Characters: Peter Pettigrew, Pomona Sprout
Summary: Peter Pettigrew in an experience he certainly never dreamed of.
Author's Notes: Only the idea is mine. For the January 2006 Challenge, and not meant to be this long, but what can you do? Title taken from the Rolling Stones song.
Special props to dolorous_ett for "Kate" and "Hanging Baskets."
The Spy Pumpkins were watching him again.
Guilty conscience? he tried to laugh to himself, only to choke on his own hysteria and nearly cause a fit.
At 14, Peter Pettigrew was still the same short, plump boy that he had been at 13, 12, and 11. Sometimes he felt as if he had grown a little by now, but as he still only came up to the second tassel on the third-lowest tapestry hanging from the common room ceiling, he couldn't believe that for very long.
He hadn't grown in spirit, either. Despite the sterling examples of recklessness, inventiveness, and sheer gumption that his three-best-friends-in-the-world showed daily, Peter had remained a bit of a coward. Admitting it at least had given him some much-needed privacy; after all, if one were always going to stammer, "Er, I don't know Sirius, should we...?" one would soon stop being expected to join in. One could just go off and sit and think and dream in quiet corners, such as Superfluous Greenhouse No. 3, where even Professor Sprout had never been seen.
For Peter knew things about himself that no one else did, things that could only come out when he was alone. He knew he had all the gumption and ingenuity and bravery of his friends, and more. Inside, he was teeming with promise and executive ability and daring and - and he was just biding his time to Reveal All and it was just too bad for all the fools who wouldn't see that until it was too late...
An orange-tinted rustle drove all thoughts of noble escapades right out of his head. Maybe he could make it to the door in time. Maybe not.
It had been such a grand plan at first, too. After finding out that most quiet corners of Hogwarts were occupied by either Remus, romantic sixth years, frantic seventh years, or shifty-eyed Slytherins, Peter had been forced to go far afield to find a haunt of his own. Well, not too far afield, he thought scrupulously, banishing for once his preferred story of traveling day and night through sundry battles just to find the Haven of Glory.
He had just about decided to hole up in a creaky tree near Hagrid's hut when he overheard a chance remark by Professor Sprout during class. Hagrid had just come nonchalantly into the greenhouse, which for Hagrid meant he was far more conspicuous than usual, and Professor Sprout had rounded on him before he even had a chance to speak.
"No, Hagrid, you may NOT use Greenhouse No. 3, I've told you time and again that you shouldn't keep things like that around here, and besides, it's quite full up! Quite!" And Professor Sprout glared like a crotchety sunflower from beneath her bulbous hat.
"Not so full up that ye can't see clear shelves from miles aroun', ye never use that glorified ou'house anyway," muttered Hagrid as he stomped off with his slightly squirming sack.
His friends hadn't noticed the byplay, being rather engrossed with the Deceptively Adorable Yet Ferociously Vicious Hanging Basket (where Peter was the designated note-taker), but Peter felt as if he had suddenly been awash with golden sunlight from inside out.
Superfluous Greenhouse No. 3, one of a set that had seen better days. Superfluous to all of Hogwarts except for him, now, Peter was instantly sure. The trees that grew around and over the old buildings, shading the panes of glass to dull glimmers of sunlight, suddenly became perfect secret-keepers. And they were a fair distance from the current greenhouses in use today.
Lost in a daydream of a whole building all to himself, he only came back to the present when one fuzzy, many-eyed tendril of the Hanging Basket wrapped itself coyly around his ear, and had to be burned off by Sirius's Quick-Thinking Incinerator Hex.
The next afternoon, when James was off practicing Quidditch, Sirius was perfecting his I Wasn't Sleeping! lounge, and Remus was sequestered in one of his envied nooks, Peter slipped out through the portrait door with his book bag, ostensibly to go to the library.
“Wait up, I’ll join you!” someone called after him, but even if it had been Alice, he pretended he was too preoccupied about studying to hear. As soon as he possibly could, he thundered off through the castle and outside, taking the oblique path to the greenhouses that his friends had mapped out in their second year.
* * * *
Peter the Equally Quick-Thinking came to a thankful halt on the far side of an old oak. He needed to stop anyway to make sure the surrounding area was safe, didn’t he? Greenhouse No. 3 was just beyond, easily picked out through process of deduction, not to mention the cracked tile that listed off the building with a large "3" painted on it.
And there was the door not five paces from him – yawing quite open.
“Well,” said Peter to himself, instantly wishing he hadn’t spoken out loud, “There’s no sense in locking an empty building, is there?”
After wiping his palms on his trousers, Peter the Daring Yet Intelligently Cautious crept forward to the door, flattening himself against the rough old windowpanes just before he reached it. Edging forward ever so gingerly, he finally admitted that he really should have his eyes open for this kind of reconnaissance.
He screwed up all his courage and peered around the open doorway and – nothing.
Peter the Invincible laughed out loud. Nothing much of anything in there at all, just as Hagrid had said! There was enough light to see quite clearly that there hadn’t been anyone in here in years. Three rows of long, dusty tables on rusting legs extended down the scuffed earth floor, one row along each side, and one down the middle. An old sink with half its plumbing missing resided next to a pile of thick burlap sacks. A litter of broken flowerpots, tools, and cans was piled in the far corner. Professor Sprout never let things get to this state in the greenhouses she was using, so obviously she never came near this place at all.
Peter was about to step inside when a nasty thought assailed him. What if Hagrid, never known for being exactly law-abiding, thought he’d use this greenhouse anyway? And why this particular one, in the first place? Greenhouse No. 1 was technically closer to Hagrid’s hut after all. What was so special about this greenhouse?
Don’t borrow trouble, Peter, a voice suspiciously close to his mother’s resounded in his head. Reflexively, he hunched his head into his shoulders, then was disgusted at himself. His mother was miles and miles away.
Besides, now that Professor Sprout knew he was interested in No. 3, even Hagrid would be sure not to come near it. Peter conveniently buried the thought that Professor Sprout might keep a closer watch on No. 3 for awhile, herself.
Confident now, Peter, Lord of his Domain, stepped over the threshold. He walked around the tables, surveying his new quarters with pleasure as the sunlight shafted through cracks in the panes to illuminate the dimness. Those burlap sacks looked handy, stuffed full as they were, and would do well as a seat...
He bent over the pile of sacks, poking them gingerly. Probably just potting soil in there, and for who knows how long, but at least no rotting dampness met his nose. He wrestled with the topmost one and finally succeeded in pulling it off, panting a little more than he should. Must be his book bag; it insisted on swinging around and thumping him in the gut.
He dragged the sack over to a semi-smooth spot in the floor next to the far table; there was enough space between it and the middle table to make a nice little lair. He settled down cross-legged with a grateful sigh, belatedly unslinging his book bag. Begrudging the necessity, he took out quills, books, and parchment, so he would be seen to be studying on the off-chance anyone came around. Leaning quite uncomfortably against the rusty leg of the table nearest him, he took out a jellybean tart and munched contentedly, looking about him from his vantage point.
This really was a great place, he thought, licking his fingers. Sure, it smelled a little musty, and the encroaching rust wasn’t attractive, but it was peaceful, and he was alone. He should bring a pillow next time, or at least a blanket; he could learn that Diminishing Spell Remus had been wanting to teach him so he could smuggle them out, and Remus would never ask about his sudden interest, only be pleased he finally wanted to learn. Surely, no spells were too great for Peter the Ingenious to learn...
* * * *
The rustling sound from somewhere above his head had been going on for some time. He was sure of that now, too sure to stay asleep any longer, even as he fought to keep his dream from sliding away. It had been a brilliant one, too, full of clashing swords and battle cries, and himself solely defending Sirius, James, and Remus, who had been tied to a stake by the opposing forces and were slowly cooking in a roaring pyre.
“Help us, Peter, help us! You’re the only one who can save us!” they were all wailing at once.
“What, me?” Peter said mock-demurely, fighting off three muscle-bound trolls with one hand and seven snake-shaped wizards in the other. “Peter the Plump? Peter the Pustule? Peter the-” and here he tossed a sly glance over his shoulder at Sirius -"Party-Pooper?”
Sirius’s face took on a sickly smile, though that might have been because of his smoking boots, and –
Skritch, skritch, scratch. Peter nearly jumped out of his skin. It sounded for all the world like a giant ant clicking its mandibles in glee at such a juicy prey. Remus had had an old magazine – pulp, he had said – and at the time they had all laughed at it, but now…
No. Peter the Daring would stand up and face them, Peter the Brave would chop them all into bits!
He just had to open up his eyes, first.
His hand started to crawl towards his bag, where his wand had been shoved when he’d pulled out that tart. Maybe whoever it was would think he was still asleep. Maybe. The rustling, scratching noises grew louder, and thicker, as if the giant ant had been joined by twenty more giant ants, and he really, really had to stop thinking about such things if he ever hoped to face his foe, and – ah, there. His hand closed around the welcome mottled wood of his wand.
One. Two. Three!
Peter launched himself up as if he had springs, ripping his wand out of his bag and forcing his eyes open at the same time.
“Avast ye – ARRRGGHH! Sirius! James! Help!” He was caught! Clamped in an iron vise! Jaws of steel surrounded him, and –
Ah. Unfortunately, his bag had come up with his wand and expertly twined itself around the table leg.
What a fool he’d been.
“All right, now I’m really angry!” grumbled Peter, face flaming with embarrassment. He yanked himself out of the bag’s grip, stumbling against the table behind him as he did so. Unfortunately, his wand went skittering across the floor, rolling beneath the table nearest the door. Well, that was just great. He straightened up cautiously against the kinks in his back, looking around him as he did so. Something had to have been making that noise before even if it wasn’t a colony of giant ants. There was nothing but a few pumpkins with trailing vines sitting on the table next to him, and –
Peter started, yipping in spite of himself. Pumpkins? In spring? In here? The place had been empty of all plants, he’d have sworn it!
It could only mean one thing. The Slytherins had found him. Or worse, his friends.
He affected to make his voice bored and disgusted. Maybe they hadn’t heard his squeal. Or his anguished howl just before. Or, in fact, anything up until this very point.
“Pumpkins, lads? Really? Well, that just takes the cake. Or maybe pie. Want some pumpkin pie, do you, right in your bloody faces?”
A rustle seemed to come from the direction of the pumpkins, but Peter ignored it, sure it was from his friends crouched just outside.
“Anyone think to bring a knife? Oh, no, of course not, you’re not known for thinking, are you. I’ll just go get my wand, and Transfigure this little pumpkin into a nice, sharp, butcher knife – “
“So you think you’re brave, do you, boy?” rasped a singularly unpleasant, slightly squelchy voice. A voice that came from the largest pumpkin, which now had dark, frowning eyes, a triangular nose, and a jagged, toothy mouth...
“Oh, yes,” said the pumpkin, as if it could read his mind, as if such a thing were possible, if anything that looked like that could possibly have a mind, but then, it was speaking, wasn’t it...and speaking to him.
All right, Peter thought, trying to quell his anxious heart, so it’s a talking pumpkin. So what? He’d seen worse in Professor Sprout’s working greenhouses, though admittedly not of the conversational type. Nothing to be afraid of. And yet suddenly he was quite sure he shouldn’t have mentioned anything about knives or cutting, and now all the pumpkins had those dark eyes and sharp mouths, and were all looking at him…
“Going to cut me up, then, were you boy?” snapped the large pumpkin, effectively stopping Peter’s line of thought.
“Er, no, no, of course not!” stammered Peter, wiping his hands nervously on his trousers. “It was just a joke, see? On my friends.”
“A joke. On your friends. Friends?” asked the pumpkin, turning this way and that as if looking for them in the shadowy greenhouse. The other pumpkins did the same.
“Well, yes, you see, my friends like to play tricks. Lots of tricks. Sometimes on me,” Peter finished lamely, as the pumpkins all turned back to face him.
“But they’re not here now,” said the pumpkin matter-of-factly.
Peter thought about calling out again, but decided against it. If they were there, he would never hear the end of his calling for help; if they weren’t…Peter shivered. Suddenly he didn’t want to contemplate what it would mean if they hadn’t been there at all.
“I guess not.”
“You guess not. Well, then, that makes this mightily interesting, doesn’t it? You, all alone here in this forgotten greenhouse, with us…anyone know where you are?”
The pumpkin had fired this last so quickly that Peter was caught off guard. “No one,” he said, and winced, wishing he hadn’t said anything. Sirius would never have made such a mistake, he thought glumly.
“But I have to get back, they’ll be expecting me for dinner,” he added hastily, half-turning so he could reach down and gather up his books and bag. As long as he moved slowly, he shouldn’t startle them…
A horrendously malicious, creaking sound made him shoot straight back up again in terror. The greenhouse was suddenly much darker, the shadows reaching for him where he stood. He looked around shakily, but didn’t see anything that could have made such a noise, except – ah. The door was now closed. The only door. The door that led outside.
“Did you see that?” Peter gabbled. “Was that the wind, or something? I hope it’s not stuck, I-"
“It’s not stuck,” said the large pumpkin, just as Peter started to move down the line of the table.
“It’s – it’s not?” asked Peter, pausing uncertainly. “How could you know?”
“Because I shut it.”
Peter spun around to face the pumpkin, gaping. “You – but – but how?”
The pumpkin smiled. Something in the pumpkin’s smile made Peter stop edging towards the door.
“I don’t think that’s nearly as important as what you’re doing here in the first place, boy, do you?”
“I’m not doing anything here, honest!” Peter gabbled. “I just...I just needed a place to stay. To think, that is. I won’t be back, I promise you, there are lots of other places I could go...”
“No, there aren’t,” said the pumpkin companionably, as if this conversation weren’t entirely forced from his side.
Peter considered insisting that there were, and that he knew where, but he couldn’t muster up any confidence, especially as this pumpkin seemed to know quite a lot for a pumpkin. Oh, where was Peter the Dauntless when you needed him! he wailed inside.
“In fact,” the pumpkin continued, “you had to choose this place. Your coming was foreordained.”
“What are you, a Seer?” snapped Peter, rankled enough to forget his situation for a moment. Divination was so far beyond him that James had declared him an Anti-Seer.
The pumpkin barked a short, squelchy laugh. Peter didn’t know that pumpkins could laugh either, but that was a sound he could live without. The other pumpkins smiled nervously behind him. Perhaps they were scared of the big pumpkin too.
“Nothing so simple, boy. We are-” and here the pumpkin drew himself up proudly, managing to encompass the other pumpkins in a gesture Peter felt more than saw – “Spy Pumpkins.”
“Bit deaf, are you, boy?” commented the pumpkin, drawing himself back down. “You heard me. Spy Pumpkins. It’s our business to know these things.”
“How come I’ve never heard of you before? Or seen you?”
The pumpkin snorted. “Not much good in being a Spy Pumpkin if you’re seen.” The other pumpkins nodded sagely to each other.
“I’m seeing you now,” Peter blurted, then wished he hadn’t. All of the pumpkins’s eyes narrowed.
“By our choice, boy. Remember that.”
“Right,” said Peter hastily.
The large pumpkin regarded him for awhile longer. Peter fidgeted, and tried not to fidget. Just as he thought he would scream from the suspense, the large pumpkin sighed in resignation.
“Well, let’s get down to it, shall we?”
“Down to...to what? What do you want with me?” Peter said in alarm. As if by some hidden signal, all the other pumpkins took out parchment, quill, and ink. Peter had the impression that they’d been writing on them just before he’d gotten up. He didn’t see where they’d kept all these items, let alone how they could write with them in the first place, but he suddenly realized he didn’t really want to know.
The large pumpkin said, “Your stories, boy. You.”
“We’ve waited a long time to have our own person. And now we have. So you see, it’s quite all right that you’re here; you can stay. In fact, you can stay forever. That’s what we’ve got, after all.”
Peter felt all the life drain out of him. He teetered backwards away from the pumpkins, only to come up short against the table behind him. This was worse, much worse, than a mere colony of ants.
* * * *
Two hours later, Peter was still leaning against the table, feet pushed against his makeshift seat on the floor. That raspy voice had gone on and on at first, and he was unable to take his eyes from the hideous grin that accompanied its words.
“We’ve been watching you. Talk in your sleep, you do. All about foolish things, grand adventures, you call them. And always about those three friends of yours, what were their names...”
A smaller pumpkin, looking more frightened than fierce, edged up with his parchment. It cleared its throat before speaking. “Remus, Sirius, and James, my Lord.”
“Thank you, Winstead. Be quicker, next time.”
“Yes, my Lord,” stammered Winstead, edging back away.
Winstead? thought Peter in an agony of suppressed hysteria.
“In fact, it’s all the more fascinating, because you’re such a small child. You’re hardly bigger than Winstead, here.”
All the pumpkins, including Winstead, laughed dutifully. Peter found his voice.
“You do know that all of that is false, don’t you? I just make things up. I – I’m not very brave, you see, and I never seem able to do all the things the others do. In fact, you’d be better off with one of them. They do the things I only dream about. I’ll just go fetch one of them, and you’ll see – “
The large pumpkin cut him off imperiously. “No. You’re the one that was foreordained. Listen. We write all there is to write in the real world. That’s what Spy Pumpkins do. Listen, learn, and record. But we want something different. Call it an experiment if you will. We want-” and here the pumpkin’s voice took on a half-proud, half-defiant tone – “we want to branch out into novelisation.”
“Novelisation?” squeaked Peter, then clapped his hands over his mouth.
The large pumpkin sighed. “Yes, novelisation! Stories, fabrications, dreams – anything you call them, we want. We want yours, all that you have. And we will get them – all of them.” The pumpkin laughed hollowly.
“My dreams are none of your business! I won’t tell you any of them, at all!” Peter said, outraged. He folded his arms defiantly and glared at the pumpkins, resolving not to say another word.
He’d held out for as long as he could. The trouble was, the pumpkins seemed in no hurry to leave. He couldn’t help but fidget after awhile, and it was horrible how their gaze seemed to sharpen on his movements. His thoughts would wander to brave exploits of leaping over the table and running down to the door, yanking it open and thundering out, and then...and then one of them would move, or clear its throat, and he’d be jolted right back to reality.
And the way they kept writing! All the smaller pumpkins scribbled on their parchments, using reams just to describe his twitches. The larger pumpkin occasionally guided them, telling them to make note of the gleam in his eye – “Oh, he must have had a thought, there!” – as if he hadn’t been thinking the whole time - and to remember the three C’s of novel-writing: Character, Contrivance, and Conquest. It was more this last than anything else that made him finally decide to give them something really good to write about.
And, perhaps, there was just a little bit of curiosity on his part.
So here he was, gabbling full force, and the amazing thing was that the pumpkins never tired. The large pumpkin had drawn out every detail of the last five daydreams he’d had, his minions writing busily with no hint of weariness. Indeed, they’d only glance up irritably if he paused. And through it all, the large pumpkin sat there, smiling and smiling.
Why was he caught so securely? Peter wondered, time and again. Was it just that he was afraid they’d catch him? How fast could pumpkins really move? He had only to leap over the table – all right, jog around it really fast (he really should start running laps with James, every morning), grab his wand, burst open the door, and –
But he didn’t. He didn’t even when the pumpkins had all swiveled themselves around at a noise from outside, peering through the scratched panes. He had just sat there, sagging in relief at the break from talking for fifteen minutes straight, waiting for them to turn back around and recommence scratching with their quills.
And it wasn’t just because he was afraid to find out just how fast pumpkins-who-could-make-doors-close-from-a
Oh, Remus never laughed, but he was never very supportive either. None of them were, Peter thought, his anger rising in him enough to inflect his voice. As he was speaking of creating a candy-covered mountain at the moment, where all the children of the village in its shadow clung to him in ecstasy of thanks, the large pumpkin raised an eyebrow in inquiry, but Peter scarcely noticed. Sirius would cut right across him with his own, real-life plan the few times Peter had tried, hesitantly, to tell them of one of his fantastic dreams or daydreams; James would nod his head as if he were listening, but would laugh at all the wrong places. And even Remus, who might be expected to understand, would nod and grin at the right places, but would then push a textbook under his nose, saying, “Now then, Peter, how far did you get with this set of equations?” as if Peter shouldn’t be allowed to dream at all.
These pumpkins not only wanted to hear his stories, they wanted every last detail. They even asked him to clarify points, drawing out nuances until he saw his own dreams in a different, better light. They may be impatient at his slowness of speech sometimes, but they made him feel important, as if they’d been waiting all their lives just to hear him speak. They made him feel as if he really could do all that he dreamed he could.
And it wasn’t as if he was mistreated. Now that the situation had relaxed some, he was able to get more treats from his bag to eat, and the large pumpkin had done something to the old sink so he could trot over and pour himself water with a small can for a cup. One of the pumpkins had also whisked out a small lamp, though it remained unlit as yet.
He even managed to ask a few questions of his own, not that they were answered very fully.
“Where did you come from?” he tried hesitantly.
“Oh, somewhere not far from here,” would be the rather vague answer.
“How often do you come here?”
“Often enough, now,” was the reply, and Peter found himself wondering if the pumpkins really had a home at all, if they were always wandering in search of stories. If only they’d just come and asked him instead of scaring him like that, Peter thought. They could even have been friends.
But then the large pumpkin would grin in such a way that Peter could see the glint of a sharp tooth even in the failing light, and remember how the door had been closed, and be brought right back to the uncomfortable reality that he was, in effect, held prisoner here, and not just by his own furtive thoughts. Unless it really was just his thoughts all along.
The thing was, did he really mind anymore?
* * * *
"Fine, Hagrid, I don't know WHAT you want me to see, but you’re not going to use these greenhouses for your own no matter what you do, so I don’t know why you had to bring me out here now.”
"Uh, I wouldn’t talk so loud, P'moneh..."
Pomona Sprout sighed. "Sometimes I wish I were just called Kate."
She and Hagrid stood in front of the row of abandoned greenhouses, studying them in the setting sun. Pomona didn’t appreciate being dragged away from her after-dinner drink, especially when it became quite clear that the frantic message Hagrid had gabbled about something wrong at the greenhouses had meant these greenhouses.
Hagrid started. “Wha’ did you say?”
“Nothing, nothing at all. All right then,” and Pomona rubbed her hands together briskly. “You have about 2.5 minutes to tell me exactly why you’ve brought me here, or I’ll drag you back up to the castle in a potting soil sack. Without taking the soil out first,” she added, narrowing her eyes at Hagrid.
Hagrid gulped. “Ri’. Well. You know I’ve been wanting to ask you about S’p’rfluous Greenhouse No. 3...”
Pomona made an exasperated sound.
“Ri’. What I mean is, the thing I wanted to use it for, er...”
Pomona raised an eyebrow.
“Er, it...kind of...got away.”
“How in Fanny Flora’s name did...no, wait. I don’t want to know. Just what was it, Hagrid?”
Hagrid lowered his voice. “Spy Punkins.”
“Spy Pumpkins?” exploded Pomona. “After what I told you?”
“Hssst! We have to be careful! They’re dangerous, they are!”
“How do you even know they’re in one of these greenhouses?”
“They left a note.”
Pomona threw up her hands. “Left a note? Now I’ve heard everything. Why would they leave you a note so you could and find them?”
“They can’ help it, P’moneh. It’s in their nature, ye see, to wri’ down everything they do or think or see. Tha’s why they had to go.”
“To find stories. They wanted publication.”
“Publication?” Pomona nearly shouted. She irritably batted away Hagrid’s pleading hand on her arm. “Sounds like a cadet branch of the pumpkins to me. But half a minute, Hagrid, just how dangerous can they be? Annoying, sure, and prone to multiplying, but...”
Hagrid’s face blanched. “To find a story, they need a storyteller. And they never want t’let the storyteller go.”
“So you think...”
“They have the means to keep ‘im there. It’s some kind o’ magic I don’ understand. ‘Enthralling,’ he said.”
“Another one of your Knockturn Alley associates?” Pomona said in exasperation. Hagrid nodded glumly. “Enthralling, eh? Sounds like the Riveting Rapture strain. Dangerous if you don’t know it’s happening to you.” Pomona began rolling up her sleeves. “Hagrid, why you ever had to get Spy Pumpkins...”
“They were on sale,” said Hagrid, blushing. “And the seller swore these were dif’rent punkins. Biddable, he said. Peaceful. They were p’lite to me. And I thought...I thought...”
“You didn’t think, you great lummox. Raising Spy Pumpkins on Hogwarts’ grounds! Yes, even if it is in an abandoned greenhouse - not that I don’t still use it,” Pomona added angrily at Hagrid’s sidelong look. “I just like to keep my options open, that’s all.”
Hagrid stiffened suddenly.
“What is it–?”
“Look!” he hissed, pointing. “A light just came from that greenhouse! That’s where they are!”
“They have lamps?” asked Pomona, in wonder. Hagrid allowed himself a small smile of pride, instantly masked when Pomona looked back at him.
“All right, then, Hagrid,” she said briskly, striding forward with her wand out. “Let’s go rivet these Pumpkins elsewhere.”
* * * *
The light was welcome now that the sun was setting. Peter had just started on his seventh story, one of his favorite battle adventures, when one of the pumpkins – he thought it was Winstead, though they had moved around a bit – abruptly stopped writing. Peter stopped out of sheer surprise. The other pumpkins glanced at Winstead in wonder.
“I heard something! Out there!” Winstead said in a worried voice.
The large pumpkin paused too, as if listening very hard, then shook his head. “I heard nothing. Carry on, Peter. Carry on, Winstead.”
An almighty thump came from the direction of the door. For a moment, Peter thought it was another of the large pumpkin’s machinations, but then an all-too-human cursing started up from outside, and he knew who it was.
One of the pumpkins gasped, and they all started back as if in fear. Even the large pumpkin looked nervous.
“Not the Man of Large Proportions and Wailing Dog!” stammered Winstead.
“He’s large, all right. But what’s the matter? Hagrid won’t hurt anything, he wouldn’t hurt a fly,” Peter said. Another thump shook the greenhouse. “Well...actual flies, that is.”
The large pumpkin looked definitely worried now – and angry at the same time. “How could he possibly have found us here? We left no trail.”
A silence fell over the pumpkins, tense and charged, broken only by the continued thumping and cursing from outside. Peter wondered why he didn’t feel he should call for help.
The large pumpkin spoke with weary resignation. “Clyde?”
All the other pumpkins edged away from the pumpkin that had gasped just before. Clyde hung his head (which Peter would have thought impossible had he not just seen it) and spoke with his eyes fastened on the table. “I...I left a note.”
The large pumpkin sighed, but didn’t seem all that surprised. The other pumpkins tsked in disgust. “Always one in every patch who can’t escape the Prime Directive,” the large pumpkin said sadly.
“Er, aren’t you going to let him in?” asked Peter nervously, as the greenhouse threatened to come down about their heads. “He won’t stop, you know. And…and there’s time for you to run. You must have come in from somewhere, right?”
“Through a hole in the wall, next to the ground,” said the large pumpkin absently. “Perhaps you’re right. But I am so tired of running. I thought that maybe, this time, we had actually found someplace to stay. Did you know we were meant to live here, Peter?”
Peter’s mouth dropped open. That explained that odd conversation Hagrid had had with Professor Sprout.
As if reading his mind, the pumpkin continued. “Yes, Hagrid is a good person, if a bit unpredictable. He tried to get us this place as our home, but...”
The pumpkin broke off as the thumping stopped abruptly. Voices came clearly from behind the closed door.
"Uh, I'd stand back if I were you, P'moneh..."
“That’s it! You’re not dragging this greenhouse down, Hagrid!”
An ominous silence fell over the greenhouse.
The door burst outward, narrowly missing Hagrid to judge by his yelp. The pumpkins all froze, but Peter didn’t.
Just as Professor Sprout stepped in through the doorway, as calmly as if clouds of dust and broken panes of glass were of everyday matter, Peter leapt in front of the pumpkins, spreading out his arms.
“You shan’t hurt them!” said Peter the Invincible.
* * * *
Pomona put down her empty cup. The pumpkin waiting avidly at her side filled it to the brim with tea again.
“Thank you, dear,” she said, and the pumpkin beamed, and she smiled back as if pumpkins filling tea cups were an everyday matter. The tableau down the table held her attention.
“So ye see, Peter, how dangerous it is for you to remain here, “ Hagrid was saying earnestly for the umpteenth time. “You’ll never want to leave, you’ll never notice you’re not eating or drinking...”
Peter sighed exasperatingly. “We were just talking, Hagrid, and I was eating and drinking, until your pounding knocked over everything.”
“Then why was the door jammed shut and grown over wi’ vines?” Hagrid asked.
Peter fell uneasily silent. He hadn’t known about the vines. All the pumpkins, including the one by Pomona, got that nervous look again, same as when she’d first seen them. Only she’d thought she’d also seen a look of wonder on the largest pumpkin’s face, but not at her; at Peter.
The largest pumpkin spoke. “That was my error, Hagrid,” it said in raspy tones. Pomona winced, wondering how Peter and Hagrid didn’t. “We...I...we’re always used to being shunned and persecuted. I saw no reason to expect anything different from this young man here, especially – well. And the need for stories was so great.”
Peter blinked. The large pumpkin had taken to calling him “Peter” after awhile, but never “young man.” It made him feel like he had grown up all of a sudden. It made him feel important.
“Well, now you know. You could have asked, first. And I don’t know anything that’ll keep P’moneh from knocking you all out of here, especially after capt’eh’vatin’ Peter here.”
“We would, of course, not use the Riveting Rapture ever again, on Peter or any of you,” said the pumpkin cautiously. “But we would like to – that is, if we could – if we could just talk to him again, in the future – with your permission of course. When he wanted to come. If he wanted to come. We’d accept any terms you set.” For a wonder, the large pumpkin seemed to be pleading.
But what did it matter? thought Peter. Riveting Rapture. Captivating. That’s all it ever was. He wasn’t really all that important, he’d just been made to think he was. He was neither as fascinating nor as brave as his stories made himself out to be, as he made himself out to be, as he had believed…as they had believed, for those few beautiful hours. Top that off, he was probably in huge trouble, too. He sagged against the table, disconsolate.
Winstead noticed. “No, Peter,” he said softly. “We really did enjoy your stories. We could see you in every one, as if they really had happened. All of that was true. And when you defended us just before...no one has ever done anything like that for us. No one. It was…it was beautiful, while it lasted. Our Defender.”
Everyone else had fallen silent as Winstead spoke. Peter blinked fiercely to hide the tears that burned in his eyes at the wistfulness of Winstead’s tone. Hagrid brought out a well-used handkerchief the size of a frying pan and blew his nose lustily. The large pumpkin just looked sad.
Enough. Pomona strode over to them.
“Men!” she said disgustedly. “By rights I should knock your heads together.”
Hagrid shifted nervously, as did the pumpkins nearest Pomona. Peter looked up, catching a note in her voice that he did not expect. Could gruff Professor Sprout have been touched by this?
“Haven’t any of you thought of asking Peter what he wants?”
“But P’moneh!” Hagrid said. “You said these punkins were dangerous-"
“YOU said these punkin – pumpkins – were dangerous,” Pomona said crisply. Hagrid squawked indignantly as she went on. “But if the pumpkins give their word not to use the Riveting Rapture – and we’re all on our guard against it now – and we know where they’ll be with Peter, I think that the danger will be much lessened. Professor Dumbledore will have to know, of course, but I know enough of the Riveting Rapture to know it will not make a person actively defend his captor. All it does is make a person not want to leave, not notice time passing, things like that. All I can see here, now, is a boy who has found some friends.”
“You mean, I won’t get in trouble?” Peter asked hopefully.
“By rights you should, coming into one of my greenhouses without permission, and not having the fool sense to cut and run when you could, but we’ll discuss that later…and maybe I don’t think these pumpkins are altogether harmless, but I don’t think they’re all that dangerous, either. What I do think is that I never saw you react the way you did. You were ready to defend them with just your own person.”
Peter felt overcome with pleased surprise. Nobody had ever said anything like that about him, ever – except for the pumpkins. He turned to them.
“You didn’t have to scare me, you know. I’d have talked to you if you’d just told me what you wanted.” The pumpkins scuffed on the table, abashed, but Peter wasn’t finished. “And I’m sorry, too. I never would have cut you up for pumpkin pie.” Hagrid grunted in surprise. “I never cut up anything in my life, except for pruning in Herbology.”
The pumpkins all smiled. The largest pumpkin inclined his head in acknowledgement. “I am sorry we scared you, Peter.”
“And no more Riveting Rapture,” Peter said, a half-question in his voice. The large pumpkin nodded solemnly. “Then I’ll come back. Because I want to come back. That should mean more to you that way, anyway, right?”
“He’s coming back?” asked Clyde.
“He’s coming back!” said Winstead. All the pumpkins cheered.
Hagrid’s face split into a broad grin. He reached out to thump the large pumpkin on the back, only to realize that the pumpkin didn’t have the kind of back Hagrid was used to thumping. He contented himself with a fond pat, instead. The pumpkin held on to the table and seemed to enjoy it.
“All right, it’s late now, we have to go,” said Pomona. “But Peter will be back – and remember, he is a young man with classes and studying and friends of his own. You have to respect that.”
“We will,” chorused the pumpkins.
“And...” Pomona paused, glancing around at the greenhouse fondly. “You are welcome to stay here. We’ll see about fixing some things up around here too. I guess I never will have the time to cultivate my daisies,” she said wistfully.
“Daisies?” Hagrid spluttered.
“Yes, daisies, what’s wrong with that?” Pomona said, glaring. “I can’t have a nice greenhouse full of daisies to relax and read in? You think I always want to be around shrieking mandrakes and bubotubers? Do me a favor!”
“Daisies are fine, just fine,” said Hagrid, holding his hands up and backing up a few paces.
“We can stay?” asked Winstead, beneath the rumbling of Hagrid’s voice.
“We can stay!” squealed Clyde in accents of rapture.
And all the pumpkins wrote busily on their parchments.
As Peter reluctantly gathered up his things while Pomona and Hagrid waited at the door, he just had to ask.
“How come the Riveting Rapture didn’t work on Hagrid?”
The large pumpkin looked sheepish. “One just can’t fight against an elemental force.”
“Ah,” said Peter the Enlightened. “I think I understand.”
He said his goodbyes and strode off to join Hagrid and Professor Sprout. He turned back to wave a farewell, then he was out the door and hiking back up towards the castle.
“What my friends are going to do to me, I don’t want to know,” moaned Peter, as he got further away from the warm pull of the greenhouse.
“As it turns out, they all three got landed in detention with Filch,” Pomona said slowly.
“Really! What for?” asked Peter, a delighted smile spreading across his face.
“Something about charming twenty-five different kinds of pasta to dance in Severus’s wake when he tried to leave the Great Hall after dinner,” Pomona continued. Hagrid rumbled with laughter, then hastily turned it into a cough as she fixed a beady eye on him. “The pasta was also singing rather, er, rude songs about him.”
Peter had no qualms about laughing right out loud. “That’s marvelous!” he said, for once with no thought of envy. Pomona tsked, but she was grinning, too.
A huge guffaw exploded from Hagrid. Pomona rolled her eyes.
“Sorry, sorry,” said Hagrid. “Got a fly in my throat. Salty bugger.”
“They won’t be back until even later than you, Peter, so you’ll be able to appear quite soundly asleep.”
“But what am I going to say to them tomorrow?” Peter wondered out loud.
Hagrid and Pomona exchanged a glance over his head.
“You’ll think of something,” said Pomona.