Chapter 3 : Wayward Spirit
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Harry was an exception, and for a brief instant, Peeves felt a trickle of remorse clutch him at his deception. He liked the boy, whose compassion had set him free to roam in a mortal body again. But not enough, sad to say, to honor his bargain. In life he had always been selfish and conniving, and death had not changed his basic make-up much. He was a gambler and mischief-maker at heart, always with an eye out for the main chance. And when he had persuaded Harry to trade places, he took it for all it was worth.
He stepped out onto the lawn, taking great gulps of the night air. Strange how the living took for granted the mere act of life—breathing. Never had the air tasted so sweet, Peeves mused. It filled his lungs with its sweet essence, and he smelled the odor of fresh grass, water, and night-blooming flowers upon the wind. As a ghost, Peeves had forgotten the sheer sensations of smell, touch, sight, and sound. They returned to him in a glorious rush and he drank them in like a drunkard gulping a flagon of wine after months of going without.
Though Peeves' poltergeist nature allowed him to become somewhat solid on occasion, it was but a trick of will and the mind. All of his abilities to interact with the mortal world were powered by his swift wit and will, and the amount of focus he had to use to make a robe flutter or a book move across a room or a loud bang usually drained him significantly. Now, however, he danced and spun across the lawn, light as a feather, and glorying in how carefree he felt.
The night air was cool upon his skin and he reveled in the soft breeze that had come up. The air had a bit of a nip in it, but even that he didn't mind. As a ghost he was devoid of feeling physical sensations, and he had only the memory of how the wind had felt, or the taste of fine wine, or the softness of silk to sustain him. After so many centuries, even that was starting to fade, and Peeves had struggled to hold onto them. Spirits who allowed themselves to forget what they had been became wisps, drifting hither and yon, chaff upon the wind, and in a way they became nothing. Peeves refused to let himself seek oblivion in that fashion.
The former poltergeist wandered down the path leading to Hogsmeade, knowing that it was yet too early for the village to be awake, but he could wait. As a ghost he had learned patience, something that when he had been alive he'd never mastered beyond the time it took to pick a pocket.
He walked among the shuttered buildings, resisting the temptation to pick the locks on the doors of the residences and spy upon the sleeping occupants. He headed up the street towards The Hog's Head, once his favorite tavern, and by chance stumbled over a drunk patron sleeping off one too many along the side of the road.
Quick as a blink, Peeves knelt beside the snoring wizard, whose robes were rumpled and stained with wine, but of good quality. An easy mark, he thought scornfully, and his fingers danced through the slumbering man's pockets, emerging with several Sickles and three Galleons. They vanished up Peeves's sleeve and the former ghost whistled as he strolled down the street.
Even after so many centuries, he had not forgotten how to fleece a yokel, and his fingers were still as nimble as ever, skilled at parting a fool and his money. Now he had coin enough to play with, and he rubbed his hands eagerly, impatient for the coming of dawn.
Abe Dumbledore, proprietor of The Hog's Head, threw open his doors for business around 7AM. Most of his regulars were still sleeping off last night's hangover, and he didn't expect to see anyone except one or two customers who normally stopped in for a pint before work. So he was surprised to see a new face stroll through the doors and come up to the bar. "New around here, friend?"
The young man smirked. "Not really. But it's been a long time since I've had a drink," Peeves replied. He held out a hand to the barman. "Name's Jerome." That had been his name before he had died, Jerome of Wickham-by-the-Moor. Later, people would shorten the title to be just plain Jerome Wickham. Brother Ansel, the infirmarian, had chosen that name for the nameless orphan because Jerome was the patron saint of orphans. But when he had died and discovered he was a poltergeist, he had changed his name to something less ordinary and more fitting.
"What's your poison?" asked Abe genially.
"Your finest ale, and would you happen to have a bite to eat with it?"
"I would, but you can get better next door at The Three Broomsticks," Abe admitted.
"This will do. What do you have?" asked Peeves, who was beginning to get hungry. And that too was a long-forgotten sensation.
"Scrambled eggs, toast, fried potatoes, and bacon. That's it. Nothing fancy."
"Sounds good." At this point, Peeves would have eaten dirt, his stomach was grumbling so loud.
Very shortly, Abe returned with a steaming hot plate of food and a foamy amber ale with a big head on it. "There you go, Jerome! Hope you enjoy it."
"I'm sure I will," Peeves said, then fell upon the food and ale like a starveling waif.
The heather ale was rich and frothy, and the taste brought back memories of sitting in front of a fire or around a dice table with long dead companions. Peeves savored the dark taste of peat with a golden overtone of honeyed sweetness.
The eggs were fluffy and cooked just right, as was the buttered toast, the crunchy potatoes, and the savory bacon. Peeves felt as if he had died and gone to heaven. After so long without tastebuds, every mouthful of food exploded on his tongue with exquisite delight, and former poltergeist found himself gasping with sheer pleasure. Nothing had ever tasted so good as that simple meal. He washed it all down with the remainder of the ale, then ordered a second pint.
He drank that one more leisurely, wiping off the foam from his lips with a sigh of satisfaction. He quickly made a decision to frequent the pub more often, told Abe he had the best ale he'd ever tasted, and said he would be back later; he paid his tab and departed, heading to Honeydukes.
As a young man, Peeves often had a craving for sweets, and now that he had returned to life, he was more than willing to indulge it once more. He pushed open the door of the sweet shop, inhaling the aromas of dark chocolate, melted marshmallow, caramel, and sticky sugary goodness.
Ten minutes later he had bought several bags of sweets, and had gone outside to sit beneath a tree and eat a few, while enjoying the mild morning, and watching people go by. While sucking on a chocolate drop he made up his mind to never return to the castle. After having a taste of the mortal realm again, he had no wish to give it up for his dreary boring undead life. Here he was free to go where he would and experience all the myriad sensations the mortal world had to offer. The last thing he wanted was to be mewed up in the castle again.
A pretty young woman was walking down the path, a small basket over her arm. She paused and smiled at Peeves, then began to gather some small pink and purple flowers and put them in the basket.
Peeves watched her for a moment, ogling her full figure and her tawny hair that fell past her shapely backside. She was wearing a claret-colored gown with black shoes and a silver disk with a cat emblazoned on it on a fine silver chain. Then he got to his feet, graceful as only a former thief could be. He pasted a smile on his face as he made his way towards her, recalling another art he had once been skilled at—flirting.
"I wonder where Harry's got to?" Justin inquired of Hannah as they made their way upstairs to the Great Hall for breakfast. His curly brown hair resembled a clown's wig, it was so thick and unrelentingly curly.
"Why? Wasn't he with you this morning?" asked the blond girl, giving a tug on one of her pig tails. She always did this when she was nervous or trying to think.
"Umm . . . now that I think about it, I don't recall seeing him before bed. But you know Harry, he could have fallen asleep on the couch in the common room, reading again."
Hannah nodded. "Maybe he's in the library? You know how he goes there early in the morning sometimes, because he says its quiet and he can study easily."
"I know, but our test for Professor Sprout isn't until Tuesday," Justin reminded her. "He has all Sunday and Monday to hit the books."
Hannah's stomach rumbled. "Do you think he'll remember to come for breakfast?"
"Maybe. Look, why don't you go on and eat, and I'll go look for him?" suggested her Housemate.
Hannah frowned. "No, I can wait. Come on, let's go to the library."
On their way past the Great Hall, they passed a group of Slytherins who were snickering and giggling about Malfoy being a crybaby and getting all worked up over a ghost.
Justin's eyes almost popped out of his head. "Hannah, did you hear that?" he gasped.
She nodded. "I did. And while I'd normally feel sorry for someone who got scared like that . . . I can't help but feel that he deserved it. He's been nothing but unpleasant and rude since we first started here."
"Right. Wait till we tell Harry." Justin grinned.
Little did he know that Harry had been observing him since they emerged from the portrait hole, following along silently. Only when his two friends had reached the entrance to the library did he decide to reveal himself.
"Tell me what, Justin?"
He materialized right in front of the dark-haired boy, making Justin yelp and startle.
"Great Merlin's ghost!" Hannah cried, her blue eyes wide in fear.
"H-Harry? Is that really you?" Justin whispered, his Adam's apple bobbing up and down.
"It is," the young ghost said, floating casually about a foot in the air.
"Oh, Harry!" Hannah wailed suddenly and burst into tears. "How did it happen? Was it an accident? Or murder?" She buried her face in her hands.
Harry goggled at her. "Murder? Hannah, what on earth are you talking about?"
"She's talking about how you died," Justin clarified. He too was beginning to look teary-eyed.
"Died?" Harry repeated. "Hannah, don't cry. Please, it's not like you think. I'm not dead yet."
"But Harry, how can you be a ghost and not be dead?" objected Justin.
"I can explain, Jus," Harry began. He wanted to reach out and pat Hannah on the shoulder, but knew he would just go right through her.
"You had better be able to do so, Harry James Potter," came a silky voice from behind the children, sharp with disapproval.
Justin almost jumped out of his robe and Hannah gave a small squeak and backed up into the wall just beside the library's double doors.
"Uncle Sev!" Harry exclaimed, and would have run forward to hug him if he hadn't been incorporeal and his godfather hadn't pinned him with one of his famous scowls, that could make a Dementor run for cover.
Severus crossed his arms over his chest and glared at his wayward godson. "Well, young man? I'm waiting."
Before Harry could reply, Hannah looked over at Severus and asked cautiously, "You're Unspeakable Snape, right? Head of the Department of Mysteries?"
"I am." Severus turned and offered her a handkerchief.
"I read all about your trial over the summer," Hannah said shyly, taking the handkerchief and blotting her eyes. "I . . . I think you were marvelous, sir."
"Ahem!" Severus cleared his throat, looking uncomfortable. "I did what I had to in order to save a child."
"You're Harry's godfather, right?" asked Justin. "Pleased to meet you. I'm Justin Finch-Fletchley, and this is my Housemate, Hannah Abbot." He stuck out a hand.
Severus returned the handshake gravely. "Likewise. Harry has said you are two of his best friends here." Then he turned back to his errant ward. "Mr. Potter?"
Harry suddenly was glad he was a ghost, because Severus' tone could have frozen the blood in his veins. He cleared his throat and said, "Well, you see, sir, it's like this . . ." He told Severus and his friends about how Peeves had come upon him while he had been returning from the kitchens and had wished he could become mortal again, because he missed the sensations of the mortal world and was depressed. He told them about Peeves' life before he died and then how he had agreed to switch places with the poltergeist.
"You did what? You made a deal with a poltergeist without making him swear upon his magic?" demanded Severus, fighting to control his temper. How could the boy have been so foolish?
"It's only for twelve hours, Uncle Severus." Harry said, feeling suddenly uneasy.
"And you trust Peeves to honor his word? From what you told me about his life, he seems to be a scoundrel and a wastrel of the first water," Severus declared. "Not the kind to hold to any sort of promise without a magical compulsion."
"He's right, Harry. Peeves is kind of dodgy," Hannah said.
"And crazy," Justin added.
Harry opened his mouth to tell Justin that Peeves was probably saner than some students he could name, but Severus turned to the two Hufflepuffs and said, "Would you excuse us for a moment, Mr. Finch-Fletchley and Miss Abbott? I need to have a private word with my godson."
Both students quickly nodded and bid Harry goodbye, Hannah calling over her shoulder, "We'll see you later, Harry. But right now we're both starving."
Justin looked as if he wished to stay and hear what the Unspeakable had to say, but Hannah dragged him in her wake. "Not so hard, Abbott! All right, I'll come and eat breakfast."
"Good, 'cause I'm starving."
Once the two were out of earshot, Severus proceeded to give Harry the lecture of the decade. He did not raise his voice, but nevertheless his tone dripped with anger, disappointment, and a quick biting sarcasm that made Harry flinch.
"How could you make a bargain like that, Harry? Peeves, in life and death, never concerned himself with students unless there's something in it for him. Did it never occur to you to wonder why no one until now ever made that bargain with him?"
"I thought it was 'cause nobody cared." Harry said, somewhat defensively. "I know how that is, and I just wanted to make him feel better. I didn't think it would do any harm, Uncle Sev."
Severus shook his head. "Harry, someday that compassionate heart of yours is going to get you into trouble you can't get out of. If it hasn't already. Do you know what could happen if Peeves doesn't return after twelve hours? You could be stuck as a ghost forever, if midnight on Halloween comes and you are still incorporeal."
"But Peeves might keep his end of the bargain, sir."
Severus' mouth twisted. "I trust him not, Harry. Nor should you. You need to start thinking before you make deals with ghastly beings, Harry. This mistake could cost you dearly. I thought you had more sense than this after the way you acted over the summer. Now it would seem you left your sense back at Spinner's End."
Harry hung his head, his conscience stinging from the lash of Severus' tongue. "Sorry, Uncle Severus. How did you know to come here?"
"I had a vision," answered the Unspeakable gruffly. "It came to me this morning and I knew you were in danger. I came as quickly as I could. Merciful Merlin, boy, but you seem to have a knack for trouble like your father! Not to mention making me worry myself to a sliver."
Now Harry felt even guiltier. He owed Severus his life and admired the tall sorcerer the way he did no other wizard. He wanted to make the Unspeakable proud of him. "Sorry, sir. I didn't mean to. It won't happen again."
"Humph!" Severus snorted. "Don't make promises you can't keep. Do you know if Peeves is still in the castle?"
Harry shook his head. "I don't think he is. He wanted to leave and walk outside." He looked up at Severus, who was still frowning, and for the first time, slivers of doubt crept into his mind. Suddenly, what had seemed like a simple request, a lark even, now became deadly serious. He swallowed hard. Fear skittered down his backbone and he wished that he could throw his arms about the tall wizard in the charcoal colored robes and hug him. "Uncle Sev? Do you really believe that Peeves would . . . that he won't return?"
Severus heaved a sigh. Harry's voice bore a quiver in it that hadn't been there before and the Unspeakable knew the boy was scared now. "Harry, I believe that Peeves does what's best for Peeves, and right now he's out there enjoying his freedom. But we'll have to wait and see, won't we?" He checked his watch, it was now past eight, almost nine.
"Yes, sir." The ghostly boy said mournfully, putting Severus in mind of a chastised puppy.
Severus relented a bit upon seeing the expression on Harry's face. He didn't enjoy scolding the child, even if he deserved it for being a reckless fool. "Why would you ever agree to such a request? Surely there must have been another reason besides feeling sorry for Peeves?"
"Well . . . I thought it would be fun . . . to be a ghost for a while." Harry admitted. "I could go all over the castle and everything. I talked to some of the other ghosts, and the Hunt Master let me ride a spectral mare, and be part of the Headless Hunt, I even pranked Malfoy by popping out of a mirror. . ." Harry trailed off, he hadn't meant to tell Severus that last part! He quickly went on. "I never thought Peeves might not come back, I just figured that he'd have to. I was stupid, huh?"
"You were very reckless and foolish," agreed the older wizard. "However, you live and learn, as my father would say. If Peeves has not returned at quarter to twelve, I shall begin searching for him. Until then, we shall give him the benefit of the doubt." The Unspeakable waved his wand, and a table and a chair sprang up. "At the moment, I need to eat breakfast. If I am to scry this wayward spirit later, I need to eat." He called for a house elf named Tipsy and ordered a sandwich of egg, bacon, and tomato on a hard roll, a side of crispy potatoes, and a cup of coffee.
Harry watched his godfather eat with something like envy, only now realizing what Peeves had felt. Even though he couldn't feel hunger or thirst, he could remember how food and drink tasted and smelled, and it made him long to be sitting next to his godfather, enjoying a meal. "Uncle Severus?"
Severus set down his fork. "What now, Harry?" he said irritably.
"Sorry, but I just wanted to know if . . . once I'm back to normal, if we could still go to Godric's Hollow? Or am I in trouble?" He thought regretfully of how he would now miss trick-or-treating with his friends.
Severus turned about so he was facing his godson. "Yes, we shall still go and visit your parents' graves. I would never punish you by denying you a visit. Furthermore, I would say that your own folly has punished you more than enough, and anything I could add would seem superfluous."
"Too much," translated his guardian. Then he turned back to eating his breakfast.
Once he had done, he vanished the small table and chair, then said, "As long as I am waiting, I may as well do some research into how to capture a wayward spirit. Come along, Harry."
Snape entered the library, with Harry gliding along behind, making the back of Severus' neck tingle with a cold draft.
While Severus read through several ancient texts, a bored Harry amused himself by floating through bookshelves and sticking his head out, or making the books float in and out. He even slipped into the Restricted Section for a few moments and tried to read a text about potions. But Severus caught him and ordered him out of there.
"Merlin's bones, boy, but you could become trapped inside a book if you trigger a ward!" he snapped. "Now use the brains God gave you and stay where I can see you and stop looking for trouble, or else!"
Harry muttered another apology and settled down on the carpet beside Severus' chair. It was past nine now and still there was no sign of Peeves. If Harry had a stomach, it would have been churning with anxiety.
Hannah and Justin returned to the library and Harry asked tentatively if he could go and talk with them. Severus agreed, waving him off, saying he was breaking his concentration.
The ghost boy flew off to a more secluded place in the library, where he regaled his friends about how he had pranked Malfoy and scared him witless, and also teased Filch as well. All of them had a good laugh at Malfoy's expense and though Hannah said he shouldn't tease the caretaker, harry could tell she found the image of Filch running down the corridor shaking his fist at nothing funny.
"What's it feel like to be a ghost?" she asked then.
"Sort of . . . cold and well, it's hard to describe because you don't really feel anymore . . . not the way you would with a body . . ." Harry struggled to explain. "You're kind of there and not there."
"How do you move things then?"
"Uh . . . I just think about it really hard and they move."
"Like a telekinetic!" Justin cried. "That's a person that can move things with their mind, like Jean Grey from the X-Men."
"Who's Jean Grey? Is she a witch?" Hannah asked, puzzled.
Justin shook his head. "No, she's a character in a comic book."
Before he could go off on a tangent about his favorite comic, Harry interrupted. "A comic book's like a story with pictures that Muggle kids read, Hannah. My cousin Dudley used to read them and so did I." Harry didn't tell them that he used to fish them out of the trash once Dudley had tired of them and threw them away. "Anyway, yeah it's kind of like that."
They chatted on for another hour or two, and then Hannah looked at the clock on the wall and whispered, "Harry, it's almost eleven thirty! And Peeves hasn't . . . come back yet. What are you going to do?"
"There's only one thing I can do, Hannah. Wait until quarter of and hope he returns."
"What if he doesn't?" Justin asked.
"Then my godfather will go look for him."
"Oh. I hope he can find him, the blighter," Justin frowned. "It's too bad you can't come trick-or-treating with us, Harry."
"I know. Wish I could. I've really messed things up."
"We could wait. Maybe Peeves will come back on his own," said Hannah hopefully.
"I doubt it. You were all right. I never should have trusted him." Harry said glumly. "Don't wait for me, Hannah. There's no telling how long it'll take Uncle Sev to find him and I don't want to ruin your Halloween too."
"But it wouldn't feel right, us going off and leaving you here."
Harry shrugged. "That's what I get for not thinking twice. Don't worry about me. I'll be fine. You and Justin go out and enjoy yourselves."
"We'll get some extra sweets for you," Justin promised.
Harry watched as the two made their way out of the library, meeting up with Ernie MacMillan and Cedric in the Entrance Hall. Feeling sorry for himself, he soared back to where Severus was still browsing the books and whispered, "It's eleven thirty."
"I am aware of that, Harry." Severus continued to read.
But after five minutes of hearing his godson huffing and sighing and feeling a cold breeze tickle his ears, Severus set down his book and stood up. "You are as bad as a toddler whining for attention," he said shortly. He reached into a pocket of his robes and removed a silver scrying bowl, which he filled with pure water from his wand.
"I didn't know you could See in water, Uncle Severus. I thought you could only foretell in dreams."
"I can scry out a person's location in water, it's a remote viewing, which is not the same as a foretelling," Severus explained impatiently. "Now hush, I need to concentrate."
Severus lowered his head, gazing into the bowl.
The surface of the water began to ripple, then it glowed with a sudden burst of silvery light.
Harry threw up a hand and went backwards, for even though the light couldn't hurt his eyes as a ghost, his reaction was instinctive.
Severus, peering into the water, saw a rather ordinary looking youth with a sly face seated at a poker table, a glass of ale at his elbow, a rather buxom woman in a revealing red dress hanging onto his shoulder, gleefully raking in a pot of chips.
Typical, thought the Unspeakable, his lips curling. It didn't surprise him to find the mortal Peeves at a pub, gambling, drinking, and cozying up to a woman of ill repute. But where was he? He could be anywhere—Hogsmeade, York, anywhere . . .Severus concentrated. Show me where. Show me.
The water in the bowl swirled faster and faster. Until it settled and a picture came into focus of a pub sign. The Hound and the Falcon. Est. since 1857. There was a stylized picture of a foxhound running and above a falcon in flight, pursuing a rabbit. Beneath it were the words Finest lager in all of London.
Severus scowled at the image, which was wavering. London. So he was going to do a runner. Ha! He would have gotten away with it too, if not for my vision. He passed a hand over the bowl and the picture vanished.
"Well? Did you find him?"
Severus rubbed his eyes, the strain of remote viewing often made his sight a little blurry right afterwards. "Yes. He is in a pub in London, enjoying a hand of cards, among other things."
"London! But that's . . . miles and miles from here! What's he doing there?"
"Winning himself a fortune, it would seem. As well as reneging on your agreement." Severus quickly banished the water and tucked the scrying bowl away. "But now that I know where he is, I can fetch him back. I shouldn't be long. Stay here and read or take a nap."
"Uncle Sev, ghosts don't need sleep."
"Then contemplate dust dragons or something, but stay out of trouble until I return, clear?"
"Do I have your word?" asked the sorcerer sternly.
"I promise, on my honor, I'll behave."
Severus nodded. Then he slipped like a shadow from the library, his dark gray cloak fluttering about him like the wings of an avenging angel. There was a reckoning to be paid, and Severus Snape, Unspeakable, was going to make sure it was paid in full.
I meant to update this much sooner, but retail with the holidays is very busy and I have extra shifts to cover at work as well as cooking for Thanksgiving and various other commitments so I haven't had time to write much. It's probably going to be that way for much of the holiday season, so updates will be less frequent.
But please review!
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