|“||For years, I spent my days watching nature, and when the trouble began in Stain'd-by-the-Sea, I lowered my eyes to the sea. I watched the behavior of the denizens of the deep, and I stepped outside the law to get what I wanted.||”|
Armstrong is a naturalist who lived in a town called Killdeer Fields with his daughter, Ellington. He had an ability to easily mimic other voices and noises. He would work in the fields during the flood, bringing with him only his music box that played a jazz song, so he could have music with him wherever he went. When he returned home, he would cook dinner in his socks and then read a story to his daughter before bed. He also would have the house filled with wildflowers or baby animals he was hoping to recover.
He opposed the draining of Stain'd-by-the-Sea, which would disrupt the wildlife and environment surrounding the town. When it drained anyway, the water flooded Killdeer Fields. It's also probable that he was at the unveiling of Colonel Colophon's statue (which was bombed), as naturalists were described to be there, and Polly Partial, who was also at the event, vaguely recognizes him.
Armstrong either joined or founded the Inhumane Society, of which he became leader. He also became obsessed with the Bombinating Beast, a powerful and mythical monster he thought he may be able to recreate. However, the only thing that could control it was the Bombinating Beast statue that was under the possession of the Mallahan family. He sent a telegram to them offering to buy it, but when he received no response, he decided to steal it.
He made the false persona of Hangfire, using his ability to mimic voices to his advantage. He named himself after the phonograph he kept in his home, as well as an unexpected delay between the triggering of a firearm and the ignition of the propellant.
Six months before Snicket arrived in Stain'd-by-the-Sea, after failing to receive a telegram back from the Mallahans, he left home and abandoned his daughter, calling her the next morning as Hangfire to tell her that he'd kidnapped her father and she would never see him again. During this time, he also made contacts in Stain'd-by-the-Sea in the forms of Dr. Flammarion, Nurse Dander and Stew Mitchum, as well as organizing the abduction of Lizzie Haines in order to manipulate her family and her mentor, Dame Sally Murphy.
In this time, he also manages to manipulate the city's warning bell to his advantage; when the bell rings, the residents of the town are to put masks on, so he controls the belltower on Offshore Island in order to use that time to pass through town unnoticed.
He finally calls Ellington again, telling her that Hangfire would release him in exchange for the Bombinating Beast statue. She goes to Stain'd-by-the-Sea in order to try and steal it, while he places Sally Murphy into the abandoned Sallis Mansion to pose as Murphy Sallis and arrange for S. Theodora Markson and Lemony Snicket to arrive in Stain'd-by-the-Sea.
|“||It was for this reason that I took little notice of the butler who opened the door for us or the hallway he led us down before opening a set of double doors and asking us to wait in the library. I should have paid attention.||”|
— Lemony Snicket, Who Could That Be at This Hour?
Armstrong disguises himself as the Sallis family's butler in order to keep an eye on Sally Murphy. He lets in Theodora and Snicket, where Sally hires them to steal the statue from the Mallahans. As they leave, Snicket observes Armstrong imitating bird calls outside.
That night, Theodora calls Armstrong and arranges for him to leave a window open so they can climb into the building with the statue from the hawser that connects the lighthouse and Sallis mansion. Instead of waiting for them, he calls the police in order to get them arrested; however, Snicket drops from the hawser with the statue.
The next day, Armstrong ties Sally Murphy into the basement of the Sallis Mansion and leaves her to drown. He then makes several calls; he calls Moxie Mallahan, mimicking Snicket's voice and telling her and her father to leave the lighthouse and meet him at Handkerchief Heights. He then calls Theodora, mimicking Mr Mallahan and telling her to keep Snicket away from Moxie, and calls Snicket and mimicks Ellington, claiming to be held by Hangfire at Blotted Boulevard. However, Snicket is not fooled, and leaves three library books in place of the statue at The Lost Arms.
As soon as Snicket leaves, a masked Armstrong goes to the hotel and is displeased at finding the books. Prosper Lost sends him up to the Far East Suite, where he attacks Theodora and binds her to a chair, threatening to kill her if he does not receive the statue. He escapes before Snicket can return.
|“||'Teetotaler' is a very fancy word for a little boy to use. Let's test your vocabulary a little more, shall we? Do you know the word 'defenestration'?||”|
— Hangfire, When Did You See Her Last?
Even though Ellington receives the statue and tries to contact Hangfiire, he does not respond to her. Instead, he sets up a headquarters at Colophon Clinic, murdering Colophon and setting up for his plans by filling it with chains in order to hold kidnapped children. They also set up in an abandoned aquarium in order to grow tadpoles, hoping to grow them into bombinating beasts.
Armstrong arranges for Cleo Knight to be kidnapped and held at the clinic, as she is working on a formula for invisible ink that could potentially save the dying town. He hides in the clinic disguised as Colophon, staying in his tower room.
Snicket arrives to look for her, and Armstrong believes he is Ellington when he hears him whistling Ellington's favorite song in the hall. He then imitates Colophon when Snicket arrives, claiming that Cleo ran away, but Snicket realizes it's Hangfire. He attempts to throw Snicket through the window, but Snicket escapes when Jake Hix drives a Dilemma through the wall. Hangfire uses his bandages to climb out the window and escape.
|“||Someone cleared their throat and we both looked back at a tall, masked figure, watching us calmly. Too calmly, I thought. I wanted him worried.||”|
— Lemony Snicket, Shouldn't You Be in School?
Armstrong has to change his plan; he sends Sharon and Kellar Haines to pretend to be part of the Department of Education, in order to hire Theodora and Snicket to investigate arsons and frame Dashiell Qwerty for the crime, as Qwerty is a member of VFD and has knowledge that could stop their plans.
They then burn down Stain'd Secondary school, arranging for all the students to be transferred to Wade Academy, where they are drugged with laudanum to keep them compliant, replacing the chains as a way to hold the children captive. He and Sharon then attack Theodora to get her to leave town, eventually striking a deal with her that she will leave if they don't kidnap Snicket. Afterwards, the two of them arrive at the fake Department of Education, where they kidnap Jake, Cleo, Moxie and Kellar. Ellington also arrives at the school, though she hides the statue under a second false compartment in her bag, trying to find her father; Hangfire simply gives her orders, through Sharon, to ring a bell.
The next day, Armstrong has the students steal honeydew melons from Partial Foods after drugging Polly Partial, and then watches Stew beat Snicket, the two of them pretending to burn down Dicey's Department Store, when Armstrong actually sends Stew to burn the library.
- Hangfire: I suppose you want to know why I killed her.
- Lemony Snicket: I know why you killed her. You had no more use for Ellington Feint. She helped you steal. She helped you kidnap. She helped you murder. And then your plan was through, and you were through with her. You forced her to do so many villainous things, and she never even knew exactly who she was helping.
Hangfire receives messages from both Moxie and Kellar, claiming to be taking the Bombinating Beast statue onto the train out of town, The Thistle of the Valley. Knowing that this is a ploy, he makes a plan to finally get the statue from Ellington. He has Stew kill Qwerty in his prison cell, framing Theodora for the murder, and then enters the train during an unexpected stop.
He pretends to kill Ellington in front of Snicket, only to be unable to find the statue in her bag. He then sits with Snicket, first explaining to him how he made poison darts from bird skeletons in the Clusterous Forest, and then about how he is simply following the course of nature. Snicket makes a deal with him to exchange the Bombinating Beast statue for the freedom of S. Theodora Markson.
After distracting Snicket with Sharon Haines, Hangfire goes to fetch Ellington, where Snicket hid her outside the train. The other passengers crowd in as Hangfire takes the statue from Ellington, promising that she'll soon be beside her father. Before he can use it, however, Snicket steals it from him and uses it to summon the Bombinating Beast.
The Bombinating Beast crashes the train, and Armstrong, whose mask falls off in the commotion, approaches it, fascinated. Snicket then moves forwards and pushes him into the mouth of the creature; they watch as its teeth move together and Armstrong is eaten by the creature.
- It is probable that he was named after Louis Armstrong, a jazz composer. Ellington seems to be named after Duke Ellington, and it's also probable that the song on her record that he shared with her is composed by one or both of them- perhaps even "Solitude," which is name-dropped at the end of Why Is This Night Different from All Other Nights?
- He and Ellington may be related to Vice Principal Nero in the Netflix canon, as their last names are all Feint.
- He always disliked the expression "killing two birds with one stone," as he thought nobody should be throwing any stones at any birds.
- In the original script for the Netflix adaptation of The Wide Window, the Baudelaires were to look under Josephine's table and find a carving, prompting them to ask, "What does Hangfire mean?" This reference to Armstrong Feint's persona was later cut, presumably for time.