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Unrequited

By Richard Kirk

Fantasy / Romance

Unrequited

‘Bloody kids!’

Argus Filch, caretaker of Hogwarts School for Witchcraft and Wizardry, shuffled irritably along one of the castle’s many corridors.  Trailing languidly behind him was his cat, Mrs Norris.  Filch’s eyes narrowed menacingly at the sight of every Hogwarts student whom he passed.  For as long as Argus Filch had been caretaker at the school he had waged a one-man war against its student populace.  He knew, grudgingly, that a school needed students in order to function, but that didn’t mean he had to like it.

And he didn’t like it.

He didn’t like them.

Not one bit.

Filch had yet to meet a Hogwarts student whom he actually liked.  Draco Malfoy had come close.  The former Slytherin prefect did possess some qualities that Filch admired: deviousness, single-mindedness, and a definite contempt for the other students at Hogwarts.  Especially that Harry Potter.

Harry Potter.

Filch shuddered at the very thought of the name.  Once again grudgingly, Filch knew that the wizarding world owed an eternal debt to Harry Potter and those who fought alongside him in their overthrowing of Lord Voldemort, but again this didn’t mean that Filch had to like the boy.

Man.

Filch corrected himself mentally.  Harry Potter was now a man.  However, in Filch’s opinion: once a Hogwarts student always a Hogwarts student.  This meant that his dislike for the Hogwarts student body didn’t end when they left school.  He just kept on disliking students year in and year out.  They would come, learn their trade, and move on out into the wizarding world, and Filch would remain at Hogwarts, getting older and more venomous with every new term.

Bloody kids.

Filch rounded the corner to where his office was, barked a warning at a couple of passing second years, and approached the door.  He fumbled inside his dusty coat and produced a large iron ring of jangling keys.  He never used to lock his office during the day.  The threat of what he could and would do to any student foolhardy enough to trespass inside the caretaker’s office was, for a time, more than enough of a deterrent to keep his private quarters safe from intrusion.

Until the Weasley twins.

Filch shuddered again; the memory of a thousand pranks at his expense perpetrated by those two redheaded hooligans flashed in his mind.

One.

One hooligan now.  Filch knew that one of the Weasley twins had died in the battle for Hogwarts.  He shook himself free of this thought.  He didn’t like to think of those who died inside the school.

His school.

Filch wasn’t glad they were dead, but them being gone didn’t make him like them or their memory any more.  They were all the same, he thought bitterly as he gruffly jammed the right key into the door’s lock and turned it with a grunt.  They all saw him the same way.

Stupid old Filch.

Stupid smelly old Filch.

Stupid smelly old Filch the Squib.

Squib.

Filch angrily jerked the door to his office open and slammed it shut once Mrs Norris had slunk inside.  He shuffled over to a wooden board mounted on the wall where all of the castle’s keys hung from rows and rows of iron hooks.  He placed the ring of keys he had been holding on to its hook, turned to face his shabby little office and slumped down heavily into his chair.  A small cloud of ancient-looking dust erupted into the air as he sat down.

They were all the same, he thought nastily.

None of them knew.

None of them understood.

Filch sat in silence for a few moments, the only sounds the slightly wheezy purring of Mrs Norris as she wound her thin body lovingly around Filch’s leg, and the occasional spack of molten candle wax falling and cooling in the iron bobeches.  Filch’s face was etched in hard lines of annoyance and frustration; the day’s dealings with the school’s troublemakers and rule-breakers oozing unpleasantly out of his unwelcoming expression.  Then, his features began to soften; a faraway glaze slid across his eyes.  Lost in thought, his eyes turned glassier still and with a heavy blink Filch spilled tears down his pouched and stubbly cheeks.

None of them understood.

Wiping away the tears with the back of his hand, as if fearful that someone might see, Filch reached into the recesses of his musty coat once again and pulled out a dirty patterned handkerchief.  He blew his nose noisily and stuffed the foul rag back inside his coat.  With a guttering sigh he opened his bottom desk drawer and took out a bottle of firewhiskey and a single, chipped tumbler.

‘Here’s to another night without you, my love,’ he said morosely, as he poured himself a generous measure.  Mrs Norris looked up briefly from the stack of books that she had perched herself atop, momentarily curious at her owner’s voice, before settling down to sleep.  Filch would never let on that one of the chief reasons he was in such a bad mood all the time was because he was often fighting off a hangover, but the firewhiskey helped.

A little.

However, nothing truly worked.

With a slightly trembling hand, Filch brought the battered glass to his lips and downed the contents in one.  The welcoming numbing warmth flowed down his throat and he closed his eyes again, hoping that this time he would be able to forget, truly forget.

Her.

The problem was that there was still a large part of Argus Filch that didn’t want to forget.  A part of him that knew he would not, could not, and above all should not forget.  As painful as it was, he felt he owed it to her memory to never forget.

Although, had she forgotten him?

Filch scowled at this thought, poured himself another firewhiskey and downed that one, just as the first.  He screwed his face up as the fire fought its way inside him, his fingers tightening on the tumbler for a second.  Reaching out with his other hand, Filch picked up a framed photograph that, unlike everything else in his tumbledown office, was spotless and gleaming.  Not a single speck of dust could be seen on the photograph or the frame.  Even so, Filch opened another drawer in his desk and brought out a yellow duster.  He fastidiously polished the glass surface over the photograph and the frame surrounding it, all the while never taking his bleary eyes off the woman posing for that picture all those years ago.

Filch put the photograph down and gazed at it for several long, silent moments.  The woman in the photograph was young, pretty and smiling out at the world.  Being a photograph taken in the wizarding world, she occasionally waved or preened her hair.  Her clothes and hairstyle were both decades out of style, so this was an old photograph.

Old and beautiful.

Beautiful and haunting.

Filch let out another long, deep sigh as he continued to stare longingly at the pretty young woman who was looking up at him.

She had looked at him like that for real once.

Years ago.

Many a Hogwarts student would laugh at the thought of Argus Filch ever being a young man, and they would positively wet themselves at the further thought of him ever being in love.  But that was what he was, once.  Young and in love.

With her.

Always with her.

Forever.

Her name was Angela.  For a time she was Filch’s next door neighbour.  Filch didn’t keep up with his neighbours; he was too ashamed.  The stigma in those days, today too, Filch thought angrily, of being a Squib, a wizard who couldn’t do magic, was too painful to bear.  So he kept himself to himself.  That had suited him, and the other residents of the small village of Mumbly on the Wold, down to the ground.  At first, Filch kept to himself because he was practising magic in secret, determined to master the art that had eluded him all his life.  He wanted to fit in, so desperately did he want to be like all the other witches and wizards that he sent off for every mail order course on learning basic magic that he could find.  None of them worked though.  Nothing worked.  So, over time, Filch gave up, and he stopped keeping to himself because he was learning magic and started keeping to himself because he just didn’t want to have anything to do with other people.

They can’t laugh at you if they never see you, he used to think.

Then Angela had moved in next door.

Filch had never felt anything like it before and had not since.  The moment he accidentally laid eyes on her when he stormed to the window to see what all the racket was when she was moving in he was smitten.  He fell completely in love with her, despite his by now ingrained dislike and mistrust of other people in general.  He knew nothing about her and yet wanted to find out everything he could about her.  The problem was, though, that she was a beautiful young witch, and he was just grumpy Argus Filch, the stupid Squib.  However, Filch would have gladly stayed a Squib for the rest of his life if it meant being able to get close to Angela.  She enchanted him.  She intoxicated him.  Yet they had never even spoken two words to each other.

This is how it continued for several years.

Filch’s life had new direction now.  Before, he had devoted his time to trying to learn magic so that he could finally fit in with wizarding society.  However, with that dream long dead his life was now consumed with Angela.  Filch felt as if he was walking on air each time he thought of her, and he went completely giddy whenever he was able to catch a glimpse of her; sometimes when she was in the garden, other times through a window as she was moving through her house.  He wanted so much to be able to talk to her, but what would he say?  He longed to think of a credible excuse that could send him round to her house so they could meet in person, but each time that thought danced in his mind an additional thought came sidling nastily up after it.

Why would she want to talk to you?

Filch hated that thought but he could never seem to shut it out of his mind.  If only he weren’t a Squib, he’d bemoan to himself, he could ask her to borrow a spell book, or some cauldron polish, anything.  But Filch was a Squib, and he hated himself for it.  He hated it even more now that it became another reason why he felt he could never talk to his beloved Angela.

His Angela.

He wanted her to be his so badly that he could think of nothing else.  Sometimes, he would sit and daydream of the life that they could have together, if only the fates would allow it.  They would fall desperately in love with each other; get married; buy a house together; have children, all of the things that had never interested Argus Filch before he set eyes on his neighbour.  Always though, the daydreams would end and he would be left with the cold light of reality shining incontrovertibly on the fact that she was not his, and that she may never be his.

Filch had wondered, though.

What if?

Just what if?

Filch continually ricocheted mentally between the hope of maybe one day being with Angela and the despair of that being perhaps just a fool’s dream.  He would practically convince himself one way or the other and then something would happen to send him into the same spinning madness of uncertainty.

That’s how it had been that one spring morning.

Filch was standing at an open upstairs window, shaking a rug out into the clean spring air, his face turned away from the dust.  As he let the rug fall to rest he heard the click of a window latch.  He turned his head to see.

Angela.

She was there.  She was right there; across from him by maybe a distance of ten feet.  She had opened one of her upstairs windows to let some air into her house, and as luck would have it this brought her eye to eye with Filch.

‘Oh, hello,’ she said in a bright and friendly voice.  ‘Lovely day.’

‘Um, yes,’ said Filch, in a somewhat strangled voice.  He looked into her perfect blue eyes and felt as if he could die in that moment and be happy.  She was smiling at him; she was actually smiling at him.  Filch felt weak at the knees.  He suddenly felt sure that he was staring, that he was invading her privacy.  He whipped his rug back inside his house, mumbled a partially coherent goodbye and closed the window.  As he turned, out of the corner of his eye, he could have sworn that he saw her wave at him.  At him!  Filch fell to his knees and clutched at his heart.  His head swam and his throat grew dry and tight.  Angela: dear Angela; sweet Angela; his Angela had talked to him and smiled at him.  It was all too much; Filch sunk on to his hands and lowered himself on to the bedroom carpet.  He rolled over on to his back, and as he did so tears filled his wide, staring eyes.  A huge smile streaked across his face and soon he was laughing.  He wriggled on the floor like a man possessed; both laughing and crying at the first real contact he had had with the wonderful Angela.  His chest rose and fell like it contained a great set of bellows; he had never felt so good in all his life.  For the rest of that day, Filch was in an unstoppably good mood.  He danced about his house as if drunk, and the next day when he received his copy of The Daily Prophet, his mood was lifted even higher.

Flicking idly through its pages, humming pleasantly to himself, Filch nearly choked on his porridge when he was saw a wondrous face smiling up at him from the Prophet.

Angela!

There was a photograph of Angela in that day’s Daily Prophet.  She had been noted for some recent charity work and to accompany the article was a three quarter portrait shot of her, smiling sweetly out at the wizarding world.

No, at him, thought Filch.

That smile was for him, he was sure of it.

Filch stared in gleeful wonder at the photograph for a long moment, before putting the newspaper on the table and clapping his hands together in delight.  He rose quickly from his chair, crossed his kitchen eagerly and began rummaging in a nearby drawer.  He pulled out a pair of scissors and practically threw himself back into his chair.  He seized up the newspaper, grinning madly.  He took a steadying breath and began to carefully cut out the photograph of Angela from the newspaper.

Carefully, my love.

You deserve the finest of care.

When Filch had finished, he held the photograph out in front of him and gazed dreamily at it.  He couldn’t believe his luck; now he had a picture of his Angela to keep forever.  An idea struck Filch and he rose quickly from his chair again.  He strode purposefully out of the kitchen and into the hall.  He pulled open the door to the cupboard and began to search inside.

He knew it was in there somewhere.

Finally, he had a fitting use for it.

After a moment or two of near frantic searching, Filch found what he was looking for.  He came out of the hall cupboard with an ornate silver picture frame clutched tightly in one hand; the photograph of Angela in the other.  He returned hastily to the kitchen and sat down again.  He placed the photograph delicately on the table and turned his attention to the frame.  It had been a gift from an aunt some years back, but Filch had never been one for pictures.

Until now.

He carefully removed the backing of the frame and with his tongue between his teeth he placed Angela’s photograph inside the frame, making sure that it was properly aligned.  As soon as it he had clipped the back of the frame into place he turned it over and looked at his new prize possession.  He made a mental promise to himself in that moment that this photograph would be with him always, wherever his life took him.  He stood the frame on the table and marvelled at it for a second or two.  Again a thought struck him and Filch darted to the cupboard under the sink.  He pulled out a bottle of polish and a duster and set to cleaning Angela’s picture with the utmost loving pride and care.

Whatever happens, I’ll always have this, he thought to himself as he happily buffed the frame with the duster.  Even if Angela’s charity work takes her away I can…

That was it!

Filch’s eyes lit up as his brain was set on fire with the possibility of being able to talk to Angela properly for the first time.  This photograph had come out of The Daily Prophet.  Filch read the Prophet.  Angela no doubt read the Prophet.  Pretty much everyone in the wizarding world read the Prophet.  Filch now saw the article about Angela as his golden opportunity to finally talk to her.  As he sat there the plan unfolded in his mind.  He would go round to her house and congratulate her on the article.

Yes, that was it.

That would work.

It was perfect.

Filch stood up, picked up the photograph and bounded upstairs.  If he was going to finally have a real conversation with Angela then he wanted to smarten himself up.  Filch smiled at the thought, as he ran water into his bathroom sink, ready for a shave.  He had never been bothered about his physical appearance until now.  He kept himself clean enough, but the idea of smartening himself up for the sake of another person was something that would not have interested Argus Filch one bit before Angela came into his life.  He whistled a jovial tune as he lathered up his face and began to shave.

After a shave and a shower, Filch stood in front of his meagre wardrobe and looked at his limited collection of clothes.  While he had been shaving he had thought that going to Angela’s in his absolute best was perhaps a little too much.  He felt that she deserved to see him in his best, but he also didn’t want to seem too keen, and he wanted his appearance at her door to seem natural.  So, with that in mind, Filch had foregone his best suit and settled on his second best set of clothes.  He repeatedly glanced over at the photograph of Angela as he got dressed.  He had to re-button his shirt at one point because he was getting so distracted, but nothing was dampening his mood.  After all these years he felt as if he had a real window of opportunity to get to know the woman who had captured his heart.  He combed his hair and splashed on a little aftershave from a practically full bottle.  That too had been a gift from some relative that Filch had never had use for until now.  With a slight pang he left the photograph on his bedside table and took himself downstairs to make the fateful crossing of his front door to Angela’s.  He had reasoned with himself that showing up at her door with a framed photograph of Angela in his hand would definitely come across as too keen, and he wanted everything to be perfect.

Filch laid a trembling hand on his front door handle, breathed a steadying sigh, and stepped out into a bold new future.

It was going to be perfect.

‘Oh, it’s perfect!’

Filch stopped dead in his tracks.  He started in bewilderment at the place where he was supposed to be confidently walking towards.  Angela was there, but so was someone else.

Him.

Filch didn’t know this man, but he didn’t need to.  He instantly hated him and everything about him.  This man was on his knees and in his hand was a small box containing an engagement ring.  Filch could feel his knees going weak, but it was not the same euphoric weakness that he had felt that first time Angela had spoken to him.  This was different.  This was a wasting feeling, as if his body was shutting down on him, never to be needed again.  His head felt hot and suddenly too big for his body.  His mouth felt dry and cottony.  His heart…

His heart.

He felt as if all the swords, all the knives, all the daggers in the world had pierced his heart in a single, excruciating moment.  Filch had to force his feet to move, for they felt numb and leaden, but he couldn’t let Angela see him.

Not now.

Not ever.

Filch lurched drunkenly for his front door and fell through it, landing hard on his knees.  He reached back and swung it shut with a bang, not caring now if he had ruined their perfect moment.  His hands flew to his face and he let out a mournful bellow like a wounded animal.  He shook and shuddered as great, racking sobs threatened to tear his throat out.

His life was over.

She could never be his.

As soon as the sobs came they went, replaced by a cold, hard fury that steeled itself up Filch’s spine.  What a fool he had been, he thought savagely.  What a fool to think that any woman anywhere could ever want him.  His breath came in ragged, insane gulps; his whole body twitching.  In that moment a thousand thoughts crashed into his mind.  He thought of killing himself, killing him, killing her!

No!

A moment of icy clarity stopped Filch’s rage in a heartbeat.  He couldn’t do it.  He couldn’t hurt Angela.  Filch kneeled in his hall feeling so much pain, so much anger, so much hatred, but in amongst all of that he still felt love for her.

I still love her.

I will always love her.

This thought seemed to calm Filch and he rose to his feet, steadying himself on the banister.  He stood there, looking into nothing, for several minutes as he assessed his feelings.  It was strange: he felt sure that after such pain and humiliation that he would hate himself, that man and Angela all with equal measure, but Argus Filch was clearly a changed man.  No matter how much the selfish, spiteful part of him tried to make him hate Angela he couldn’t do it.  He hated himself in that moment, no question.  He hated him, without a doubt, but when it came to Angela there was nothing there but love.

She hadn’t done this to him on purpose, he thought, trying to reassure himself.

How was she supposed to know how he felt?

She wasn’t, and she wouldn’t.

In that moment, Argus Filch would have happily cursed, hexed and jinxed the man with the engagement ring had he but known any magic to do so, but one thought stopped him from further considering any actual action against the man.

He obviously made Angela happy.

Filch didn’t like it, didn’t like that the universe was denying him his most heartfelt desire, but he grew calmer and less angry the more he thought of Angela’s happiness.

As long as she’s happy, he thought to himself.

Filch trudged unhappily upstairs and retrieved the photograph of Angela.  He returned downstairs, went into his living room, opened his drinks cabinet and took out an unopened bottle of firewhiskey.

Another gift.

Well, thought Filch, as he poured himself a drink, this is my gift to you, Angela.  I will never tarnish my love for you by speaking of it to anyone.  Filch took a sip and coughed as the whiskey burned its way down his throat.  He wasn’t a drinker, or hadn’t been until that moment.  He picked up the bottle and placed it on an end table next to an armchair.  He sat down with a long, sad sigh and placed the photograph next to the bottle.

‘Here’s to you, my love,’ he said, sombrely.

Argus Filch said that at least once a day for the rest of his life.

To his love.

Mrs Angela Norris.

- August 2014

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