Of Specters and Spectators
Chapter Seven: Of Specters and Spectators The one with Halloween
October 31st was upon them.
Alex had already spent quite a large portion of his childhood in a spooky old castle in Scotland prior to learning he was a wizard, but the New Council had a distinctly apathetic outlook on Halloween festivities, so they’d never taken much advantage of their spooky surroundings when it came to decoration. As a general rule, while the rest of the world went out to revel on All Hallow’s Eve, the supernatural community stayed in – and although they served that community’s role of judge, jury, and mainly executioner, the New Council was, without a doubt, supernatural through and through.
Most of the family had an aversion to dressing up anyways, and for good reason. (Although there had been that one year when everyone dressed as Buffy, citing that as the self-proclaimed thing monsters had nightmares about, she was the scariest thing they could think of. Buffy had not been impressed, but still saved the photographs of Giles wearing a blonde wig and fashionable stiletto boots for later blackmail usage.)
Will was typically take-it-or-leave-it on the matter, which stemmed no doubt from their father’s own view on the holiday. October 31st marked the death date of Harry’s parents, and Halloween had really been hit or miss with him ever since.
But Hogwarts really went all out.
The usual floating candles in the Great Hall had been replaced with purple and black spiral tapers that burned with thin, orange flames; and hundreds of live bats swirled and fluttered above them. The moon was only half full, but the sky was clear and bright with stars.
The Halloween feast was approximately 50% sugar, 50% pumpkin, but there was spiced apple cider so the latter wasn’t much of a bother to the twins, and they chatted and feasted quite happily.
All of the castle’s resident ghosts seemed to have turned out for the evening, which had both a chilling and eerie effect on the Hall as they moved transparently between the tables.
The Fat Friar, the Hufflepuff House Ghost (It was kind of like having a creepy mascot. But not nearly as creepy as the Bloody Baron, Slytherin’s ghost, whose name, in this case, referred to the silvery blood staining his robes and was in no way a comment on his skills at writing verse*.) was particularly chatty that evening.
“My aunt was a ghost, once,” Alex told him conversationally as he nibbled the edge of a frosted cat-shaped cookie.
“Really?” The Fat Friary was intrigued. “Tell her to stop by for a spell if she’s ever in the area. I can show her all of the best haunts. Did you see what I did there? Stop by for a spell
!” He threw his head back and laughed a great, belly-jiggling laugh.
“Oh, she got better,” said Alex.
Nearly Headless Nick, Gryffindor’s ghost, stopped so abruptly in the aisle between the Gryffindor and Hufflepuff tables that several students screeched as they walked through him by mistake. “Impossible!” he spluttered. “There is no getting better
(It was common knowledge that Nearly Headless Nick was highly dissatisfied with his spectral status, on account of his botched beheading, which remained the point of contention denying him entrance to the famed Headless Hunt.)
“It was a Hellmouth thing,” Alex told him apologetically. “She wasn’t really dead in the first place.”
“This Hellmouth made her corporeal?” Nick said, totally ignoring the rest.
“Oh, no,” the Fat Friar said quickly. “That’s dark magic, Nicholas!”
“I haven’t been able to perform magic in five hundred and twenty-four years,” Nick said with a sniff. He adjusted his neck ruff. “Dark or otherwise.”
“The Hellmouth is a swirling portent of dark, mystical energies,” the Fat Friar said with a shudder. “You know what a place like that does to spirits. Imagine the Forbidden Forest, but a hundred times worse!”
Alex, who had imagined the Forbidden Forest often in his spare time, opened his mouth to ask what could only be an insensitive and flippantly morbid question, but Will elbowed him sharply in the ribs.
“Don’t even think it,” he warned his brother.
“Listen to the boy, Nick,” the Fat Friar pleaded. “Do not seek out the Mouth of Hell.”
“As if I could if I wanted to,” Nick said snidely. “I am tethered to this castle just as you are, Friar. Now, if you will excuse me…”
He floated off unhappily, all doom and gloom.
“I think I hurt his feelings,” Alex said sadly, watching him go.
“Sir Nicholas gets himself in a bit of a tiff, at times,” the Fat Friar assured him. “Think nothing of it, lad.”
“I would hate to be stuck as a ghost,” Will said, shivering. “Er, sorry, Friar.”
The Fat Friar smiled reassuringly and patted his shoulder. It was a largely unsuccessful gesture, and left Will feeling like he’d stuck his entire arm in a bucket of ice. The portly spirit moved on down the table.
“What’s a Hellmouth?” Lizzie Mortlake, the girl who had two wizard fathers, leaned around an enormous plate of candied apples to join their conversation.
“Exactly what it sounds like.” Alex adopted a dramatic voice. “Demons, vampires, evil spirits…”
“The worst kind imaginable,” Will confirmed gravely, despite never having set foot on a Hellmouth.
“Blimey!” one of the other children whispered. They were all wide eyed and completely agog.
“They don’t cover Hellmouths in your first year of Defense,” Connor Jones, the seventh year Quidditch captain Alex had befriended through showing up to every Hufflepuff team practice, put in from a little ways down the table, where he and couple of his friend had been shamelessly listening in ever since the Friar, an extremely popular storyteller, ‘sat down’. “In fact, they don’t cover them at all. I only recognize the word because I’m writing a term paper on mystical convergences and their effect on spell casting.”
“I’m descended from a long line of demon hunters,” Alex boasted truthfully. “My family used to live on the worst Hellmouth of them all.”
(This was still up for debate. Hellmouths, when you got right down to it, were all pretty awful.)
One of Connor’s friends snorted derisively. “I don’t believe you.”
“Show him,” Will said authoritatively.
Alex fished around inside his robes, and produced a handsomely carved stake, a cross, and a tiny water pistol.
“My mother slayed hundreds
of vampires with this stake,” Alex told his captive audience. “You see this symbol carved into the handle? It stands for protection. This one means strength.”
“Carla, you study Ancient Runes,” said Conner, gesturing to the stake.
Carla, a slender teen with olive skin and dark, wavy hair that fell to her waist, accepted the stake from Alex and inspected the carvings. “He’s right,” she said after a moment, handing it back. “The form’s a bit unusual, but altogether it basically reads May you never bend nor break, and may thy aim be true
“That doesn’t prove anything,” the same boy said peevishly.
Alex squirted him in the face with his water pistol. The boy spluttered and wiped at his eyes.
“What was that for?” he demanded crossly.
“Holy water. If you were a vampire, your face would be melting off
.” Alex tugged back the collar of his robes and showed them all the juncture of his neck. Will helpfully lit the tip of his wand and directed the light so they could all see the pale, circular scars that stood slightly raised against Alex’s skin. Everyone gasped.
“It was a dark and stormy night,” Alex began his tale dramatically. “Most vampires wouldn’t dare
even look at me, because they know that if they did, my family would come after them. But this one did. He tied me up with my own shoelaces and dragged me off to his underground nest. He was huge – almost as big as Hagrid – and his accent was so thick, you could barely understand a word he was saying.”
“Cooperate or I vill suck your blood,” Will recited, adopting a thick Transylvanian accent.
“But I knew he was going to kill me anyways, because he hadn’t eaten for three days and vampires go crazy if they don’t get blood. I fought back –”
“Even though you were tied up?”
“ – because he forgot to tie up my legs. I managed to kick him in the balls, but he was too strong. He bit down on my neck, and was about to drain me dry, when BANG!”
– They all jumped –
“He suddenly exploded into a cloud of dust! My family had tracked him to his lair, and killed the minions he had guarding the entrance. And then my mother, the fiercest vampire slayer who ever lived, snuck up behind him and staked him, right through the heart before he even realized she was there.” Alex held his stake aloft triumphantly. “And this is the very stake she used to do it!”**
(This was all a downright lie. Alex had never been bitten by a vampire. The scars on his neck were from a particularly nasty case of the chicken pox when he was eight.)
But even Connor’s friend was impressed by the story. Alex and Will exchanged identical smirks. Maybe Halloween wasn’t so bad after all.
The first Quidditch match of the season was Hufflepuff vs. Gryffindor, and even Will was excited.
“It’s not that I don’t like Quidditch
,” he explained when everyone looked at him oddly for coming to breakfast dressed head to toe in canary yellow. It contrasted fantastically with his coal black hair. “I’m just not keen on flying.”
“Barmy,” Gabriel said, shaking his head.
“Oh, give it a rest, Gabe,” Lizzie sighed.
“I don’t like flying either but I love watching the games,” her best friend, a painfully shy girl named Emory James, told Will hesitantly. “My dad always takes me in the summer.”
Will smiled encouragingly and gave her a yellow Hufflepuff flag to wave.
“Good to see house spirit!” Nina Koh, a 5th year and the team’s keeper, said as she passed their end of the table. “Hey, aren’t you that kid who’s always watching us practice? Connor’s friend?”
Will shook his head and everyone pointed to Alex and Gabriel.
“I saw you practicing on the pitch last weekend,” she said. “You two play for any of the junior leagues?”
“I did,” said Gabriel, “but Summers never even saw a broomstick before school started!”
“I did, too,” Alex protested. “But we used them for sweeping the floor.”
“Really?” Nina was surprised. “That was some nice flying – more power than finesse, but you’ve got potential. Hope to see you on the team next year!”
“Don’t let it go to your head,” Will warned Alex as Nina moved on.
“Good luck!” Gabriel called after her enthusiastically.
“Shut up and eat your breakfast before I do,” Alex groused, punching Will on the arm.
Everyone laughed, and tucked in.
They got to the pitch early to get good seats, and were lucky they did, for the whole school seemed to have turned out for the event.
Hélène Weasley appeared just as the match was about to get under way. They scooted aside to make space.
“Everyone else is rooting for Gryffindor,” she explained, wedging herself between Will and Alex. “We’ve never had a Hufflepuff in the family. I thought I’d help even things out.”
Even across the pitch, it was easy to pick the Weasley red out of the crowd.
“It’s about to begin!” Alex was bouncing in his seat. Below on the pitch, the team captains shook hands.
“I’m almost surprised Dad and Uncle Ron haven’t shown up,” Will mused. “They love Hogwarts games.”
“If any of us were playing, they would,” Hélène assured them. “They never missed one of Teddy’s matches. But I guess there’s always next year.” She winked at Alex. “I wonder how Uncle Harry will feel, rooting against his old team? Still, Hufflepuff’s better than Slytherin.” She adjusted her green headband.
Instead of looking pleased at the implication that he was a shoo in for the Hufflepuff team, Alex’s expression took on a guilty edge. “If he knew I existed.”
“You still haven’t told him?” Hélène said in surprise. “What about your mum?”
“We wanted to,” Will began.
“But what if they try to keep us apart?” said Alex.
“Then I’d never get to know Mum –”
“ – and I’ll be stuck with a bunch of old newspaper clippings of Dad.”
“Why don’t you switch places?” Hélène suggested.
They stared at her.
“You’re identical twins,” Hélène reminded them, raising her eyebrows. “All you have to do is switch places at King’s Cross. Alex can come with us, and Will can go with your mum. Even if they find out eventually and try to keep you apart, at least you’ll get to spend Christmas with your other parent.”
Will and Alex looked at each other.
“Why didn’t we think of that?”
“Are you lot done gabbing?” Gabriel demanded from the row behind them. “The match is about to – THEY’RE OFF! WHEW LOOK AT THAT SNITCH GO!”
Hufflepuff lost the match by ten points, but Alex and Will had something new to think about.
“Let’s do it,” Will said abruptly as they made their way back to the dorms.
“Yeah?” Alex looked at him sideways. “You think we can pull it off?” His usual bravado was nowhere to be found.
“We’ve got to,” Will said with fierce determination. “We’ve absolutely got to.”
Alex nodded sharply. “Okay.” He paused. “We’re going to have to work on our accents.”
“So not a problem,” Will said, imitating Alex perfectly.
Alex made a face. “Show off.”
While Gabe and the rest of the Hufflepuffs moped around the Common Room, the twins retreated to the boys’ dormitory. Out came Will’s photo albums, Alex’s family mementos, a pile of trinkets and personal bits and bobs, and the entirety of Alex’s weapon collection.
They each got out a roll of parchment and freshly sharpened quills, and sat poised to begin taking notes.
“We should start with family trees,” Will decided. “If we forget anyone’s name, we’re finished.”
“And floor plans,” said Alex. “We’ll look stupid if we get lost in our own houses.” He paused. “I really hope we’re having Christmas at home, this year. Scotland HQ is a nightmare to draw.”
“Write Mum and ask,” Will instructed, beginning a To-Do list. “I’ll find out from Dad who’s coming for Christmas this year. We’ll have to let the rest of the kids in on our plan. It was Hélène’s idea, and they’ll be able to tell the difference.”
He made a note to call a family meeting.
“I’m going to have to teach you the Scooby Dance,” Alex realized. “It’s crucial.”
Will wrote this down as well, and added an asterisk.
“I’m just not sure this is the best way to go about things,” Max said later, after Will and Alex had told the Weasley contingent their plan to swap lives for Christmas. At seventeen, he considered it his responsibility as the eldest to be the voice of reason.
Hélène frowned at her older brother. “Don’t be a spoil sport, Max.”
“This was your idea,” he accused. “I haven’t forgotten all of the times you and Elise used to switch places to get your way.”
“Used to?” A faint hint of a French accent crept into Hélène’s voice. “Max, Max, Max.” She shook her strawberry-blonde head. “What makes you think we stopped?”
“Shove off, Hel. I know it’s you.”
“I think it’s great!” said Amaryllis, laughing gaily. “I’ll help! Ooh, wait till you taste Gram’s cooking, Al!”
“Count us in,” Selene added, including Grace.
“It would serve a type of poetic justice,” Rosaline said thoughtfully.
“I guess I’m outnumbered,” Max said grudgingly. He ran a hand over his short, coppery hair and worried at his bottom lip. “But if this blows up in your faces, don’t expect me to bail you out!”
“What could go wrong?” Hélène demanded. “So Uncle Harry figures out he’s got the wrong kid. What’s he gonna do? Make Alex degnome the garden?”
“De-what the garden?” Alex repeated, scrunching up his face in confusion.
“See?” Max waved a hand in the twins’ direction. “That’s exactly what I’m talking about. They may look alike, but no one is going to believe he’s Will! Someone’s bound to get hurt before this is over.”
“This could be our only chance,” Will said seriously. “I’ve never even met my mother. Alex didn’t even know he was a wizard until August. It’s not fair.”
“Please, Max,” Alex beseeched. “You don’t have to do anything. Just call me Will.”
“Fine.” Max held up his hands in defeat. “I said I’ll go along with it. But it’s going to be obvious sooner or later. You can’t learn everything by Christmas.”
“We have a month,” Will said. “That’s plenty of time.”
“I’m good at making stuff up,” Alex said with a shrug. “And everyone in my family’s so crazy, no one’s going to notice if Will does something weird by mistake.”
“Alex will have all of you lot –”
“And Will will have Mr. Cat! – ”
“And it’s only for two weeks,” Will concluded.
“Oh, and by the way?” Alex said, rounding out his vowels. “I’m Will.”
“Oh my god, we totally fooled you!” the real Alex crowed, doubling over with laugher.
“What?!” The Weasleys stared at the pair of them. Alex’s hair was perfectly combed and parted, and for once his tie was neat and in order. He had Will’s school bag slung over his shoulder. Will, on the other hand, was wearing Alex’s robes and familiar cocky smile, and was even holding his brother’s wand.
“Oh, you’re good,” Hélène said, smiling broadly.
Max sat down, completely thrown. He cleared his throat. “This actually might work.”
*The Bloody Baron was actually co-founder of the Spectral Sonneteers, a club which met every third Tuesday of the month.
**The scene at the Halloween Feast, where Alex tells everyone about the vampire that bit his neck, was partly inspired by the passage in The Golden Compass/The Northern Lights (book version), where Lyra amazes the other children with an elaborate story of how Lord Asriel tricked the visiting Turkish Ambassador into drinking his own poison.
(As an aside, if you’ve never listened to the audio book recording of the ‘His Dark Materials’ series, do it now. It’s a fantastic, full-cast recording, and Joanna Wyatt did a phenomenal job of capturing Lyra’s voice.)