On The Zeroth Day Of Christmas
“We’ll see you after the holidays then, mate.”
“Don’t have any fun without me!” yelled the spiky-haired wizard. “Or chocolate!”
Ron and Harry gave him a wave as he headed off to the Headmaster’s office, where he was going to be Portkeyed home.
Calvin strolled through the empty hallways, his trunk appearing next to him every time he looked down. Hobbes was riding inside, and Calvin swore to himself that he’d let him out the moment they got home. The train bringing students home for the holidays had left that morning, and only a small fraction of the students had opted to stay at Hogwarts.
Good thing I know where Mugwump Man’s office is now, he thought as he approached the stone gargoyle.
Leaning in close, he whispered, “Knackered knick-knacks.” The gargoyle ignored him. Calvin frowned. “Popsicle sticks, I thought that was it.” Suddenly the gargoyle jerked, beginning to step to the side. “AH!” Calvin jumped back, heart racing. “Sheesh, give me a heart attack, will ya’?” He took a breath and headed past the stone figure and onto the spiraling staircase.
“I would rather not,” spoke the gargoyle, again making Calvin jump. The moving staircase bore him up to a large door, which swung silently open as he raised his fist to knock on it.
“I suspected I’d be seeing you here today, Mr. Calvin,” said Dumbledore with a wise smile, sitting in an ornate high-backed chair behind an impressively large, solid wood desk. His hands were clasped on the desktop, and his eyes twinkled knowingly over his half-moon spectacles.
“I should hope so, seeing as you’re the one who told me to come,” Calvin replied, head turning every which way as he examined the headmaster’s office.
Every surface of every piece of furniture in the room was completely covered with objects of mysterious purpose and origin, whining, humming, clicking, twirling, puffing, filling the room with a veritable storm of background noises and distracting movements. They pulled at the corners of his eyes, causing him an itch in the back of his mind telling him to turn, to look, no matter how many times he had already looked. He forced himself to turn back to Dumbledore.
“I didn’t know the gargoyle could talk.”
Dumbledore chuckled, leaning back. “It can’t. That was me. It is useful for speaking to those waiting outside my office without letting them up.”
“Oh. What’s the password?”
“Why, you said it yourself,” said the headmaster, eyes twinkling like twin stars in night sky. “‘Popsicle sticks, I thought that was it.’ Now, on to business.” The old wizard reached over to uncap a tin sitting on his desk, then slid it over to Calvin. “Lemon drop?”
“Hey, that’s the piece of candy I ate to get to King’s Cross!” The small, round yellow candies lay innocently at the bottom of the tin. “Those are Portkeys?”
“Right now they are only delicious sweets, actually.” The headmaster produced his wand from – seemingly – thin air, then removed one of the yellow candies and placed it on his desk. “Portus.” For a moment, a radiant light pulsed from the candy, then faded. “Now it is a Portkey.” Dumbledore leaned over the desk, staring intensely at Calvin. His expression was as serious as any Calvin had seen in his young life. “Do not create Portkeys at home,” said the headmaster gravely, his voice deeper than normal, sounding as he was artificially adding some bass to it. “Creating Portkeys is an act that must be officially allowed by the Ministry of Magic, and should not be attempted by anyone without permission of the proper authorities.”
Calvin nodded in understanding, but Dumbledore wasn’t finished.
“The actors in this commercial are trained professionals, driving on a closed course,” intoned the Headmaster of Hogwarts.
Dumbledore leaned in closer. “Any injuries sustained while attempting to duplicate this scene are not the fault of Hogwarts, and Hogwarts has no legal obligations to help the injured in any way. Do not create Portkeys at home.”
“Okay, I got it,” said Calvin earnestly.
“Hogwarts and its associates take no responsibility for any apocalyptic effects of actions taken by individuals not associated with Hogwarts and its associates.”
“Um, Dumbledore, sir-”
The old wizard shot to his feet and continued speaking, voice rising. “Hogwarts and its associates are not responsible for any bruises, injuries, cuts, scrapes, breaks, sprains, snaps, crackles, pops, concussions, contusions, confusions, confessions, conditions, contractions, convictions, coalitions, constipations, coup de tas or Constantinoples brought upon or about by any individual whatsoever no matter what realm they call home or what their favorite breakfast cereal is! Is that perfectly clear!”
Calvin nodded cautiously.
“Fantastic,” said Dumbledore happily, smiling and lowering himself into his chair. “If you need to contact anyone here while you are at home, simply hold your letter high in the air in the middle of your own back garden and shout, ‘Letter for Hogwarts, can I get an owl?!’ And that’s it! Well, would you look at the time – your ride is here! Better get going, don’t want to make them wait.” Dumbledore flicked the small sucking candy into Calvin’s slack-jawed open mouth, then waggled all ten fingers at him as a goodbye.
The universe hooked Calvin right behind his navel, then dragged him through the cramped insides of a demented vacuum cleaner.
“I’m home!” yelled Calvin loudly in the middle of the living room. “Wait, this isn’t right.” He walked out of the house and closed the door behind him, just as his mother rushed into the living room.
The doorknob turned, and the door swung open as Calvin voiced his usual greeting. “I’m home!” yelled Calvin loudly from the doorway, stepping into the house. “Wait, no, it’s still not right.”
“Calvin!” His mother ran to him and tried to sweep him into a hug, but he pushed her away, protesting.
“Wait, wait, wait,” he said, sidestepping her next hug and holding up a finger. “Go back into the kitchen. Make lunch or something. Do what you always do. Is Dad at work? Good.” His bemused and slightly teary mother retreated to the kitchen, then stuck her head back out. “It’s not the same unless you’re actually doing stuff in the kitchen!” shouted Calvin. He tapped the buckles of his trunk and pulled it open from the back. Hobbes sprang out.
The tiger stretched, yawning. “What’d I miss?”
“Operation Welcome Home, commence,” said Calvin curtly, pivoting and exiting the house. The door shut behind him.
A second later the doorknob turned, and the door swung open as Calvin voiced his usual greeting. “I’m hoooooooooo-” his words stretched as he was catapulted back through the doorway and out onto the lawn, boy and tiger rolling together like an escaped ferris wheel almost to the edge of the grass.
“Pinja ‘gain,” said Hobbes with a smug grin, front paws on Calvin’s shoulders.
Calvin tipped his head up, looking past Hobbes. “Wow, my sneakers are still in the doorway. That was a good one.”
“I tried my best,” answered Hobbes wrly, letting the slightly rattled boy get to his feet. “I don’t suppose you’re going to let your mother say hello to you now?”
Calvin smiled sharply. “Get the water balloons, Hobbes. Meet me by the hose.”
Hobbes threw his hands in the air. “It’s the middle of December!”
“Yes, but unfortunately it has not snowed here, unlike in Scotland. We will have to resort to plain old H2O.”
“Snow is H2O.”
“So is water. Get the water balloons.”
“Yes, but you were implying that-”
“Get the water balloons.”
“And still,” Calvin sniffed, “no television.” The blank wall stared back at him, mute, devoid of flashing lights and senseless violence.
His father walked into the living room. “Just think, now you might even do something worthwhile on saturday mornings!” He exited the room.
“He came in here just for that, didn’t he,” said Hobbes.
“Worthwhile!?” said Calvin, clearly distressed. “I can’t do anything worthwhile on a saturday morning!” He plopped himself down on the old armchair, pulling at his hair. “What would the public think? What would Susie think? My reputation, ruined! Hobbes, we can’t let this happen!” Calvin clutched at his best friend.
Hobbes rolled his eyes and gently extricated himself from Calvin’s grip. “I’m sure you’ll find other ways to waste six hours of your day.”
Calvin gazed mournfully at the blank wall, tearing slightly. “But they’ll never be wasted like they used to.”
“Good news, Dad.” Calvin propped up an easel and unfolded a long line of papers stapled together. “The polls of late speak highly of you.”
“And what exactly are they saying?” asked his father, putting down his book and leaning his elbow on the arm of the chair, head against his open hand.
Calvin ruffled some papers. “Specifically, that you’ve been ‘behind the scenes’ more than usual, and this has been received with much happiness.”
“Calvin, I’ve been ‘behind the scenes’ because you’ve been away at school for the past three and a half months!”
“Furthermore,” said the spiky-haired boy, adjusting the graph, “there seems to be a sharp rise, here, in your popularity among eleven-year-old wizards and sarcastic tigers. My advice would be to look into what could be the cause of such a sudden rise, and repeat that action many times.”
His father looked at him with lidded eyes, unimpressed. “That was when I raised your allowance and sent you some extra spending money.”
“Don’t worry,” said Calvin, unrolling the graph further. “I made some good investments with the funds.”
“But apparently not with your time,” grumbled his Dad, eyeing the long stretch of papers.
“Shh, I’ve still got two hundred and ninety eight more pieces of advice, twenty nine more polls of every single eleven-year-old in Hogwarts, four submitted essays titled ‘Dads of the Household,’ a Powerpoint presentation, and a transcript of a lecture Professor McGonagall gave me about using class time for things not related to the class.” Calvin looked up. “Hope you didn’t have anything planned for today. This has been three months in the making.”
The lone velociraptor prowls along the edges of the forest. Waiting. Where is the rest of his pack? Why is he by himself? A rustle in the undergrowth announces an approaching brontosaurus. The velociraptor readies itself.
“AH! Calvin, what are you doing!? Get back here with the cookies! They’re still hot!” His mother quickly shook off her oven mitts and started after him.
Hobbes confronted him as he slammed the bedroom door closed. “You said you’d wait for me!”
“What are you doing here, I told you to wait in the living room!” yelled Calvin, panicked.
“Looks like someone was trying to get all the cookies to himself…” said Hobbes, growling.
Calvin put up a hand placatingly. “N-no, I was just trying- you know, to save you the trouble…” He trailed off.
The lone velociraptor is torn apart by the pack, brutally punished for disobeying the natural order of things. He has learned his lesson.
“Snow!” exclaimed Calvin, face pressed against the window. “For the second day in a row! Though yesterday’s was only good for a few snowballs. This looks like a good haul though, and it’s about time – Scotland is way ahead of us. You know what this means, Hobbes.”
“I wish I didn’t.”
“The annual Winter Business Olympics!”
Hobbes sighed. “This has got to be the least lucrative business convention on the planet.”
“Well sure,” said Calvin, hopping down off the bed and racing over to a cardboard box, “that’s what makes it such a challenge.”
“So what’s it gonna be this time?”
“My apologies.” Calvin dug a black marker from the bottom of his sock/underwear/shirt/shorts/goggles/cape/helmet/swimsuit drawer, uncapping it with a pop.
“What are you apologizing to me for?” asked Hobbes. “You can’t tell me?”
Calvin chuckled, scribbling on the side of the brown box, then turned it around to face his best friend. “No, that’s what I’m selling – my apologies.” On the front of the box, scrawled in large, black letters, was the word ‘Apologies.’ Under the word was written ’50 cents.’
Hobbes rolled his eyes, walking out of the room ahead of Calvin. “This should be good.”
Once they were set up outside, it was only a few minutes before Susie came by, as if following a script.
She glanced at the words on the cardboard box, then up at Calvin, who was grinning. With a grim set of her teeth, she withdrew two quarters, placing them on top of the box. “I’ll take one for that snowball you hit me with yesterday,” she said as Calvin slid the coins off the box and into his coat pocket, grin growing wider. “And those thirty that you missed me with, as well.”
Calvin shook his head. “Sorry, you don’t get to choose what the apology is for.”
“That’s stupid. Then what are you going to apologize for?”
His grin grew even wider. “I just did.”
Susie’s face reddened, and she grit her teeth. “That was the biggest waste of money. You’re a thief, Calvin.”
Calvin inclined his head solemnly. “I’m sorry you feel that way.”
She stalked away, hands clenched at her sides, fuming.
“That’ll be another fifty cents!” he yelled after her.
“I take it the apologies didn’t sell very well?” Hobbes looked on as Calvin crossed out the previous title of the box and scribbled a new one beneath it. It now read, ‘Generalities, 10 cents.’
“I’m hoping the lower price will help sales,” said Calvin, turning the box back around and placing the chair behind it again.
Hobbes read the front of the box. “You can’t sell generalities.”
“Sure I can, it says so right here. They’re only ten cents – want one?”
“They don’t belong to you!” argued Hobbes, throwing his paws in the air.
“Neither does the concept of lemonade.”
“That’s a mistaken analogy.”
“You’re a mistaken analogy.”
Hobbes growled, then pounced. The spiky-haired boy yelped and leaped out of the way, watching in horror as Hobbes shredded the cardboard box into pieces the size of cornflakes. The tiger stood up, brushing himself off. Then he grabbed an armful of the pieces of ex-box and flung the confetti over Calvin before walking calmly away.
Calvin sighed, propping his head up on his arms. “Everyone’s a critic.”
“Here we are, Hobbes.”
They sat at the top of Dismemberment Gorge astride the toboggan, looking down and contemplating their mortality.
“Yep. Why are we here again?” asked the tiger, eyeing the drop nervously.
Calvin breathed in the silence. “Why do people fight those things which they cannot hope to triumph over?”
“Why don’t I wait inside?”
“Is it the futility of the endeavor that draws us to it? Do we find surety in hopelessness? In the concrete presence of failure?”
“This is purely metaphorical, right?”
The spiky-haired boy grabbed the rope in front of him. “Why do we so often fight against gravity? Would it not be easier to give ourselves over to it? To place our trust in its capable hands?”
“It’s not the capability of gravity’s hands I’m worried about.”
“To experience life, we must experience failure, Hobbes. That is the way of things.”
“The only thing in danger of failing right now is my heart,” gulped the tiger.
“So I say now – will you fail with me? Will you find surety with me? Will you experience life with me!”
“I’m gonna have to say no,” answered Hobbes, stepping back onto the snow. “See you inside.”
“Oh come on!”
“Only three more days!” announced Calvin happily, strolling through the living room. “Threeeee more days til Christmas, yessiree.” He stopped in front of the occupied armchair. His dad looked up from the book in his hands.
“Three more days until the end of the holidays is even closer, that’s right.” He turned back to his book.
“Phooey,” said Calvin. “Now I feel like I’m counting the days until it’s over.”
“Well,” replied his dad, “if we went with my idea and cancelled the holidays, you’d never have to worry about how many days there are left!”
“Cancel the holidays!?” sputtered Calvin.
“Oh, the vacation’s all right, but the holidays seem to eclipse that perceived break with a sense of urgency and more responsibilities, rather than, say, letting one enjoy the small respite from the hecticness of bustling, everyday life in the modern world.”
“You want to cancel the holidays!?”
“We could go camping for a whole week!” continued his dad, eyes glazing over with longing. Calvin began to choke. “Get away from it all, experience nature the way it’s meant to be experienced – not through the filter of electronic distractions and screened windows.”
“We’re still having Christmas this year, right!?” asked Calvin, frantic.
“Really connect with the earth, you know? The joy of living off the land, relying on your skills for survival!”
“Did you cancel Christmas!?”
His dad sighed, sinking lower in the armchair. “Getting up before the sun, watching it rise over the horizon. So much more meaningful than a pine tree and some presents, don’t you think?”
“MOM, DAD’S TRYING TO CANCEL CHRISTMAS!”
“I’ve figured it out, Dad.” Calvin walked out from behind the chair, then started pacing the length of the living room.
“Yes, this Santa thing wasn’t really the truth – I know this now.”
“Oh…” his dad intoned, eyes widening behind his glasses. He slowly set his book down, preparing for the worst.
“It took me a while, but the real clue was that no matter how good I was, I never got most of the presents I asked for – the rocket launchers, flame-throwers, nukes, and tear gas, to name just a few.” He pivoted to face the front of the chair. “And now I know why.”
“You guys are in league with Santa!” shouted Calvin, pointing a finger at his father. “All parents work in tandem with Santa, to make sure he doesn’t give their kids something they don’t approve of! It’s the only explanation!”
His father cleared his throat, picking up his book. “Well that bullet dodged itself,” he mumbled appreciatively. “Yep, you got us – your mom and I know Santa, and we told him not to give you anything dangerous.”
“Right,” said Calvin, nodding in understanding. “So I’m going to make a deal with you. You let Santa give me everything I ask for, and I’ll share the loot with you.”
“Share the loot?” asked his father, amused.
“I’ll give you and mom twenty percent of everything I get.” He folded his arms. “Deal?”
“Sorry, Calvin, the no-dangerous-loot contract was signed when you were born, and won’t expire until you do. We bought the life-long contract just in case you tried to pull something like this.”
“What!? That’s no fair!”
“Life’s not fair.” Shrugged Calvin’s father, turning back to his book.
“Why won’t you let me have anything dangerous?”
“It builds character.”
“You say that about everything I hate.”
“Everything you hate builds character.”
“What a coincidence.”
“This is shaping up to be a lousy Christmas, Hobbes, ol’ buddy.”
“At least it snowed again last night.”
“Which just means I have to shovel again.”
They were sitting on the front steps, Calvin bundled against the cold, Hobbes with only a scarf. In front of them lay a shovel, ice crusting the gray plastic.
Hobbes grunted. “Your dad still won’t get into the holiday spirit?”
“He’s insisting we should forget about the holidays and go camping.”
“In this weather? He’s a fanatic.”
“He’s crazy is what he is. You know what?” spoked Calvin, kicking at the shovel with a boot. “I think I hear something.”
“It’s that time again, Hobbes.”
“Time to go in?” asked the tiger, tucking his paws under his armpits.
Calvin shook his head. “Desperate times. And you know what those kind of times call for?”
“I can hear it now, they’re calling, calling-”
“Yes, they’re calling for desperate measures, we know,” said Hobbes, hunching his shoulders against the wind.
“Well you don’t have to ruin it for everyone else,” mumbled Calvin. “Come on, I’ve got an idea.”
Calvin poked his head into the kitchen. “Hey mom, can I have a flamethrower for Christmas?”
“Calvin, I already told-”
“Oh wait,” he said, cutting her off. “Nevermind, I already have one.”
His mother whirled on him, apron whipping around through the air. “You what?”
“A flamethrower,” he answered, expression blank. “I have one already.”
“What do you mean, you have a flamethrower?” prodded his mom, eyes narrowing.
“Magic.” Calvin pulled his wand out from behind his back and held it up. “There’s a spell that shoots fire – it’s just like flamethrower.”
“O-oh. Alright.” She looked more than slightly worried. “But it’s safe?”
“Don’t worry,” said Calvin with a big smile, “they wouldn’t let us do it if it wasn’t safe, right?”
“R-right. I guess that makes sense.” She turned back to the stove, stealing a glance at her son as he tucked the wooden flamethrower into his pocket.
“Here’s the last of it,” said Calvin, handing his mom a stack of papers.
“A List of Presents That Must Be Delivered To Calvin, Written by the President of the United States, Completely Legitimate and Really, Really Important,” she read aloud. “Of utmost urgency are the following items: a dagger, a sniper rifle, a tranquilizer gun, a helicopter-”
“Whoops, I forgot to cross some of those out,” said Calvin, grabbing the papers. He fished a pen out of his back pocket and ran the tip over some of the words. “Dagger, tranquilizer, tractor beam, forcefield…”
“You don’t want those?” asked his mother, surprised.
“That’s not it,” he replied, continuing down the list. “Where was it…ah, portable hose with an endless supply of water.”
“Then why are you crossing them out?”
Calvin capped the pen and deposited the papers onto the kitchen table. Then he smiled at his mom. “With the magic they taught us at Hogwarts, I already have them.” He marched out of the room.
“But he’s so happy there, and he even made friends!” said his mom, biting her bottom lip in indecision.
“On the other hand, apparently he has the equivalent of a well-stocked, futuristic military base?” interjected his dad.
“I know, you’re right. Perhaps it’s too dangerous.”
“What if he accidentally sets the house on fire? We can’t just let this keep going.”
At that very moment, their son somersaulted into the room from the hallway, then jumped to his feet, arms extended outwards.
“Oooooooooooor, send me to Hogwarts for the holidays!” he exclaimed.
His mother looked at him incredulously. “And how exactly would that assuage our fears of you knowing how to do so many dangerous…magics?”
“Well,” said Calvin, holding up a finger, “for one, an untrained wizard can use accidental magic – and, say, accidentally set the house on fire.” His parents’ eyes widened, so he hurried to the next part before they could interrupt. “Therefore, in the interest of not setting our house on fire in any way – even though it would be really cool – I should spend as much time as possible at Hogwarts, learning more about how to control my magic.” His mom opened her mouth to respond. “And, since dad seems adamant about holding on to his restraining order for holiday cheer, and won’t let it within a mile of this house, I would enjoy celebrating Christmas at school.” His mother opened her mouth again. “With my friends,” he added decisively.
She closed her mouth, eyes glistening with tears soon to come. And she smiled at him, and she nodded.
“Before you leave, though,” said his dad, adjusting his glasses. “I do believe the walkway out front needs to be shoveled.”
Calvin struggled with the objection that was pushing its way out of his mouth, finally clenching his teeth and saying, “Okay.” It’s for a good cause. And besides, there’s something I need to do out there anyway. Can’t have them forgetting about me just ’cause I’m not here.
His mom and dad stood at the window, leaning into each other and looking out at the snow-coated front lawn. Various nightmare-inducing monstrosities prowled the snowscape, joined by a handful of posh snowmen admiring the scenes as if at an art gallery. The walkway was shoveled clear for the most part, except for the arches spaced along it every ten feet or so. Unlike conventional arches, these did not extend from one side of the walkway to the other, but rather stood solidly across the walkway, a solid half-oval of snow with no opening.
Calvin’s dad smiled wistfully.
“You didn’t really care about him shoveling, did you,” said his mom, looking sideways at her husband.
“What? Of course I did,” he answered, turning and heading over to his armchair. He slumped down into it and picked up his book, flipping it opened to where the bookmark sat between the pages. “It builds character.” He glanced back over his shoulder, through the window to where Calvin was putting the finishing touches on what looked like a giant, three-headed dog. “Lots of character,” he said to himself.
“Right after the weather?”
“Yeah, just a quick introduction or something.”
“It’ll have to be better than that-”
“-if you want people to remember it.”
“I didn’t say I-”
“-you’re in good hands.”
“All four of them.”
“I haven’t even given any of mine away.”
The Great Hall was unusually quiet for the time of day. Breakfast during the holidays was later than normal, but students were still shuffling in in their pyjamas, blinking sleep out of their eyes and shaking dreams out of their minds. The head table was the only table that was full, all the teachers staying at the school over the holidays. Dumbledore chuckled at a joke he’d just made, though he seemed to be the only one to find it funny. Snape glared around at everyone who seemed to be even slightly happy, as if it were a crime, and he the sheriff.
There was only one table for the students, set out vertically instead of the usual horizontal orientation of the four house tables. Since there weren’t even enough students to fill one table, it would have been silly to enforce the separation by houses during the holidays. Plus, holiday spirit and all that.
A pair of identical, redheaded third-years stepped up onto a platform erected at the head of the table. They both held what seemed to be microphones, and as they tapped on the surface of the microphones a hollow thumping echoed throughout the hall. What few conversations where in progress petered off, all eyes and ears and mouths and noses turning towards the platform, and to the twins upon it.
“Ahem,” said Fred, looking out at the students.
“Ahem,” said George, nodding in agreement.
Fred continued, “Welcome to the Extra-Special Holiday-Exclusive Ballyhoo Breakfast Radio Show, day number…what is this, Eorgejay, four? Fourteen? Christmas is tomorrow, so that would make it…”
“Who knows,” replied George with a shrug. “Welcome anyway. News is a bit slow at the moment, as most of the Hogwarts student body is away at home, totally missing out on the great times we’re going to have here, am I right?”
A few half-hearted cheers rose up from the audience.
“Well that was just pitiful,” commented Fred. “You lot are barely awake.”
George hmm’d thoughtfully. “I think I know what we need here, Edfray.”
“Are you thinking what I’m thinking?”
“Yeah, though I’m not sure there are enough spoons in all of Europe for that.”
“True,” said Fred begrudgingly. “How about we just have some music?”
“Sounds good to me. Let’s call up our resident eejayday, Eejay Ordanlay – Eejayday Eejay Ordanlay, come on up and give us some tunes!”
Lee Jordan ran up to the platform amidst genuine cheers of excitement, dreadlocks bouncing. He hoisted himself up beside the twins and procured a microphone of his own.
“What do you have for us this morning, Eejayday Eejay Ordanlay?”
“Well, Eorgejay,” said Lee Jordan, smiling out at the audience, “I’ve written up something special, in honor of a special holiday guest we’ll be seeing today.”
“A holiday guest?” asked Fred in mock surprise. “Who could it be?”
“He’s traveling through the aether to us as we speak, so it shouldn’t be long now.”
“Very well. Let’s hear this special song then, shall we?” said George, addressing the seated students. ‘Wooop’s and ‘Woooh’s greeted his question.
Lee Jordan cleared his throat as the twins sidled off to the sides of the platform to be support vocals. “Ahem,” he said.
“Ahem,” said Fred,
“Ahem,” said George.
And they began.
“Oooooooooooooo-” said Lee Jordan.
“-oooooooooooooo-” continued Fred.
“-oooooooooooooon the first day of Christmas my teachers gave to me-” said George.
“-some homework graded with an E,” completed Lee Jordan.
“On the second day of Christmas my teachers gave to me-” started George.
“-two winter gloves-” said Fred.
“-and some homework graded with an E,” finished Lee Jordan.
Dumbledore clapped along, smiling and humming. And so it went, the three spitting lines back and forth, picking up speed as they sang, faster and faster. Soon every student in the room was clapping and humming along, caught up in the spirit of the song, the excitement and exuberance of the performance.
Despite the fact that they were constantly switching off lines, by the middle of the song all three singers were starting to get out of breath. By the last stanza it was a frantic, tumbling race of lyrics, the notes speeding downhill, the singers trying not to lose their footing before the finish line.
“On the twelfth day of Christmas my teachers gave to me-”
“-twelve chasers chasing-”
“-eleven wizards wizzing-”
“-ten majors majing-”
“-nine daughters daughting”
“-eight favors faving”
“-seven bogarts boging-”
“-six victors victing-”
“-five Golden Snitches-”
“-four flapping owls-”
“-three legs of turkey-”
“-two winter gloves-”
“-and some homework graaaaaaded with an EEEEEEEEEEEE!”
There was much applause, much yelling for an encore, and much rolling of the eyes – the last accomplished solely by Snape.
The Ballyhoo Breakfast Radio Show moved on to other subjects, mentioning here and there the supposed guest of honor soon to arrive.
Dean took to the platform to recite, with Seamus, the menu musical of the day, and then handed the stage back to Fred and George for the weather.
“You know, Eorgejay, I can’t help but wonder if there’s some complications with the aetherial weather today, making it difficult for our special guest to make it through to this realm.”
“I’m inclined to agree with you, Edfray. Why don’t we give him a bit of help?”
“What do you say, guys?” said Fred, looking out at the audience. “Will you accompany us in the Chant of Aetherial Wayfaring?”
“Will you join us in opening the gate between the realms?”
“Will you stand with us as we wrench apart the very fabric of the universe in order to summon through from the other side our very special guest?”
“Will you remain by our sides and together dismantle the very laws that hold him back from manifesting here in the physical plane of existence?”
The crowd jumped to their feet, shouting, “YES!”
“Then chant with us!” screamed Fred.
He and George raised their arms up above their heads, hands hanging limply from their wrists, swaying slowly from side to side. Lee Jordan, Dean, and Seamus began to hum eerily, their voices overlapping and blending in a discomfitting counterpoint of anti-harmony. The twins started chanting.
“When time of nations failing falls.”
“Behind the burning, failing walls.”
“When honest words of honest men.”
“Come close to dragons in their den.”
“When words of anger beasts become.”
“So black of heart beneath the sun.”
“Then call to one who Chaos sows.”
“Upon the fields in hectic rows.”
“Upon our hearts in patterns lost.”
“Upon the land beneath the frost.”
“Call forth the one who Chaos crossed.”
“Drive back the dark at any cost.”
“WE CALL HIM FORTH, WE CALL HIS NAME!”
“WE KNOW THAT THIS, IT IS NO GAME!”
“WE CALL TO HIM, TO BRING HIM HERE!”
“THE MAN CALLED CHAOS PUPPETEER!”
“IT IS HIS TOOL, HIS WEAPON AND-“
“-HIS FAITHFUL, LOYAL, STRONG RIGHT HAND!”
“APPEAR TO US!”
An ear-shattering CRACK sounded from the entrance to the Great Hall, accompanied by a massive cloud of black smoke and a miniature shock wave that caused the cups to vibrate with a high-pitched hum, at the very edge of the human spectrum of detectable sound. Students stared with trepidation at the menacing cloud of black that was hanging in air about the ground, rather than dissipating like normal smoke. Thin tendrils creeped out, as if feeling around it. Some students whimpered, others simply sat there, unable to make themselves get up and run, their muscles frozen in icy fear. A spine-tingling sound of mysterious, hollow scraping emanated from within the shadowy cloud. The smoke began to twist and swirl. The scraping increased.
And Calvin rode out into the Great Hall in a giant hamster ball, trailing smoke and grinning like a- well, like an eleven-year old riding in a giant hamster ball. The clear plastic scraped along the stone floor as he rolled to a stop at the far end of the table, next to the platform where the twins stood, smiling.
Behind him, a first-year Hufflepuff hit the ground, unconscious.
“Woah,” said Calvin in complete awe, staring at the twelve giant pine trees ringing the Great Hall. his jaw dropped like an indestructible bowling ball re-entering the atmosphere and quickly reaching maximum velocity before drilling a hole through the earth’s crust and somehow causing an earthquake. “There’s so much room for loot!”
“There is the annual Christmas snowball fight,” provided Fred, leaning back and crossing his legs on top the table.
“Snowball fight?” asked Calvin, perking up.
The Ballyhoo Brigade was convening in the Gryffindor common room, discussing mischief and mayhem that could be had during the holidays.
“Sure,” said George. “Christmas day, giant snowball fight out on the grounds – sometimes Dumbledore even makes an appearance. Fred swears he shaved half his beard off one year with a well-aimed throw.”
“Yes, yes, yesyesyes,” said Calvin, rubbing his hands together. “Snowball fight at Hogwarts, this should be perrrrrfect. Hehehe, ohhhhhh yes.” He began to chuckle.
“No,” said Ron quickly, clamping a hand over Calvin’s mouth. “No low chuckling.” He leaned in, teeth clenched, eyes hard. “Not. The low. Chuckle.”
“What’re you thinking, Destiny Boy?” prodded Fred.
Calvin grinned, pushing Ron away.
“Tell us, Calvonius,” added Harry, the newest member of the Brigade.
Calvin grinned wider.
“Enlighten us, oh Puppeteer of Chaos,” George said with a flourish.
“Reveal to us your plan,” said Seamus, “oh…giant human hamster?”
Calvin stroked his chin, still grinning.
“JUST TELL US ALREADY!” yelled Dean, grabbing the front of Calvin’s robes and shaking him like a slinky tied to the whomping willow.
And he told them what he was thinking. They all loved it.
“It’s brilliant,” lauded Fred.
“It’ll be so much fun,” agreed Seamus.
“Thank you so much for finally letting us know your intriguing and awesome idea,” said Harry, nodding enthusiastically.
“I don’t know what I’d have done if you’d kept it a secret any longer,” said Dean.
“It’s a good thing you told us,” said Ron.
“A very good thing,” said George.
“The best,” said Harry.
“Thanks again for telling us your epic plan,” said Seamus.
“Thank you so much,” said Dean.
They looked around at each other.
“Well, now we know the plan,” said Fred.
“Yes, we do, don’t we,” said George.
“We do indeed.”
“The plan. A great plan.”
“It will be excellent fun in the holiday spirit.”
“Indeed. Now that we know the plan, let’s go do something else.”
“Something entirely unrelated.”
“And as we already know about the plan, there is no need to talk about it while doing said other thing.”
“No need to even mention it, until the execution of the plan itself.”
“Not even a little.”
Calvin strolled through the empty hallways, on his way to the Library. If Hermione hadn’t gone home for the holidays, he was sure she’d be spending all of her time there. But she had, and so she wasn’t, and so the Library was bound to be empty. The perfect lounging spot. Sure, with most students away for the holidays, most places in the castle were empty – but the Library was a place that usually wasn’t empty, so the fact that it was empty now made it- oh, forget it.
“Hey Calvin, come take a look at this.” Hobbes had stopped a few feet behind him, and was examining something on the wall.
Calvin backtracked over to him. “Hey, it’s one of those Hospital Wing flyers! Except this one has nothing to do with the Hospital Wing.”
“‘IT IS COMING,’” read Hobbes. “‘IT WILL SPREAD LIKE FIENDFYRE. IT WILL CONSUME EVERYONE. NO ONE IS SAFE. IT IS COMING.’” Hobbes scratched his head. “Huh, wonder what that means.” He turned to Calvin in question, but the boy just shrugged. They continued on to the Library.
It was a few hours yet until the convening of the Ballyhoo Brigade at ‘no specific location’ – or so read the paper he’d received – so Calvin passed the time browsing the Magical Creatures section, filling in his knowledge of the strange animals with the same enthusiasm he had for dinosaurs. Along with the enthusiasm he had for staying alive – next time there was the equivalent of the troll chase, he wanted to be ready, to know everything about the creature that was trying to rend their flesh from their bones and devour them messily.
“There are actual sphinxes! For real!” He grabbed the book and pressed the picture up against Hobbes’ face. The tiger pushed it away and then took the book from him.
“That’s gotta be the absolute least majestic member of the feline family I have ever seen.”
“It’s a sphinx, Hobbes! There’s actually a creature that tells riddles to people, and only lets them pass if they get it right!”
Hobbes licked the fur on the back of his paw. “Must be a boring conversationalist.”
“This is so cool.”
“Terrible creature to ask for directions, I bet.”
“If you answer the riddle wrong, it eats you. Talk about high stakes.”
“More like steaks.”
“That’s what I said. Anyways, it seems a bunch of magical creatures became myths and fiction in the muggle world – look, here’s a centaur!”
Hobbes blinked at the picture on the page, then screwed up his face. “But how- where does- is that-? What?”
Calvin flipped to the next page. “Oh, and a griffin! It’s sorta weird that it’s a mix of a couple of regular animals.”
“Why is that weird? It’s magical.”
“I mean, magical creatures aren’t just magical versions of regular animals – they’re entirely new species unto themselves. So why is a griffin a mashup of a lion and an eagle? Why doesn’t it have any parts that aren’t recognizable as already-existing animals? The only regular animals I know of that are like that are things like ligers – and they’re the product of human breeders.”
“They’re an affront to my kind,” said Hobbes with a huff.
Calvin’s eyes widened. “Wait so…that means wizards probably did this – with magic, even animals that normally can’t mate…woah.”
“And thus, a creature that is both eagle and lion. Of course, they gave it a new name, as opposed to resorting to a portmanteau of the two names.”
“Portmanteaus are awesome! They should have called it a leagle.”
Hobbes chuckled. “Or an eagon.”
“A leagon,” added Calvin.
Hobbes waved the suggestion away. “Okay, now you just sound ridiculous.”
“Sit down before you hurt yourself.”
Hobbes stared at him. “Calvin.”
“A gnela- AGGHMYLEG!”
After being chased out of the Library by Madam Pince for making ‘such unbelievable ruckus,’ Hobbes returned to the dormitory, while Calvin opted to wander the halls aimlessly. He soon found himself in a long hallway – a familiar hallway. At one end was simply a wall, and at the other-
“What are you guys doing here!?” exclaimed Calvin.
“Oh hey, Calvin, how’s it going?” said Dean, smiling.
“You’re just in time,” said Fred, beckoning him over.
The Ballyhoo Brigade was sitting in circle beneath the mind-bending window that looked out onto an upside-down view of the grounds of Hogwarts. In the middle of their circle lay a few open books.
Calvin sat down between Harry and Dean. “So what’s the meeting about?”
“Fred and I have been planning a little game for those of us who stayed here for the holidays,” said George. “It’s our version of Aurors and Dark Wizards.”
“Is that like Humans and Zombies?” asked Calvin, turning to Harry.
The black-haired boy shrugged. “Basically.”
“With a twist, of course,” added Fred.
George nodded. “You see, your entrance this morning worked so well, we decided to integrate a certain aspect of it into the game.”
Calvin broke into an elated grin. “The hamster ball.”
“The hamster ball,” confirmed the twins.
Lee Jordan held up a finger. “Now, yours was a temporary construct, but still not exactly easy to make.”
Fred pointed to the open book in front of him. “So we were researching variations on the Bubble Shield Charm as a replacement.”
“Sheesh, they really do overuse the charm title,” said Calvin. “Why do they do that? Seems like a pretty loose categorization.”
Harry cleared his throat. “They must think it’s pretty…charming.” He tried to keep a straight face, but couldn’t, his mouth quivering before becoming a full blown face-grin, laughter spilling out like water from a collapsing dam.
“Really, Harry?” said Ron. “Not you too,” he mourned.
“Make a perimeter,” said Dean, sliding backwards away from Harry. “It may be contagious.” The rest of them began scooting nervously across the stone floor.
“Oh come on, it wasn’t that bad,” said Harry.
Calvin nodded mockingly. “And the sun’s not that hot.”
“The Chudley Cannons aren’t that terrible at Quidditch,” added Seamus.
Ron turned to him, clearly insulted. “Hey!”
“Snape’s not that oily,” said Fred.
“Hogwarts hallways aren’t that confusing,” supplied Dean.
“House-elves aren’t that short and ugly,” said George.
“Neville’s not that prone to injuries,” said Lee Jordan.
Harry rolled his eyes. “Okay, I get.”
“Hermione’s not that smart,” said Calvin.
“I said I get it, you can stop now.”
“Fine, fine, as long as you’ve learned your lesson.” Calvin turned back to Fred. “So, you basically found a Hamster Ball Charm?”
Fred smiled eagerly, standing and brandishing his wand. “It’s a dead-easy spell, and it only takes a weak Finite to get rid of it. Ready?”
Opposite him, Lee Jordan got to his feet. “I am one with the rodent,” he said, wiggling his nose and putting his palms together.
“Criceta Arma!” shouted Fred. A yellowish membrane ballooned up around Lee Jordan, stopping its expansion with the sound of a giant rubber band being flicked by God. It was completely see-through, and extended about three feet above the boy’s head.
“All of you, on your feet!” shouted George, heeding his own instructions. The first-year members of the Brigade followed suit, standing at attention.
“Petrificus Totalus,” said the twins, a few times in quick succession.
“First of all,” said George, poking his younger brother in the nose, “you all need to learn how to duel.”
“Second of all,” continued Fred, “you are now unable to move, and thus make perfect pins. Thank you for telling us about this game, Calvin – I’m sure it’ll take off. Perhaps we can even get a committee going to get it into the official Ministry Games Department. Your turn, George.”
“I am ready,” said George, stowing his wand. One Petrificus Totalus later and he too was a human bowling pin.
Fred spent a minute arranging the six of them into a pyramid setup. “Walk with me, my good fellow,” he said to Lee Jordan. They walked/rolled down to the other end of the hallway. “Here we go,” said Fred, shaking back his sleeves. “Citura,” he whispered, and Lee Jordan’s Hamster Shield sparkled gold, as if coated with glitter. “Number one, cannon boy!” he shouted. Then, “Depulso!”
The sparkling ball of Lee Jordan slid quickly away from him. After a moment the golden sheen faded, and it began to roll instead of just slide.
“AHH-HH-HHH-HH-HHH-HHH-HHH!” yelled Lee Jordan, now tumbling along inside it, his legs unable to keep up with the ball’s speed.
The giant hamster ball collided with the six Gryffindor students standing smartly at attention, knocking them aside like matchbox cars being kicked by Godzilla.
“Woo!” exclaimed Fred, punching the air. “Perfect score!” He sauntered over to the fallen bowling pins, smiling.
Lee Jordan joined him after using Finite on the Hamster Shield. “Do you happen to have some ink on you, Fred?”
“Why, would you look at that,” said Fred, pulling a new bottle of ink from within his robe. “It just so happens I was carrying some around with me the entire day!”
After thoroughly decorating their comrades, Fred and Lee Jordan used Finite on them, and then proceeded to be instantly frozen by George and Harry.
“You’ve been practicing,” said George with a hint of respect. Harry gave him a hard smile.
“First of all,” said Ron smugly, poking a body-bound Fred in the nose, “we are learning how to duel – we practice every night.”
“Second of all,” said Calvin, “you are now unable to move, and thus make perfect Christmas decorations.”
“Alright, listen up!” announced George. He pointed at Seamus and Ron. “You guys look for the exit.” He turned to Harry, Dean, and Calvin. “You three, help me make these two turncoats into the most festive statues in the castle. Everybody got their job?” Five nods. “Break!”
“I’ve been seeing these things everywhere,” said Dean, pausing to look at the pamphlet on the wall beside them.
Calvin walked up next to him. “Sounds ominous, right? ‘IT IS COMING.’ Wonder what it’s talking about.”
“Oh, that’s just the signs for the game,” said George, passing behind them. “IT IS COMING.” He gave them a cheery wave before heading into the Great Hall.
Dean raised an eyebrow. “Seems a bit much for just a game.”
Calvin grabbed him by the shoulders. “IT IS COMING. I dunno, I kinda like it.”
“Hey Dean, Calvin,” said Seamus, approaching them from down the hall.
“IT IS COMING,” they chorused, causing Seamus to pause, look back and forth between them, and then sidle along the wall and dart through the giant doorway.
Harry poked his head out into the hall. “Seamus looks like he just saw a- wait, everyone sees ghost here. He looks like he just saw a dragon. What happened?”
Calvin and Dean jerked their heads towards him, eyes staring blankly ahead. “IT IS COMING.”
“…Right. But dinner’s here right now, so I’m going to go eat.” Harry backed out of sight.
“Uh, you guys are blocking the way,” said a voice from behind them. “Do you think you could-”
They whirled around, necks crooked, limbs swinging limply. Eyes staring dead ahead, unfocused. The Hufflepuff girl yelped, taking a step back and almost tripping.
“IT IS COMING.”
She gulped. “I- I’ll just go around another way, then.” Her legs shook as she backed away, rounding the corner without ever taking her eyes off of them.
“That was awesome,” said Dean, straightening up. “We should do this more often.”
“What, you mean freak out everyone we talk to? We pretty much do that already.”
Dean tapped his chin. “Point.”
“Wish we could’ve done it to Draco, though,” said Calvin, heading into the Great Hall. “We’ll try it when he gets back after the holidays.”
They found seats at the mostly empty table and filled their plates with delicious, magical food, and also some delicious non-magical food.
The enormous room was decorated with countless gleaming baubles and tinsel. Twelve enormous pine trees stood in a semicircle around the room, strung with decorations of their own. Red and white swirled candy canes floated above everyone’s heads in place of the usual candles, bobbing calmly as tinkling music played in the background.
At the head table, only Dumbledore and Professor Flitwick were present – the teachers didn’t always show up for all the meals during the holidays, even if they were all staying at Hogwarts. The headmaster was smiling and refilling Flitwick’s goblet as the miniature professor laughed. He caught Calvin’s eye from across the room and winked at him, then nodded his head to the side and gave a thumbs up of approval.
“They really do make wonderful statues, don’t they,” commented Ron, following the direction of Dumbledore’s nod.
“That they do,” agreed Calvin, admiring their handiwork. Both Fred and Lee Jordan stood smug – and motionless – under layers of ribbons, sequins, and wrapping paper. “We did some excellent work, if I do say so myself.”
“And you do,” pointed out Dean.
Harry wiped his fingers on his napkin. “You just did.”
“Did I, though?”
“Um, yes,” said Harry, frowning.
They stared at each other, Calvin squinting more and more as the seconds passed. Then Calvin blinked and glanced to the left. “Oh look, Ron’s making a sandwich out of every available ingredient at the table again!”
They decided to forgo the spell practice that night, as they’d be up late the next night preparing for the epic plan Calvin had told them about that morning.
Instead, Calvin had some setting up to do.
“You’re trying to trap Santa?” Ron’s sputtered, looking on as the spiky-haired wizard finished erecting his complicated apparatus in front of the fireplace. “What even is that?”
Calvin smiled proudly. “An ingenious combination of tinker toys, magic, and a tranquilizer.” He admired the invention for a few minutes, hypothesizing on what type of magic Santa used to accomplish his impossible job each Christmas. Upon returning to the dormitory, he made each boy promise to wake up extra early, so that they’d have time to open presents before the execution of the plan. The amazing plan.
“It will be quite amazing, won’t it,” said Dean, pulling his covers up over himself.
Ron climbed onto his own bed, flopping down face-first. “Can’t believe it hasn’t been done before, to be honest.”
“It is rather simple,” said Calvin, smiling.
“Hey, do you think- nah.”
“What is it, Harry?” asked Ron.
“I was just thinking that-” he cut off again. “Nevermind.”
Seamus propped himself up on his elbow. “What were you thinking?”
“That maybe we should discuss the plan a bit before going to sleep – but I don’t think we need to.”
“You sure?” said Dean. “We could go over it once more.”
“No, it’s fine. We all know the plan.”
“It’s not like it’s all that hard to remember,” said Ron, chuckling. They all laughed.
“Goodnight, fellow Brothers of Ballyhoo,” said Calvin, yawning.
“Ballyhoo hoo hooooooooo,” responded Dean, recently appointed Brigadier-in-training.
“Hoo hoo hooooooooo,” echoed the rest.
“You guys are weird,” said a voice off to the side.
“AHH! Neville, stop doing that!”
“But I wasn’t even-!” Neville stopped himself and just rolled his eyes. “Never mind.”
And they slept, and they didn’t dream about the plan, because they already knew what it was.
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