Chapter Twenty-Nine: Jinx
The hours flittered past, as the candle burned lower, spreading dancing shadows higher and higher up the walls of the enclosed spaces behind the tapestry. Harry found himself sharing memories with Peter, and Peter with him, as though they'd been best friends for all their lives. Harry forgot that deep within Peter was a poltergeist that couldn't wait to get out and cause havoc again, and he knew it was probably the first time in many years that Peter had spoken to anybody and received a serious, sincere, polite answer.
Harry didn't know exactly how much time had gone past, but he felt himself getting gradually sleepier and sleepier. Peter noticed his eyelids drooping, told him to curl up and get some rest, that he would wake Harry if anything important happened. Harry nodded and gratefully laid down. The last thing he felt before he slipped into waves and waves of welcome sleep was a rather cold piece of material being laid over the top of him, and Peter saying, "Sleep well", in his ear.
He was woken sometime later by a loud grating noise, and sunlight flooding in, glaring in his eyes. He shifted and gave a sort snort of protest at all the light and sound.
"Shhhh, he's asleep!" said Peter's voice.
"You useless poltergeist," Snape hissed. "You've had him here all along? I told you to bring him to my office, not hide him behind a tapestry."
"The Heliopath was right behind them," said Peter, calmly. "He wouldn't have made it."
"Filius was just half a corridor away. He could have used floo powder to get from there to my office."
"Or he could have been caught and killed, releasing the Dark Lord on the world once more. I know which option I'm glad I took. And please keep your voice down, Professor, he took in a lot of information. He doesn't need you yelling in his ears."
"I don't know whether I despise you more as that brattish poltergeist or when you're playing Old Man Of The Woods ghost." Harry felt Snape's hand gripping his shoulder, giving a little shake. "Potter, wake up."
He curled up, his face creasing in annoyance. "Mnnn."
"Oh, leave him," said Peter, irritated, swatting out at Snape. "You don't always have to be so cruel to him. He's just a kid."
Snape ignored Peter, and muttered again, "Potter, up."
Harry opened his eyes blearily, glaring up at Snape, only half-awake. Everything behind the Potions master's silhouette was dark, lit only by the glow of the candle in Snape's hand. "What?" said Harry, sleepily.
"The Heliopath has been removed from the premises," said Snape. "You're free to go back to your common room. Food is going to be served in half an hour in the Great Hall."
"Did you kill it?" said Harry, hopefully, sitting up so Peter's school robes slid off him.
"Yes, Potter," said Snape. "We did. No thanks to some people." He swept an icy look at Peter, who glared right back, pulling his robes on.
"Don't thank me too much," he said, bitterly.
"I have no intentions of doing so," said Snape. He gripped Harry's elbow, and Harry managed to get groggily to his feet, wobbling a little.
Peter slipped out of the alcove too. He glanced nervously up and down the corridor, making sure there was nobody around. "Oh, Harry... I promised to show you - ... well. I promised to show you."
"Show him what?" said Snape, surveying Peter with narrowed eyes.
Peter smiled pleasantly up at his fellow magical guardian. "Show him something. You're welcome to come as well, but there's a danger it might be fun and I wouldn't want to make you uncomfortable."
Snape glared at him. Peter just smiled. If was amazing how even as mild-mannered Peter Peelish, Peeves could irritate Snape to within an inch of his life.
"I'm going to take Harry to see something," said Peter, smugly. "And I'll have him back in time to eat whatever poisoned muck the house elves are going to give them today."
Snape simply stepped back as Peter glided away down the corridor, and Harry hurried after him eagerly. They heard Snape's footsteps leaving the corridor in the direction of the dungeons, and then Harry asked, "Where are we going?"
Peter smiled secretively. "My nest."
"My nest," Peter chuckled, turning left to pull back a tapestry pretending to be a door, simply peeling it off the wall and stepping through. They appeared in a dark, very cold tunnel, and Harry shivered. Peter was pointing vaguely down various passages. "There's a room full of portkeys to Hogsmeade there... I'm not sure what's down there, something tried to eat me the last time I checked, down that corridor is the back entrance to Dumbledore's office, that door doesn't open unless you ask really nicely, and that appears to be a dog door, I can't fit in there. Oh, there's a big coffin in that room which I think has Helga Hufflepuff in it, the room's full of stuffed badgers. Salazar Slytherin's private chambers were apparently in there." Harry nearly tripped over something that went scuttling past his feet. He jumped, and Peter said, coolly, "Oh, watch out for the rats, they're everywhere in this corridor."
"How come this passage didn't turn up on the Marauder's Map?" asked Harry, intrigued, hurrying after the silvery silhouette of Peter up ahead.
"Because they never found it," came the reply, echoing through the gloom. "Oh, they came close. It was Lupin who nearly discovered it. They were late for class and he wondered whether there was a shortcut through here, but he didn't get far. One of the rats got him, and the dark and the cold just got to him. He doesn't actually like being alone in the dark, did you know that?"
Harry shook his head. "No... I thought he just didn't like the moon."
"Ah, that as well. There are some incredibly brave people in the castle. Lupin, cursed by lycanthropy, and yet he endures it month after month. Snape, a Death Eater. And you wouldn't be that surprised at the number of children who have lost family members and keep a picture in their trunk or next to their bed. Draco is a fantastic artist, really marvellous, but he's worried that the only part of his drawings that people will see is the signature 'Malfoy' at the bottom."
Harry was about to ask how Peter knew this, when something large and heavy came out of nowhere and he ran into it. He fell over with a cry, and something that felt like a huge vase landed in his arms. Peter turned around.
"Ah, yeah, watch out for the vase. I think this place was used as a storeroom until the cold made it impossible to light torches. Even the castle doesn't know why it suddenly got cold in here. I think it's something to do with whatever it is down that passage back there, but it only comes out at night."
"It is night," said Harry, worriedly, as Peter hauled him to his feet.
"So it is," said Peter, in a pleasant voice, leading him on through the darkness. "Now, there's a rather marvellous painting on this wall here. In the days when the school was just made, all the founders had a particular favourite student. It was sort of like... a head student of each house. Eventually, that turned into prefects with an over-all head boy and girl chosen by the headmaster or headmistress. But you'll never guess what the last name of the boy Slytherin chose was."
"What?" said Harry, interestedly.
"Malfoy," said Peeves. "It looks like Slytherin, Malfoy and Snape were always a little trio together. Of course, the Slytherin line's only got the Dark Lord left, and Draco's the last Malfoy. It looks as though Severus is going to be the last Snape."
"But... his girlfriend," said Harry. "Aren't they going to have children?"
Peter sighed sadly. "It's complicated, Harry. Too complicated for me to explain. Snape's secretive as well, nearly as much as me. If there's anything important going on, he does it out of the castle."
"Then why does she always visit him?" Harry asked.
"It's... very confusing. Even to me. It's clear that she's a metamorphmagus of sorts - she probably learnt the technique rather than inherited it. She can vary the length of her hair. She comes every other night now, and it's a random time. They talk mostly. About the Dark Lord, the ministry, family. You've come up in the conversation once or twice."
"What does Snape say about me?" Harry asked, eagerly, hurrying to keep up. Peter had stopped and was fiddling with a lock, according to the various clicking noises.
"Oh, all sorts," said Peter, and he left it at that, as he opened up the door and light flooded the pitch-black corridor. He slipped inside the room beyond, and Harry followed him with a single glance back at the cold corridor.
Harry's first thought was of a smuggler's cavern. Every single available surface was covered in something, be it material or jewellery, sheets and sheets of paper were scattered vaguely over everything, and nearly everything was broken or burnt in someway. There was what appeared to a dummy hanging in one corner, suspended by a cord from the ceiling, and stuffing was pouring out of every slash in its fabric. The far corner was just a huge mountain of pillows, mostly torn or ripped in some way, and all over the walls was childlish scribbling in various colours. It all looked like the den of somebody who had an awful lot of anger to express.
"Why is everything...?" Harry begun, though he didn't know quite how to finish it.
Peter guessed his question. "Broken? We're poltergeists, Harry. Poltergeists have a physical need to express frustration. Sometimes, just a little anger needs to be expressed..." He gestured at the scribbles decorating the walls, and then glanced at what looked like a mattress that had been torn apart and nailed to the ceiling. "Of course, sometimes a more drastic result is desired."
"What do you mean, "we're poltergeists"?" said Harry, frowning.
"I mean that myself and one or more other people are poltergeists," said Peter, coolly. He strolled idly over to an upturned dresser, which was bitten and splintered in more than one place, and started pulling out the drawers, discarded the ones he had looked in onto the floor. "Oh come on... don't tell me I'm out..." He jerked open another drawer, and sighed, scooping out an ordinary packet of cigarettes. "Thank God..."
"You know that's dangerous to your health," said Harry, raising an eyebrow, as Peter shook one out of the packet, searching in the drawer for a lighter.
"Firstly, I'm already dead," said Peter. "And secondly, I know, but think about it, Potter... I died inhaling more smoke than most people have ever inhaled in their lives. I can't control myself as a poltergeist without it." He lit the cigarette vaguely, and tossed the lighter into a pile of old clothes nearby. "Sit down."
Harry looked around, wondering exactly where Peter expected him to sit down. Eventually, he sunk down onto the pile of cushions in the corner. Peter was rattling around in another drawer, and when he straightened up, he threw a carton of ordinary muggle juice to Harry. Harry caught it gratefully, with a murmur of, "Thanks..."
Peter blew out vaguely, unleashing a stream of smoke into the air. "You might as well have it. I stole it off some muggle picnickers a while ago... and always welcome."
Harry watched the cloud of smoke rise up into the air, and frowned. "Wait. How can you do that? Why doesn't the smoke just go straight through you?"
Peter smiled. "Always so curious. I thought I explained this? Oh well. Dumbledore puts two charms on me - one to make me a ghost, another to remove the ghost attributes and make me appear human. My body can do things that make me look human. So it expels the smoke in a human way. I just feel a little cold to the touch."
Harry nodded, thinking about this, and then asking, "So... what are you going to show me?", curiously, popping a hole in the top of his carton with the straw. "You said you would."
"You'll find out in a few minutes." Peter gazed mournfully at the cigarette held expertly between his fingers, and Harry saw that he was starting to turn a little greyer, a little smokier at the edges. Seeing the expression on Harry's face, Peter elaborated. "The charm to remove the spectral shimmer wears off after a day or so. Only Dumbledore can turn me back into a poltergeist though... thankfully. Peeves has no need to smoke though, so I suppose there are some benefits."
"Why don't you just quit?" Harry asked, sipping innocently on his juice. "Uncle Vernon used to have the most horrible cigars but he gave those up after Aunt Petunia said he was going to kill all Dudley's brain cells." He paused. "I think she probably mentioned that too late though."
Peter chuckled softly, flicking the end of his cigarette vaguely so ash just fell vaguely onto the carpet. "It keeps me calm when I'm a poltergeist." He thought for a moment, studying the plumes of smoke whisping gently in the air. "It's... the oddest thing to be a poltergeist. When I think that I'm like that sometimes, it's horrible. When I'm like this, I hate the idea of destroying things purposely. Being a poltergeist gives a person a hell of a lot of unused frustration that just has to go somewhere. But... it's odd... when I am Peeves, I don't care about how I look. It's like being free. Imagine it being almost like a drug that I have to take, even though I don't really want to at all."
"Why don't you just stay like you are?" Harry suggested, chewing idly at his straw. To him, Peter seemed to be the perfect older brother, though there was something rather forlorn about his posture as he languished vaguely against a desk that was shattered by his own alter ego.
Peter smiled slightly. "I can't. I can't resist the freedom and the power as Peeves. Think about it - who do you fear most? Who has the most control over you? Peeves, or Nearly Headless Nick? Peeves or Moaning Myrtle?"
"Peeves," Harry admitted.
"Precisely," said Peter. He took a long drag on his cigarette, screwing up his face as though in pain from its effects, blowing an acrid cloud of smoke from between his lips. "I was a Slytherin, Harry. I wanted power, but not power as in complete control and fear. I wanted the power to make people remember me. That could well be why I stayed on in this life as well."
"And every now and then you need to remind people that you're still around," said Harry, quietly, sipping still on his juice.
Peter nodded solemnly, and then smiled, as he crushed the vile cigarette in a stone ashtray on the sill of a grubby, smashed window. "That's just it. But there's also something incredibly fun about being able to be whatever I wish. I squashed an egg in McGonagall's face, nobody else in the entire world could ever claim that apart from me."
Harry chuckled, and he opened his mouth to ask something else, when the door opened. He looked around as a girl of about sixteen floated in, ripping a silvery jester's hat off her head and muttering, "God, you wouldn't believe the day I have had, it's - " She had spotted Harry, and frozen on the spot, staring at him in total horror. "A student!" she choked. "Peter, what have you brought - "
"It's okay," said Peter, shaking another cigarette free from the packet. "He knows."
The girl stared from Harry to Peter, her eyes still wide. She was very short, with the same rich, dark brown shade of hair as Peter. Even past the ghostly shimmer, Harry could see she was pale, and when he looked close enough, he realised that her left eye was a vivid, bright petrol blue, whilst the left was luminous green.
"But - " she gabbled. "He... he knows? You told him? Why? What have you told him, exactly?"
"Everything," Peter said, coolly. "The Death Eater, the guardian thing, both of them. Harry, this is my little sister. Jinx, this is Harry. The one I told you about."
"Jinx?" said Harry, raising his eyebrows. "Hey, wait... you're Jilly!"
Peter smiled. "How do you know about her?"
"She was in my dream," said Harry, smiling, turning to Peter again. "And I found your family tr-"
"Oh, you've been dreaming about me?" she said, horrified. "I see. I get home, and you're there and I've TOLD you not to smoke, Peter, put it out! And then there's a student here, it's the student you're not supposed to be nice to, and he's been dreaming about me! You know what? I'm going to go out of the room and come back in, and we'll just start this all again."
She stepped out of the door, closing it behind her. There was a few seconds of silence, and then she came in again, looking a great deal calmer.
"Oh, hello Peter. Put that out, please. Hello Potter. Why are you here?"
"He wanted to meet you," said Peter, coolly, heaving himself up on top of a scorched dresser, blowing the occasional cloud of smoke from his cigarette. "He learnt about me being a Death Eater, and obviously, wanted to know how it appeared I'm always in the castle."
"There are two poltergeists?" said Harry, with wide eyes. "Both of you? Oh, is that what was going on at the food fight?" He started to work more and more out, and then said, "You were throwing plastic pots of jam at Draco!"
Jinx blinked at him, and to his great surprise, her eyes swapped sides. The left glowed green, and the right was suddenly bright blue. "Oh? In the hall? I threw a lot of stuff at a lot of people."
Peter smiled. "Wow, so civil to the visitor, Jinx."
"We don't have visitors," said Jinx, staring at him. "Nobody's supposed to know about me. Dumbledore's going to be so mad at you. And put out that vile thing!"
Peter ignored her, flicking some ash in a bin that looked as though something with huge jaws had bitten it. He turned to Harry. "Jinx does my dirty work when I'm out doing the Dark Lord's. Got you well-trained, haven't I?"
Jinx frowned, stooping to pick her hat up off the floor and jam it on top of her hair. "I train myself. You... assist."
"Isn't she just precious, Harry?" said Peter, smiling.
Jinx scowled at her older brother. "I'm NOT precious."
Harry couldn't help but smile. "So some of the time, when we think it's Peeves, it's you?" he asked Jinx.
"Yep," she said. "Getting more and more frequent now. For... various reasons."
"He knows, Jinx," said Peter, coolly, stubbing out his cigarette at last. "You don't have to play all secretive."
Jinx smirked. "You do."
"That's different," said Peter, returning the smirk. "Well, Harry. We should be getting you down to the feast. Hermione and Ron are worried about you." He stood up, glancing longingly at the packet of cigarettes for a moment but leaving them, heading for the door. Jinx watched Harry go with a rather shrewd look in her mismatching eyes.
"See you again, I guess," she said.
"You too," he replied, with a polite smile. She looked at him as though he'd bitten her.
Peter lead him out of the room, shutting the door behind them, plunging them back into the freezing cold and pitch darkness. "Don't mind Jinx. She doesn't like people."
"I figured," said Harry. "Um... Peter...?"
"Am I going to see you again like this? Like... as my guardian? Not as a poltergeist?"
Peter smiled. "I guess you will, but don't expect me to start walking around school like this. If Snape ever has to talk to you about the guardian thing, I'll be there though."
"Thanks," said Harry, smiling, even though Peter probably couldn't see it in the darkness.
They continued in silence down the icy cold passage for a few minutes, and when they reached the end door, Peter stopped, and through the tiny slices of light peeping through the cracks around the door, Harry could see him turn to face him.
"Look after yourself, Harry," he said, seriously. "If you need me, just tell one of the walls, they'll get the message to me."
Harry chuckled. "Okay, I will."
"And of course, Snape will always be around for a friendly chat," said Peter, his tone very mused. "I'm sure he'll just love you hammering on his door in the middle of the night."
"Yeah, I'm sure he would," Harry grinned. He felt a sudden increase in coldness around him, as something only half-solid hugged him. He smiled, unsure whether to hug back or not, but Peter drew back pretty soon afterwards.
"Get going then," his guardian's voice said, playfully. "And don't get into mischief. I'll be watching."
Harry smiled, and with a last, "Bye", he peeled back the wall and stepped through. It flapped shut behind him, and he took a moment to remember where it was, just in case, then he headed towards the Great Hall. He felt quite hungry after the excitement of the day, and also wanted to make sure Ron and the rest of his friends were all okay.
He made his way quietly along the dark corridors, and then down the marble staircase into the entrance hall. The doors were shut. The feast must have already started. He pushed the doors hard, easing them open, and slipping in. Everybody in the hall turned to look at him, and there were a few murmurs of "Harry!" He looked up, and saw Hermione and Ron waving frantically at him from the Gryffindor table. He glanced at the staff table, and feeling as though he ought to apologise for the interruption, he said, "Sorry, Professor Dumbledore."
"That's quite alright Harry," said the headmaster. "At least you're here."
Aware that everybody was looking at him, speculating over where he had been all this time, he hurried over to sit between Ron and Hermione. Hermione said, "We were so worried about you!", as the school started to talk again.
"Sorry," he said. "Really, I didn't know I'd be dragged off."
"Where did you go?" asked Ron.
Harry said, "Uh, it's - hey, what sort of soup is this? Looks delicious."
Ron shrugged. "I don't know, it looks a bit weird to me. It's got all skin forming on the top. Eat it if you want, don't come crying to me when it congeals in your stomach."
Harry didn't really care about this, and ladelled some into his bowl. Everybody else seemed to be eating bread rolls, still scared of the Risotta striking again. Harry was too hungry to be overly worried.
Hermione was talking very quickly next to him, and he only managed to pick up what she was saying once he'd got used to the pace. "...and then you were just gone, and of course we didn't notice until we were in Flitcwick's office, and it was Draco who realised you were gone first and he told me, and I thought it had caught you and I know we should have gone looking for you but - "
"Give him a break, Hermione, he's probably been hidden away in some secret place to be guarded against the Heliopath," said Ron, grinning.
Harry smiled slightly, dipping his bread into the soup and going to take a chunk out of it. He paused, frowning, and sniffed at the soup tentatively. "Does this smell weird to you?" he said to Hermione.
She frowned too, and smelt it carefully, wrinkling her nose. "Eurgh, yes." She took another sniff and recoiled away. "Harry, that's horrible... don't eat it."
Harry had no intentions of doing that. He looked around at the other Gryffindors, and said, "Don't eat the soup," then picked up his own bowl full of the stuff, got up, and headed for the staff table. For a moment, he wondered who to take it to, and then decided on Dumbledore. Maybe he wasn't just being paranoid.
Dumbledore looked up from his conversation with Professor Sprout, and smiled. "Ah, Harry. What can I do for you?"
"I think there's something wrong with the Gryffindors' soup, Professor," he said, quietly. He placed the bowl down in front of Dumbledore. "It smells... odd."
Dumbledore smiled, his eyes twinkling. "Dear me... let's see then." He lifted the bowl carefully, and had a few tentative sniffs. He looked thoughtful for a moment, as he pondered the smell. Every single eye in the hall was now on him.
Dumbledore put the soup down, frowning in a pensive sort of way. He glanced behind him, and pulled something up to the table. Harry saw that it was a large potplant, with very bright, shiny green leaves. Dumbledore ladelled some of the soup onto one of the dessert spoons, and poured it gently into the soil of the plant.
Everybody watched on tenterhooks. The plant seemed fine, just as glossy and green, perfectly healthy. Harry was starting to think that maybe he had been paranoid - when there was a loud, horrible hissing sound. The plant seemed to cave in on itself, wilting instantly, its leaves shrivelling up to be blackened and crinkled, its tall, proud stem bending down in a crooked arch.
Dumbledore said, "Thankyou, Harry. I'll ask everybody to please not eat the soup, and to please return to their common rooms calmly. Anybody who has eaten the soup, please come here. The other professors and I will come round with food supplies within the hour." He looked very seriously around at them all. "If anybody knows who or what is responsible for this, please come and see me. If not, it may be something far more important than a plant which dies next."
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