The first recorded instance of a wizard’s magic completely disappearing was in the case of Ms. Enid McGrap, of 61 Neckwidge Lane, Ipswich, in late February of 1999. She never had a great deal of magic to begin with — in fact for several summers when she was a teen they were terrified she might be a squib, before she slipped on a piece of soap in the bath and changed her parents’ beautiful wrought-copper tub into a saggy mass of rubber to break her fall — and, as a low-level HR record keeper in the Ministry of Magic, she had next to no need of magic professionally, mainly using it to clean her cottage and do odd chores. So she only noticed that her wand stopped working when she tried to heat up a quick kettle of tea early on a Sunday morning. She sat there, reading the Daily Prophet, waiting for the tea to whistle, and waiting, and waiting… She continued reading, casting it increasingly irritated looks, until she finally sighed in exasperation and went to check it. She was amazed to find it utterly cold.
She drew her wand and cast the warming charm, Focillo!, but still nothing happened. In desperation she tried again with Incendio!, but the kettle remained stone cold.
She stared in amazement at her wand and shook it desperately.
“Is this thing working?” she said. “Lumos!”
The wand remained as unresponsive as, well, as a stick of wood. She rapped it across her knuckles and even tapped it smartly on the table, as if the wand core were somehow stuck and just needed to be dislodged. “Lumos!” she cried desperately. “Lumos!”
She couldn’t make tea. She couldn’t make breakfast. Finally, sobbing and at her wit’s end, she tossed floo powder on the fire and called the Ministry of Magic’s Magical Accidents Hotline, crying that her wand had stopped working and she needed urgent assistance. The Ministry sent round doctors and investigators and found that her wand was just fine — in fact, several other wizards were able to cast simple cantrips with it. The problem, apparently, was with Ms McGrap. She was admitted to St Mungo’s for examination, and it was found that she was completely without magic. She had become a squib after all.
Ms McGrap was the first, but she was definitely not the last. There were a smattering of other cases, reported with gradually increasing frequency across England, France, America, and other places in the wizarding world. The first high-profile case was of Dr Furist Leach of St Mungo’s, who was “struck squib” (as the Prophet described it) in the midst of a complex operation to cure a construction worker who had become splinched with his lunchbox when Apparating to his lunch break. Dr Leach was one of the most talented and skilled doctors at St Mungo’s, and when his wand stopped working, three other doctors had to quickly step in to complete the operation. The construction worker was fine, and was sent home the following day; but Dr Leach remained at St Mungo’s under examination. The doctors were unable to find any trace of magical ability within him at all. The malady was officially named “Leach’s Syndrome” after the unfortunate patient, although the press and most other people continued to call it being “struck squib”.
And Leach’s Syndrome continued to spread. Workers found that they could not Apparate home at the end of the day. People on broomsticks suddenly found that they could not control their flight, and had to be gently caught and brought down by the police. Some physically disabled wizards, such as Silvanus Kettleburn, famous former Care of Magical Creatures Professor at Hogwarts, became unable to live their everyday lives without constant assistance. Ministry Police officers were struck squib in the midst of law enforcement operations, frequently endangering their lives.
At first there was speculation at the Ministry that the rapidly-spreading Syndrome was the work of dark wizards, but this theory was quickly put to rest when it became clear that dark wizards were just as likely to be afflicted. The most famous case, and the one which rapidly revealed the source of the epidemic, was of the Dark Wizard Gormanghast, whose magic abruptly disappeared in the early hours of the morning of August 9, 1999. With his repulsion charms and illusion spells stripped away, it was discovered that he had been living just three miles outside of London (not far from Bloomsbury) in a gigantic black monolithic castle perched atop a high mountain bluff. The castle, bluff, and mountain had all been hidden for almost a thousand years by Gormenghast’s dark magic, while Viking armies marched past, the British Empire rose and fell, Nazi bombers flew overhead, and London grew from a small riverside town to one of the largest metropolises in the world.
As soon as Gormenghast’s illusion spells were gone, the Ministry had to set them right up again. It wouldn’t do to let the Muggles know there’d been a mountain hiding in the suburbs of London all this time. As it was, the Ministry were completely caught off guard, and it took almost half an hour to restore the illusion. Fortunately it had happened early in the morning, when most muggles were asleep. Nevertheless the Ministry needed to get control of the situation as quickly as possible, and that meant sending their best people to investigate immediately.
Harry, Ron and Neville flew high over London on their broomsticks in late mid-morning, about six hours after Gormanghast Castle appeared. It was a warm grey morning, with no rain, but a heavy blanket of slate clouds that only occasionally parted for a snatch of pale sun. There had been some argument over the best way to approach — Neville favored on foot, reasoning that they’d be less visible targets — but Harry and Ron disagreed, saying that it was more important to have a good view of the castle and grounds as they made their approach. The Ministry’s concealment spells were in full effect, but once they breached the magical perimeter they’d be able to see everything spread out below them.
“There’s something about that name,” said Neville. “Gormanghast. It seems familiar. Wasn’t that a book or something?”
“Hermione said it was a book, yeah,” said Ron. “Got made into a muggle movie or tv show or something, too. A fantasy novel. She said Gormanghast Castle was a massive thing, bigger than Hogwarts, with all these winding hallways and secret passages, and a family that had ruled there for thousands of years. There were hundreds of servants, and they all followed these super arcane and complicated rituals all the time. The author, I forget his name, he wrote three books about the place and then went mad.”
“Seriously?” said Harry. “That’s intense. Do you think he knew anything about this place? Or was it just coincidence?”
“She said the author apparently had actually accidentally found the castle, stumbled into it one day. Usually the Dark Wizard just killed whatever muggles made it inside, but this one, for some reason, he took pity on him or something — he just let him go. At least that’s what happened according to that house elf she questioned.”
The house elf had been captured by the Ministry while they were hurriedly re-establishing the castle’s concealment spells. The elf, a young female named Aftry, had been very reluctant to talk, but Hermione had a way with them and had gotten a lot of information out of her, including the number of house elves in the Castle (over ten dozen) and the name of the castle and the dark wizard himself.
“There it is,” said Harry. “I see it.”
The serene, forested suburbs of London parted below them, and a huge mountain thrust up, seeming to push the landscape aside like a blackened stump ripping up through a picnic blanket. It rose maybe five hundred feet high, its steep stony sides spattered with shrubs and patches of ivy, and a flat top mounded over with a sprawling walled castle that looked like it was built of the same black basalt as the mountain.
Neville whistled. “And he kept that secret for a thousand years?”
“He must have been crazy powerful,” said Harry. “Maybe the most powerful wizard ever. Remember, the elf said he’d been alive all that time, too. Immortal, I guess.”
“Did he have a Philosopher’s Stone?” asked Neville.
“Hermione said the elf didn’t know,” said Ron.
“So he just sat there in his castle all that time?” said Neville. “Just hiding?”
“I guess so,” said Harry. “Until he was struck squib.”
By unspoken agreement, they circled around the castle. Harry did his best to see any sign of activity in the jumble of turrets and roofs below. It looked kind of like a bunch of ramshackle old stone medieval buildings had been rounded up and roughly herded into the castle’s encircling wall. He couldn’t see anyone moving down there.
“So what do you think?” said Neville. “I don’t see anything.”
“Well,” said Harry, “I guess we could find somewhere to land and just, you know, knock on a door.”
“Sounds good,” said Neville.
“Dragon dung,” said Ron. “I’m going in. Cover me.” And without glancing at them, he dipped his broomstick down and plunged headlong towards the nearest building, fifty feet below.
“Ron, no!” cried Harry and Neville together, as they scrambled to follow, digging their wands out of their pockets.
“Dammit,” said Neville. “What is he thinking?”
“He’s been doing this more and more recently,” said Harry grimly. “He’s going to get himself hurt if he doesn’t —“
They were in time to see Ron disappear into a large window in the side of one of the larger towers. They heard a huge BOOM like an earthquake, and the whole tower seemed to shake. Harry was sure it was going to collapse on Ron before they had a chance to get him out of there. He plunged in, Neville right behind him.
They were in a large room, made completely of black stone on walls, floor, and ceiling, and draped with rotting, faded tapestries. Old crumbling wooden furniture lined the walls. The place smelled absolutely foul, thick with the stench of rotting garbage and the distinctive sharp sour scent of unwashed house-elf. It was dim, dusty, and difficult to see, but as Harry landed he could make out what looked like a pile of rocks in the middle of the room, and Ron in the middle of it, cursing struggling to free himself. It looked like his broomstick was broken.
“Lumos!” cried Neville, landing next to Harry.
At first it looked as though the spell hadn’t really worked; all the point of light on Neville’s wand seemed to do was illuminate clouds of dust. But then Harry started to pick out shapes in the shadows: house elves. Three… no, five… no, ten…
“Neville,” hissed Harry, “go for backup!” He lit his wand as well.
“What?” said Neville.
“Go get HELF!”
“No, HELF! Hermione’s elves!”
“Oh, the House Elf Liaison Force! Right, got it!” And he was off.
Harry took a few steps towards Ron. The house elves were slowly moving closer, muttering or chanting in low voices. Ron was just about free of the pile of rocks, but there were house elves already clambering up toward him. He brandished his wand. “Stand back!” he said.
“Get away from him!” shouted Harry. His mind raced. What could he do against house elves? They were very powerful, and unlike wizards, they didn’t use wands, so they couldn’t be disarmed. They were supposed to serve wizards; they wouldn’t hurt Ron directly, really. Would they?
“Stupefy!” he cried. The hex blasted from his wand as he swept it in a curve, hitting all the elves on the rock pile — and, unfortunately, Ron as well. He’d managed to stand up on top of the rocks, so he avoided being knocked out, but the spell tripped him up, and he tumbled down the pile, falling in a heap on the floor.
Some of the elves on the pile staggered back, but most did not. Their eyes turned to Harry, glowing in the light of the open window behind him. One of them stepped forward towards him, raising its hands and baring its teeth. Harry noticed that its teeth were oddly sharp, and its hands had long, needle-like fingernails. It looked almost more like a goblin than an elf.
“Now you watch it,” he said. “I’m Harry Potter, from the Division of Magical Enforcement, and — “
“Gormenghast avaege acu,” hissed the elf, and blue-white energy swirled from its fingers. Harry tried to shout “Protego!” but it was too late; the energy wrapped itself around him in a tight embrace, locking his hands to his sides and forcing his mouth shut.
Ron tried to struggle to his feet, but the elf, still holding Harry motionless with one hand, reached out with its other and cast another blue-white energy net, binding him tight. Ron writhed and struggled on the ground.
Then Harry saw, at the other end of the room, a door opening. He hadn’t noticed it before because of the dim, smoky air, but red firelight came from behind the door as it opened, and a black, hunched figure lurched through it. The figure shuffled painfully towards Harry and Ron, and the house elves parted for it. Other elves, Harry could now see, were walking alongside it, supporting it, helping it along.
It tottered over to Ron, and as it came more into the light Harry could see that it was an incredibly old man, bent double with age, his waist-length beard so white it looked like thin curling strands of bone.
The old man lifted a wand with shaking hand, and pointed it at Ron.
“Het ye done this te me?” he creaked.
Ron tried to answer, desperately attempting to shake his head no, but like Harry he was bound too tight to move, and his mouth was closed shut.
“En Cruciate!” cried the old man, and Harry flinched — it wasn’t exactly the Cruciatus curse, but Harry could guess that maybe it was an older form of it, and it would probably have the same effect. Poor Ron…
But nothing happened. The old man shook his wand and cried out unintelligibly, but still, there was no effect at all. He’d been struck squib, all right.
Finally, he screamed incoherently at his house elves, and they obliged. Three of the twisted creatures stepped forward, and silently gestured at Ron in unison. Ron still couldn’t scream — his locked jaw wouldn’t let him — but he twisted and writhed, and emitted a high-pitched, shuddering, animal-like moan unlike anything Harry had ever heard before.
Then from behind him he heard Hermione scream, “Stupefy!” Her spell shot past him and struck one of the house elves, knocking it back into the other two and sending all three sprawling. Gormenghast collapsed. Now Hermione was landing next to him and hopping off her broomstick, casting more Stupefies in quick succession; and Neville was landing too, following suit; and now dozens of Ministry house elves were Apparating with a thunderous cacophony, casting attack spells of every kind. Gormenghast’s house elves quickly rallied, however, and battle was joined.
Harry’s bindings disappeared, and he crawled over to Ron, who appeared to have passed out. Lying next to him was Gormenghast, breathing hard, looking up at Harry with frightened watery eyes. Two of his house elves were fallen next to him, knocked out while desperately trying to fight off the assault.
“Call off your elves!” said Harry. He tried to point at Gormenghast with a steady hand. “Call them off!”
Gormenghast shook his head, apparently not understanding. Did he speak Old English or something? Harry wondered if even Hermione would know how to communicate with him…
Then, out of the corner of his eye, he saw one of the dark wizard’s fallen house elves acting very strangely. It was lying next to Gormenghast as if knocked out, but it was slowly and stealthily reaching towards something hanging around its neck.
It was a Time Turner!
“Oh no you don’t!” cried Harry. “Immobulus! Immobulus!”
The elf stopped, its features frozen in a look of utter hatred and frustration. Harry breathed out in relief. With a Time Turner, the elf could have gone back and changed the past. Gormenghast’s elves wouldn’t have been caught by surprise this time.
But, in fact, had they been caught by surprise? After all, they’d arranged some kind of rock fall or ceiling collapse to happen right when Ron flew in the window. Maybe this wasn’t the first time that Time Turner had been turned…
Well, he’d stopped it this time. But they could still lose unless Harry managed to convince Gormenghast to surrender.
“Stop this!” Harry shouted at Gormenghast. “Give up! Surrender!” He racked his brains to come up with some other words that the dark wizard might understand. The wizard looked frightened; he would probably a agree if only Harry could get the idea across to him. “Yield! Capitulate! Relent! Submit! Abdicate! Forswear! Concede!”
“Concedo,” muttered Gormenghast. “Concedo.” And then louder: “Concedus! Concedus! Ons geifan et off!”
And slowly, reluctantly, his house elves lowered their hands and bowed their heads in defeat.