A/N: This chapter was written by Ozma. Review responses in the next chapter will be written by her, unless addressed specifically to the overall story, then they'll be jointly answered by me.

I apologize for any formatting problems in this chapter. I have Word XP so even getting this up here took a lot of effort on my part.
Chapter 3 – The Squib and the Oddball

Hogwarts Castle has many secret places. To reach the passage behind the mirror on the fourth floor, one must tap a petal on the single daisy carved among the many roses on the mirror's ornate wooden frame.

I tapped the daisy's petal three times. The mirror opened to reveal a long, narrow staircase. Toolbox in one hand and lantern in the other, I descended. At the foot of the stairs is a dirt-floored chamber which allows access to the union between two very large pipes.

It was the middle of the night. This plumbing job could take hours to fix. I could have waited till morning to start the work. But since Mrs. Norris had been Petrified I'd been finding it difficult to sleep. Or eat. Or do much of anything beyond what was necessary to keep the Castle clean and in good working order. I raged at the brats whenever they stepped out of line or simply got in my way, but punishing them brought me no comfort. Like everyone in the Castle, I was tense and afraid. The recent attack against Sir Nicholas and the Finch-Fletchley boy had made everyone around me even more unsettled.

Even the double-attack couldn't make me feel worse than I already felt. I'd been heartsick ever since the moment when I understood why poor Mrs. Norris had been the creature's first victim.

It was because of me. Mrs. Norris had been attacked because she belonged to a Squib. The Horror, whatever it was, obviously loathed Squibs as much as it did Muggle-borns.

Keeping vigil near the place where my poor cat had been found was more than I could manage tonight. The sight of that vile message had grown unbearable. But I needed to stay busy somehow. Having had several complaints about a lack of water pressure in certain parts of the Castle, I had reason to suspect that we had sprung a leak down here.

Yes, my lantern's light revealed that one of the pipes was cracked. It almost looked as if something had made it expand from the inside. How odd. What could have done that?

At least the pipe could be salvaged, though the patching would take even longer than I'd thought...

The seepage from the cracked pipe had been running off into the dirt below for a while. If I had known about the other secret tunnel (the one which ran beneath this one) I might have been more cautious about where I stood.

When the weakened dirt floor caved in under me, I was taken by surprise. I tumbled downward into darkness, accompanied by a shower of dirt, mud and stones.

*****

Waking with a dreadful headache, I realized that I had been buried alive.

There was a bleak irony in my predicament. In the weeks since I had been without Mrs. Norris I had been feeling as if things were caving in on me. The rage which had sustained me thus far had been slowly ebbing away, leaving only a heavy, numbing sorrow.

Now, I felt enraged again as dirt clogged my mouth and nose. I could neither move nor breathe. First my poor cat had been Petrified and hung up like some grotesque sacrifice for the brats to gawk at, and now this! It wasn't fair, it wasn't FAIR...!

Still raging helplessly, I lost consciousness.

*****

"Did you see them? The badgers?"

It was a voice that I'd never heard before. An incongruously cheerful voice, considering the circumstances.

"B-badgers...?" I choked, spitting out a mouthful of mud.

I wasn't buried any longer. Instead I was lying on my back on what felt like a pile of lumpy, stony earth. Gentle hands were carefully wiping dirt away from my eyes, mouth and nose.

"It's possible that you didn't get to see them," the voice said as though the matter was of some importance. "Your feet were sticking out, not your eyes. Your toes must have wanted to go for help. Though it might have been better for you to stick out your nose instead. Noses can breathe."

Then the voice softened. "Perhaps your nose was afraid. Don't worry, it's all right now. The badgers were here."

I managed to open my eyes.

In the dim radiance created by several small glowing balls of light, I saw a tall boy kneeling beside me, clad in black student robes. He was wearing a Hufflepuff scarf and badge. I didn't recognize him.

This lack of recognition unsettled me. I should have known his face. I know all the brats' faces. How hard had I hit my head?

Whether I knew him or not, he certainly didn't belong down here! I scolded him as best I could (taking several pauses to cough) for being out of bed so late, and in a part of the Castle where students didn't belong. Then I proceeded to threaten him with shackles and chains.

"My name is Uric," the boy said politely, during one of my pauses. I noticed that he'd managed to find my lantern (broken and dented), and my toolbox (undamaged, since old Pringle had put Unbreakable charms on it for me, many years ago).

Then I heard something chirp. I saw a strange creature perched on the boy's shoulder.

"This is Simon," Uric said, smiling happily at the odd beast. Neither the boy nor the winged lizard seemed bothered by my threats.

"Do you think that rocks like to hibernate while they're underground?" the boy asked me, gravely.

"Stop spouting nonsense!" I wanted to snarl at him, but a wheeze was the best that I could manage. I'd just realized that, thanks to the cave-in, the boy and I were stuck at the bottom of a deep hole. The cracked pipe, and the bottom of the steps were too high up for either of us to reach.

"Haven't you heard a single word that I've said?" I choked.

Anxiously the boy felt his ears, as if to make sure that they were still attached to his head.

Even I could tell that he wasn't being insolent. The expression on his face suggested some real doubt as to whether he would find his ears in their proper place.

"Do your body parts often wander off?" I growled at him sarcastically.

"Well, my mind often wanders." His voice was quite earnest.

"You're giving me a headache, boy," I moaned, resting my head in my hands.

"But I don't have a headache to give you," he said in that same earnest tone. "And you seem to have one already. My name's Uric," he repeated. "Uric Beaufolle. And this is Simon. Who are you?"

"Argus Filch. That's Mr. Filch, to you."

"You're the caretaker!" He sounded more glad to see me than the brats usually sound. "Do you see the badgers often, Mr. Filch?"

Now we were back to badgers again.

"Stop going on about badgers. There aren't any badgers here. Only the two of us, and we need to get out of this hole somehow!"

"Three of us," he corrected me, gently. "You've forgotten Simon."

"He's got wings!" I growled. "We haven't. Where did you come from, anyhow? You weren't here when the floor fell in. I suppose that I should be grateful that you came along. It's likely that I'd be dead if you hadn't. Can you get us out the same way that you got in?"

"The badgers saved you, Mr. Filch. Not me. Look."

I felt a wave of power from him, subtle and unsettling. It swirled around me. The floating lights came closer.

"They don't often leave tracks," he said. "They must like you."

I stared at the many small, clawed tracks in the earth all around me. Despite myself, an awed shiver ran down my spine.

"You were drowning, Mr. Filch. In mud and dirt, instead of in water. And they came to help." He grinned, a rather engaging grin. "They're especially fond of anyone who's of the Lady's house." He touched the Hufflepuff badge on his robe in a manner that was both reverent and cheerful.

"But, I'm NOT of the Lady's house!" My voice cracked and broke, even as it rose in a heartbroken cry. "You don't understand. I'm not in any house. I'm nothing. I clean the messes and mop the floors. And there's some c-creature here that thinks I'm not worthy enough even to do that. It attacked her. My poor little cat. If she had belonged to anyone else, she'd be fine right now! It's MY fault. It should have been ME, not her..."

To my shame, I felt tears mingling with the dirt on my face. I hate breaking down like this, though crying in front of one student is a small thing compared to breaking down in front of most of the school.

The boy was still clutching the badge on his pocket. His face grew very sad as he looked at me. Then, frowning, he patted the pocket and pulled out a second Hufflepuff badge. His frown deepened.

"I shouldn't have two. Is this one yours?" he asked.

Wearily, I shook my head, brushing at my tears. "No. I told you. I'm not..."

"Of course you are. The badgers would know." The boy sounded distracted. He was now holding the badges side by side, studying them.

"Something's not right," he told the little bird-lizard.

"Many things aren't right," I muttered.

"I think I know what I have to do," the boy continued. "But, first..."

He took a wand from his pocket, a remarkably bendy one. Murmuring a spell that I didn't quite catch, he pointed the wand at the piled earth around us.

The stones and dirt began to shift and flow, forming themselves into a flight of stairs leading upward, out of the hole.

"I can't take you out the way that I came, Mr. Filch, but the stones don't mind helping you. They said that they weren't hibernating," he said.

His hazel-eyes fixed on me as he helped me stand. That steady gaze was disconcerting. "The badgers are here, even if you can't see them. They know you're worthy." His voice was soft and gentle. "Don't be so sad. Things aren't as bad as they could be."

"Things are still bad enough!" I growled.

The boy smiled at me absently but made no reply. He picked up my toolbox and the broken lantern. Then he offered me his shoulder to lean on.

With his help, I limped up the stone-and-dirt stairs. We passed the cracked pipe and continued upwards, toward the mirror's back. The bird lizard perched itself on the boy's head and chirped softly to itself and us all the way up. The floating lights accompanied us.

When we reached the mirror, the boy pressed his hand against the hidden catch without needing to be told where it was. The mirror opened.

"How did you know how to do that?" I demanded. I should have been angry, but my head ached and bewilderment was the best I could manage.

"The passage and the mirror have been here for a very long time," the boy said gravely as he handed me the lamp and my toolbox.

"That's not an answer!" I started to say. The words died in my throat. One moment the boy was standing there large as life with his distant, thoughtful smile and a winged lizard on his head and the next moment he was gone!

At least the toolbox and the broken lantern remained comfortingly solid when I clutched at them.

"Boy!" I wheezed. "Where did you go?" A heartbeat later, I remembered that he hadn't said where he'd come from in the first place. And a heartbeat after *that* I was wondering who I'd been talking to.

"There couldn't have been a student back here! None of the brats know about this passage..." I murmured to comfort myself. Hastily I stumbled into the corridor and closed the mirror. My dirty, bruised reflection stared back at me when I looked into it. Sighing wearily, I set the toolbox and lantern on the floor by my feet. Then I rubbed my aching head.

That cracked pipe had made an awful mess, and even caused a cave-in. Now, I'd need to carry a ladder down there to patch the pipe!

This was one job that could definitely wait until morning.

That night, I was able to sleep well for the first time in weeks.

I dreamt of invisible badgers.

*****

Next chapter: More random time hoping…and we find out some of what Uric realized…

Thanks to everyone for reading and reviewing: Tidmag, shadowycat, thistlemeg, Ozma, Gred Weasley, Aniwda, Em, Indigo Ziona, Sailor Book/Water Mistress, oO_wth, Yaxkin, Calandra Facete, and Terra.

Tidmag: Well, Uric doesn't have a tea cozy in this story, but he did leave some random things lying around that have puzzled later (and earlier) generations.

Shadowycat: For a look at Slytherin!Aberforth, I suggest you go read Minerva McTabby's Two Worlds and In Between. I was borrowing him from her:)

Ozma: Alluvium's name was also a reference to the Great Flood and how old his teaching style was. I'm glad you noticed:)

Gred Weasley: Aberforth as a Slytherin came from Two Worlds In Between. You can see lots more of him there;)

Aniwda: *sheepish look* Yes, this probably isn't a good place to start reading Uric. Uric the Oddball and the Wild Hunt would give you a much better introduction into all the characters. I didn't really make much of an effort in this story to explain it for people new to Uric. Sorry.

Yaxkin: Uric's shadow occasionally has a mind of its own, or at least according to Uric it does. His shadow ran away for an entire week when he was younger and he was very upset (much to his parent's consternation), but then it came back and brought sweets so everything was all right.

Terra: Well, the simple answer is that the badgers are the Hufflepuff house animal and Uric is fascinated by them. The more complicated one involves the idea that the badgers represent a higher concept for Uric…The Septum spell is a bad Latin/Greek joke on my part with regards to the word 'septic' (usually found conjoined with the word 'tank'). It's basically a sewage management spell, hence the sniggering.

Reviews are always appreciated:)