On the subject of Peeves, J.K. Rowling says, ‘It was inevitable that, in a building bursting with teenage witches and wizards, a poltergeist would be generated.’
So perhaps Peeves just came with Hogwarts, like dry rot or some particularly pesky asbestos. For oh so many years, he haunted its corridors, causing all sorts of mayhem for both students, professors and, of course, caretakers. He was the manifestation of pranks, the apex prankster, a poltergeist for whom pranking was more than just a bit of fun, but a way of life – an art form to be perfected over the centuries. But what was his finest work? What was the ‘Mona Lisa’ of Peeves’s outrageous prankery? Let’s count down the top five to find out...
You know what’s not a good idea? Peeving Peeves the poltergeist, a poltergeist literally named Peeves. Hogwarts learned this the hard way in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, when the school’s ghosts voted to ban Peeves from the welcoming feast. In the words of Nearly Headless Nick: ‘The usual argument, you know. He wanted to attend the feast – well, it’s quite out of the question, you know what he’s like, utterly uncivilised, can’t see a plate of food without throwing it.’
Unsurprisingly, this didn’t go down well with Peeves. First he got his revenge on the kitchens, wreaking ‘havoc and mayhem’ on the house-elves by throwing pots, pans and soup everywhere. And then he attacked the feast itself. Floating 20 feet in the air, he lobbed water balloons at the students below – including Ron, who got hit in the head. Seeing as the children were already coming in from the rain, however, Peeves didn’t really see what he was doing as wrong...
‘Not doing nothing!’ cackled Peeves, lobbing a water bomb at several fifth-year girls, who screamed and dived into the Great Hall. ‘Already wet, aren’t they? Little squirts! Wheeeeeeeeee!’ And he aimed another bomb at a group of second-years who had just arrived.
Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire
If there was anyone who was going to suffer under Peeves’s reign of pranking terror, it was going to be Neville Longbottom. Case in point: one of Peeves’s more casual pranks was to block the entrance to the Gryffindor Tower, telling students that they could only pass if they set fire to their pants. Harry and Ron simply turned around and used one of their short cuts. Yet what did they find when they got back to their dormitory? Neville, smelling strongly of ‘singed material’ and rummaging in his trunk for a fresh pair of pants. Oh, Neville.
It wasn’t only students that fell prey to Peeves, however. Professors got pranked too. One such professor was Remus Lupin, who encountered Peeves when leading his Defence Against the Darks Arts class to the staff room for a practical lesson. Upon arriving, Lupin found an upside-down Peeves clogging up a keyhole with some chewing gum, which sounds pretty tame by Peeves’s standards. Yet it’s what he did next that shocked the students – he openly disrespected a professor.
Peeves didn’t look up until Professor Lupin was two feet away, then he wiggled his curly-toed feet and broke into song.
‘Loony, loopy Lupin,’ Peeves sang. ‘Loony, loopy Lupin, loony, loopy Lupin —’
Rude and unmanageable as he almost always was, Peeves usually showed some respect towards the teachers. Everyone looked quickly at Professor Lupin to see how he would take this; to their surprise, he was still smiling.
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
What followed must certainly have come as an education for Peeves. Lupin told his class to ‘please watch closely’ and then cast a spell that made the chewing gum shoot out of the keyhole and down into Peeves’s left nostril.
As established, pranking was a way of life for Peeves. It’s just what he did, how he passed his time. This meant a lot of day-to-day low-level pranking, like dropping walking sticks on Neville’s head or hiding in a suit of armour and singing rude songs. But every now and then Peeves would go big – just as he did in 1876.
It all started because of Rancorous Carpe, the caretaker at Hogwarts at the time. He devised a plan to get rid of Peeves by laying an elaborate trap: a bait of assorted weapons that Carpe would use to lure Peeves underneath a huge, enchanted bell jar, reinforced by Containment Charms. The point, of course, was to drop the jar on Peeves, which Carpe did. But it was not enough to hold him.
Peeves escaped and – now armed with cutlasses, crossbows, a blunderbuss and a miniature cannon – went on an epic rampage, threatening students with his cannon, which he liked to fire at random. Hogwarts had to be evacuated for three days while Professor Eupraxia Mole, Headmistress of the day, tried to agree a peace settlement. Peeves agreed to relinquish the weapons in exchange for a once-weekly swim in the boys’ toilets on the ground floor, first choice on stale bread from the kitchens for throwing purposes, and a new hat.
Soon after, Carpe took an early retirement ‘for health reasons’. Argus Filch didn’t know how lucky he was.
Peeves was a law unto himself – and not a particularly nice one, either. Yet there were those rare occasions where he put aside his devotion to chaos and utilised his pranking power for good.
One such example, of course, was when Hogwarts found itself under the tyrannical regime of Dolores Umbridge — a regime that Weasley twins Fred and George heroically escaped by unleashing prankageddon upon the school. Having flooded the fifth floor with a Portable Swamp, set off fireworks and hexed most of Umbridge’s Inquisitorial Squad, the twins then summoned their broomsticks and flew off in a blaze of glory, parting with the words: ‘Give her hell from us, Peeves.’
Now Peeves, of course, took orders from no one. But he did hold a certain respect for the Weasley twins, who were renowned pranksters, and following their explosive exit he went on a rampage of mayhem:
Cackling madly, he soared through the school, upending tables, bursting out of blackboards, toppling statues and vases; twice he shut Mrs Norris inside a suit of armour, from which she was rescued, yowling loudly, by the furious caretaker. Peeves smashed lanterns and snuffed out candles, juggled burning torches over the heads of screaming students, caused neatly stacked piles of parchment to topple into fires or out of windows; flooded the second floor when he pulled off all the taps in the bathrooms, dropped a bag of tarantulas in the middle of the Great Hall during breakfast and, whenever he fancied a break, spent hours at a time floating along after Umbridge and blowing loud raspberries every time she spoke.
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix
His coup de grâce, however, came when Umbridge tried to sneak out of Hogwarts after being suspended. For rather than creeping away unseen, Peeves loudly chased her out of the school while whacking her alternately with a walking stick – borrowed from Professor McGonagall – and a sock full of chalk.
A few years later he would have the opportunity, yet again, to prove useful, with McGonagall calling upon his talent for chaos during the Battle of Hogwarts; a call he accepted gladly by dropping Snargaluff pods on Death Eaters and shouting, ‘Wheeeeeeeeeeee!’ Once the battle was won, he celebrated by singing, ‘We did it, we bashed them, wee Potter’s the One, And Voldy’s gone mouldy, so now let’s have fun!’
Aw, maybe he wasn’t so bad after all. (He definitely was).