A/N - - I've always been fascinated by the character of Argus Filch. On the surface, he's presented as a cartoonish curmudgeon, a caricature of school-janitor stereotypes. But I sense hidden depths in him: his concern for his cat, his willingness to stay in a job that it doesn't make sense for him to hold (surely his work could be done much faster, better, and cheaper if the school hired someone with magical ability). So I've been wanting to explore his story, and this fic is the result. And of course, there's a Severus/Minerva pairing (eventually), too, because they make everything better.
Someone else who made this story much, much better is my superb beta-reader, The Real Snape. Thank you!
Warnings/Enticements: Voyeurism, masturbation
Disclaimer: I am not now, nor have I ever been, J. K. Rowling.
~ / ~ / ~
"Right Nor Wrong"
By Kelly Chambliss
~ / ~ / ~
"I can't tell you, Mr Filch, how good it is to find someone here at Hogwarts who has the right way of thinking."
That's what Professor Umbridge - - no, Headmistress Umbridge now - - had said earlier that afternoon, and Argus Filch paused in his endless floor-mopping to let those words slide through his mind once more:
"The right way of thinking."
She'd invited him into her office, the Headmistress had. Not the official Head's office with all the portraits, the room Dumbledore used - - it weren't cozy enough, she'd said. But Argus had heard the talk in the staffroom about how Dumbledore's office wouldn't let her in. Sealed itself against her, it had.
Argus understood why she might want to hide that fact from him, but she didn't have to: it weren't nothing to be ashamed of. Dumbledore were a great man, true, but even great men could be out of touch. The old Headmaster didn't understand, the way the new Headmistress did, just what things was like on an ordinary day in the school; he weren't dealing with them kids one-on-one. Dumbledore were too soft by half, so of course he were going to disapprove of the new Headmistress's ideas on discipline. Only stood to reason.
So Dumbledore's office wouldn't let the new Headmistress in, and Argus understood. Didn't agree, but understood.
Still, at first he hadn't felt quite easy in Professor Umbridge's office, not with all them cats on the wall - - he preferred his cats alive, thank you kindly. But eventually he'd relaxed a bit, after she'd given him tea and chatted about this and that.
Then she told him he had "the right way of thinking."
Well, he didn't know about that - - "the right way." Those sorts of words reminded him too uncomfortably of that long-ago conversation from his seventh summer, the conversation that had changed his life.
His grandmother Filch had come to visit, but she'd barely spoken to Argus and his older sister Jessa. Instead, she's stayed cooped up with their mother, and there had been talk and tears, arguments conducted in tense whispers, long sessions behind closed doors. Somehow Argus had known the talk were about him, and finally one night, he had crept downstairs to crouch outside the lounge door and listen.
"Now, Alma, you know the boy's not right." It were his nan's voice, low, but confident and sharp, the way she always were. "No good will come of denying it."
"But he's such a sweet lad. . ." Argus's mam, tearfully.
"That's never the point, and you know it. Sweet lad or no, the sooner you send him to live with the Muggle side of the family, the better for everyone. Having a Squi. . .a brother like him won't make it easy for Jessa to find a husband, you know. And the boy will be happier with his own kind, you know he will. It's not right to keep him here, where he'll never fit in. Do you want him to be seeing every day how there's summat wrong with him?"
"No, of course not, but I. . ."
"You mustn't be selfish. Think of Jessa. Think of the lad. You're without your man now Josper is dead, and you say you're not wanting to take another. Fair enough. But a boy needs a da or an uncle or summat. Send him to the Muggles, Alma. Do the right thing."
Argus had slunk back to bed then, not wanting to hear his mam agree that he weren't right and that sending him away were.
Of course, not hearing it didn't make it not true. In the end, he'd been taken to live with his Muggle aunt and uncle, and it hadn't been too bad. They had been kind to him in their own way.
No, it hadn't been bad. But Argus still didn't know if it had been right.
And he didn't know about the Headmistress's "right way of thinking," neither. To Argus's mind, there weren't really no "right" about it. Just common sense, that's all. Students - - boys especially, but all of 'em, truth be told - - they was careless and didn't consider nobbut themselves. It were the way of youth. These days, specially. It had been different when Argus were young. Kids then had been better, more respectful, like. But nowadays. . .
Point was, whether the brats was just thoughtless or whether they was genuine nasty pieces of work - - and a damn lot of them was just that - - they needed to be taught their place. Their minds wasn't fully-formed yet, so it were no good reasoning with 'em. You couldn't tell 'em nothing - - they had to feel it. That were the only way.
His uncle had said it, many times: "Not everybody can make sense of word talk. But there inn't nobody don't understand pain talk."
He'd been a hard man that way, Uncle Stan, but he'd had Argus's best interests at heart; that were something Argus had never doubted. Uncle had understood: what touched you, what hurt you. . .well, you didn't forget that in a hurry. You learnt. Stood to reason.
That's how it had been in the old days at Hogwarts, too. Thumbscrews. Whips. Paddles. Argus saw them all, in the dusty dungeon store rooms. The implements. He kept them oiled, polished, at the ready. Some day he were going to need them, and he didn't want to be caught unprepared.
Now, Uncle Stan, he wouldn't of held with any implements, Argus knew: the flat of his hand had been enough, or a belt, maybe, for the worse offenses.
But wizards was different. Harder, meaner. Argus saw that every day. Specially some o' this current lot. Too many entitled brats. Gryffindor, Slytherin, Hufflepuff - - didn't matter, they was all the same. They all thought they was better than most everybody. Whether it were that Malfoy boy lording it over all and sundry, or them slapdash Weasley twins what thought they was Merlin's gift - - all of 'em believed the rules didn't apply to them. They ignored Argus's posted list of restrictions even though the Headmaster himself pointed it out every year, at the Start-of-Term feast. They tormented Mrs Norris every chance they got. Talked bad about the teachers. Lied.
And at night, they was constantly sneaking out of bed to indulge their filthy little habits. Oh, Argus saw them at it, that he did. All the time. All the time.
This lot needed the language of pain, real pain, and the new Headmistress understood that.
"I'll pass a decree, Argus," she'd said. "May I call you Argus?" He'd nodded, although he thought she were rushing things a little bit; Dumbledore hadn't called him "Argus" for several years after he'd started working as Hogwarts' caretaker.
At least she hadn't asked him to call her "Dolores." He'd of drawn the line there, he would. He wanted the proprieties to be observed. He had his place, and she had hers, and he wanted her - -and the rest of the staff - - to respect his limits. Which, he had to admit, most of them did, except for that poofter of a "Call me Gilderoy" Lockhart.
They wasn't his friends, and they didn't want to be, and he didn't want them to act as if they was.
Except perhaps for young Severus. But that were completely different.
Argus thought that maybe the Headmistress wanted to be his friend, and he were of two minds about that. She were going to need supporters, what with the very Castle being against her. Not to mention the rest of the staff. The teachers was all hostile to her - - just the sight of her, and Minerva McGonagall crackled with so much angry magic that Argus kept expecting to see scorch marks on the backs of her chairs. And Severus - - Argus had rarely heard his voice sound as smooth as it did when he talked to Headmistress Umbridge. Dangerous, that voice were, as Argus well knew.
So the Headmistress could use a friend, and Argus weren't necessarily opposed to being it. The school needed her sort of new ideas. On the other hand, he weren't comfortable with how close she seemed to the Minister.
The Minister. Argus curled a mental lip. Little fussbudget of a stuffed-shirt of a man, that Cornelius Fudge. Argus didn't trust him, and no more did Mrs Norris; hissed every time she saw him, Mrs Norris did. Man like that, he'd have no use for Argus's kind - - a Squib, and a working man.
Argus knew when he were being looked down on, and Fudge generally acted like Argus were one o' them heathen servants in the old movies his aunt used to watch on telly, the kind what wore turbans and was always made to salaam their so-called betters. Politicians was all alike - - only out for themselves and to stab the working person in the back.
So Argus didn't like that the new Headmistress seemed to be in the pocket of a man like that. And even worse, she appeared to fancy the bloke. Went all girlish - - well, even more girlish than usual - - when Fudge were around. Simpered and smiled and patted his arm all fluttery-like. Argus wanted to tell her to stop; he thought it unseemly, a grown woman acting like that.
But then again, it weren't none of his business. What he cared about now were the fact that the Headmistress understood about the need for discipline. Finally - - finally - - these damned kids was going to be taught some useful lessons that couldn't be got in no classroom.
He thought again of the Headmistress's words: "I'll pass a decree," she had said. And she'd given Argus permission to bring the disciplinary implements from the dungeon.
Corporal punishment. At last. It were finally going to happen, and it would be legal.
Argus needed it to be legal. Oh, he liked to threaten the brats with a taste of leather, liked to show them the shining manacles hanging in his office, but he wouldn't never of followed through as long as it were against the law.
Respect for the law were one of the lessons Uncle Stan had made sure Argus felt. Posh people always assumed working folk didn't have no regard for law and order, but that were codswallop. It were folk like him what most needed a world they could count on, where you knew what were expected of you and of everyone else.
Dumbledore, now - - say what you liked about him, say he'd gone barmy or gaga or what-you-will, but he were a man always stuck by his word. People said he broke the rules, were a law unto himself. . .well, all Argus could say were that he'd never seen it. Dumbledore set up the rules, told people what were expected of them and what they could expect of Hogwarts, and that's the way it always worked out. Argus hadn't never been done wrong by Dumbledore.
But still. Soft with the students, he were, Dumbledore. Much too soft.
Well. Things was going to change now. Not right, not wrong. Just sense. Just the way of the world.
Stood to reason.
~ / ~ / ~
"Argus? If you could give me a moment?"
"Right you are, Headmistress."
It had got to be a ritual, this taking-of-tea in the Headmistress's office. At least once a week, she'd invite him in and give him a good strong cuppa and a custard cream, and she actually listened to his ideas. And now that he'd got the hang of ignoring them kittens on the wall, he enjoyed these teas very much.
He sat down on the pinkish-coloured settee near the fire and watched as the Headmistress settled herself in a matching armchair.
"You've been at Hogwarts a good many years, haven't you, Argus?" she asked, using her wand to send a cup of tea in his direction. He took it without spilling a drop and snagged the little milk pitcher she'd floated alongside him. But he wished she wouldn't of. Just because people could do magic didn't mean they had to use it for every blessed little thing. Still, he were used to it by now; most of the time they didn't even know they was showing off.
"I been here since old Apollyon Pringle retired," Argus said. Now, there were a man who'd known how to handle students. Them what was punished by Pringle didn't never forget it - - some of them, Argus knew, bore the scars to this day. And they was much the better for it, Argus were bound.
"Were you here when, ah, Professor Snape was a student?" said the Headmistress, tilting her head to the side and smiling and blinking her eyes very fast. For an uncomfortable moment, Argus thought she might be flirting with him, but he decided not to notice. Better that way. He needed his wits about him, if he were going to have to talk about Severus.
"Aye," he said carefully. "I knew him then."
"He appears to be a brilliant man," the Headmistress continued. "His knowledge of potions is extraordinary."
She didn't seem to need a response to this statement, so Argus didn't make any.
"And I'm most impressed by the way he's earned the respect of the students. Unlike some of the incompetent staff here," and the Headmistress gave a sniff, "he puts up with no nonsense. There's no misbehaving and whispering in his classroom, let me tell you. In fact, the students have a good deal of healthy fear of him."
Argus nodded. He were glad she understood that fear could be a healthy thing. But he still didn't know what she were after, talking about Severus like this, so he judged it better to stay mum.
"So of course you remember when Sev - - when Professor Snape joined the staff?" She hadn't changed her expression, but Argus suddenly had the feeling that her gaze were much sharper.
"Aye," he said again. 1981. There weren't much he forgot about Severus.
"And what can you tell me of his years here, Argus? Has he always been the sort of man he is now, silent and broody and mysterious?" She gave a little giggle, and her cheeks matched the pink of her cardigan. "I can assure you that I have good reasons for asking; I wouldn't want you to think me a gossip."
It's Severus she fancies, not Fudge. As soon as this thought entered Argus's brain, he knew it were true.
This sort of thing happened to him, sometimes. Squib he might be, but that didn't mean he were without magic entirely. It were there, deep inside, shifting occasionally like murky sludge. Sometimes he felt it like a shock, like when he'd been a boy and had shuffled his feet across the carpet so he could touch his aunt on the shoulder and startle her with the spark of it.
And sometimes, like now, the magic showed up as a spurt of Legilimency, so that he knew with certainty what others was thinking.
What he knew at this moment were that the Headmistress wanted to have sex with Severus Snape. Argus could feel the desire pulsing from her in hot waves as her eyes glittered at him and the tip of her pink tongue made darting motions over her lips.
"I'm trying to understand him," the Headmistress said. "I think he might be like us, Argus; I think Professor Snape might have the right way of thinking, too. I need to get to know him." She gazed at Argus expectantly, and he knew he'd have to answer her.
"Snape's a deep one," he said finally. "Quiet. Don't no one know him very well, I don't think."
"But he must have someone he spends time with. Talks to, at least occasionally. Has a drink in the Broomsticks with."
Argus shook his head. "I wouldn't know, Headmistress. I don't frequent that establishment."
"Well, but. . .he's a man, Argus. He must have. . ." She lowered her eyes and spoke in a breathy whisper that had Argus straining to hear, "he must have. . .needs. I do hope you understand me, for I'm just not able to be more direct. I don't like to be. . .indelicate. But I need to know who his confidantes are."
Argus tipped back the last of his tea to gain a bit more time to think of something to say, but nothing came to him. He settled for repeating himself.
"I wouldn't know, Headmistress."
"Well, then, I'm going to ask you to find out." Her voice were stronger now, but still sweet. Argus felt like squirming, both for reasons that he didn't understand and some that he did.
"You're a resourceful man," she went on. "You'd have to be, to keep this big old castle running by yourself. You shouldn't have any trouble finding out who Professor Snape's friends are, or whether he has any. . ." Again she dropped her voice to a whisper: ". . .romantic attachments. And, of course, I know I can count on you to be discreet."
Then to Argus's astonishment, she suddenly reached over to take his hand and pat it; he tried not to wince as the edge of one of her sparkling rings hit his arthritic swollen knuckle. "Am I right in thinking I can rely on you, Argus?"
There were something hypnotic about her intense gaze and her soft little voice, and Argus found himself nodding.
"Good!" The Headmistress sat back, flicking her tongue one last time and fixing her pop eyes on him; though it felt disloyal to think it, Argus could understand why the brats called her "The Toad."
~ / ~ / ~
Argus walked back towards his office, moving slowly, his bad knee stiff from the motionless hour he'd spent on the Headmistress's settee. So she wanted him to find out about Severus's "romantic attachments," did she? This were. . . .this were. . .
This were something he had no words for, not at the moment. There was too many sensations rumbling around in his head and gut for him to sort them all out just now. He needed a good quiet think.
Two second-year Hufflepuffs went clattering past him, robes flying as they ran, shrill voices rasping his nerves.
"No running in the corridors!" Argus shouted after them, but of course they paid him no mind. Little bleeders.
The trip to his office had never seemed so long, and Argus covered the last bit in as close to a run as he could manage, so eager was he to close himself into one of the only two spaces in the entire castle that belonged to him and him alone.
The other space. . .well, maybe he'd visit it later.
The first sight that met his eyes after he shut his door were the gleaming pair of manacles hanging above his filing cabinets. They'd been given to him by his predecessor, Apollyon Pringle, on the day Pringle retired. Argus had spent a term with him, learning the ropes, and he'd admired the manacles on more than one occasion. The old man hadn't been allowed to use them for years, but he'd never got rid of them, and his last act before leaving had been to press them into Argus's hands.
"A talisman, my boy," he'd said, and after he'd gone, Argus went to the library to look up the word. Working with Pringle had been as much of an education as went on in any of the classrooms. Well-read, he'd been. No one expected it, of course, not from a caretaker. But Apollyon had learnt Argus any number of things that had nothing to do with being a janitor. Words like "predecessor." Things from books. Things like the fact that a "talisman" were an "object of magical protection."
And Argus had thought of the manacles as just that ever since: his protection, his connection to magic, his emblem of power and control. Just looking at them calmed him, made him feel strong.
Turning from them finally, he were greeted with a second pleasing sight: Mrs Norris, curled into Argus's favourite armchair near the hearth. She stretched a paw towards him and mewled a welcome, and suddenly Argus felt safe and at home.
Technically he were supposed to clean the Great Hall and the entry after dinner, a task that often took the better part of his evening: just thinking the amount of food and drink that routinely got spilled, thrown, and stepped-on during the meal made him feel tired.
But tonight, Argus decided, the Great Hall could get stuffed. Tonight, he were taking the evening off. He had better things to do than clean up after spoiled brats. And if the Headmistress were unhappy, well, he'd just tell her that he'd wanted to get a head start on looking at Professor Snape's love life.
As an excuse, it were perfect. It weren't even a lie.
He knew all about who Severus bedded. And he liked to look.
First, though, he needed a drink and a think.
Another five minutes found Argus in his armchair, a glass of firewhisky in his hand, Mrs Norris in his lap, and any number of pleasant and unpleasant thoughts in his head.
Part of him were rather chuffed that the new Headmistress understood that he, Argus Filch, were the best person to winkle out the truth about Severus's love life. Argus knew the Castle and its secrets better than anyone except probably Dumbledore himself, but few was sharp enough to recognise this fact. He were under no illusions about how most people saw him: a useless old Squib fit for nobbut scrubbing toilets and having the life tormented out of him.
So there were pleasure to be had in being relied upon. And he thought it might feel good to tell Headmistress Umbridge what he knew, to have someone to share his thoughts and interests with.
He could just imagine what Severus would do if he thought Argus were telling personal details about him to anyone, let alone to the new Headmistress what all the teachers hated. And Argus were mixed up in his mind about whether he really did want to share the things he knew. Least said, soonest mended, Uncle Stan had always said. There was things in his life Argus didn't want to change, and talk might end up doing just that.
Plus, even if Argus told the Headmistress everything he knew about Severus's sex life, it wouldn't do her no good. She had about as much chance of getting Severus into her drawers as Mrs Norris had of becoming Minister of Magic.
He certainly didn't think any the less of her for being interested in Severus. Not at all. Severus were a man what made people feel things - - strong things, dark things, needy things. The Headmistress weren't the first person to want him. To want to understand him or save him or join in his righteous darkness. To want to share the power of him. To have him want them.
The way Argus had once thought he might want the lad.
~ / ~ / ~
Severus had still been nobbut a boy when he came back to Hogwarts as a professor. So lean that his Muggle trousers could barely stay on his hips, if hips they could even be called. Bone handles, more like.
That were probably one reason he'd took to wearing long, sweeping black robes and cloaks. That and the fact that he needed some way to make the students mind him.
He'd always been a sullen, moody boy, and as a teacher, he were even more so. Curled his lip, and flapped around in them trailing robes, and let his long hair hang in strings. He looked frightening, Argus had to admit; he himself sometimes forgot that the new teacher were just that scrawny lad Severus. In no time, he'd become Professor Snape, Potions Master, and woe betide anyone what didn't give him his due.
Once Argus had thought about it, he realised that this teacher-version of the lad shouldn't of surprised him. Even as a schoolboy, Severus had inspired strong feelings in people. Them Gryffindor troublemakers, for instance, Potter and Black. They felt it, that power Severus had. Oh, they hadn't known what to do with it, of course; they'd just bullied him or made a joke of him, because that were the way they dealt with anything they didn't understand. Like Squib caretakers what wouldn't bow and scrape to 'em.
Though, when he were being honest in the privacy of his own head, Argus had to admit that he hadn't really recognised the nature of Severus's effect on himself, neither. Not when the boy were a still a student, any road.
No, it weren't until Severus's first year teaching that Argus put a name to what he felt and acknowledged the stirrings in his groin for what they was.
He'd gone to the Potions classroom one evening on his usual cleaning rounds. Severus often worked late, but not in the classroom; he had a private potions lab in an alcove behind the supply cupboard, and he did his personal work there. Research and brewing potions for the hospital wing and the like.
It would of been as much as Argus's job were worth to go in there. He had strict instructions to "confine his janitorial activities" to the actual teaching space, and he were happy to oblige. He didn't need the aggro of more rooms to clean.
Most of the time, Argus did his work in the solitude he preferred, with only Mr Pumblechook, Mrs Norris's predecessor, to keep him company. Only rarely did Severus ever enter the classroom while Argus were in there, and when he did, he merely passed through with a curt nod.
Until that night. That night, when Argus and Mr Pumblechook arrived, Severus were there working, moving swiftly among several bubbling cauldrons set up across the front of the room. He looked up as Argus paused in the doorway.
"Ah, Mr Filch," he said. Surly as Severus could be, boy and man, he'd never been one of them to torment Argus. Mostly, he were polite enough. "You needn't bother to clean the classroom tonight; I'll do it magically later. As you see, I have a great deal of work proceeding at the moment."
"Aye," Argus had replied. But instead of turning to leave, as he were sure he had intended to, he stayed put and watched as Severus leant over the cauldrons again.
The lad bent smoothly, effortlessly, with the sort of suppleness that you only knew you'd had once you was too old and stiff to have it any longer. And all at once, Argus had been seized by a vision of Severus naked, bending not over a cauldron, but in front of Argus, on hands and knees, offering himself.
Clear as if it was really happening, Argus could see the long line of Severus's back as it curved into his arse, could see the muscles tighten under the taut skin of his lean flanks as he lowered himself, could see his balls, rosy-coloured under coarse black hair, peeking between his invitingly-spread legs.
So real was this image that Argus had to look back at the front of the room to see if Severus were still there; he jerked his head so hard his neck hurt next day. And of course the lad were still there, working on without noticing Argus, his expression utterly absorbed, his long fingers moving delicately above the steaming surfaces of his cauldrons.
Barely daring to breathe, Argus watched him a moment longer before turning to hurry away, Mr Pumblechook at his heels.