Harry was going to give him.

----oo00oo----

Some half hour later, Harry finally located Argus Filch in a dimly lit corridor not far from the dungeons.

Or to be more precise, Mrs Norris finally located him, which meant Filch wasn't far away.

The emaciated cat rounded the corner in front of Harry just as he was wondering whether he should risk drawing attention to himself by using a spell to locate the Hogwarts caretaker.

Cat and man both stopped dead as soon as they caught sight of each other. Mrs Norris had probably been hoping to catch a student out-of-bounds, but since her intended victim wasn't a student -- or someone she'd had much to do with -- she obviously didn't know whether she should ignore him or growl at him.

Until he threw her the fish.

After that, she was content to ignore him.

Quickly, Harry looked around and noted that there were very few paintings in this particular corridor. He whistled up a bit of Kyrii music that loosely translated as 'the mind-your-own-business spell'. Then he put up a silencing charm and a proximity ward.

Not long after that, Filch rounded the corner right behind his cat.

"Bloody brats," the man was muttering. "Thinkin' they c'n trick me--" He abruptly caught sight of his cat, her fish, and then Professor Ash leaning calmly against the wall. Uneasily, the Hogwarts caretaker stared at the War Mage, and then back at his cat. To Harry it was obvious that he was wondering whether Ash had poisoned the fish -- or if the fish wasn't poisoned, why Ash was feeding her fish at all.

"She's a fine cat," Harry offered by way of an opening. "Quite strong, very intelligent, and, I've noticed, rather loyal. You're lucky to have her."

Suspicion was writ large on the other man's face. Filch shifted his weight uneasily. "I s'pose," he admitted neutrally. There was a moment's silence. Then eventually he added: "Was there somethin' y' wanted Pr'fessor?"

"Me?" Harry innocently replied. "World peace would be nice, I suppose." Then he lazily pushed himself away from the wall and sauntered over towards the other man. Though it pained him, Harry was deliberately acting like the most conceited pureblood ever born for a very good reason. He needed to push Filch into anger so that the man would react honestly -- thereby forcing the squib to face up to things he usually tried not to think about. Harry also hoped it would establish a precedent. In the coming months, he wanted Filch to continue showing honest reactions -- he also wanted the man to tell him what he really thought. The training Harry had in mind for him would progress much faster without the resentful squib mask Argus usually presented to the world.

As Harry approached, he could see the caretaker's shoulders tense. The man was obviously nervous, but refused to step back as Harry closed the distance between them. //Oh yes,// Harry thought with satisfaction, //this is most definitely the same proud stubborn man I knew in the Mirror.//

When Harry was close enough to make Filch very uncomfortable, he leaned forward and looked the other man right in the eyes. "But the real question," Harry sneered in a quietly arrogant tone, "is what do you want?"

Now Filch did step back. Jumped, almost. Harry didn't follow him. "What d' y' mean?" Filch asked nervously.

"Well," Harry drawled, "You're a obviously a squib--"

"What!?" Filch looked outraged. "Who told y' that!? It's a lie!"

"It's not," Harry bit out. "Don't deny it. I know what you are better than you do yourself, man!"

Now Filch looked angry. "What d' y' bloody want!?" he repeated. "I know y' want somethin'. How much t' buy yer silence, y' bastard?"

Hearing the anger in her master's voice, Mrs Norris looked up from the fish and growled a warning.

Harry snorted. "You weren't listening were you? I asked you what you want, not the other way 'round."

"Wh-- what I want...?" Filch parroted, suddenly confused. The abrupt change in her master's voice made his cat looked just as confused.

"Yes," Harry confirmed. "As I said, you're a squib. And yet you hide the fact. Why?" And then Harry took a lazy step sideways so that he could lean arrogantly against the wall -- as though Filch wasn't even worth standing up to. In his most condescending voice, Harry drawled: "And more to the point, why do you bother staying in a world where you have to hide what you are? Why stay in the wizarding world when you know you can never really be part of it."

Filch looked like he wanted to beat Harry to a bloody pulp. But a lifetime of experience had taught the squib that he could never win a fight against magic -- and he wasn't fool enough to attack a War Mage. Harry let his eyes flick towards one of the paintings a short distance away on the opposite side of the corridor. The portrait wasn't paying them the least bit of attention, but Filch was facing away from it and only glanced away from his tormentor just long enough to see what Ash was looking at. The squib paled when he realised there was a portrait nearby. The squib obviously thought his private shame would be the latest gossip in the Great Hall tomorrow.

"Are you uncomfortable having your business spread about by paintings?" Harry taunted. "Don't worry -- I put up a silencing charm. Of course, if it's that big a deal, perhaps you'd like to move to another venue...?"

Filch sneered at him, but didn't make eye contact. "My office," he spat, and then strode away.

Harry followed.

Belatedly, so did Mrs Norris -- fish remains dangling from her jaw.

----oo00oo----

When they reached Filch's office, the angry squib threw open the door with a violent 'bang'. The chains and manacles hanging from the ceiling rattled angrily as Mrs Norris jumped up onto Filch's desk and settled her paws underneath herself.

Harry strode in behind the squib's violent entry and calmly walked across the small room to lean against a filing cabinet. With a flick of his fingers the door swung closed. There was hardly a sound as the two men stared at each other under the flickering yellow light the overhead lamp.

Finally, Filch broke the silence. "I am part of it," he spat. "This is my bloody world too -- no matter how much bastards like you like to think I'm not."

Harry raised one condescending eyebrow. "And yet," he replied, "you do your very best to give the impression that you despise the wizarding world and everyone in it. How can you possibly think you belong here when you obviously hate it so much?"

"I don't hate it!"

"You certainly hate something!"

"I hate the bloody attitude of people like you!" Filch sneered at him. "You and all those other stuck-up pricks! Them an' their prissy little brats who've never done a hard day's work in their bloody lives -- jus' relyin' on magic ta get 'em through -- lookin' down their noses at anyone who actually has ta work f'r a bloody livin'!"

"Then why don't you just bugger off and leave!?" Harry yelled unexpectedly. "Why not go out and live like the pathetic muggle you are?!"

Mrs Norris hissed in anger and crouched to leap at Harry's throat. But Harry was faster and stunned her before she even got her claws out. His show of magic and lightning quick reflexes also served to cool Filch's temper enough so that the outraged squib didn't follow his cat's example and leap at Ash's throat. Instead he sneered: "Oh, you'd like that 'ey, Pr'fessor? Nice 'n neat, eh? Just sweep all the squibs under the rug -- dump us on the muggles and f'rget we was ever born! Well, I won't give y' the satisfaction! This is my bloody world too an' I'm not leavin'!"

"Bullshit it's your bloody world!" Harry taunted. "How can it be when the wizarding world is just that -- a world for wizards -- a world built on magic -- and you can't even do first-year spells!"

Filch's face was twisted with any number of powerful emotions -- hate, hurt, anger, pain... Hating himself for what he was doing, Harry stalked towards the other man and crowded him into the wall. Face-to-face, Harry sneered mockingly: "Why, you pathetic fool? Why do you stay? Do you get a charge out of being humiliated? Being spat on? Why didn't you leave years ago? You could've had it all! In the muggle world you would've been normal -- you could've been successful -- been as powerful as any man in that world! Why didn't you leave? Are you such a coward that--"

At the word 'coward', Filch suddenly lunged forward. Livid with anger, he practically lifted Harry off his feet as he neatly turned the tables by shoving 'Ash' violently into the wall.

"I tried!" he screamed. "I tried living in their soddin' world! And I can't!" Blindly, Filch pulled Harry off the wall and slammed him back again. "I can't" he screamed again, slamming Harry back into the wall a third time. He pulled Harry back for another go when the anger just seemed to drain out of him. Brokenly, he gave Harry a half-hearted shake before finally whispering: "I just... can't..."

Gently, Harry reached up and pulled Filch's fists away from his robes. "Why...?" he asked in a suddenly kind voice. "Why can't you go, Argus?"

"It - it weren't no good," Filch admitted. Harry noted that the other man's eyes were now slightly glazed, and he suspected Filch was hardly even aware of him anymore. "No damn good," the squib mumbled to himself. "Nearly died. I could'a died!"

"How, Argus? How did you nearly die?"

"Was cold one night, wasn't it? Didn' even know enough t' figure out the muggle heatin' f'r me flat. Didn' know how t' get help -- an' I was always needin' help. What's this? What's that? How's it work? What's it for?"

Slowly, Harry led the dazed man to a chair and then seated himself on the table beside him.

"It was worse than th' wizardin' world," Filch added, still mumbling to himself. "I didn' know anythin'! Even their bloody money didn't make no damn sense. An'...an'... I don' want t' live without magic! I grew up with it! The wizardin' world is my home!" And with that statement, Filch seemed to come back to himself. He blinked, and his eyes returned to their usual sharp focus. "It's my home!" he repeated with certainty. "Even if the rest o' you bastards don't think I'm good enough fer it!"

"I understand," Harry told him. Filch looked angry again. "No," Harry said, holding up a hand, "I do understand. The muggles don't share your heritage -- your culture. They don't know your history, your architecture, or the myths and legends of your ancestors. They don't understand the way you look at the world." Then, while Filch was still gaping at him in surprise, Harry added simply: "They aren't your people."

"No," Filch agreed, as though he'd just been given a revelation. "They're not my people."

"And yet you're still angry with us," Harry added. "Why? Because you can't do magic? You can use floo powder just fine, but you'll never be able to use a wand no matter how hard you try. That's just the way it is, and nothing will ever change it." Harry sighed. "Or is it because people look down on you for being a squib?" Then he shook his head. "No, most people don't even know you're a squib, so it can' be that. Is it because you don't like your job? You could always find another you know -- or the Headmaster could help you find one."

"What are you goin' on about?" Filch asked in an irritated tone.

"What do you want!?" Harry asked with an intense look. "From us -- from the wizarding world. You're so angry -- so bitter. You don't want to leave. You want to be a wizard, but you know you can't. So what's left? Do you want money? Would wealth make a difference? You could have power and influence if you were rich. Would that satisfy you? Would that make you happy?"

Filch blinked. He looked as though it had only just occurred to him that Ash really did want to know what he wanted -- what he really wanted -- from his life. And suddenly he wasn't so sure he knew what to say. One the one hand, being rich sounded like a good idea. He wouldn't have to scrub walls and floors anymore. No more putting up with ungrateful snotty little brats. A big house -- people fawning over him. He could even have wizards and witches working for him! As servants!

And yet...

While the thought of being wealthy and powerful was vaguely appealing, he rather liked living at Hogwarts. And when it came right down to it, he couldn't make himself believe he'd actually be happy with such a life. He certainly wasn't stupid enough to think money would stop the snide remarks -- or the rumours. It wouldn't make any difference, really. He'd still be a squib.

Harry noticed Filch's introspection, and decided to add fuel to the fire. "Would it help," he asked, "to have someone to talk to? A friend, perhaps? Someone besides Mrs Norris? Maybe someone who knows you're a squib and doesn't look down on you? Someone who won't pity you, but still has a bit of compassion -- a bit of sympathy? Or maybe you'd like to meet other squibs. Just to know you're not alone, eh? I'm sure it would help to have people around who understand you, wouldn't it?"

Harry knew he was being a condescending bastard, but Filch really needed to think about this.

And think about it he did, until finally, the caretaker's expression cleared into understanding, and he uttered a single word...

"Respect."

"I just want a bit of bloody respect."

"Ah," Harry commented, inwardly pleased. "Respect. A bit tricky, that."

Filch frowned. "Is it? Why?"

"Well," Harry explained, "it all depends on what sort of respect you want, doesn't it? I mean, do you want to be like Snape? That's who you emulate isn't it? Frightening the life out of students so they'll behave themselves. But is that respect, or is it just fear? After all, they still call him 'greasy git' and worse behind his back!"

"But not to his bloody face!" Filch argued. "Not like they do t' me!"

"Mmm," Harry contemplated. "There is that I suppose." Then he pursed his lips and added: "So you'd be happy if the wizarding world was afraid to insult you to your face, but still did it behind your back?"

"Uhh..."

"No?" Harry asked. "Well, how about the sort of respect the Headmaster has? He has respect doesn't he?"

"'He's one a' the most powerful wizards in the world!" Filch goggled. "O' course he's bloody well respected!"

"That's strange," Harry replied, "I've heard him called a 'daft, crazy, old bugger' right to his face. I can only imagine what they say about him behind his back! That's your idea of respect?"

"Er..."

"So, what kind of respect do you want?" Harry prodded.

"I-- I'm not... I don't..." Filch was obviously floundering.

"Then might I suggest something?"

Filch just stared at him.

"There are many kinds of respect," Harry began. "Respect for someone's abilities, respect for their character, respect for their accomplishments. There are many things you can respect someone for having, being, or doing -- but not one of those kinds of respect will make you happy. Not one of them will stop others from ridiculing you for things they don't respect about you."

"For example," Harry explained, "Professor Snape is a Potions Master. And as a Potions Master he's very well respected. I've never heard anyone belittle his opinions, ability, or skill when it comes to potions. And yet, they do make fun of his appearance, his teaching, and his personality."

"Professor Dumbledore, on the other hand, has a great deal of respect when it comes to power and knowledge -- yet none at all when it comes to sanity, style, or fashion."

"But..." Filch interrupted. "They both... they're both..."

"They both have one more kind of respect," Harry finished for him. "The kind of respect that makes you want what they have -- the only kind of respect that will ever make you happy -- because it's the kind of respect that means you don't care what anyone else thinks."

Filch frowned, trying to puzzle out what Ash was telling him.

"It's self-respect, Argus. Only self-respect -- you're own sense of self-worth -- can give you what you want."

Filch's mouth twisted down at this revelation, and Harry could tell he wasn't pleased. "Before you say anything," he added quickly, "just think about it. Think about men like Albus Dumbledore. The headmaster has done wonderful and terrible things in his lifetime. Yet--"

"Yet 'e's still a bloody powerful wizard!" Filch interrupted. "I'd 'ave respect too if I had magic like that!"

"You think so?" Harry retorted angrily. "You think magic grants respect? Well, I've got news for you, no spell can give you that! Not even Imperious!"

As Filch started to argue again, Harry overrode him -- finally venting his frustration on a bitter man who could be -- should be -- so much more.

"Let me tell you," Harry said forcefully, "about a man -- a man who died saving nearly a dozen students at a school very much like this one. He had no wand with him when invaders stormed the walls, but what he did have was a matchless knowledge of the school's layout and defences. He could've saved himself easily, but he was in charge of the school's security, so instead he stayed and ultimately wound up leading the last group of students to safety by himself."

"Unfortunately," Harry continued, "he was discovered before the students escaped. It was just bad luck, really. The children were hidden and he went ahead to make sure the way was clear. He'd already told them what to do to reach the portkey -- all they had to do was wait until the coast was clear. And all he had to do was lead the enemy away."

"And he did," Harry concluded, "even though it cost him his life."

There was a moment's silence. Then Filch, looking somewhat uncomfortable but still belligerent said: "Yeah, well... 'm sorry y' lost yer friend then. But all that's nothing to do with me is it?"

A cold smile came over Harry's face. "You think not? Oh, you think not do you? Not even when I tell you that my 'friend' was a squib like you?"

Filch looked shocked.

"Oh yes," Harry continued. "A poor pathetic squib. No respect for him at all. They only put up that stupid plaque to make fun of the dead squib. Of course, the fact that they put it up out near the greenhouses where he died was just a bit morbid, eh? A bit of bad taste, really."

Filch was still looking shocked.

"But then," Harry continued, "I don't suppose their lack of respect really explains the inscription. It was very respectful -- at least in my opinion. Want to know what it said?" And Harry continued straight on, not waiting for Filch's reply. "It said:

"Blood, Body, and Magic
>From these comes all your strength
Yet from the heart alone comes all your Power."

"The man to whom that's dedicated saved those children -- in spite of the fact that of all the people who were there, including the children and the invaders, he was the only one who couldn't cast a single spell!"

"And do you know," Harry finished in a dark tone, "that in the end I'm pretty sure he didn't give a damn about who made fun of him -- to his face or behind his back. And I think that's because he knew he was a worthwhile human being. He knew he deserved respect just as much as the next man, and he ensured he got it simply by giving it to himself. And once he had that self-respect, other people began to see it, and to give him their respect as well."

And as he returned from the memory of Argus' death in the Mirror, Harry looked over at this younger bitter version of his dead friend and casually remarked: "If you had even a shred of self-respect, I could teach you things that would ensure the whole wizarding world looked at you with every different kind of respect you can imagine!"

"I-- I've got self-respect!" Filch protested. "I do!"

"You?!" Harry barked with derisive laughter. "You can't even look at yourself in a mirror! You dress like a vagabond! You skulk about with your head down--"

"I like the way I dress!" Filch roared.

Harry roared back. "I don't care about your fashion sense, you idiot! I'm saying your clothes are always ragged and stained, and you skulk about with your head down like you're ashamed to be seen! How the hell is anyone else supposed to respect you when your clothes and the very way you walk say you don't believe you're worthy of it!?" And then Harry leaned in close and with quiet intensity added: "Show me that you think you deserve respect, and then maybe I'll teach you how to gain everyone else's."

And with that, Harry enervated Mrs Norris and left the stunned caretaker sitting in his office.

----oo00oo----

Walking back to his quarters, Harry considered the offer he'd made to the Hogwarts caretaker. In reality, his proposal to teach Argus how to gain everyone else's respect was about half a lie. He couldn't actually teach Argus how to gain others' respect, but once he got the man to start respecting himself, all the rest would naturally flow on from that. And there was a lot Harry could teach him that would boost Argus' self-esteem very quickly. In fact, once he got the squib started down the right path, he'd have to be careful not to let Argus get a swelled head. There was a vast difference between self-respect and self-importance.

And vaguely, in the background of his musings about Argus, Harry also thought about Severus. The things Sev had done under Voldemort's command had damaged the Potions Master's self-respect years ago. What little he had left was largely based on his potions skill, his sharp intelligence, and the invaluable tasks he performed for the Headmaster. But until Sev finally forgave himself...

...he would never be quite whole.

----oo00oo----

Tuesday passed almost too quickly for Harry to keep up. Yet somehow he still managed to teach class, get his marking done, finalise arrangements for his day off tomorrow, and ask Sev whether it would be alright if he stopped by the other man's office around 8:00pm tomorrow night.

Fortunately, Sev didn't have to supervise a detention tomorrow, so 8:00pm it was. His office -- just off to one side of the Potions classroom -- was not as public as the staff lounge, but not as intimate as either of their personal quarters. It was a good compromise for the discussion the two of them needed to have about their relationship and what they wanted from each other.

Harry wondered if Sev was as nervous about it as he was.

----oo00oo----

On Wednesday Harry rose early and dressed for a visit to the Muggle world. Thanks to Albus his classes were already taken care of, and all Harry had to do was make a quick stop by the kitchen door in order to grab a muffin for breakfast on-the-go.

Then he was on his way out past the anti-apparition wards, and straight off to London.

He arrived at Heathrow airport, just one muggle amongst thousands, and was quickly sitting in a cab on his way to his first appointment.

He would've apparated directly there if he'd known what the real estate agent's office looked like. Most wizards and witches needed a familiar apparition point to use as an arrival target, but Harry had discovered that as long as he had a general feel for the right area, and a picture of the place he wanted to go, he could pretty much apparate anywhere he wanted. Well, perhaps not anywhere since some places were just too far away.

So aside from the general location and a picture, all he needed was a good invisibility potion, charm, or cloak so as not to alarm any muggles who might happen to be looking in his direction when he arrived. He was also grateful that all wizards and witches had an in-built awareness that instinctively scouted ahead to 'feel' for anything occupying the arrival target space. A wizard or witch might 'splinch' themselves, but they would never end up apparating inside of anything... or anyone.

An hour or so after getting into the cab, Harry was sitting in a real estate office quite some distance away from central London. He was also acting like a rich eccentric nutcase with more money than sense. Cheerfully, he explained to the befuddled real estate agent that what he really wanted was a large roofed area with good ventilation and security, along with lots of natural light, but no neighbours. He justified his requirements by stating that he needed 'silence and space' for his creativity to 'flourish and expand', and that he was particularly concerned that his 'enemies' would spy on him in an attempt to 'steal his creative genius' before he could complete his many artistic endeavours.

Mr Sanderson was impressed by his wallet, if not by his rhetoric.

Unfortunately, the man only brokered residential homes, and what 'Mr Whittersby' was asking for sounded more like a commercial or industrial property.

Upon hearing this, Harry was momentarily surprised, and then instantly disappointed. He'd already arranged to meet other real estate agents in Liverpool, Glasgow, and Edinburgh -- and since he hadn't known there were different kinds of real estate agents, they were probably all residential property brokers. Was he about to waste his entire day?

Luckily, Mr Sanderson didn't just fob him off once he realised he couldn't help the eccentric artist sitting in front of him. Never one to burn his bridges, the man quickly reassured Harry that although he didn't personally handle such properties, he could get 'Mr Whittersby' an appointment with someone who did. And ten minutes later, Harry had the name of an industrial property broker, and a new appointment in a couple of hours.

Harry then begged the use of a 'phone and a private office, and -- making a mental note to buy a mobile 'phone as soon as possible -- quickly called the other three agents to re-arrange his schedule and try to get new appointments with more appropriate real estate agents.

The Edinburgh agent couldn't arrange anyone suitable for the same day, but left him with a name and a number to call if he wanted an appointment some other day. The Glasgow agent said he also handled some industrial properties, so that appointment was still on for 3:00pm this afternoon. The Liverpool agent managed to get him a new appointment with a commercial property broker at noon (the lady was willing to give up her lunch hour to meet him), so out of the four appointments he'd originally set up, Harry still had three to get to.

Thank Merlin for apparition!

In gratitude for all Mr Sanderson's help, 'Mr Whittersby' left a fifty pound note and a promise that he would return if he ever needed a house in or around London.

And then Harry was off to his first appointment with an industrial property broker.

----oo00oo----

As it turned out, Mr Enstice was not in the least put off by 'Mr Whittersby's' barmy rich artist act. The man impressed Harry a great deal by being professional and courteous while also doing his best to find something in his files that matched Harry's requirements. Together, they found a couple of properties that looked promising, and Harry noted down the address for each one, telling Mr Enstice that he would look them over from the outside before deciding whether he was interested enough to arrange a proper inspection.

Of course, in reality, Harry didn't need the keys or security codes to temporarily disable the security system and then apparate in to have a good look around by himself.

Before he left Mr Enstice's office, Harry made a point of mentioning that he was in a terrible hurry, as his 'creative inspiration' would be upon him soon and he really needed somewhere to work when the 'joyous muse' graced his abilities.

Mr Enstice didn't even blink when he sincerely asked whether Mr Whittersby's 'joyous muse' would be put off by conducting business in the very building where she would be inspiring him.

Harry assured the man that if one of the properties pleased his muse, he would be only too happy to sign the contract then and there -- and money was no object.

----oo00oo----

Harry's next two appointments went much the same way as the one with Mr Enstice. By the end of the day he had a list of seven potential properties -- all of which he could apparate to since he now knew the general location for each one, and the property brokers had supplied him with photo's he could use to fine-tune his target point.

He then spent a couple of hours looking them over, and memorizing the differences between them. There were two he thought might suit his needs, but when he returned to Hogwarts he would write up some notes and then think about it for a day or so. He fully intended to call one of the brokers on Friday morning and ask for a contract that he could sign on-the-spot next Saturday -- one with a clause that would allow him to move in the weekend after.

----oo00oo----

On his way back to Hogwarts, Harry contemplated the different ways in which he might acquire the weapons and equipment he would need to properly outfit whichever building he decided to buy. He was going to need a variety of things, not least of which were training mats, knives, exercise equipment, a variety of guns and loading gear, along with map tables, pin-up boards, common kitchen and eating utensils, a fridge -- oh, and he'd better see about connecting the power and water -- not to mention making a list of the spells and wards he was going to need, and a way for his people to get in and out without being seen, and --

-- and things had been a damn sight easier in the Mirror where he could just explain what he needed and why, and then other people would set it up for him.

Harry sighed. //Quill and parchment,// he told himself. //I definitely need quill and parchment. Although... maybe I should just buy a decent pen... wait a minute -- did I forget something muggle...? Oh, bugger! How am I going to call the property broker on Friday?//

He'd forgotten to buy the mobile 'phone.

----oo00oo----

"Right then," Harry told himself as he looked over the rather extensive list of things he needed to acquire. He'd already changed back into his War Mage outfit, and was now seated at the writing desk in his quarters wondering what he might have forgotten. The list basically fell into two categories: those things he could buy, and those he could not. And really, the only things he couldn't buy were the illegal ones -- essentially all the firearms and related equipment.

He considered that.

//Well,// he finally concluded, //I don't think there's any help for it -- I'm going to have to go to an illegal arms dealer.// But he'd be damned if he'd actually pay one of those bastards for anything. No, instead he was going to steal from them!

But of course, first he had to find a cache of weapons suitable for his needs -- which in turn meant he had to find an illegal arms dealer who had what he needed.

Hopefully Harry would be meeting someone on Friday who'd be able to help him with that.

At the moment, Harry's plan was to contact a certain ex-military muggle who specialised in teaching people how to shoot guns. He'd known Jack in the Mirror, and if he remembered correctly the man should be just out of the muggle military, having been disillusioned by some sort of internal power squabble. Harry hoped Jack was still at loose ends and hadn't yet committed himself to anything. If he wasn't available... well, maybe Jack would be able to recommend someone else.

Harry was, of course, also going to tell Jack -- and anyone Jack wanted to bring in -- about magic and the magical world. He would have to, since the muggle was going to be training battle squibs and support squibs for hostile magical situations. In fact, Harry and Jack were going to have to sit down and discuss exactly what wizards, witches, and squibs were capable of before Jack could even begin to understand what Harry wanted him to teach.

//Jack's going to love it!// Harry smiled to himself. //And with any luck, the Ministry will never know about my little breach of the Secrecy Statute.//

Carefully, Harry rolled up his notes and lists, and secured them in a hidden and strongly warded drawer. "Tempus" he said with a casual wave of his wand. The numbers "7:45" appeared in the air. //Just in time to head down to Severus' office,// Harry thought, as he headed for the door.

While traversing the corridors, Harry continued to think about arms dealers and the weapons he needed. Vaguely, he wished he could just ask the Ministry for the necessary permits and be done with it. But that was not yet possible -- although he knew it would be in the future.

But for the moment, he'd have to settle for acquiring the weapons in a more round-about fashion.

With quiet introspection, he recalled how he'd been received his first gun...

----oo00oo----

-- The Mirror --

Eighteen-year-old Harry Potter stumbled over a rock in the unpaved laneway. He thought he might be somewhere in the north of Scotland, but he couldn't be sure. He'd lost too much blood, and everything seemed fuzzy and distant. He was damn lucky he hadn't splinched himself on that last apparition.

He wished he could think clearly. Where was he supposed to be? They'd been ambushed -- a trap. He'd been separated from Shacklebolt -- his partner and Auror supervisor. They were training new Aurors in the field now, in an effort to speed up recruitment. Wasn't he supposed to apparate somewhere in an emergency...? The emergency... thingummy...

Where was he supposed to be again?

Blackness rose up to meet him.

...

When next Harry woke, he was warm and comfortable.

Then he moved.

Oh. He hurt. "Nnn... oww..."

"Be still," a low voice commanded. "You've lost a lot of blood." And then a strong arm helped raise him up enough to sip at the lukewarm soup against his lips. "Drink it all..." he was urged. In the dimly lit room he could just make out a man's face. Light brown eyes, somehow saddened, were set into careworn features. A close-cut beard covered the strong jaw. Harry couldn't guess the man's age -- older than him certainly, but not as old as Dumbledore. Somewhere in between, which still left a lot of years.

"Who...?" he croaked.

"Errol," came the answer. "Errol Sams." And Harry laughed weakly, thinking fuzzily that he'd been saved by a man named after the Weasley's owl -- the one that still hadn't managed to die... just like Harry, really.

The darkness drifted back.

...

In time Harry woke long enough to discover that Errol -- who was named after his uncle and not an owl after all -- had found his blood-soaked body in the middle of the road near his house, and had hauled the unconscious young man back to his home and patched him up.

Errol, it turned out, was a muggle who'd once lived on the border between Catholic and Protestant Ireland. After the murder of his wife and children, he'd moved to Scotland and now lived an almost hermit-like existence on the fringes of a small township.

He didn't speak about his family, or who'd been responsible, but as the days passed Harry developed a sneaking suspicion that Errol's loss had been caused by the ongoing madness of Northern Ireland's political landscape. And it seemed to Harry, that in Errol's quiet unspoken sadness, he somehow blamed both sides of the conflict for not finding a way to live with each other years ago.

But his family's death had certainly made at least one profound change in Errol's life -- he was now a firm believer in the saying: 'talk softly, but carry a big stick'. Errol's home held an amazing number of weapons -- including several guns.

Never again would people come into this man's house and threaten anything or anyone who lived in it.

Harry was pretty sure most of it was illegal, and it wounded him to think that this kind quiet man had been driven to such extremes -- had lost so much faith in his fellow man. It was just... wrong... somehow.

Harry found himself wishing more than once that he'd met Errol when his wife and children were alive.

But on the other hand, it seemed Errol hadn't lost his faith in humanity entirely -- after all, hadn't he'd taken a complete stranger into his home? A stranger he was even now nursing back into some semblance of health.

At first, though, it seemed strange. Errol never asked what happened to him -- how he'd come to be lying in the middle of the road outside Errol's house. But over the days and nights that followed it became normal -- like Errol's quiet presence -- only becoming strange again when odd things happened: like the time Harry opened the wardrobe and found his robes neatly draped over a hanger, with his wand (still in its holster) slung loosely over the folded sleeves.

What had Errol been thinking while he washed away the blood and dirt on Harry's robes? Wasn't he curious? Harry wondered whether the man was a squib -- or the relative of some muggleborn witch or wizard. That would explain it. But of course, Errol never said, and Harry never asked. Instead, the quiet man simply went about his business, patiently turning wood and metal into plain solid furniture out in his workshop.

And so Harry healed -- slowly at first, and then faster once he was strong enough to cast small healing charms on himself. He worried about whether Shacklebolt had made it -- and whether Ron and Hermione were still safe. He knew they'd be worried about him, but Harry wasn't well enough to apparate, and there weren't any owls even if he'd trust an owl not to be intercepted. And that was, perhaps, what worried Harry the most -- that he might bring more death into Errol's house. He owed the man too much to let that happen.

So Harry waited, and decided he would go just as soon as he felt strong enough to manage apparition safely.

But only a few days before Harry thought he might be well enough, Errol stepped quietly into his room and said: "You're too young to be wandering around armed with a twig. Tomorrow I'll teach you how to shoot."

And that in itself seemed to suggest that Errol didn't know much about the wizarding world because, really, any decent shielding spell would block a muggle bullet. Muggle guns were only useful if you surprised a witch or wizard -- and in that case you could just as easily use a spell.

But Harry didn't like to appear ungrateful, and when he really thought about Errol's offer he realised that most pureblood wizards and witches wouldn't know what a gun looked like even if they had heard of them. There was the distinct possibility that he could take someone by surprise, and that being able to use a gun might very well save his life one day.

So Harry stayed nearly a full week longer than he'd thought he would -- and sometimes he wondered whether Errol had known what he was thinking and then arranged it this way to get him to stay until he was more than just 'barely' able to apparate.

By the time Harry left, he knew the basics of how to handle revolvers, as well as semi-automatic and fully automatic handguns. He could load his own ammunition and could -- mostly -- hit the target he was aiming for (providing it wasn't too far away). He wouldn't win medals or anything, but he wouldn't shoot himself in the foot either.

The day he left, Errol gave him a semi-auto to keep.

"You're alright company, Harry," he'd said. "Take this, and try to do a better job of looking after yourself."

Harry had walked away until he was out of sight, and then cast the strongest protection spell he knew over Errol's house.

Then he'd gone back to war.

...

Harry carried that first gun with him for several years. It did save him a couple of times, but the element of surprise wore off almost immediately and he used it as more of a distraction after that. It was not until he discovered the true nature of squibs that he began to look around for a weapon that would more closely suit his needs.

He also got the Ministry to pull some strings with the muggle authorities so that he, and any properly trained squib, could legally buy and own firearms under British law.

----oo00oo----

-- Present Day --

Harry arrived at Sev's office door a few minutes early. He knocked lightly as a warning, then entered.

Sev was marking essays. When he caught sight of Harry, he placed his quill back into its inkwell and rose from the desk.

"War Mage," he acknowledged politely with a slight bow.

"Professor," Harry smiled. "It's good to finally have a moment of your time!"

Severus snorted. "It has been a trifle... hectic lately." Then he waved Harry towards a chair while he went over to one of the shelves and retrieved a bottle made of opaque glass. Harry was astounded when the Potions Master actually poured a dark liquid into a pair of simple glasses and offered him one.

Harry accepted the drink while covertly studying the shelf the bottle had come from. The other bottles on that particular shelf were all filled with... eww! -- was that actually an embalmed foetus up there!?

And then it struck him that the bottle Sev had pulled down was the only one made of opaque glass -- the only one that hid the bottle's contents. Whatever was in his glass was not like the other things up on that shelf.

Somewhat reassured, Harry took a cautious sip.

Wine.

Cabernet.

Quite good.

Harry took a larger sip and actually tried to relax.

Sev sipped from his own glass and watched him with amusement.

"So," Harry began, "you like to keep your wine next to the embalmed... whatever-it-is?"

"It is a clabbert foetus," Severus replied. "And I do not like to keep it there, however I am reasonably confident that it will remain there no matter how many students traipse in and out of my office -- either with or without my permission."

Harry deliberately did not ask why Severus had an embalmed clabbert foetus in his office. Instead, he wondered why the Mirror version of Severus hadn't kept wine in the same place. And then Harry realised that maybe he had. In the Mirror, Harry hadn't actually spent much time in Sev's office. They preferred to spend what time they had together in Sev's private quarters. This prevented random students and staff from walking in unexpectedly. Whenever Severus spent time in his office it meant he was assigning detention, trying to grade essays, or performing some other odious and solitary task.

"I suppose I can see your point," Harry began, "But, I wouldn't have thought you'd drink much in your office..."

"I do not," Severus replied. "However, there are some days..."

Harry's mouth twisted wryly. "I know exactly what you mean."

There was silence for a moment before Severus asked: "Have we covered the obligatory amount of social blathering yet?"

Harry nearly laughed. "Yes, I believe we have."

"Good. We have more important things to discuss. How quickly do you think our 'relationship' should develop in the eyes of the student body?"

Harry smiled. "As opposed to how fast it should actually develop in the privacy of our quarters?" Severus frowned slightly, and Harry added: "Look, I know we need to discuss the students and the Dork Lord, but I also want to discuss what we want from one another when it's just between us. I really do want to find out whether we could have a relationship beyond the one we're planning for others' benefit."

"Dork Lord?" Severus asked, obviously shifting the topic of conversation away from Harry's point.

"It's a muggle term," Harry replied. "'Dork' -- a stupid, inept, or foolish person. 'Dork Lord' -- someone in charge of a great many stupid, inept, or foolish people."

Severus' amusement was back again, but Harry wasn't letting him off the hook so easily. If he allowed the Potions Master to dominate the conversation then Voldemort and strategy would be all they'd talk about. And if that sort of thing went on long enough it was quite possible Sev would convince himself that Voldemort and strategy was all there actually was between them.

"Getting back to our 'real' relationship," Harry persisted. "I'd like to talk about what we can expect from one another -- things we want, or don't want, and a few ground rules. For example: no use of lust potions, aphrodisiacs, or performance enhancers -- for either of us."

Severus blinked incredulously. "You honestly think I'd--"

"If you were tired or run down, and you thought you had to have sex with me to keep me happy...?"

"Ah. You meant using them on ourselves."

"Right," Harry agreed. "None of that. If either of us is too tired, then we're too tired. End of story."

"You sound like we're involved in treaty negotiations," Severus told him -- once more amused.

"We are... sort of. It's just that most people don't spell it out like this -- they figure it out as they go along through experience, body language, and 'social blathering'. But we're not most people and I'd rather avoid the misunderstandings that other relationships usually bump into."

Severus considered that. What Ash was saying made a great deal of sense to him, and he was actually a little relieved. He certainly wasn't going to bother with the unseen maze of things you were somehow supposed to just 'know' about your lover -- or that you were supposed to figure out in some obscure arcane way -- but he was still acutely aware that he needed this man's cooperation and good will. If the War Mage was happy to just say it all up front... well, that would make his life a great deal easier.

"Very well," he agreed. "Although I insist that our planning for the benefit of others take precedence -- at least for the moment."

"Naturally," Harry replied. "I never meant to imply we'd be stuffing about with personal things while your life was at risk."

"Well enough," Severus decided. "Now -- how quickly do you think our 'relationship' should develop in the eyes of the student body?"

Harry didn't laugh, but it was a near thing.

----oo00oo----

Eleven o'clock had come and gone by the time Severus and Harry reached the corridor outside their respective quarters. They both knew it was too soon to invite the other in -- both for strategic and personal reasons, so their conversation was brought to a close in the corridor.

Unexpectedly, Severus brought up a new topic just as they reached his door.

"Have you done anything to annoy Mr Filch recently?"

"I don't think so," Harry replied with hidden amusement. "Why do you ask?"

"He's been watching you."

"Has he?" Harry had, in fact, noticed.

"All yesterday and today as well," Severus confirmed. "One might even say he's been avoiding his usual haunts for the sole purpose of watching you." He paused for a moment before adding: "Is there a problem?"

"A problem? No. I just gave him... well, I suppose you could say I gave him something to think about."

Severus' eyebrows rose. "Something to think about," he said flatly. "You gave Argus Filch something to think about?"

Harry shrugged. "He doesn't seem like a very happy man, does he? I thought I might do something about it."

Severus snorted in disbelief. "Good luck with that..."

"Mmm," Harry agreed with a slight smile. "Oh, by the way," he added, "dinner last Saturday obviously didn't work out the way I'd hoped. Could we try again next Saturday?"

Severus considered that, and then smirked. "Very well," he began, "if you tell me what you were doing today."

Harry blinked. "Why on earth would you care?"

Severus looked at him with a thoughtful expression. "The Headmaster seemed rather pleased by your absence..."

It was Harry's turn to smirk. "The Headmaster is under the impression that I was visiting a certain group of Mages today. However, I never actually said that's what I was doing. I can't help what he assumes, can I?"

"You... fooled the Headmaster?" Severus asked in surprise.

"More like he fooled himself," Harry laughed. "I didn't intend to mislead him, but I really did need the day off and I knew he'd give it to me if I just kept my mouth shut."

"But why did you need the day off in the first place?" Severus asked curiously. "What were you doing that couldn't wait for the weekend?"

Harry shrugged. "Nothing much -- just looking at real estate."

Severus stared at him suspiciously.

"What?" Harry said defensively. "I was!"

With an expression that reflected his disbelief, Severus asked: "So you intend to live elsewhere? Over the holidays and such?"

Harry smirked again. "Not at all," he replied in a tone that left no doubt. "But you never said I had to tell you why I was doing it, only what I was doing. So I'll pick you up at seven shall I?"

And with that, Professor Ash left a bemused Severus Snape standing in the corridor to retire to his own rooms.

----oo00oo----