Over at PhoenixSong.net, I challenged Jedione to a Halloween story contest. He's won, his beta-ed and posted at PhoenixSong. I kept hoping I'd have this ready to be beta-ed before Halloween... but I obviously didn't make it. *sigh*
I don't know how I'm going to survive NaNoWriMo if I can't even get a Halloween story finished.
Well, here's the start of it. I'll post as I work.
The Hop-gobblers Will Get You If You Don't Watch Out
(A Harry Halloween Story, Take Three)
By Jelsemium/ Jill Weber
Like every child, Hermione Granger had endured some wretched birthdays. She’d endured ruined cakes, inappropriate gifts, measles and… her first year at Hogwarts… she’d endured crushing homesickness.
All of which paled next to Harry Potter dropping dead when she turned seventeen.
Prof. Minerva McGonagall arrived shortly after Colin Creevey’s frantic summons.
“What on Earth is going on…? Potter!”
“He’s not breathing!” Ron reported.
“I used ‘Respiro’ twice, but he keeps…”
Harry began choking.
“Ephedra! Respiro!” McGonagall barked.
Harry took a gasping breath. “Keep everyone back,” McGonagall ordered. She didn’t look to see Ron, Hermione, Ginny and Neville leap to obey her as she floated Harry out of Gryffindor Tower to the Hospital Wing.
Professor Albus Dumbledore, Headmaster of Hogwarts School for Witchcraft and Wizardry, arrived in the Hospital wing to find a handful of worried Gryffindors and one worried Ravenclaw. No one knew how Luna Lovegood had realized that Harry had taken ill. Her response to questioning had been a vague reference to Hop-gobblers and the new moon on Halloween “being an ominous combination.”
Not even Hermione had the heart to question her about this.
“Is Harry going to be all right?” Ginny asked Dumbledore. Her eyes were bright, but her jaw was set. She was not going to give in to tears.
“I do not know all the details, yet, Miss Weasley,” Dumbledore said gravely. “I’ll inform you as soon as I’ve learned something.” He walked around the screened bed where Minerva McGonagall and Poppy Pomfrey were attending Harry Potter.
“He’s gone, Albus,” Madam Pomfrey reported.
Dumbledore felt like he’d been hit with a disemboweling curse. “How?”
Madam Pomfrey shook her head mournfully. “I can’t find anything wrong with him!”
McGonagall let out an uncharacteristic shriek of grief and frustration. “Nothing wrong? The boy’s dead!”
Dumbledore held up his hands and said in calming tones, “Please, Minerva, the students…”
… Were crowding past the screens, all talking at once.
“Harry’s dead?” choked out Neville.
“What happened?” Hermione said. “He was fine yesterday!”
“He’s dead?” Ron blurted. “He can’t be dead!”
“No! It’s not fair!” Ginny cried.
“It’s not true!” Luna said with calm conviction.
“I’m afraid it’s true,” Madam Pomfrey said sadly. “Harry Potter is no longer with us.”
“I know that,” Luna stated firmly. “But he’s not dead.”
“His body is right in front of you, Miss Lovegood,” McGonagall said, starting to get irritated.
“That’s not Harry,” Luna said, blinking. Her slightly bulging eyes her less dreamy and more determined than Hermione ever remembered seeing them.
McGonagall frowned. “Really, Miss Lovegood,” she said. “You can see for yourself that is Harry Potter.”
Luna shook her head firmly. “My father warned me that the Hop-gobblers were going to be out and about this year.”
“Hop-Gobblers. They steal children for their foul rites. They like to take orphans during the “Hunter’s Moon,’ and then sacrifice them on a following new moon, preferably that of Samhain.” Luna blinked, once. “Father was worried about me, even though I’m only half an orphan.”
“Honestly!” Hermione exclaimed.
“The Grey Men of the Forest,” Dumbledore said gravely. “I’d almost forgotten.”
“You mean, there’s something to what she’s saying?” Madam Pomfrey asked, aghast.
“My Gran warned me about them,” Neville put in. “She called them Moss Men, and she said that they might be interested in me, even though my parents aren’t technically dead.” There was an uncharacteristic bitterness in his voice.
“The Dark of the Moon on All Hallow’s Eve,” McGonagall said, almost to herself. “I thought it was just a tale to scare children.”
“Mostly children are scared for a reason,” Ginny said. “To warn them away from danger.”
“This is absurd!” Hermione said. “Harry’s right here! How could he have been kidnapped!”
“I keep telling you,” Luna said, starting to get impatient. “That’s not Harry. That’s a stock. The Hop-gobblers take the orphan and substitute a stock… a living doll, if you will… which walks around for a few days, then just keels over. I’ve been volunteering to work in the Hospital Wing in case it happened to somebody.” She shook her head. “I should have realized that Harry would be the target.”
Ron made a wry face. “Everything happens to Harry.”
“He was especially attracted to him because he’s been orphaned twice,” Luna said.
“How can we tell if this is a stock or if it’s…” Ginny swallowed hard.
“Stocks are made of wood,” Luna said. “All we have to do is check under the skin.”
Madam Pomfrey and Professor McGonagall looked at Dumbledore.
Dumbledore nodded. His mouth was compressed into a tight line, his usually twinkling eyes were dark with fury. He conjured a small knife and gently made a cut in Harry’s fingertip. His eyes widened and he made a larger cut.
His reaction confirmed Luna’s “wild” tale. So none of the witnesses was completely shocked when Dumbledore peeled the skin off “Harry’s” hand to reveal… bark.
A few minutes later, “Harry’s” body dissolved into a pile of bark, twigs and leaves.
To Be Continued