This Means War
‘Guess again, Filchy!’
The ghost of Fred Weasley zoomed off down one of the many corridors at Hogwarts School for Witchcraft and Wizardry, razzing his tongue at Argus Filch, the long-suffering caretaker. Filch shook his fist in a futile gesture of rage as the apparition of the former Gryffindor disappeared around a corner. It was bad enough having to deal with Peeves the Poltergeist, but having Fred Weasley’s ghost adding to the castle’s spectral shenanigans was driving Filch very much to distraction. He’d complained, at length, and on numerous occasions, to the Headmistress, Professor Minerva McGonagall, but to no avail. She had simply told him that she had no control over which ghosts decided to take up residence in the castle, and that Filch should count himself lucky that the ghost of Thomas Marvolo Riddle, better known as the late Lord Voldemort, was not roaming the halls instead.
Still, Filch disliked the ghosts almost as much as he did the students.
‘Someone call my name?’ said an all too familiar voice behind Filch’s right ear. The caretaker jumped, spun around, and sagged as he stared viciously into the milky eyes of Peeves.
‘Sod off, Peeves,’ said Filch, bitterly. ‘I’ve got enough of Weasley’s mess to clean up without you sticking yer oar in.’ Filch stormed off to fetch his broom, leaving Peeves floating silently in mid-air.
Weasley again. Peeves had found himself several times since Fred Weasley’s ghostly arrival to Hogwarts at a loss for the new-comers pranks. For as long as Peeves could remember it was he who was the proud bane of Argus Filch’s existence, but now? Now his position was being challenged. Now Weasley was trying to muscle in on his turf. A wicked grin spread across Peeves’ face.
‘Well played, Weasley,’ he said, in his usual mocking, sing-song voice. ‘Well played indeed.’
* * *
Fred Weasley loved being a ghost. He missed being alive, of course, but the scope for mischief when you could fly through walls and vanish at will was indescribable. He’d died during the now famous Battle for Hogwarts, and was considered, by many, a hero, amongst the others who had fallen in the fight against Lord Voldemort. Moody, Lupin, Tonks, all now lionised as martyrs to a great cause, which was all fine and good, but Fred was not about to spend his afterlife resting on old glories. He’d found out quite quickly, after he’d died, that you get a choice of where you go in the afterlife, and once he’d remembered the glee with which Peeves seemed to live in constantly while playing up the students and staff at Hogwarts, there was no other choice for Fred. He’d asked to be sent to Hogwarts as a poltergeist, and he was loving every minute of it.
He got on well enough with the other ghosts, although he knew to avoid the Slytherin ghost, The Bloody Baron, but he’d done enough of that when he was alive, so that was practically second nature to him. The other ghosts seemed to regard him as a breath of fresh air, after however many centuries of having to put up with Peeves’ antics. He’d admired the poltergeist’s handiwork while he was alive, and would often commend him to his twin brother, George, but now that he too was a poltergeist, Fred had started to find that perhaps he and Peeves were a little too alike for comfort. Their senses of humour ran almost parallel to one another, and, as time wore on, they found each other getting in one another’s way. Fred would discover Peeves setting up a trick that he himself was planning for later that day, or Peeves would hear a ruckus caused by Fred and be robbed of some mischief.
Put simply, Hogwarts wasn’t being enough for the both of them.
The castle had played witness to both entities – Fred and Peeves – go from delighting in tormenting Filch and ribbing the students, to playing an increasingly destructive game of one-upmanship, much to the chagrin of the school caretaker, for it was he who had to clean up after them. Shattered windows, dismantled suits of armour, ripped tapestries: nothing seemed sacred as Fred and Peeves battled it out throughout the classrooms and corridors. That is, aside from Professor McGonagall’s office. Fred and Peeves might have been rambunctious, but they weren’t stupid, and messing with Minerva McGonagall was just something you didn’t do, alive or dead.
Anything else, though, was fair game.
And the game was getting rough.
* * *
‘This really won’t do, Headmistress.’
Madam Pomfrey stood with Professor McGonagall in the Hospital Wing of Hogwarts. They were not alone. Sat on the bed in front of them was a timid-looking first year student, with a bloodied nose.
‘How did this happen?’ asked McGonagall, directing the question at the student.
‘I…,’ began the first year.
‘I was walking to my Charms class when… when…’
‘Yes? Go on, child.’
‘When something flew out of an empty classroom and hit me in the face.’
‘Hmmm.’ Professor McGonagall went silent for a moment, while she thought the situation over. It was not uncommon for a student to get a knock or two when in the path of a wayward spell, but Minerva McGonagall was a shrewd woman, and she could tell what, in Madam Pomfrey’s opinion, wouldn’t do.
‘I tell you, Headmistress, it’s that dratted Peeves again!’
‘Poppy.’ McGonagall turned to face the Matron.
‘Or that Weasley! I’ll stake my career on it!’
‘Poppy, without proof…’
‘Hang proof!’ shrilled Madam Pomfrey. ‘It’s one of them, I know it! It was bad enough when it was just Peeves, but to add Weasley to the mix? I’ve enough to do with Quidditch injuries alone without tending to the casualties of their silly little games!’
‘Poppy, please.’ McGonagall’s tone was calm but resolute. It said that now was not the time to discuss such matters, especially in front of a student. Madam Pomfrey caught sight of the look in Professor McGonagall’s eyes and quieted her tirade.
‘I’m sorry, Headmistress,’ she said, rather sheepishly. ‘But something really must be done about those two. It really should.’
‘Anyway,’ said McGonagall, turning again to face the student with the bloodied nose. ‘What’s your name, young lady?’
‘Wiggin, Headmistress. Nellie Wiggin.’
‘Well, Nellie, what was it that hit you in the face?’
‘An inkwell, Headmistress.’
‘And, did you happen to see who sent the inkwell flying out of the classroom?’ Madam Pomfrey made to speak, but Professor McGonagall raised a hand and silenced her.
‘Um, no, Headmistress.’
‘I see. Poppy, a word, please.’
‘Am I in trouble, Headmistress?’ asked Nellie.
‘What? Oh, no. Of course not. Thank you for telling me what happened, Nellie. If Madam Pomfrey has seen to you then you may return to your common room.’
‘Yes, Headmistress. Thank you.’ Nellie slipped off of the bed and scurried out of the Hospital Wing, wiping the last of the blood from her nose with a handkerchief as she did so. Professor McGonagall knew that Madam Pomfrey could have seen to the girl and had her on her way in next to no time, but she had insisted on summoning the Headmistress.
Once the door of the Hospital Wing had closed, Professor McGonagall turned again to face Madam Pomfrey.
‘I tell you Peeves is to blame!’
‘Or Weasley. I…’
‘Poppy!’ Professor McGonagall raising her voice was more than sufficient to quieten Madam Pomfrey again.
‘My apologies, Headmistress.’
‘I understand and appreciate your concerns, Poppy,’ said McGonagall, diplomatically. ‘But without proof I cannot go around simply accusing Peeves or Weasley of something that they might not have done.’
‘As Headmistress, I have a duty of care to all within the castle walls, alive and dead.’ The finality in McGonagall’s voice suggested that this was the end of the matter, and Madam Pomfrey knew better than to push the issue any further.
‘So, I shall see you at dinner then, yes?’
Professor McGonagall nodded a goodbye to the school Matron and left the Hospital Wing, bound for her office. She did not get far, because she was almost instantly run into by a very flustered looking Madam Hooch.
‘Headmistress!’ said Madam Hooch, breathlessly.
‘Why, Rolanda, whatever is the matter?’
The Quidditch Mistress was so out of breath, and clearly overcome with rage, that she could barely get the words out.
‘I’m sorry Rolanda, but you’ll have to slow down if you want me to grasp what it is you’re trying to tell me. Take a breath and start again.’
Madam Hooch stared daggers and composed herself as best she could. After a few deliberate breaths, she tried again.
‘Headmistress, the Quidditch pitch has been vandalised!’
‘Yes! In the most brazen and shameful way!’ Madam Hooch was shaking, she was so angry.
‘Well, I’d better come and see.’
‘There’s no need to!’ spluttered Madam Hooch. ‘You can see perfectly well from up here!’ She gestured pointedly to a nearby window, silently urging Professor McGonagall to approach it. Somewhat unsure, the Headmistress walked calmly over to the window and looked out into the grounds of the school.
‘Oh,’ she said.
From the window, Professor McGonagall could see all too clearly what Madam Hooch was on about. Scorched into the pristine lawn of the Quidditch pitch, in fifty-foot long letters, were these words:
‘You see?’ shrilled Madam Hooch, painfully close to Professor McGonagall’s ear.
‘Yes, Rolanda. I see.’ Professor McGonagall’s voice was thin and icy. Even Madam Hooch in her indignant fury noticed it. She took a step away from the Headmistress. Professor McGonagall’s eyes stared fixedly at the befouled pitch; her pupils two pinpricks of anger. After a moment’s painful silence, Madam Hooch ventured forward.
‘What…what are we to do, Headmistress?’
‘Fetch me the Bloody Baron.’
‘Because I want to speak to Peeves, immediately,’ said McGonagall, frost caking her every word. ‘And the Baron’s the only soul in this castle who can bring Peeves to me in the speed I wish him delivered.’
‘Um…’ was all Madam Hooch could think to say.
‘Now, please, Rolanda.’ Professor McGonagall said all of this without moving from the spot. Her gaze never left the Quidditch pitch.
‘Yes, Headmistress.’ Against all reason, Madam Hooch felt the need to bob a little curtsey before scurrying off in the direction of the Slytherin dungeons to seek out the Bloody Baron.
* * *
‘But it wasn’t me!’
Peeves’ high voice rang through Professor McGonagall’s office door a second before he and the Bloody Baron floated through it; Peeves looking decidedly put out, and the Baron looking rather perturbed himself.
‘Peeves, Headmistress,’ said the Baron, with an air of disinterest.
‘Thank you, your Lordship,’ said Professor McGonagall, with a respectful nod. The Baron returned the nod, gave Peeves one last withering look and floated back through the wall. As soon as he had gone Professor McGonagall picked up her wand and said a spell so quickly that Peeves could not make out what it was.
‘What was that?’ asked the poltergeist, suspiciously.
‘Just something to ensure that I have your undivided attention,’ said the Headmistress sweetly.
Peeves, normally supremely confident and brash, did not like not being in control. Professor McGonagall could tell he was worried: he had removed his cap and was wringing it in his opaque hands.
‘Sit down, please.’
Peeves bristled at being spoken to as if he were still a student at the school. He hadn’t bent to authority when he was alive and he didn’t see why he should start now. With panic-tinged anger, he flew determinedly at the door, planning to get as far away from the Headmistress as possible…
But it didn’t work.
With a sound like a wet towel being thrown to the floor, Peeves slammed into the heavy wood of the door, causing him to ricochet off of it and float backwards a foot or two. A look of utter confusion crossed his face, and he turned around to look at Professor McGonagall, who remained sitting and perfectly motionless, her cool gaze never leaving his.
‘Wh…what have you done?’ There was a definite quaver in his normally boisterous voice.
‘Oh, a simple incantation to stop you leaving before we are done.’
‘You can’t…’ began Peeves.
‘I can and I have,’ said McGonagall evenly. ‘Now, please, sit.’
Still with fear in his eyes, Peeves floated uncertainly over to the chair that sat on the opposite side of McGonagall’s desk. He settled himself as best he could, but his face told a story of confusion, fear, and anger. Once sat, McGonagall addressed him again.
‘I take it from your protests to the Bloody Baron that I heard before you came in that you know why you are here?’ McGonagall’s tone was dangerously calm. Peeves squirmed uneasily.
‘Yes, but it wasn’t me!’
‘I haven’t even been near the Quidditch pitch today!’
‘Is that so?’
‘Well, you have me at a loss,’ said McGonagall, her voice a steel trap waiting to be sprung. Unless you are trying to tell me that we have another Peeves within our number who just happened to take it upon themselves to scorch their name in fifty foot letters on the Quidditch pitch!’ McGonagall’s voice rose and was brought back under control, but it was enough to disquiet Peeves even further. He continued to wring his cap in his hands, and he had started to avoid the Headmistresses fiery gaze.
‘But…’ mumbled Peeves.
‘But it wasn’t me, Headmistress. I swear.’
‘You swear, do you?’
‘Yes. I don’t like this. I didn’t do it.’
‘You’ll forgive me, Peeves, if I have trouble taking you at your word. I’m sure you’ll agree that your track record to date does not fill me with confidence.’
‘Didn’t do it.’ Peeves was practically sulking when he said this.
‘Then who did?’
A moment’s silence passed before Peeves raised his head and locked eyes with Professor McGonagall.
‘What about Weasley?’
‘Which one?’ said McGonagall, sweetly. ‘There are, after all, an awful lot of them.’
‘Fred Weasley!’ shouted Peeves. ‘He did this! I bet he did! Why don’t you ask him?’
‘I intend to,’ said McGonagall, calmly. ‘But, seeing as it was your name that is now emblazoned on to the pitch I felt it prudent to speak to you first.’
Professor McGonagall looked down at her desk and began writing something. An awkward silence filled the room, and Peeves squirmed some more.
‘Hmmm?’ McGonagall didn’t look up.
‘May I go, please?’
‘Oh, yes.’ McGonagall waved her wand with a graceful flourish. ‘You should have no trouble exiting in your normal way now.’ Peeves visibly sagged with relief, and was almost at the door when the Headmistress spoke again.
The poltergeist froze in mid-air.
‘You have sworn to me and looked me in the eye that you did not do this. I feel it only fair to tell you that I hope, for your sake, that you are telling the truth.’
Peeves swallowed. There was no need for him to, being a ghost, but fear reactions can be hard to shake.
‘Then be on your way.’
Peeves did not need telling twice. He gratefully floated through the door and out into the corridor. He did not like the feeling that seemed to be swelling inside him like a rancid balloon. He had no problem at all admitting to his own antics, but this was the first time he had been accused of doing something that he hadn’t done.
He didn’t like it one bit.
Then the ghost of Fred Weasley emerged from the shadows.
‘Get you good, did she, Peevesey?’ he cooed, mockingly.
Peeves eyes narrowed.
‘You did this.’
A beat of silence spread out between the two apparitions. Peeves looking at Fred with suspicion and anger, Fred at Peeves with wicked glee.
As soon as Fred uttered the two words he was off, whizzing down the corridor, jeering Peeves to give chase. Sudden hot rage flared up inside Peeves and he shot after him, hurling curses as he went. The ghosts of Hogwarts could do magic, but they mostly chose not to. Peeves, however, now considered the gloves well and truly off, and he fired spell after spell at the retreating figure of Fred Weasley as they scorched their way through the castle.
Pandemonium erupted around the two ghosts as they fought through corridors and classrooms, hallways and stairwells. Fred had begun to retaliate so now there were spells flying in all directions from both ghosts. Classes were disrupted, students knocked out of chairs, desks upended; Hogwarts had become a war zone between Fred and Peeves. The other ghosts tried to intervene, but to no avail. Not even the Bloody Baron could calm Peeves this time; his frustration and fury were just too great. Fred went from fun and games to serious business when he saw how determined Peeves was to catch him with the particularly nasty curses, hexes, and jinxes that he was flinging at him.
The gloves were definitely off.
Through the Great Hall they battled. Across the Entrance Hall, tearing through the Library, and even causing chaos in the kitchens where the House Elves worked. The path of destruction left in their wake was sure to give Filch a month-long headache.
Silence descended upon the castle like a slap in the face. Fred and Peeves hung motionless in mid-air as the echoes of the firm shout died away. Students, cowering from the debris caused by the warring spectres, poked their heads out to see who had managed to put a stop to the mayhem.
It was Professor McGonagall.
She stood rigid as a board and pale as a cold morning. Her mouth was drawn into a thin line of undeniable anger, and her eyes blazed with a fury that would have unnerved Lord Voldemort. A few loose sheets of parchment fluttered down from where they had been blown by this spell or that, but that was the only sound to be heard for what felt like a lifetime.
Finally, McGonagall spoke.
‘You two. My office. Now!’
The Headmistress turned on her heel and stalked off, confident in the knowledge of two things: that Fred and Peeves would be following her, and what she would do to them if they dared to try and flee. As the frightful clicking of her boots on the flagstones began to die away, students began to slowly resume their normal school day, leaving Fred and Peeves floating side by side, alone with their thoughts.
Fred looked at Peeves.
Peeves looked at Fred.
They both smiled.
‘Nice one, Weasley,’ said Peeves, grinning his usual malicious grin.
‘Call that one a draw, Peeves?’ asked Fred, returning the grin with gusto.
The two troublesome ghosts shook hands and floated off, ready to be screamed at by professor McGonagall.
It was worth it.
The game was worth it.
* * *
- November 2015