DISCLAIMER: The world and characters of Harry Potter belong to their wonderful creator, J.K. Rowling. The world and characters of Calvin and Hobbes belong to the genius known as Bill Watterson. I thank them both for their parts in making my childhood as fantastic as it was.
Chapter Twenty-Three: The Best of Times, The Worst of Times, So Many Times
"So what happened!?" Calvin leaned forward, eyes wide, teeth gnawing on his nails. "Did we make it? Were we overtaken?" He grabbed Hobbes by the shoulders and shook him vigorously. "Did I die, Hobbes!? DID I PERISH IN MAGICALLY-ENHANCED AGONY!?"
"Yes, you died," said Hobbes dryly, pushing Calvin off of him. "Everything since then has been the afterlife, and I must say, I am not impressed."
"I knew it," Calvin whispered, peering around furtively. "This must be limbo. An alternate reality, of sorts. If only I could find-"
"Would you shut up long enough to hear the rest of what happened? Of course you survived!"
Calvin squinted at the frustrated tiger for a moment. "Ooooor, you're the caretaker of this limbo and you're just trying to get me to stay."
Hobbes slapped a paw over his face. "Would you just let me talk?"
"Ha! That's exactly what the caretaker of limbo would say!"
"What? Why in the world is that exactly what he would say?"
"Because of-!" Calvin stopped, finger raised as if in triumph. "Because of reasons!" He crossed his arms. "So there." He shrugged as Hobbes began to sigh. "Still, it can't hurt to hear what you have to say. Besides, I really want to know what happened next; this a great story!"
"Fine. Yes. A story. I will tell you what happened next. Just stop. Interrupting."
Seven yellowish spheres, each large enough to contain a frantic first-year madly dashing for their life, careened down the hallway, away from the Great Hall. Behind them, a voice bellowed.
"They've kidnapped my son! Do whatever you have to, just GET. HIM. BACK!"
"Quick," said Harry from up front, "there's a secret passageway down the right hallway!"
They all turned down the aforementioned hallway with varying degrees of success, the three Slytherins bumping into the far wall in the process. Seven cries of Finite Incantatem later, they squeezed behind a suit of shining armor, the helmet tilted to the side giving the knight a quizzical look. Down the squat tunnel they hurried, rough stone brushing against them on either side.
"Why is your dad saying we kidnapped you!" hissed Ron, craning his neck to look back at Draco. "We're going to get thrown in Azkaban for this!"
"You're fine, don't worry. It's because I wasn't supposed to be here, and he has to frame it in a way that saves the Malfoy reputation for...well, being Malfoys." Draco frowned, looking even more worried. "Though there is a small chance that he actually thinks you kidnapped me."
"Great. Kill me now."
"Shut up and move like my life depends on it, Weasley. I can barely breathe in here."
They emptied out into the adjacent hallway, brushing dust from their clothes onto the red carpet underfoot. They stood for a moment, listening for signs of pursuit.
"We'd better head for Dumbledore's office," Hermione said decisively, starting off down the hall.
"No!" spat Draco reflexively. "Dumbledore can't be trusted!"
"He's…" Draco shut his eyes, hard, and massaged his temples. "Argh. Fine. Dumbledore's office it is. Let's go." He stomped past, lips pressed against each other in a firm line. He stopped short at the end of the hallway. Turned around. "Where is Dumbledore's office?"
Calvin laughed the deep laugh of someone who knows so much more than the foolish person they are laughing at. "You must follow the sound of the invisible hacky-sack, of course!" He mimed dropping a hacky-sack and kicking it up, then set off down the hallway, still kicking. "And we're off to see the wizard!"
"Boss," said Goyle a few minutes later, breaking the tense silence that accompanied the group's anxious journey. "We're being followed."
"What? Why didn't you tell me earlier!"
Goyle blinked. "We weren't being followed."
"How many people, and how far away are they?" asked Hermione, as they all picked up the pace.
"Can't tell," came the terse reply.
Footsteps sounded distantly.
The seven first-years, Gryffindor and Slytherin alike, broke into a flat-out run.
At the end of the corridor, Ron, who had been running frantically as if from a giant spider or something equally terrifying and impossible, stumbled to a halt. The rest of them tried stopping, bumped into the people in front of them, and generally failed at standing upright.
Hermione began to open her mouth in order to berate the wheezing redhead, but just then caught sight of what had stopped Ron so suddenly.
Two cloaked figures blocked the way.
This is it, thought Calvin. This is the end. He leaned over to Harry. "It's been nice knowing you, pal. See you on the other slide."
"We didn't-" Hermione said, only to be cut off by a voice from behind.
"Ha! Got you cornered!"
They whirled around to find another figure in a cloak throwing back their hood.
"That's right, Gryffindor scum! Prepare to meet your doom!"
"Wait, why are there Slytherins with them too? Is that-is that Draco Malfoy?" The other two cloaked figures had lowered their hoods as well, and Calvin wondered why he hadn't noticed that they were all far too short to be Draco's dad and his crew. "Why're you guys with him?"
Calvin recognized these two others as Puffs. He did not recognize them as individuals, and therefore did not know their names.
"Irrelevant, Justin!" cried Smith, pushing his sleeves up to his elbows. "We are here for one reason only, and that is-"
"Hey, Zach, I think there's something going on," said the third Hufflepuff, a blonde girl Calvin didn't remember ever seeing.
"Of course there's something going on, Hannah!"
Well that was awfully nice of him, telling me their names so conveniently like that.
"We're showing these miscreants what being so miscreantly will get them! It will get them-"
"I think she's right, Zach," said the boy called Justin, scratching his nose. He brushed his dark hair to the side, and continued, "The were running from something, even though they didn't know we were here."
"We did know you were here-well, not here, here, but we knew someone was around." Calvin stuck out his tongue at Smith. "We wouldn't run from you in a gazillion years, Smithers!"
"That is not my name!"
"Are we all forgetting that we are still in danger of being violently dismembered by Draco's dad?!" said Harry, hopping restlessly from foot to foot.
"Let us pass, Hufflepuff," said Draco coolly, stepping forward.
Hannah wrinkled her nose. "Maybe we should come back a different time, after they're finished with whatever weird plot they're stuck in the middle of right now." Justin nodded in agreement.
"No! It's a trick, you fools!" Smith exclaimed, pointing at Calvin. "He's always tricking people! Don't fall for his tricks!"
"Hey, don't call us fools just because you're paranoid," said Justin.
"It's not paranoia if they're named Calvin," Smith replied. "He's always up to something!"
"Yes, I am up to something! Right now I have this secret plan that I like to call TRYING TO STAY ALIVE!" Calvin dove to the side of the hallway, the rest of the Gryffindors knowing enough to know that that they didn't have to know what was going on to know they should follow suit. "Now, Mo!"
"My name's not Mo," mumbled Crabbe, chucking a pair of small, black spheres in either direction.
Smoke filled the corridor, and the Slytherin-Gryffindor group hurried past the distracted Hufflepuffs in front of them.
*Cough* "What dastardly tomfoolery is this, you miscreants? Justin, Hannah, after them!"
"D'you think he understand half the words he uses?" said Ron as they exited the cloud of dark gray smoke.
"Needlessly high-level lexicon? Susceptibility to being stalled and then thwarted by a simple escape plan? Unexplained prejudice against the main character? He's the perfect cliche villain," Calvin replied. "It's everything I've ever wanted!"
"Less talking," said Draco. "More running."
"Conservation of Narrative, eh?" said Calvin. "Makes sense."
"Huh?" said Ron.
They rounded the next corner, and two cloaked figures filled their view. Calvin had just enough time to confirm for himself that they were not particularly short before everything went dark.
"Darnit!" Calvin yelled, slamming a fist against the bed. "We were so close!" He looked at Hobbes. "We were so close, right?"
"So very close," the tiger answered with a sad shake of his whiskered head. "But you're still not allowed to interrupt."
"Right, right. Do go on."
"I think I will."
A man with stiff black hair and a bushy mustache leaned over the bed, as six-year-old Calvin drifted between the conscious and unconscious worlds.
"Mmgmph?" mumbled Calvin.
"Shh," said the man. "No need to wake up." The man was holding a thin stick in his left hand, and something familiar in his right. The familiar thing was snoring obliviously.
"You dropped this guy on the floor, buddy," the man said, smiling, as he placed the sleeping tiger next to Calvin. "You found him caught in your tiger-trap, remember? Tigers are suckers for a tuna fish sandwich. Always keep him with you, Calvin. He'll keep you safe even when you forget what you need to be kept safe from."
"I'll visit soon. Before I cannot visit at all. Someday, we'll meet on different terms, I think. For now, sleep."
And Calvin slept, slipping into dreams as his eyes locked shut like deadbolts sliding home.
Calvin's eyes snapped open, giving him a perfect view of the ceiling.
"I have got to stop with the chocolate-cake-before-bed thing," he told the ceiling. "My dreams are getting-"
"Woahwoahwoahwoahwoah. Hold up there, tiger," Calvin said, wagging a finger at his furry friend. "I know this part of the story, this just happened this morning."
Hobbes looked up and blew air out of his mouth, letting it flutter his lips with a sound like an asthmatic whoopee cushion. "If you would stop interrupting, Mr. I-Have-A-Mind-Like-A-Steel-Trap-If-Such-Traps-Were-Actually-Made-Out-Of-A-Particularly-Weak-Piece-Of-Fine-Mesh, I might be able to actually finish telling you what happened, and you wouldn't feel the need to keep saying stupid things."
"Ha! Like that'll ever happen! In your dreams, bug-breath."
"Anyway. As I was saying."
"I have got to stop with the chocolate-cake-before-bed thing," he told the ceiling. "My dreams are getting far too surreal." The ceiling, being a ceiling, did not respond. Ceilings were funny like that.
No one else responded either, though, which was not quite as funny. Calvin heaved himself off his pillow and looked around. Apparently, he was the last one to wake up, as the room was devoid of any and all signs of intelligent life, aside from himself, which probably counted more as hyperin-
"That's not how it went!" Calvin protested. "Dean responded to me, he said that-"
"Alright, bub, who's telling the story? If it was just what you remember happened this morning, I wouldn't need to fill you in!" Hobbes growled, a low rumble that Calvin could feel in his bones. "If you don't let me finish telling you what happened I am going to eat your comic books. This is important!"
The spiky-haired blond chuckled absurdly. "What, was I Memory-Charmed again or something?"
"Oh come on!"