Chapter Twenty-Eight: The Guardian of Hogwarts
The weeks started to roll by again. Harry found himself whisked up in a whirlwind of Quidditch, homework, Kainda and his friends. His days became so busy that all the events seemed to blur together, and he was never short of something to do.
On Monday, he had Dark Arts and Transfiguration amongst his subjects, and as they were the ones he needed to become an auror, he concentrated in every single moment of those lessons, taking notes to help him get through the mountains of homework. The rest of his week was so busy that he was almost relieved that Pure Arts was all he did in the afternoon. Professor Alrister still wasn't back, but the substitute teachers in those lessons were so useless that Harry welcomed the lesson. He sat at the back of the class, hunched over Transfiguration essays or Quidditch strategy books. When he finished his lessons for the day, he always did some Pure Arts practice as Professor Alrister had told him to. He was getting better and better, bit by bit, learning from his book and practicing with Hermione sometimes.
His important lessons on Tuesday were Potions and Charms. Snape kept subtly pushing him to try harder and harder. His potions were gradually improving in quality, and he was soon second-to-top of the class, just being Hermione. Every lesson, he would march up to Snape's desk, put down another nearly perfect potion and Snape would give him one of those fleeting smiles. Charms was still going well of course, and Professor Flitwick wasn't giving him nearly as much homework as the other students, which was a relief to Harry. On Tuesday night, he nearly always had Occlumency, and things were going fine in those lessons as well. One lesson Snape, without thinking, murmured, "Impressive" after Harry completely blocked him from his mind.
On Wednesday, the most significant lesson was Magical Creatures. Kibbles was growing slowly larger and larger, until the walls of his shed burst, which resulted in a two-hour rampage for the excitable dragon across the grounds while Hagrid, Harry and Professor Lupin tried to catch him. After Wednesday, things calmed down somewhat, as Harry did a little more homework and then had the team out for practicing.
Of course, there were two other practices. One was on a Saturday, which last most of the morning, but the other was on Thursday night between just Harry and Kainda. They played Quidditch, or climbed trees in the Forbidden Forest, feeding Kibbles, and whenever Hagrid or Professor Lupin was free, they'd go hawking. These evenings were a welcome relief to the rest of Harry's exhausting Thursday - double Magical Creatures, Transfiguration, and then double Potions.
Friday was getting just as daunting though. DA Club continued as always, even though it now took eight people to hold Kibbles's leash without him getting free and destroying the Great Hall, and after DA Club was another exhausting Occlumency session. All in all, Harry was pretty busy.
There wasn't another hint of Gryffindor, Slytherin or Hufflepuff Risotta, and Harry couldn't help but think that maybe Professor McGonagall had managed to get to whoever it was. Maybe this time it was all over, properly. People were certainly settling down with the food again. Harry no longer got a sick feeling whenever he thought of eating, and luckily, it hadn't got to the stage of eating Neville yet.
So with every going on around him, before Harry knew it, winter had melted into spring. The frosty shimmer across the grounds flittered away, bringing dewy grass, cold mornings, and the customary spring showers.
It was a warm early April morning, a Tuesday, and Harry was just leaving Potions with Draco and Hermione. They'd been making photograph-processing potion, and Harry's fingers were still silvery and metallic at the end. Draco and Hermione had somehow remained spotless.
"Where are we going for break today?" said Draco.
Harry answered whilst picking vaguely at the ends of his fingers. "The next Quidditch match decides whether we get into the semi-finals or not, we should go and get some practice done."
"When it's all cold and the grass is wet?" Draco wrinkled his nose. "Anyway, we've got a proper practice tomorrow."
"There is such a thing as over-doing it," said Hermione, promptly.
"Well yeah," said Harry. "But it's my turn again at captaining the next one and I don't want to end our winning streak. We've beaten four teams now. That's four points. We must be first, or joint first in the league. And if we lose the next one then somebody could skip ahead of us. We know the Blaise's team have won all their games, and I'm not going to lose to Zabini."
"So don't blow yourself out, Harry," said Draco, coolly. "You need to relax sometimes. The only time you're not working is when you go for a walk on Thursday, and I'm willing to bet you actually take your homework along."
Harry snorted. "As if."
Hermione suddenly frowned, looking ahead up the dungeon corridor. "What's going on? There's an awful lot of people there..."
They hurried up the corridor, following the flow of people, finding themselves stuck on the edge of the crowd. "Can you see?" said Harry, standing on tip-toe, trying to look over the heads.
Draco frowned. "There's something everybody's looking at... I can't see what it is... excuse me, can we get through? Yes, prefects coming through! What's going on here?" The crowd parted, and Draco and Hermione swept through, followed by a curious Harry.
At first, Harry thought there wasn't anything there, until he realised with a thrill of horror that there was something there. He froze up. The clown ball just sat in the middle of all the people, grinning as always, its eyes looking very alive.
"Oh dear, it's a dog toy," Draco drawled. "Well, I can certainly see what the excuse for a big hold up is. Come on, stop blocking the corridors, just leave it!"
"It... it moved," said a girl behind Draco. "Honestly. We were just standing here, and it came bouncing in through the doors on its own and just sat there."
Draco scoffed. "So somebody threw it. It's just a toy. Everybody get going, stop blocking the staircase!"
The girl shook her head. She looked very white. "You didn't see it. There's something wrong with that toy."
Harry was listening to this, standing very still, just staring back at the clown's horrible, grinning face. It was looking right at him. He'd never been so sure of anything. Its painted eyes weren't just looking in his vague direction, they were fixed on him, and if Harry wasn't mistaken, they could see him all too well.
"I'm going to fetch a teacher," the girl behind Draco said.
He frowned, and caught her arm to stop her leaving. "Don't be so stupid, we don't need a teacher. Somebody just kick it outside."
Nobody seemed to want to go near it. Harry instinctively took a step closer to Draco. The clown's eyes followed him.
Draco sighed. "Are you telling me that we've got a whole school full of people who are too scared of a squeaky dog toy to touch it?" He scoffed again, shook his head, and then said, "Alright, I'll do it, and then you'll all see how stupid - "
But he stopped talking.
The clown toy on the floor had turned on the spot before everybody's eyes to stare right at him. A few people muttered nervously and backed away. Draco rolled his eyes. "How pathetic." He moved towards it, and bent down to pick it up, but instantly withdrew his hand with a cry of pain as there was an angry hissing noise. Draco staggered backwards, clutching his fingers.
Hermione hurried to him, grabbed his hand and held it out. Everybody gasped as they saw horrible burns spreading right down Draco's fingers onto his palm. He bit his lip, seething.
"Nobody touch it," he said. "Somebody go and get a teacher."
Nobody moved. They were all staring at the clown toy avidly. It was changing colour, from all the bright rainbow shades to an orangey colour. Everybody drew back, worriedly, as it started to shake on the floor, at first just a tremble, but soon, it looked as though an invisible hand was trying to pull it apart. Smoke and steam was gushing from it and it was throbbing a horrible, pulsing crimson colour. People started to turn and back off, a few people had broken into a run. Harry found he wanted to run. The ball was now thrashing around, bouncing and twisting, spinning, steam gushing from the cracks starting to tear in it and then -
There was a terrified scream from everybody present as the ball just burst into a hundred lumps of twisted plastic and something simply HUGE came spreading out of the remains. Harry felt the temperature go shrieking upwards, and next second, it looked as though the entire entrance hall had become hell on earth. Fire and flames rocketed from nowhere and there was a roar so loud Harry felt as though it was tremoring inside his very heart. His mouth opened in a stuck scream, and then Hermione grabbed his arm, pulling him away up the marble staircase. He didn't need telling twice.
They sprinted away as the screams behind got louder and louder along with the roar, and the heat seemed to be chasing them down the corridor as they ran. Hermione and Draco were going faster, just ahead of him, and he opened his mouth to scream for them to stop, but something shot out of a tapestry to his right, grabbed him and hauled him behind it.
He yelped, scrabbling away, trying to get out, but a cold hand clamped hard over his mouth and fingers curled around his wrist. He struggled against whoever it was that had gripped him, and managed to tear the hand off his face. "What's going on?" he demanded of the darkness before him. "What's happening?"
A very cold finger pressed against his lips. "Shhh," came the only reply.
Harry fumbled backwards for the catch to open the tapestry, but a hand shot forward and curled round his wrist.
"Don't. Just be still."
"Get off me," he snapped, pulling his hand away. "Tell me what's going on."
"Listen to me Harry. This is life and death. I am begging you on bended knee to PLEASE be quiet and I'll explain everything the moment this is over."
Harry just wished he could see who it was, because even though the voice was vaguely familiar, it didn't give him any clues. It was quite a well-spoken, though heavily characterful voice, to somebody who was evidently a late-teenager. He closed his eyes, just falling silent. He could hear people screaming outside as they ran up and down the corridor. Professor Flitwick's voice was shouting, "Into my office children, quickly!", and all the while there was that loud, horrible roar from the entrance hall. And then...
The siren's high, wailing scream pierced from nowhere, wavering high, sounding out danger. Harry felt himself going cold. He had to get to a teacher. He struggled again, but his captor said, "Harry, don't... just relax... we're safe here..."
He could feel tears of fear starting on his face and he had to grab his ears to stop the siren's screaming turning him insane. Doors up and down the corridor were slamming, people were still shouting, but the footsteps were drying out. People were being taken to safe places. And he was behind a tapestry with somebody he didn't know. There was now a loud crackling noise that Harry recognised as fire.
The siren died out, and the crackling grew louder. Harry could see amber lights fluttering around the edges of the tapestry. The material would catch fire. They'd be found or burnt alive. He struggled fretfully and whoever it was gathered him into their arms, rubbing his back in a brotherly way. "Come on Harry... trust me..."
"Who are you?" he said, shaking.
"It's odd," said the boy, quietly. "You seem me everyday of your life but you've never met me at all."
The gates slid down, and Harry jumped, his nerves already stretched to breaking point. He felt movement behind her, and glanced around just in time to see thick metal doors grinding into place, covering up the tapestry, blocking the entrance completely. The moment they had clamped shut, the cold person holding him let him go, and started to move around in the darkness.
"Oh, light, light, give me a light..." There was something about the sing-song way that they uttered that last sentence which sent jolts of suspicion into Harry's chest, but he still couldn't fit a face to the voice at all.
It even took him a few seconds when the match flared on for him to realise who it was.
He stared back at a boy, about seventeen or eighteen years old, with dark eyes and hair of such a deep brown that it was practically black. He was wearing a Hogwarts uniform, but it certainly wasn't the uniform Harry wore, much older, as though it was from an era somewhere half a century ago. He frowned, trying to remember where he'd seen that face before, until he realised...
"It's you," he whispered.
"Shhhh," said the boy. "Look at me, Harry, please just shhhh..."
"But... what's happened to you?" he said, in such a low voice that the boy couldn't tell him to shhhh anymore. "Why are you...?"
"I've been out of the castle... doing something," came the reply. "Dumbledore knows of a spell to change a poltergeist to a ghost and remove the shimmer for a few hours. I'm less recognisable like this."
It was Peeves - but at the same time, how could it be Peeves? He was wearing plain colours, he didn't have a ghostly white shimmer floating around him, and there wasn't that ludicrous propeller hat perched on top of his hair that was usually greased to one side. His dark locks were now left short and neatly combed. He looked so young, so incredibly real, just as he had been in his seventh year at Hogwarts. And his voice, he sounded completely different. It was no longer a cackle but just a regular, seventeen-year-old boy's voice. Harry found himself staring in absolute amazement at how much unlike Peeves Peeves suddenly was.
"Why... why are we here?" Harry asked, and he couldn't help but feel scared now. Peeves never acted like this. He was never even serious, let alone as anxious and nervous as he was now.
"The Heliopath," he said, quietly. "It got into the school... it must have been possessing my ball..."
"Your ball?" said Harry, his eyes widening in amazement. "What do you mean, your ball?"
"Well... not technically mine. My little brother's, and I gave it to Dumbledore, but it was mine."
"But... that ball was mine," said Harry. He stared at Peeves before him in the light of the match. "Somebody sent it to me as a Christmas present."
Peeves blinked at him. "A Christmas present? Hang on, where did you first get it?"
"On Christmas day," said Harry. "Somebody sent it to me wrapped up. I thought it was somebody playing a joke."
Peeves looked absolutely baffled. "But... I gave it to Dumbledore, so he could control my state..."
"What? Peeves, what's going on?"
The boy before him smiled, almost sadly. "Not Peeves. I'm not Peeves when I'm like this. I died looking like this, Harry, and I died as Peter Peelish... call me Peter."
"But... what's going on? What's with the ball? And why are you saving me?" Harry stared at him, completely baffled by absolutely everything going on. "And why are you being so... so normal?"
Another solemn smile, as Peter took a candle from the inside of his robes, lit it with the match and set it between them on the floor. "I'm being normal because I'm not a poltergeist when I'm like this... when a person dies, various things decide whether they're poltergeist or ghost. Naturally, I'm a poltergeist. So all the malice and love for chaos and mischief I had was put into my new poltergeist personality. If I'd been a ghost, it would have been removed, leaving me like this. It's sort of like a split personality."
"And what's with the ball?" said Harry.
Peter sighed. "Long story, Harry. Very long story. Then again, I suppose we have time... the teachers should be going to tackle the Heliopath now... well. That clown belonged to my little brother. My family were rather poor, we didn't have any gold to spare at all. It was like... the only toy he had." He looked sad for a moment, and then continued, looking even more grave. "When he died, he gave it to me. He told me to... to keep it safe for him. So I did. I was holding it when I died myself. It passed on with me."
"So?" said Harry.
"There's a charm which can turn a poltergeist to a ghost and back," said Peter quietly, absent-mindedly running his fingers through the flame. "But after I died, I came to Hogwarts, and Dumbledore knew I'd have to have that charm performed on me on a regular basis. So he made the clown able to perform it. I could interchange between poltergeist or ghost at will. Whenever I didn't need it, I gave it to Dumbledore for safe keeping. He must have dropped it somewhere outside... then I presume the Heliopath got into it, somebody else picked it up, brought it into the castle... perhaps sent it to you as a joke?" He shrugged. "And now the Heliopath's out."
"What... what if it gets through those doors?" said Harry, worriedly glancing at the metal doors guarding the tapestry.
"It won't," said Peter. "Trust me."
Harry frowned, getting both scared and angry now. "Why are you doing this? How did you know that the Heliopath was coming now?"
Peter ran a hand through his dark hair. "It's complex, Harry. Stuff I don't think you'll either believe or want to hear from me."
"Try me, why don't you?" said Harry.
Peter fiddled with his fingers for a moment. "I thought that Dumbledore would be here to explain it all better to you... but... well, in basic terms, there's something known as a guardian bond, Harry, and - "
"Yeah, yeah," said Harry, vaguely. "I know about that."
Peter looked at him, surprised. "You do?"
"Yeah," said Harry. "I learnt about that ages ago, Lupin and Snape. What about them? What's this got to do with them?"
"Lupin?" said Peter, frowning. "I don't know, what has this got to do with him?"
"He's my second," said Harry. "Isn't he?"
Peter shook his head.
"But then who?" said Harry. Even though next second, he realised. His face fell into shock, and he just stared at the boy before him. Peter started back, with raised eyebrows. "It's not you," said Harry. "It can't be! You're... you're Peeves the poltergeist, you're... you're never anywhere near me, you only paid me any attention in my second year when you thought I was killing everybody!"
"I'm always near you," said Peter, searching his face solemnly. "I only leave you for about a week at a time every now and then. You never see me. Dumbledore thought it would be best if you had no idea about me. I'm invisible." He smiled sadly. "I've seen the best and the worst times of your life."
"But..." Harry just stared at him, too shocked to take it in. "I'd have known if you near me..."
Peter shook his head. "I'm careful that you don't." He smiled ever so slightly, fiddling with his fingers in almost a nervous way. "Snape didn't mind intruding in your privacy all the time... if you were up to something, he wouldn't hesitate to get out of bed and go racing through the corridors, pretending to be on night duty. I didn't like to though... I remember what it was like to be a teenager, I'd have hated being watched all the time..."
"I don't believe this," said Harry. He shook his head. "You made my life hell during second year with that stupid song."
Peter smiled sadly into his fingertips. "I have to apologise for that... at least you didn't suspect me, hmm? It's been hard... you don't know how hard it was, that night when you had the nightmare. I just had to make myself known. And that was just how I died, what you said... you're... you're a bit like one of my brothers. Robert. He was always curious, he loved his friends. He got into all sorts of bother but he managed to wriggle out of it."
Harry watched him silently. Peter looked so sad and reminiscent that Harry was starting to feel sorry for him. "So... you and Snape have been looking after me all along..."
Peter nodded. "I preferred to stay out of sight and distant, while Snape took the approach of hating you. I daresay he came as more of a shock than me."
"Not really," Harry admitted. He watched Peter for a moment, and then said, "How did you know the Heliopath was coming for me?"
Peter looked very nervous at that. He started fiddling with his fingers even more. "Ah, well... that's... not exactly... something that... just a hunch, Harry..."
Harry's eyes narrowed. "What do you know? It wasn't just a hunch. You knew something was going to happen or you wouldn't have been here waiting for me."
"It's a matter between Dumbledore and I," said Peter, quietly. "I have more uses than following you around and starting food fights."
Harry frowned. "What would those uses be?"
Peter shook his head, frightened. "Don't ask me, Harry. You don't want to know . Your view of me has probably already changed, seeing me in ghost form and then finding out that I'm your magical guardian..."
Harry was already putting two and two together in his mind. There were still gaps, but things were starting to slot into place. There was no other way that Peter could have known. And then something that Sirius's ghostly form had murmured to him from a cauldron many, many months ago, about Dumbledore having more spies, people that nobody would ever guess...
"You're a spy in Voldemort's force, aren't you?" said Harry.
Peter looked up at him, searching his face, considering him, and then after just a moment, he nodded, silently.
Harry watched Peter closely. So the poltergeist he had known for six years as just an annoying, airborne menace was actually his magical guardian, a Death Eater, and a spy. Somehow, none of this made sense or fit at all, and after a minute, he realised what was wrong. "You're always at Hogwarts. You can't be out of the castle."
Peter smiled. "Oh, you're wrong there."
"How am I?" said Harry. "Every single day, you're smashing trophies or breaking cabinets, starting fights, flushing first years' heads down the toilets."
"No, no," said Peter. "Even I couldn't make that amount of mayhem on my own. And even though it is indeed mostly me, there are some times when it most certainly is not. I have to leave to talk to the Dark Lord sometimes."
"So how come it still appears that you're here?" said Harry, frowning.
Peter smiled rather sagely, watching the candle for a few moments. "I have my own rather reliable methods of making sure that nobody walks the corridors and feels completely safe."
"And those are?" Harry prompted.
"Oh, that would be telling," said Peter, and for a moment, Harry could see that a little of Peeves had been left in him, as a twinkle appeared in his eye and he smiled, just showing the tips of his teeth. "I can't trust you to not to tell Ron, Hermione, Draco or Kainda. And I know it will be hard for you to resist the temptation."
"Please," said Harry, hopefully. "Honestly. Loads of people trust me with loads of stuff. I'm considering renting myself out as a secret keeper."
A pleasant, bright chuckle left Peter's lips, layered heavily with tinges from Peeves's own laugh, almost a diluted form of the poltergeist. "I know... but I also know things you would never dream of, Potter. I see pretty much everything that goes on in this castle, I know 90% of what goes on with the Dark Lord, I know almost every little detail of your life. Snape might be able to see your thoughts, but he sees hardly anything else - apart from your potions, perhaps. You might be the secret keeper, but I am the secrets, and I want to be kept."
"Prove it," said Harry, sitting back, surveying Peter over the flicker of the candle. "Tell me something about myself that nobody else in the whole world knows."
Peter smiled, tilting his head a little. "Everyday, you go past Alrister's office just to see if he's come back yet. I also know where Alrister is, why he's gone, and when he plans to return. I know what's stopping him coming back. I know that when you had that nightmare, and Hermione heard what had happened to Alrister, she cried. I know that right now, some of the teachers are on the roof, and some are down in the dungeons with the children. I know that there's a mouse two floors below us eating one of the tapestries."
"How?" said Harry, his face creasing in a frown. "How can you know so much?"
Another sagacious smile flittered across Peter's lips. "There's another reason that Dumbledore keeps me here, apart from to protect you and to get information from the Dark Lord. Nobody else in the whole wide world apart from Dumbledore and you know I'm a Death Eater, and only you, Snape, and Dumbledore know that I guard you. But only Dumbledore and I know why I stare here, in Hogwarts, and don't come with you during the summer."
"Tell me," said Harry, moving forward, grasping Peter by his icily cold arm. "I deserve to know, don't I? You're my guardian, I'm supposed to trust you. Tell me, please..."
"Ask me some direct questions," said Peter, tilting his head to the side. "I was never good with explaining everything."
"How can you leave to see Voldemort and yet still be here?" said Harry.
Peter smiled. "I'll show you once this is all over."
"How come you knew about the mouse?"
"I know every little detail within this castle."
Another of those tiny, glimmering smiles. "I'm the guardian of Hogwarts. I protect everything here, and so I know everything here. Filch always thought he looked after this castle... so why did Dumbledore get rid of him? Because I'm far more effective." He looked thoughtful for a moment, gazing up above Harry's head, as though seeing something Harry couldn't. "Hmm, Hermione is worried about where you are. Flitwick is trying to calm her."
Harry was starting to accept all this, bit by bit, still watching Peter's face closely. "So... you know everything about everyone..."
"Oh no," said Peter, shaking his head. "I know everything about the castle. I can see what it sees. In a way, I'm the translator between castle and Dumbledore. That's how I tested all the defences. Of course, I let the poltergeist in me out sometimes for some random destruction. But then I just thought, and found the gaps. I assure you that I cannot get into people's thoughts. If the castle knows you're there, then I do."
"You always turned up at the worst times," said Harry, remembering his past years at the school. "Always. You used to just know wherever I was. And that night, when I was talking to Draco! You got me locked in a cupboard for two days!"
Peter chuckled. "Well, that was quite funny, you have to admit. And you were in no immediate danger. I never try to physically hurt you."
"You threw walking sticks at me in my first year," said Harry, with a pained expression.
"Just my way of saying hello," said Peter, turning his glittery eyes onto Harry and smiling like the older brother he'd never had. "I was particularly excitable that summer. Imagine meeting a brother your parents gave up for adoption long ago... or getting a new pet."
"You think of me as a pet?" said Harry, staring at him.
"Somewhat," said Peter. "Pet and a younger brother. I always loved children. My family was huge. It was natural that I come to live here when I died, and Dumbledore needed a spirit guardian for the castle. I jumped at the chance. By the way." His lips curled into another of his glimmering smiles. "Kainda has a photo of you under her pillow."
Harry's stomach gave a little twist. "Oh?"
"Mmm, from when you're playing Quidditch. I can't sense what's going on in the grounds, so I have to actually glide out after you to watch. You're a good player. I could never handle a broomstick properly, far too uncomfortable. Then again, I lived in the fifties, when the fashion was to have the tiniest little broom imaginable, but very thick, with a racing stripe down the side. Like a plank of wood."
"So you... know all about Kainda..." said Harry.
Peter smiled. "It's our secret, Harry." He surveyed Harry with interest, as though he'd never really looked at him properly before. "I've wanted to talk to you about all this for a long time. I very nearly did on that night with the dreams you had, but McGonagall shooed me away."
"You don't like Professor McGonagall, do you?" Harry said, grinning, remembering the whole food fight. "You squashed a plate of eggs in her face though, that was a little unkind. And you put a fried egg in my face as well."
"Well," Peter chuckled. "You're incredibly funny to antagonize. I love the way you have to keep telling Ron and Hermione off for fighting. You could be in your own soap opera, you know."
"Sometimes it feels like I already am," Harry said, rubbing his forehead with a weak smile.
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