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 some years when she was young it was feared she might be a squib, before she slipped on a piece of soap in the bathroom and accidentally turned her parents’ beautiful wrought-copper tub into a shapeless mass of rubber to break her fall — and, as a low-level HR record keeper in the Ministry of Magic, she had little need of magic professionally, and mainly used it to help clean her house and do odd chores. So she only noticed that her wand had stopped working when she tried to heat up a pot of tea early on a Sunday morning. She sat there, reading the Daily Prophet, waiting for the tea kettle to whistle, and waiting, and waiting… She continued reading, casting it increasingly annoyed looks, until she finally sighed in exasperation and went to check it. She was astonished to find it was completely 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 had 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 peaceful, green 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 sheer rocky 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 rock 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 there a red firelight came from behind the door as it opened, and a black, hunched figure came through it. The figure shuffled painfully forward 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.
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