Title: The Caretaker's Lament
Author: cathedral carver
Disclaimer: These characters do not belong to me.
A/N: This one's for Lauren, because she asked, and really, how on earth could I refuse? Here you go, lovey, a "Filenze" of your very own. Enjoy mightily, for I will never write another.
Summary: The snow was just right tonight.
He'd been uneasy for weeks.
Never comfortable in his own skin, and rarely relaxed, even when huddled in the depths of his small, gloomy office, he couldn't recall ever feeling this jumpy before. Screaming at the students — sometimes unnecessarily! — arguing with Peeves, confiscating every remotely questionable item he could get his hands on — banned or otherwise —; even snapping at poor Mrs. Norris one night for simply sharpening her claws on his favourite chair. Afterward, awash in teary guilt, he caught a mouse for her and put down a big bowl of milk, warmed over the fire.
He was tense, jumpy, irritable. Not that anyone would notice. Or, care.
Finally, after weeks of distress and bizarre dreams, it came to him in a rush: It was the damned horse. A horse, trotting merrily down his hallways! What was Dumbledore thinking? It was the sharp clack of the hooves, the scrape and slap on tiles that disconcerted him, set his nerves jangling. He wasn't used to the noise and he didn't like it. He knew every single sound the school made, had every creak and groan, cackle and gurgle and giggle memorized, but this sound, this was new and different and it frightened and upset him beyond all reason.
Not that anyone would notice. Or, care.
He was ten when it finally became painfully apparent to his family that no magical abilities were forthcoming. After spending two months awaiting a letter from Hogwarts that never came, would never come, his mother, fighting tears, finally sat the skinny, homely, bow-backed boy down for A Serious Talk.
"We have to face facts, Argus," she'd said, her voice low and unsteady. "It's just not going to happen for you." She was tapping her wand absently against her thigh as she spoke, and it shot little red sparks out from time to time. Oh, how Argus envied that wand! He couldn't take his eyes off it and his fingers twitched compulsively in his lap. "I don't know…" She shook her head miserably. "Maybe it's my fault. I shouldn't have eaten all those treacle tarts when I was pregnant."
He'd heard her weeping behind closed doors for days and when she emerged her expression was broken and resentful. His father simply refused to look at or speak to him at all.
Their disappointment was palpable, heavy and dark, and Argus caught them whispering together several times, intense and angry, stopping suddenly when he appeared in the doorway and then walking away, in separate directions.
They didn't speak to him directly, ever again.
It was as if their son, Argus Filch, had simply ceased to exist.
He wandered into the backyard, confused and alone, found a stick and wrote in the dirt, wrote the word that sat lodged in everyone's throat like a bitter pill, the word no one had yet dared speak, except in whispers:
Soon after he was sent to live with his grandparents, who did their best to teach him rudimentary farming skills; the boy needed to learn some livelihood, after all, and his schoolwork had never been outstanding. Argus developed an intense passion for animals of all kinds, but the smell of manure made him nauseous and the manual labour strained his weak back to the point that his grandmother was forced to put him to bed for weeks at a time to recuperate.
School itself was boring, ordinary and as far removed from "magical" as could be imagined. He got through it, though, got through childhood, got through life, plodding, angry, growing more bitter and more sway-backed with each passing year. He never laid eyes on his parents again.
They didn't completely disown him, though. His chance at redemption, bittersweet though it was, arrived in the form of a letter of a different sort, from his mother, with news of a position open at Hogwarts: Caretaker. Apollyon Pringle was retiring and through some complicated string-pulling and calling in of numerous favours, his parents had got him the job.
"Don't let us down this time," was his mother's final stinging line, cold and abrupt. Recrimination, thought Argus as he ran a finger over the small, spiky writing as he tried to recall the sound of her voice, the scent of her skin. Recrimination and always, always, disappointment.
So he squared his shoulders as much as possible and became the best — or worst, depending on who you asked — Caretaker the school had ever employed, determined to show them, show everyone, that even non-magical beings could make a name for themselves. He studied the school, fell in love with its intricate layout, the secret tunnels and passageways; came to know it better than anyone, save those infernal red-haired brats, and no one got away with a thing while he patrolled the hallways. He tried to be proud, he tried to be content, but each September brought a new wave of exuberant and talented students who only amplified awareness of his magical failings. He'd stare longingly at their wands, their cloaks, listen to their carefree, careless laughter as they transfigured birds into water goblets, conjured flames out of nowhere, and zoomed past the highest windows on their brooms — brooms! —, wind whipping their hair into tangles. His heart in his throat and tears creeping into his eyes, he clutched Mrs. Norris to his concave chest and wished with all his might for just a fraction, an iota, of the magic they possessed, the magic he should have possessed.
And year after year the students came and learned and moved on, and he grew older and angrier and never bloody went anywhere.
He knew they existed, of course, had read about them and heard the tales, but it was the first time he'd see one up close and he almost passed out from the shock and wonder.
The beast was magnificent, white and gleaming bright, even in the dingy corridors, and the way he carried himself! The pride! The dignity! He'd probably never disappointed his parents or his friends. How could he disappoint anyone?
Filch was in awe, and frightened, and hated him, and coveted him, all at once.
The damned horse.
Before he realized it he was following the beast around, darting down hallways, diving into doorways and hiding behind statues in order to not be seen; the students took no notice, used as they were to him skulking about in shadowy corners, scowling and shaking his fists.
It was all going just fine until he was caught. Late one night, when the students were supposed to be in their rooms, and Umbridge had sniped at him once again for not being more vigilant, and Argus heard that infernal clip-clop-clip-clop that was haunting his nights and he fairly skipped to see where it was coming from. Quietly, of course. He followed the creature down two long hallways before he realized it was heading outside.
The moon was full and the grounds were bathed in deep blue and white shadows. Filch hovered close to the building, peering at the creature as it stood still, staring up at the black, black sky, which, when Filch dared look up, was awash in stars, brilliant, gleaming.
When he looked down again he almost screamed in surprise. The beast was standing not two feet away, half in shadows, staring right at him. Filch couldn't see his eyes. There was a long, silent moment.
"What are you looking at?" the beast finally asked, not entirely unkindly, and Argus stiffened, his hands curling convulsively into tight fists at his sides.
"Nothin'," he said at last.
"You've been watching me for weeks."
"Have not," Filch said loudly, horribly embarrassed. Of course the creature had noticed, of course. He was a Centaur, after all. Pure Magic, after all. Walking Magic. Magic on Four Legs. Palpable, beautiful, wonderful, gorgeous Magic. Filch practically quivered with desire, standing this close to it.
"What do you want?" the creature asked, continuing to stare. He seemed unnerved.
Emboldened, Filch stared back without blinking. What did he want?
He wanted to touch it. He wanted to stroke it. He wanted to ride it.
He wanted to be it.
The all-too brief encounter remained with him, images lingering through long, lonely nights. In his dreams he could touch it, stroke it and the beast whinnied with pleasure, shivering under his gentle touch.
He realized he needed to recreate the experience because every time he closed his eyes he could see it, prancing and shimmering before him, taunting him, enticing him to come closer, touch it, feel it.
It. Firenze, he thought. Firenze. Firenze. Even its name was beautiful, so unlike the clumsy, ugly Filch.
For the first time in his life Filch tried his hand at creativity, drawing sketches, outlines, over and over and over, working to get every angle just right. But try as he might he couldn't capture the essence of the beast, couldn't capture the Magic.
He tried pens and pencils, ink, and then paints, brushes and fingers. The floor of his office was awash in half-finished drawings of the thing.
Nothing satisfied him.
He needed, he realized, another medium. He needed to use his hands. He needed to feel it, the form of the beast, take shape beneath his fingers. One night he awoke, heart pounding, visions of the glowing, silvery Firenze dancing before him.
And he knew.
The snow was just right tonight.
He'd been waiting for weeks, testing it from time to time and he knew if he didn't act tonight, it would be too late. Already it was March; spring was edging closer, the days stretching longer and the air growing warmer.
It had to be tonight.
He slipped outside late, worked steadily for hours, closing his eyes from time to time and pausing, picturing what he could in his head, every line, every curve, the proud head, the long, supple limbs, sleek, muscular body, flowing tail.
He worked until his hands were icy numb, his arms aching with the effort of lifting and sculpting, smoothing and shaping.
Finally, sometime after three in the morning, he stopped, panting slightly. He stepped back. He smiled.
An exact replica. Firenze the snow sculpture stood in full, white gleaming glory on the Hogwarts' lawn, face turned skyward, gazing up at the stars, legs poised as if to run into the woods if startled. Filch could barely draw a breath; his heart pounded loudly in his ears.
It was the most beautiful thing he'd ever seen, and he had created it with his own hands. He wished, all of a sudden, that his parents could see it, could see what he'd made.
It was so quiet he should have heard, but the beast had a way of moving without making a sound. Hooves on snow were inordinately quiet. Filch turned and saw him there, standing several feet away, watching.
"Was I meant to see this?" Firenze said quietly. Argus shrugged, turning back resolutely to the snow figure, which suddenly paled sadly in comparison to the real, living, breathing thing.
"Dunno. Maybe. Maybe not."
"It's…absolutely magnificent." There was a long pause during which Argus was sure Firenze had turned and left, gone back to the castle and left him alone in the vast space of white and blue shadows. When he dared to finally turn his head a fraction of an inch, the beast had, if possible, moved even closer, silent as Mrs. Norris stalking a mouse. "I am honoured, sir."
Argus had never blushed in his life. He was sure of that, because he'd never before felt this curious sensation of heat, beginning somewhere in his chest and moving steadily, steadfastly, up over his neck to the hollows that used to be his cheeks. He pursed his thin lips, still refusing to look at the beast.
"'Giant of a hundred eyes.' You use them well."
Argus peered at him then, appraising him, searching for mockery, but finding none. He raised his chin.
"'Firenze' is the Italian name for the city of Florence. Galileo Galilei, the great astronomer, lived there."
Firenze betrayed his surprise with the tiniest of smiles. "Very good."
Filch scowled. "Just because I'm a—" the word almost choked him— "Squib doesn't mean I'm uneducated."
"I agree. And I apologize on behalf of anyone who ever made you feel that way."
"I read. A lot. I read all the time." The words just came pouring out of him, from some dark, locked box someplace inside him. "I tried to do magic, tried for years. I…it didn't work. But I study and work and I…I know things. I know all the spells and the potions. I know all sorts of potions…I just…I can't do them." When he finished his voice was barely a whisper, but it carried across the white expanse between them and Filch saw ultimate understanding in the beast's eyes. "My parents…I can't ever go home. They've…disowned me."
"As has my own family," said Firenze, just as quietly. He didn't elaborate, but looked up, up. "The stars are very bright tonight. Spica, the brightest star of Virgo, is a little to the lower left of the Moon as they rise in late evening, and even closer to the Moon at first light tomorrow."
He kept staring at the sky. Filch kept staring at him. He reached out and laid his hand gently on the snow Firenze.
"The warmer nights of spring bring a panoply of new stars and constellations," continued the real Firenze. "Leo is in good view by nightfall, climbing straight up from the eastern horizon, led by his bright 'heart,' the star Regulus. Virgo follows the lion a couple of hours later. Boötes, the herdsman, is to the maiden's left, marked by yellow-orange Arcturus, one of the brightest stars in the night sky. The planet Venus begins its climb into the evening sky, where it will remain until about Halloween."
Filch stroked the snow Firenze, his heart pounding wildly in his bony chest. He didn't know what to say. How could he match that? What could he add? Confiscated three Fanged Frisbees and gave two first-years detention. It was a damn good day. Instead he simply stroked the snow, over and over, his hand cold and numb. The real Centaur finally looked away from the sky and looked at Filch instead.
"What I'm trying to say is thank you," Firenze said. He bowed down low, lower, and stood that way, completely still until Filch realized, with a shiver, what he was offering.
"Really?" he whispered, and Firenze simply remained still, not moving, not uttering a sound, not taking a breath. Filch walked on unsteady legs towards him, unable to believe he would really be able to touch him.
He was even more magnificent than he ever imagined.
He had never experienced this before, standing so close to Magic. Magic on Four Legs. Walking Magic. He'd never felt so excited, not the day he'd walked into Hogwarts for the first time, not when Mrs. Norris had become gloriously un-Petrified, not even that time he'd spied the Granger girl throw her arms around Snape and hug him when she thought no one was looking. Filch had stowed that particular moment away in his jam-packed Bribery Jar.
No, this was something entirely different. This was something his and his alone.
He reached up, ran his hands across the beast's back and was instantly filled with a heat of a different kind, starting much lower and moving much faster and more powerfully. He should have been mortified when his first orgasm in more years than he cared to recall overtook him, quickly and almost silently, but he found he didn't care at all. He shuddered against the satiny skin, burrowed his head into the long, sleek neck. If Firenze noticed, he didn't say a thing. He just kept waiting.
When Filch had regained his senses, he gripped the smoothly muscled skin beneath his frozen fingers, swung up one arthritic leg and eased himself up and over. Firenze waited until he was seated, legs tight against his sides before he rose up, up, and Filch was high above the ground.
"Ready?" Firenze asked quietly and Filch nodded, barely able to breathe, and certainly not able to speak a single word.
Then Firenze was moving, running, picking up speed, faster and faster. They were moving together across the Hogwarts' grounds, hooves kicking up snow, landscape whipping past, trees and sky and moon and stars, moving faster than Filch had ever gone, had ever even imagined, and he sat up, let the wind whip his thin, graying hair into tangles, let the icy wind whip his skin and he knew this, finally, this is what it felt like to fly.