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The Fall of the Town by Lululuna

Format: Short story
Chapters: 5
Word Count: 26,028
Status: COMPLETED

Rating: Mature
Warnings: Strong violence, Scenes of a mild sexual nature, Sensitive topic/issue/theme

Genres: Drama, Horror/Dark
Characters: Gryffindor, Hufflepuff, Ravenclaw, Slytherin, OC
Pairings: Other Pairing

First Published: 08/04/2013
Last Chapter: 03/28/2014
Last Updated: 03/28/2014

Summary:
Magical banner by Eponine.||Winner of broadwaykat's Fairly Magical Fables Challenge.||TGS 2014 Finalist: Best Horror/Dark.





At the turn of the first millenia, trouble is coming to the village of Hamlin. Plague, carried on the backs of rats, consumes all. Tensions brew between wizards and muggles. And a mysterious young stranger arrives: a dark-eyed man who speaks with snakes. 

Based on The Pied Piper of Hamlin.


Chapter 1: The People of Hamlin
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Chapter One
The People of Hamlin




Marigold Peverell.
Beautiful chapter image by Eponine at tda.




 
A wicked wind is said to blow
Down the street and up the close
the ghostly song which came to play
and lead our children far away.


-Old wizarding folk song, artist unknown



There is a place outside the village where no souls scarcely go, that empty assembly in the lands past the shack, in the shadow of the great castle. The villagers know it is a cursed place, and only the brave will venture there, wands lit against the spectres of the past. Bereft, lonely, it is the site of a thousand-year old massacre.

The story lingers at the edges of storybooks, in the whispering softness of the first snow, in the eyes of the storm bringers who tread the cracks between love and hate. Not quite history, less than legend, the story fades with each passing year, the eyes of the elders who learned the tale at their grandmothers' knees beginning to dim with the veil of forgetfulness. In the village, a lonely clock still chimes in the place where she fell to her knees and wept and beat her fists into the treacherous, barren ground. A church has grown up in the place where he stood and watched her, his heart a beating, burning drum, his face a cool composition. A barbed wire fence protects the house on the outskirts of town from intruders. The villagers say the ghosts of the lost ones still haunt its hollow walls.

The year was 1092, a great year of influence and change in wizarding Britain. The village of Hamlin, a melting pot of wizarding and Muggle migrants from all over the British Isles, had grown up based on the potato crop and the promise of trade with the wild Scottish clans which roamed the areas around, though they were careful to keep away from the village. The villagers, under the guidance of the wise and imposing Mayor, flourished: educating the local children in reading and writing, skills which were not commonly circulated to the common masses. The wizarding children were taught a few useful spells and tricks, using rough wands hewn from wood which had been imported from London by the shrewd peddlars who passed through Hamlin.

Can you see it, the clean, white-washed walls with tidy gardens in which children played, dirt around their ankles? On a windy day does their laughter trickle through your ears like the echoes of a dream? Hamlin is thousand year old ash, but if you listen closely you may hear the call of mothers at dusk, the smell of fresh bread from the bakers on the corner, the whir and buzz of the potter's wheel beneath the hands of an old man.

A popular haunt and resting place for travellers, both magical and Muggle folk alike, Hamlin quickly exploded through trade and import. It's pretty, tidy streets and general lack of poverty and disease made it desirable to the wizards who sought refuge from less-accepting non-magical communities. It was not that the Muggle population was strictly aware of their neighbours' special abilities: in fact, it was well-known that Mrs. Bones from down the way could test food and drink for decay and poisoning, that the creature Master Pettigrew kept as a pet was something slightly more than a simple dog, and that Master Peverell, owner of the resident apothecary, had knowledge of healing plants and methods beyond the average midwife. Of even more silent speculation was Master Peverell's daughter, Marigold, who had cheated death twice and was largely avoided, even by the other magical adolescents of Hamlin.

Marigold at fourteen was a slim thing, with large, thoughtful blue eyes and fair hair which she usually wore in a long braid hanging over her shoulder with a few loose strands. She was kind, even as a young child, accompanying her father to visit his patients and holding their hands soothingly. She was often to be found rushing to help her old neighbour, Mr. Jorkins, tend to his turnips as the old back grew stiff and bent, or to help the little children learn their letters, a patient, intent smile on her lips. Yet there was something disconcerting about Marigold and her parents, a sort of terrible knowing of something beyond normal imagination, of grim reality in the hopelessness of human existence which if the townspeople of Hamlin could have put into words would have perhaps called reckoning.

No other children tried particularly hard to befriend or be Marigold's companion save the son of the local potter, Trip, whose name suited his tendency to tumble over his own feet and rise, clumsily blushing the colour of the tomatoes which Widow Hunter down the road lovingly tended and sold in the season. Marigold and Trip's heads, fair and dark, were often seen bent together, and the wizarding parents of the former suspected that Trip himself, despite having Muggle parents, was in fact a wizard himself in that strange phenomena known as Muggle-born wizards which were miraculously born into non-magical folk. No wizarding schools existed yet, and children were taught by their own parents to harness their powers and perform simple spells, after which the brightest could be sent to the colleges in Oxford in London at seventeen to compete for a place.

The Peverell parents had moved from Godric's Hollow, a primarily wizarding village in the south of England, to escape the pain of two dead infants and the presence of an overbearing and powerful extended family. They were humble folk, who hid their wealth carefully, preferring to blend in with the ordinary state of survival of the townsfolk. Mr. Peverell had inherited an object, a most wondrous gift from his own father, which he guarded from public knowledge. It was said to be an object of great wealth that had been in the family for generations.

Death was a true reality to Mr. Peverell, a character or entity which lingered at the edges of his thoughts, prodding his mind, an inevitable friend and follower who would someday claim him for his own. Mr. Peverell held Death firmly at bay, locking Death to scratch at the door at the houses of the sick, leaving empty handed from the hastily-thrown together hospitals at the battles and skirmishes of the South.

Yet there was one form of death which pervaded Master Peverell's knowledge, and it came festered on the hairs of rats from faraway ships, spread as they nibbled at the stores of meat and cheese, exploding in great pustules and grotesque mutations on the faces and skin of the people of Hamlin. This was a time of great despair, of fear, in which Master Peverell worked tirelessly to save those he could and soothe the dying brows of those beyond his help, watching helplessly as their skin began to spell over their eyes, the mouths wrenched in silent screams of burning, internal agony. This was the Black Death, the outbreak of enemy which came swiftly and without warning. Plague.

Now. It is on the fourth day of the fourth month since the first victim had been slain that Marigold Peverell sits on a low wall at the outskirts of the village, her skirts dangling a foot from the buds of grass pushing through the soil. The hot summer is fast coming, the heat which will claim more lives and bring the sick to greater discomfort: they will die sweating and whimpering in their beds. The ships and trade which brought the rats arrived in the early spring, as the seas sent warm winds with traders from the Low Countries, and Marigold's father had sighed wearily to her just last night that the disease would only strengthen in the heat. On her left sits Trip, his trousers rolled up from his ankles, which are dirty with the same clay which lingers beneath his fingernails. He was apprenticed to his father, who makes beautifully crafted bowls for the village. On Marigold's other side sat Blind Johnny, a slim waif who Mr. Peverell had taken on as his apprentice, whose aptitude for potion-brewing and herbal remedies eases his role as a burden on the Peverell house. His eyes, unseeing and dull, are the color of pale rainwater.

Can you see them? See the almost-summer sun glimmer on the girl's fair head. See the gentle slope in Blind Johnny's frail shoulders, the faint sprinkling of freckles which constantly permeates Trip's cheekbones. Can you hear them? Her voice a clear bell against the lower tones of the boys, the gentle rhythm as Trip taps a nursery rhyme on the grey stones. Let us go there now.

Chiding herself to know better, Marigold still wished for the classic, pale beauty of the Prince sisters in that insatiable jealousy of the young, smoothing small hands over her apron. Trip himself glanced at his friend, admiring the strong curve of her jaw, how her eyelashes cast shadows on her cheek. She is oblivious to her friend's attention, picking the petals gently from a flower captured from the neighbour's garden.

"Did you hear about the MacSmithy family's outbreak?" Blind Johnny asks, wiping a thin film of sweat from his jaw. He frowns. "All three children and the father bedridden and stricken. Mister Peverell said it was horrible, all of them begging and crying for death."

Trip shudders and crosses himself. From the coffin-maker's workshop next to his father's shop comes the clatter and saw of four new coffins being constructed, three no higher than the wall on which he is now sat. Marigold stares at the ground. These last months have hardened the children of Hamlin.

"Father is very tired, very concerned," she offers. "I am fearful that one day he will catch the disease from a patient, and even the spells and preventative potions will not be able to stall it."

For they are wizards, these three, and as Trip and Marigold watch Blind Johnny pulls his wand slowly from his pocket, murmuring a spell beneath his breath. Marigold glances around, then seizes his wrist.

"You mustn't, John! Far too many Muggles live on this street, it would not do to flaunt the fact you are a wizard."

"As if they are not already aware, my being apprenticed to your good father," Blind Johnny retorts, but stows his wand away anyway. "I sought only to summon a cup of water from the nearby well."

"I'll fetch you the water," Marigold sighs, and rises, tucking her skirts beneath her. She has been close with Blind Johnny since he was first a beggar child on the street, and sees him as a sort of adopted brother. She returns, ensuring Blind Johnny's hand is securely fastened around the cup before releasing it. Blind Johnny finishes the water in a few messy gulps before setting the cup on the wall beside him, an uneven place where it promptly clatters to the ground with a resounding thump. Blind Johnny swears loudly.

"Oh, John," Marigold sighs, feeling sorry for the disabled boy. She crouches to the ground. "Broken clean and half. This is your father's work, isn't it, Trip?" Glancing around behind her, she slips her wand from her pocket, bites her lip and points it at the cup.

"May I try?" Trip asks suddenly, scooting from the stone wall. Marigold glances at him, puzzled. Blind Johnny smirks a little.

"Mate, don't you know what happens when Muggles attempt to use magic?"

"Just let me try," Trip says evenly, offering Marigold his empty left hand. In Muggle lessons, he is forced to write with his non-dominant hand: his competency with his left is said to be a mark of the devil.

Marigold hesitates, horror stories dancing about in her head, of Muggles sprouting extra heads and arms, or incinerating themselves, or rising high into the air, never to be heard of again. She meets Trip's even, confident eyes.

"Here, lad, but let the consequences be upon your head!"

The potter's son wraps his long, artisan fingers around the wand, settling into a familiar, natural knowing. He clears his throat, thinking of the words he has heard so often uttered from the mouths of Marigold and her parents.

"Reparo.

A glowing, a brightness as the boy demonstrates his power for the first time, as the cup knits itself together clumsily, finding itself. A thin bead of sweat drips down Trip's back as he hands the cup triumphantly back to Blind Johnny, who runs his hands over its completed surface.

Marigold stares at Trip, her eyes narrowed in thought. "Trip... you're a wizard? You must be... How did you do that?"

Trip shrugs. "I knew I could. I've known for years." These are the beginnings of the Muggleborn, the freak born into the normal family who will someday belong to another world. "I guess I'm one of you now." And he cannot prevent a raw grin from cracking his somber face, for even in these times of sickness and despair he has finally grown the courage to face his destiny, and his best friend knows the truth. And he is ready for it.

"We'll speak with my father when he returns from his rounds tonight," Marigold says decisively. "But for now, I think it best we return to attending the Potions, Johnny, and you to your father's workshop, Trip." She jumps lightly to her feet, straightening the skirts which billow around her, creating a light breeze. She secures her wand out of sight. "And, Trip, perhaps it is best you don't mention this to anyone else."

Trip nods solemnly, but his eyes are shining.







None of these young folk know that as they speak, innocent and bold, the Muggle leaders of the town are gathering their counsel. Their names: McDonald, Bermondsey, Cooke, men grown rich from the trade of Hamlin and fat and comfortable in their prosperity. They have assembled without the knowledge of the mayor, a wizard, met by candlelight though the sunlight rages outside beyond the small assembly. They hold pomanders to their noses, giving them the look of bulbous monsters, each especially prepared by Blind Johnny and Marigold Peverell to distribute to the townsfolk in a defence against the disease.

"I fear we have tried everything," Councillor Bermondsey moans, wiping his heavy brow in the heat. He inhales the sweet scent of the room, itchy inside his fine cloths. "We have quarantined the patients, boarded them up to die, yet more are still infected, whole families falling to the Plague. We have had all the cats and dogs rounded up and slaughtered to stop the spread of the disease."

Councillor McDonald snorts into his hand deliberately. He is a shrewd man, weedy and runty from birth, who takes his joy in nit-picking and pushing at the woes and failures of others. He twists the bottom of his gray beard round his forefinger.

"There is one cure we have not yet attempted," he says carefully, training his eyes on the third member of their party. Councillor Cooke looks up slowly, a sly grin painting his hewn features. He is the youngest of the trio, and the quietest, yet when he speaks, people stop in their tracks to listen.

"Indeed, Master McDonald," he says, voice like oil, carefully undermining his peer by referring to him by his common name. "There is a certain... infestation, of sorts that we have not addressed. Something which we, the people of Hamlin, have graciously allowed to persist among us, that most devilish invasion."

All three councillors crossed themselves at the mention of the devil. It was well enough known, though not often voiced, that magical folk resided among the ordinary townsfolk: indeed, all three councillors were indebted to at least one other Hamlin witch or wizard. It was well known to all three that the powerful, currently absent mayor was at least a wizard-sympathizer, if not one of the things himself. Many suspicions had already been whispered about the town doctor, Master Peverell, particularly after a patient he had treated passed away anyway.

"Perhaps, gentleman, it is time we rid the town of the angel-fearing wretches and rescued our people from this terror of a disease. After all, who knows what other horrors they have the will to release upon us?" Councillor McDonald uttered in a hushed tone. The wine began to flow.

Bermondsey, wincing from the gout which constantly plagued him, nodded vehemently. The more the thought spread like poison through their minds, the more sense it seemed to make. Why not rid the the town of some of its most influential and dangerous citizens while proving to the other inhabitants that the council was taking drastic measures against the rapidly spreading disease? Did not the Bible warn against consorting with those who bore the Devil's mark and practiced his own Dark Arts? The more they pondered the matter, the more sense it seemed to make. Who better to have caused the disease than those who least suffered from it? The more the men thought, the better assured they became that their magical neighbours were to blame, and were to be brutally punished and cast from the town's ranks.

Sssso sssssimply convicted, the hatred of human beingsss.

As curls of smoke and the scent of wine fill the small room, a small garden snake curls itself around a tree outside.




The Next Night

Hooves pound up a dark path, the cloaked rider bent against the wind. The beast whinnies, throwing its head to the sky with a clanking of bit, his hindquarters dancing. The lithe rider, small among men, pats the horse on the neck before gracefully dismounting, throwing off the hood to reveal a mane of dark curls and bright blue eyes which sharply survey the enormous stone fortress before her. Stephane, watching from the window of the Great Hall on a stage of brilliant light, admires the proud, sure way the rider throws the reigns in the direction of the expectant groom, barely panting despite the hard ride behind her. She is alert, sharp, like a panther waiting to pounce, or perhaps with the carefully concealed talons of the raven's whose name she bears.

Stephane turns to survey the scene before him, where magical candles flicker on wicks of bone, filling the Great Hall with light, the shadows of its inhabitants cast long beside the place where the four tables will stand. A fortress used by a local clan for a century, the castle has been renovated thoroughly with the might of both magic and manual labour to expand and grow, even rooms and corridors that the founders themselves cannot trace onto a map. This is the mighty structure which will become Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, it's shell nearly complete.

All heads turn as Rowena Ravenclaw throws open the doors with a flick of her wand. Every movement she makes is deliberate and precise: there is something fierce, unyielding, calculating in her gaze. She is an integral part of the school's founding, the champion of academics and rigorous schooling, matching the more socially powerful men in conviction, making it clear she will take an equal part in teaching and running the school. In the privacy of his own mind, where he allows himself to let loose sometimes, Stephane finds the older woman fascinating and terrifying.

At the head of the table, his girth wide and shoulders broad, sits Godric Gryffindor on a chair of golden thread, sagging slightly beneath his weight. A mighty sword and scabbard hang casually across the back of his chair, and his golden beard shines in the candlelight, topped by a faded brown hat. Flanking him are his sons, strapping boys a few years Stephane's senior: Arthur and Julius, both who tower a head above Stephane, with broad, open faces and flat cheekbones, dressed in the livery of their mother, a Muggle heiress whose fortune financed Gryffindor's campaigns and finery as a knight. Down the table, Helga Hufflepuff sits primly, a small kitten cradled in her arms. She is dressed plainly: from common wizarding stock, she is one of the most compassionate people Stephane has met, and a calming influence on the other three. But she is a great witch in her own right, and anything but weak: behind the gray eyes are flashes of fire. Even proud Gryffindor lowers his head in shame when Hufflepuff chastises his antics; even sly Slytherin listens to what she has to say, his head inclined in respect. She is accompanied by her husband and eldest daughter, Derinda, who gives Stephane a shy smile, blushing pink when he catches her eye. Derinda, he is sure, will make a fine wife someday, for a man far less plagued by wanderlust and greed than himself. Around the great table, seated and standing depending on their rank, are a handful of other academics, scholars and magicians, all lesser members, all trusted.

And at the end of the table is old Slytherin himself, a thinning head of black hair through which he runs a shaky hand, then moves to stroke the patterned skin of the great snake coiled around his neck. Only Stephane can hear the whispering of the animal familiar to its master: it is the gift of the Slytherins, to hear the whispering and bargaining of serpents. Stephane studies his own reflection in the glass: he is his father twenty years younger, his sallow, slim build, the eyes on the edge of darkness, the hollow bones which are slightly too prominent. Beneath his robes he is a willow in the wind, a flat expanse of white skin and muscles, nothing like the handsome Gryffindor boys.

Stephane watches as the small child playing at the foot of the table flings her doll to the side and runs into Rowena Ravenclaw's arms, dark curls flying behind her. The mother, looking irritated at being forced to play the role of the feminine, attentive mother, smiles sternly at her little daughter and mutters something to her. The child, little Helena Ravenclaw, straightens, her eyes losing the excited shine, and she walks primly beside her mother before dropping again to the stone floor, retrieving the abandoned doll and her game. Stephane thinks of her like an abandoned puppy, eager to lap up any sign of attention and adoration. He reminds himself to give the girl a sweet later, or send the family's house elf to keep her company.

Ravenclaw takes her seat, dark robes curling around her body. A draft from her cloak travels towards Stephane: she smells of wind.

"I have come from the outskirts of Hamlin," she declares, ignoring all formalities. Here, at this table, they are equals, and she has pressing news. "The town is full of magical folk, and at least a hundred magical children. Magic is there, in the air. We must have them at the school."

"And what of the other news?" Gryffindor asks, rubbing his fingers together thoughtfully. "Did you bring the... messenger?"

"Of course." Ravenclaw reaches into the folds of her cloak, and, concealing a shudder, withdraws a small bundle. With a slightly reluctant hand she reaches in and draws out a small garden snake, which recoils from her. Stephane's father leans forward expectantly, but it is to Stephane himself that the woman beckons, and the snake slides eagerly from her fingers to his, coiling round his thumb in relief.

It wassss a long and hard journey, my master, the snake whispers to Stephane, and he strokes her head gently, painfully aware of the stare of everyone in the room.

Tell me what you heard in Hamlin, little one. He listens. The tiny snake speaks in his ear. When she has finished, he addresses the humans again, wishing their stares were as trusting and friendly as the little reptile in his hands.

"The Muggles will strike against the wizards in a week: they plan on raising the town against the folk known to be magical and driving them from their homes..." He swallows nervously. "They spoke of exile, stripping them of the belongings... and worse. Beatings, lynching, even execution."

Gasps spring up around the room. Helga Hufflepuff is incensed, whispering fervently in her husband's ear. Gryffindor is enraged, Slytherin calculating. Rowena Ravenclaw only looks slightly bored. Stephane imagines that she is grudgingly acknowledging the Muggles' logic, untouched by sentiment or pity.

"We must do something," Gryffindor cries, his comment met by shouts of support round the room. "The children must be brought to the school to be taught, the adults given asylum. I have heard stirrings and whispers of this growing hatred and suspicion against wizards all across Britain- it is a tragic atrocity, one that I fear has set wickedness into the hearts of good men."

"Surely we must act, interfere," pipes up one of the wizards: Stephane was constantly forgetting his name.

Hufflepuff nods eagerly. "We must surely rescue those poor lambs from a terrible fate, and have them fill the halls of this school. For if it is our duty to educate the magical children of this world, to keep them protected from the darkness that is stirring, there is surely no nobler calling than to be the salvation of the people of Hamlin." With her words the councillors seem to become assured of their decision: nods and ayes resound. "I could go myself, and speak with the mayor."

Ravenclaw rolls her eyes, resisting a snort. "These are country-men, Helga. They will not take well to being told what to do by a woman, mark my words."

Helga scowls, but says nothing. Stephane notices Julius Gryffindor nudging his brother eagerly.

"We shall send one of my sons," Godric Gryffindor declares, and both boys straighten proudly. "They are able warriors, and fearlessly up to the task of Hamlin."

Yet, Slytherin taps his fingers against the wooden table. It is a quiet, subtle gesture yet draws the immediate attention of the other inhabitants. "What of my own son, Stephane?" He says quietly, and the great snake round his neck hisses in approval, and Stephane knows this is his cue to approach and stand dutifully behind his father. "He has proven himself to be a great wizard, and a great speaker and representative of our goals and methods to humble men. I propose that he shall approach the people of Hamlin, sway their minds in our favour." Slytherin sends a wry grin to the sons of Gryffindor. "Were either of you fine young men to parade into town, it would raise questions. You cannot conceal your great height or presence. My son will be quiet and subtle, thoughtful and diplomatic, as I have taught him."

Gryffindor, to Stephane's surprise, nods in approval. He stands and slaps a heavy hand round Stephane's shoulders, and he sinks a little beneath the weight. "My godson is a fine choice for this task," he intones, deep voice commanding. "He is brave, and strong at sixteen years, and clever as a fox. He will do well at this task, and bring honour to his father, and to our fledgeling school."

The small snake makes her way to Stephane's ear, her skin hard and cool against his. Be careful, young master, she cautions, a message for him alone. Thingssss in Hamlin are more tense than first appearsss. I fear for you.

Do not fear for me, but for the innocents who will be slaughtered were I to fail. The words slip from his mouth as a whisper in an inhuman tongue, and within a moment he is accepting congratulations and handshakes, instructions and maps, and little Helena Ravenclaw stares up jealously from her folded position on the floor.

After the meeting, Slytherin takes his son aside, and tells him sternly to bring the magical children to the castle at all costs.

"Do not fail me this, boy," he warns in Parseltongue, his eyes dark fire. Stephane thinks of the mystery that is his father, the veiled churning beneath the laughter, the ambition which drives his every thought and movement, the secrets which will take countless generations to uncover. Like Marigold Peverell, who Stephane will soon encounter, the Slytherin heir has a bit of the power of reckoning.

"I will not fail in Hamlin," he promises his father. The next day, he will ride his black mare the day's journey to the village of Hamlin, bringing students and salvation. He will be a hero, a missionary of truth and learning. Hogwarts will become vibrant, the place of magical learning and power that the founders dreamed into being, and the name Stephane Slytherin will be on the lips of all.

Tomorrow, he will ride.




A/N: All references and inspirations from the story 'The Pied Piper of Hamlin' is credited to the Grimm Brothers, though many creative liberties have been taken. All references and inspirations from the Harry Potter books are credited to JK Rowling. The song at the beginning is written by me.


Chapter 2: A Stranger In the Dawn
  [Printer Friendly Version of This Chapter]

Chapter Two
A Stranger In The Dawn





Stephane Slytherin.
Breathtaking image by Eponine at tda.



In cloths of pied and brightly robed
On his black mare the piper rode.
His hair as dark as his eyes were bright,
He came to Hamlin in the night.

-old wizarding folk song, artist unknown


Only the guilty rise before the sun. Its bright rays are barely beginning to scorch the horizon and kiss the thatched roofs of the cottages of Hamlin as Marigold Peverell makes her steady way back towards the village. She is clothed simply, barefoot, her hands dirty as she clutches the St. John's Wort which her father has requested for a potion he hopes will alleviate the burning of the Plague victims skin as they die.

"I can do nothing to protect them, to preserve their lives once Death has chosen them," he told Marigold last night, washing his hands slowly in the basin of warm water Mrs. Peverell had drawn for him. "But perhaps there is something we can do to keep them from suffering as He takes them for his own."

Marigold respects and loves her father above all, yet sees a certain, aware sadness in his being, a sort of tragic reckoning. In the shadows of his eyes she sees the faces of the lost ones, her brother and her sister who died young, one trapped beneath a fallen standing stone, helpless as the life was squeezed from his lungs, the other cold and thin with the cough which wrought her frail and seized her like a beast for the shaking. They were both too weak. Death took them both for His own, as Marigold and her father watched helplessly, the silver cloak, a priceless family heirloom, running through his fingers like empty water. Even unearthly magic cannot hold Death at bay when He is this close, this hungry.

Mr. Peverell held the cloak over Marigold as Death took her small, broken sister for his own, protecting his last child from the notice of Death. Invisible, she closed her eyes tight, heard her mother's muffled cries and her father's whispers of comfort and blessing. A coldness, an unbearable coldness filled the room, along with another strange sense. Triumph. Death was again the master of the Peverells.

Now, a kingdom away, Marigold senses His presence still. Wickedness and desperation mate in the air.

She is sure that it is her magical blood which has protected her family and many other wizards in the community from falling victim to the Plague, but surely even its resistance has a breaking point. She has seen dozens, maybe a hundred lives depart this life. The Plague knows no mercy, no pity, allows no hindrance for the prayers and allowances of the desperate congregation.

Then there is the matter of her dear friend Trip, one of the bravest boys she has ever known, and the power which he has kept so secret. She fears the reactions of his parents, who are good, simple folk, and the other Muggles of the town. They respect, even sometimes take advantage of the special skills of their wizard neighbours, but what will they think if magical blood begins to appear in Muggle families? Will it be seen as a blessing, or a curse, a curious and deadly invasion of the blood they once deemed so common and safe?

In the distance, the steeple of the town church looms against the dawn, it's solitary bell hanging silent. Soon, the people will begin to rise, and as usual, Marigold fears what the morn will bring.

These thoughts preoccupy the last of the Peverell line as the sun rises, and she barely startles at the rustling of rats in a nearby rubbish heap. Since the extermination of most of the cats and dogs of the town the rat population has exploded: they are to be found in every yard, lurking in cuboards, scavenging among the stores of fresh food. No place is safely warded against the pests.

Turning to look behind her, Marigold is temporarily blinded by the red rays of the sun, and spots appear on her vision. Chiding herself, irritated, she shakes the darkness away.

A shape on the horizon. A gathering of light and dark to arrange themselves into a black horse and a man, cloak billowing in his wake, a small snake coiled round his neck.

For the first time he sets eyes on her, a plain girl with hair of golden fire, framing her face like a halo, standing stark and lonely against the silhouette of the town. And she sets her eyes on him, a face so dark and still he could be the envoy of Death himself.

She waits for him to arrive, and paints a curious smile across her face.




In the church which overshadows the town kneels the mayor of Hamlin. Well versed in the ways of the Muggles he has chosen to surround himself with, Mayor Radley feels a trickle of sweat settle as he looks up at the crucifix. It is fine, one of the richest treasures in Hamlin, wrought of careful silver and mounted in the place of honour in the center of the town. Mayor Radley forces his lashes to meet his cheeks, though he is painfully aware of how vulnerable he is in this position, his back to the door, his wand stowed beneath the rich robe. It would be a struggle to extract it should an attacker appear. Purple is the color of royalty, and far too fine for a man of his standing, but he is content to wear red, its richness promoting him as one of the richest and most powerful men of the town, a wizard who rules over magical and Muggle folk alike. Yet he is always frightened.

A respectable distance behind the mayor kneels his son, ten year old Vincent. Mayor Radley can hear his child's heavy breathing and creaking: he is uncomfortable. Vincent, his only boy, was born with twisted legs, his knees turned inward: he walks with a stick that barely affects his heavy limp. He is the silent pity of the town: his face constantly twisted in an expression of pain, dark eyes squinted against the morning sun which shines in through the coloured glass of the church. Vincent's disability affects everything: his ability to do magic is severely limited, his mind dulled and slow by the pain which permeates his every movement. Secretly, Mayor Radley fears constantly for the boy, who is flighty and unpredictable. Even now, he startles and jumps as a rat scuttles in the corner of the church. Or perhaps the sound was made by the scullery boy, son of the town drunk, who is paid a few pence to sweep silently in the church, his eyes low to the ground. Mayor Radley often dwells on the unfairness of old man Malchance, drunkard and dead-weight, yet fortunate enough to have a strong, healthy boy while Radley's own Vincent is so afflicted.

A stranger has come to speak with him. Mayor Radley is first shocked and then scandalized by his strange method of dress: the heavy, dark clothes which cover the slender body in summer, when the sensible and humble dress in light colours to ward off the sun's deadly heat. He listens to the young man's tale, a fanciful thing of wizards and schools and proper education and liberty. The Mayor thinks of the talented young magical folk of the town, bright minds and gifts like the Princes and the Blacks and the Peverell girl, dried out and common among Muggles, surviving from what few spells their parents can teach, of the accidents which have occurred in which a young witch or wizard has lost control.

And yet... if he should propose this idea to the other councillors, then what will the Muggle villagers say as half the children of the town are sent away? Worse, will his own poor, beloved son be rejected as a Squib, as a weakness of the wizarding race due to his affliction and inability to properly exercise magic to the level of his peers? The thought of lonely Vincent being left behind, painfully aware of his own failure sends the Mayor into a state of stubborn denial. He will not give this confident young Slytherin man what he desires. He will never yield to the wishes of inferior strangers, and he tells the boy thus.

Frustrated, Stephane returns to the corner, where Marigold waits, holding two cups of fresh well water.

"Have you had no luck with the mayor, then?" She asks sympathetically, recognizing the frustration and idleness in his eyes. There is something familiar there, a reckoning sort of knowing. She wants to trust this man; she wants to know him, and after showing him to the mayor she is eager to wait and find out more.

"Alas, your leader is far too stubborn for my cause," Stephane sighs, accepting the cup with a grateful nod. He drinks deeply, and Marigold resists the urge to wipe the droplets of water from his upper lip. Such would be quite improper. "But, strange little girl, I fear that great darkness and strife continues to flow this way." He toys with the idea of revealing the snake's information about a Muggle uprising. "I want nothing more than to help the magical folk of this town survive, yet I fear that ignorant man is determined to make this difficult for me." He looks at her pleadingly, those inviting brown eyes which seem to know. "Do you think I am mad, pretty Marigold?"

"Not I," she whispers, and lowers those eyes to the earth. "I reckon that in your words, there is nothing less than truth." In the summer winds, in the closed shutters against the hot day, she senses the greedy paws of Death. The smell of the pestilence pollutes the very country air, Death's chosen flavour of perfume.




Stephane sets up his things in a small house on the outskirts of the town, which he quickly fortifies with a few quick spells. It is small, with simple furnishings, but shall do him nicely for his time here. He lets the small messenger snake lie on the table and eat a mouse it caught outside as he writes a letter describing his failure with the mayor to his father.

I fear the magical folk of Hamlin may be more difficult to persuade than originally thought. The mayor of the town is a stubborn wizard, and all the town cleave to his demand. He is proud- I know not how to address such stubborn ignorance. I have other tidings as well- a girl of the town has spoken to me of magical blood being born into non-magical folk, of a boy with Muggle parents yet who may wield a wand. What is this peculiar phenomenon? I urge you, my father, to discuss this with your cohorts at once. -S.

Stephane bites his tongue and sets down his quill before he is further angered by the utter pigheadedness of the mayor. Can he not see the coming danger, how uneasy is the tension in the town, how the Muggle councillors mutter and whisper amongst themselves? Stephane has been exposed to the four great powers of the Hogwarts founders: he does not understand how to cope with those who ignore reason in favour of selfish will.

Yes, he will need a new plan. The spies trace the Muggle attack as set to unfold within a week: he must rescue the children before that tragic day. To fail is to be unforgivable.

Stephane wonders how Rowena Ravenclaw would confront this problem. By turning the situation to her advantage, most likely, by gaining power over those who oppose her, having them indebted to her. How can he achieve this? Hamlin is prosperous enough, with enough witches and wizards of considerable skill to make the crops grow and the finances flourish. It is only the Plague which baffles them, which makes them weaker. If he can change the effect of the Plague, perhaps he can hold sway over the heads of the leaders of Hamlin.

How can I stop the Plague? he wonders aloud, in the tongue of the serpents. His small companion, the garden snake which plays both spy and messenger, has finished her mouse. She is taught, eager, refreshed. Stephane wonders at the curious intelligence of the creature, unlike any animal he has ever encountered, save the sly watchfulness of the great snake his father keeps as a familiar.

There are whisperssss among the sssnakesss of this place, of poisssoned meat, tainted food, she murmurs, voice soft and velvety. They are ssstarving, they no longer eat the great ratsss which roam among the streetssss, as too many have died of the dissseasse which lingersss on their fur, bile in the mouth.

Stephane listens carefully, his hand poised carefully over his wand. Ssoo, you are sssaying that the disssease is carried on the backss of the ratss?Isss thisss what you ssssussspect, little friend?

I fear it is sssso, the snake tells him, and he is grateful once again for her help. Already his mind is flooding with ideas of the exodus of the rats. The snakes will not touch them. But can he lure them from their lairs, from the village of Hamlin, with the use of the special magic he has learnt at the knees of great Slytherin and mighty Gryffindor? His mind strays to the small pack he brought with him, and the posessions among it, including the beautiful, carved wooden flute, a beloved childhood gift, a pipe he placed among his spellbooks and cloak without truly understanding why he was doing so. He places it on the table, under the watchful eye of the garden snake, and points his wand to the mouthpiece.








The following dawn breaks chilly and still. In the air is a mysterious piping, an unearthly music unknown to the minds of simple men. Few rouse themselves from their beds, attributing this to the funeral march of the aggrieved, or perhaps the sly melody of the fairy folk roused from the hills as the new day begins, dancing away the revels of the night.

Yet in her bed Marigold Peverell lies awake, and listens with attentive ears. She moves slowly to the window, and stifles a gasp, not wanting to wake her exhausted father and weary mother.

In a pattering of feet walk the rats of the town. Brown rats, black rats, rats of mottled colours and long, mangy fur, claws scraping against the uneven cobblestone, eyes dark and unfocused. Pulling a cloak over her nightclothes, Marigold runs barefoot through the close, and onto the high street.

A sea of rats streams past her, through her legs, tails trickling behind them and tickling her bare calves. Marigold suppresses a scream of wondrous horror. They are as if in a trance, these rats, eyes fixed on a single figure in the distance, dark in the dawn. Marigold runs, hopping over a few stray rats which join the river of beasts, to lay her hand on the Piper's shoulder and turn him gently to face her.

"How are you doing this?" She demands in wonder. He looks at her, his hair falling in his eyes, the colourful patchwork of the cloak billowing about him. She wonders fleetingly if he is cold. To Stephane, Marigold Peverell is troublingly beautiful in the dawn, he stutters in his song for a moment, breaking concentration, catching a glimpse of her thin white nightgown through which the skin of her legs lies pale and exposed.

He cannot speak now, mouth concentrated on the flute, but his eyes promise to tell the tale. She watches, an island in a flood of fur, as he walks on, more and more villagers turning to their windows to watch the exodus in wonder, at the curious Peverell girl stands watching the Piper lead the rats to the lake, where they will drown themselves one by one in the cold morning water, taking the seeds of the Plague to the lake's unforgiving depths.




The town is in wonder. Five days pass, and nobody falls to the illness. Five days, and the last of the contaminated are buried or burned, according to their religion, and the people are mad with excitement. Already, the Plague is beginning to feel like a half-forgotten nightmare, a story to tell future generations. The Piper, as Stephane Slytherin is now called, is hailed as hero, a genius by the simple wizarding folk. Mr. Peverell, Marigold's father, invites the man for dinner each night, demanding insightful tales into the power of his magical pipe, and the peculiar powers which he has learned at the knee of his father and god-father, whose names and deeds are known in the local wizarding folk.

Mr. Peverell is astounded to learn of the plans of the Piper's father: to create a school, a wondrous school of magic just round the corner from Hamlin itself, to educate the masses of young magical folk in the arts of such precise sciences: Transfiguration, Divination, Household Charms, Healing and Hedgewitchery, Potion-making, those skills to which a talented witch or wizard will often spend their entire life in the art of practicing and mastering. Hamlin, and Scotland, is a place of trades and hierarchy, and the fact that the wizards of Hogwarts wish to train the elites and peasants equally is puzzling yet appealing to the fair medicine man.

Growing eager, Stephane begins to describe with scarcely-concealed wonder the intricacies of Hogwarts, the great, re-built castle with corridors and dungeons and secret passageways, of the magic which binds the stones together. Eyes shining, he tells of the mighty deeds and great kindness of Godric Gryffindor, magical knight who serves the Muggle king himself, of the wise and cunning Salazar Slytherin, his own esteemed father; of Helga Hufflepuff, who can coax a sprout from the earth like a tender mother and out-duel even a master of the Dark Arts; and of the young and beautiful Rowena Ravenclaw, whose fiery powers are masked by a cool, rational exterior.

Marigold Peverell is smitten. She thinks of the incidents and explosions of power from the other magical children of the town, and how in a school such as this they could learn to harness their powers. She thinks of the good that could be done, the spells she will learn, the secrets of the cosmos to be unravelled as she organizes her mind. She thinks of a place of magic, where two of the great founders are women and girls will be encouraged to speak their minds as equals. Blind Johnny, too, is wary yet curious of the concept. He dreams of a place where he will not be discriminated against or judged as worthless, fit for no better than begging in the dirt. He dreams of power.

Only her old friend Trip, the Muggle with mysterious magic, is troubled among the Peverells and their companions. He has never heard of a Muggle wizard before, and neither has Mr. Peverell, who has traveled well through England and Scotland in his lifetime and encountered many strange folk. Trip cannot help but fear that he will be left behind, alone in Hamlin with his magic, an anomaly among ordinary men.

But perhaps he is not to worry, as the mayor of the town, Old man Radley himself, is still reluctant to be approached or swayed by the Piper. He admits, grudgingly, that the Plague has not yet arisen, that the exodus of the rats of Hamlin has liberated the town. Yet how does he know that the rats and the disease will not return, or be replaced by something worse? Why should the people of the town entrust their precious children to a strange man in a brightly patched cloak whom they have no reason to trust? As the Peverells expected, most of the wizardfolk of the town follow the will of the mayor. Stephane Slytherin, despite his temporary success, feels more and more dismayed, ignoring the vicious correspondence from his father and even a concerned owl from Hufflepuff, Ravenclaw's bored signature adorning the bottom of the parchment as well. Have you heard more? Have you learned more about the coming attack?

Stephane is concerned about the planned attack on the magical folk of Hamlin as orchestrated by the Muggle leaders, and for good reason. Mssrs. Bermondsey, Cooke and McDonald, true Scottish gentlemen one and all, are the only ones dismayed by the turn of events as the Piper piped. A town of chaos is a realm of opportunity, and a well-orchestrated attack on the magical folk on the town, the creation of a common enemy for the Muggles to band against and fight against wandfire, would have been a great move of power for the Muggle councillors. They could unseat Mayor Radley, the overbearing prune and his pathetic son once and for all, putting their own fit sons in the position of honour; they could undo the popular influence and respect they so resented in men like Mr. Peverell, the miracle healer who only seems to save a very select few ; and perhaps most importantly, shaming and punishing the rich wizards of the town would immediately forgive all the debts the Mssrs. owed to men like Mr. Prince, who controlled everyone's purse strings. Indeed, ridding Hamlin of the pompous merchant would free a great burden from more than one man on the council.

Yes, the attack must be carried through, with the help of some leased violence and anger. The barbaric, unnatural devils posing as men and women in the town would be brought to their knees at last, and honest, good folk of the earth would purge the town of the filth which so contaminated it. With the Plague, the Holy Father had surely been punishing the townsfolk for allowing the demonic creatures to practice their black arts for so many years, and to free themselves from sin they must avenge these lost virtues and prevent further Purgatory from raining down from the heavens.

The men call for more ale, and young Master Quince Malchance, ironically the son of the town drunk, scurries forward. The men pay him no mind. When the boy returns home to his father's hovel on the margins of the town he will hand over the few pennies he earned for his troubles working around the town, perhaps be smacked for not making enough to fill the old man's stomach until he is fat and tired with cheap beer, numbing the agony of his own uselessness.

A young wizard himself, the blond boy listens carefully to the council men's plans as he impassively brings food from the kitchen. He wonders idly if they know he himself is one of those they plan to massacre, yet is distracted by the warning of his father's red, unhappy face. As the family name suggests, the Malchances are cursed with generational bad luck, never winning fortune nor happiness and always occupying the bottom rung of the social order, from their home in France, which christened the boy's great-grandfather with the nickname 'Malchance' until no soul could remember what they had been called before. Disaster seemed to follow those of the blood, and, Quince thought bitterly to himself, it appeared Hamlin was no exception.

No, it would not be pretty. Witch trials never were, and that was the word spat from Mr. Bermondsey's spittle-filled mouth, his breath smelling of rotten teeth as he pounds his fist on the table. The councillors - Mssrs. Cooke, Bermondsey, McDonald and then some - are first frightened, and then strengthened by their plans. Years of suspicion and confusion over certain members of the community boil into one word- witch. If the witch is not one of the us, then surely he or she is other, and an enemy to the people. It is the Christian- no, the moral duty - of the good villager of Hamlin to protect his children and the people he is pledged to serve from the evils of the witch.

Now they must simply convince the rest of the town.

Let them burn, let them hang, let usss be cured.




These are the words which the small snake, serving again as a spy, relays to Stephane Slytherin as he sits in his small house high on the hill, alone.

Sssoon, they will ssstrike.

Voice full of horror, Stephane wonders aloud what his duty is. Protect the children, bring us the children, the mighty scholars of Hogwarts commanded. Yet how can he bring the children away when the magical mayor himself is so reluctant and will not listen to reason, blind to the corruptions of his own council? How can he protect the wizarding children when half the town is planning to attack the other? He is but one man, with peculiar gifts.

Marigold Peverell believes him. She comes to his small residence that night to tell him so, fully cloaked against the chill of the summer night, her hair curling behind her ears, and knocks with her small fist.

"Good evening, Piper," she says, pleased by his confused expression. "Good evening, Stephane."

The obvious familiarity sends chills through the ridges of his spine: he hides his shiver by turning into the candlelight. "Would you like to come in?" Stephane asks, tucking his snake into his pocket. It would not do to startle the young lady, after all.

Marigold sits in the small front room, observing the roughly hewn wooden beams which join together in splinters and caulk. This was a peasant's home, before it was abandoned and taken over by the visiting Piper. A witch-fire crackles merrily in the dusty hearth, a sheath of parchment and dark ink pots scattering across the table. Marigold can tell that the entire place has been reinforced by magic, probably Stephane's: it seems sturdier, as if it will last a thousand years more and remain preserved on the outskirts of the beautiful town of Hamlin, nestled in these most magical of mountains.

He serves her a cup of wine: water is often contaminated, and so the local people drink beer as a regular substitute. The wine is different, a mark of wealth and taste. He has brought this bottle from Hogwarts as a special treat: now, they toast like old men drinking at the local pub, a broad grin escaping across Marigold's delicate features.

"What was it like, growing up with a man such as your father?" Marigold questions, her lip stained from the red liquid. It makes her seem even paler, her blue eyes larger and lighter in the glow from the candles. A shadow moves across her cheek. "Travelers from far and wide have come to this town and spoken of the wisdom and goodness of Gryffindor and Slytherin, the magician knights who studied under the apprentices of Merlin and fought the dark wizards of the Welsh." She inclines her head curiously, studying Stephane's features, admiring the delicate, almost feminine slope of his jaw and chin.

Stephane sighs, taking a careful sip of wine. "My father is good, but hard. My mother passed away shortly after my birth and I fear he never quite recovered. He was often too preoccupied with the pursuits of knowledge and power to give much nurturing to a sickly child nobody thought would last each winter."

"You were a frail child?" Marigold inquires.

Stephane nods, feeling chilled at the memory. "I was born quite small for my age, and was never robust, catching consumption and other small ailments which caused my father's healers to fear for my life upon many an occasion. I think I reminded him of my mother as well: he was never the same after losing her. He became harder, wearier, or so his great friend Gryffindor tells me when he has had too much to drink."

Marigold thinks that Stephane Slytherin does not seem weak at all. She sees a great strength in him, something which is mirrored in her own father, who has seen so much loss. She settles her chin on her knuckles, looking into the dark eyes.

"Tell me more about the school, Master Slytherin."

And as the night grew later, Stephane begins to paint tales of a mighty castle across the wooden corners of the cottage: of fiery torches which burned without being lit, of a maze of dungeons winding far into the earth, of a forest home to a clan of centaurs, their arrows tumbling upon a tapestry of stars.

And in the lake a ways away, the bloated and swollen bodies of thousands of rats rot slowly in the night.




Marigold finds Trip at midday, in his father's workshop. She had left Blind Johnny in charge of knitting bandages, though his poor fingers quickly grew swollen with the exertion of the meticulous task.

Trip is perched at the potter's wheel, hands slowly easing the clay into the shape of a large bowl. She watches for a moment from the doorway, admiring his careful skill, the gentle feeding of the wheel as it hums, filling the dank room with a soft stillness.

Yet perhaps there is something else where which she never noticed before, at the magic running in Trip's veins and flowing through his hands, filling his creation with magic. She wonders if he realizes, if he can sense his own magic the way she can. Surely, cups and plates created by Trip must be stronger, slightly more beautiful than the plain work of his father.

This, this calmness and companionship in the summer sun, the breeze weaving through Marigold's hair and laying its cool hand on the back of Trip's neck, the smell of fresh bread wafting from the baker's up the road, this is Marigold's Hamlin, and for the briefest of moments she resents Stephane Slytherin for fighting to remove her from it.

"Trip," she murmurs, slightly sad to disturb her friend from his beautiful work, and Trip turns at the sound, a natural grin rising upon his features until he recalls that he is upset with her and grimaces awkwardly. This irritates Marigold and she crosses her arms against her chest, trying to imitate the glare her mother gives her father when he has begun to eat before saying grace.

"Trip, why are you angry with me?" She decides playing innocent is the safest course of action for now. The boy scowls, wiping his hands against his leather apron.

"How can you ask that, when you know half the town is muttering about you and the Piper? You were at his house late into the night, weren't you? Do you not know how dishonourable that is, Marigold? Little Greta Perks spotted you walking back down the hill. She was scandalized, and rightly so!"

"Little Greta is deaf and basically dumb, I'm shocked any man could understand who she was bloody well spying on!" Marigold cried out indignantly, though she felt a little jerk of guilt for mocking Greta, who was quite unlucky in life and often mocked by the crueler children. The wicked, pretty Prince sisters even mimicked her featureless roar of a voice, to the great amusement of their friends, and both Marigold and Trip were quick to defend her.

"Besides the point," Trip sighs, descending his head into his hands in a tired gesture completely stolen from his father. He has forgotten the clay residue on his hands and sits up abruptly, cursing as he struggles to wipe the hardening pieces from his dark head. Marigold stifles a giggle. "The point is, you don't know this man. He could be dangerous: he's some kind of wicked sorcerer. How do we know he doesn't do the devil's work?"

Marigold, seeing the words of others coming through her friend's mouth, sighs. "The same way we know that my father, or Blind Johnny, or any of the other witches and wizards in the town do not do the devil's work. The same way, dear Trip, that you yourself carry power inside your veins."

Trip's eyes flash. "You know what people are whispering? That magical folk are mutants, freaks sent by the devil to test us, that the Plague was a warning from God sent to punish them."

"If anyone's the freak, it's you," Marigold snaps. "I was at least born to be a witch. You were meant to be ordinary. Did you steal your powers through some black art? You're the one we should be fearing, Trip!" And with that she is gone in an irritated rage, Trip's hands shaking furiously as he rips a freshly dried plate from the mottled table and smashes it to the dirt floor with a resounding roar.




Later, Marigold asks Stephane about Trip's strange powers. He is curious, claiming he has never heard of such a thing before. Laughing slightly, he inquires about the fidelity of Trip's mother, to which Marigold replies, a little disdainfully, that the boy is the spitting image of the older potter.

She extends her hand gently towards Stephane's shoulder and lets the small snake wrap itself around her fingers. Snakes have never frightened her, and she admires the smooth skin, the bright, unblinking eyes of the beast Stephane tells her that he keeps as a sort of magical familiar. His other animal, the great black mare, chews grass and snorts loudly, hardly the image of a dignified and fierce charger.

I like thisss human, massster.

Stephane does not respond to the snake in Parseltongue, not wanting to frighten the girl with this unusual talent.

"I do not understand why people fear snakes so," Marigold says instead. "For they eat mice and other pests, and are usually harmless and out for themselves, nothing else. Perhaps it is the fact that they do not blink, that common weakness of men, instead staring straight to our souls."

"My father's friend says that people fear the unknown," Stephane parrots, thinking of Helga Hufflepuff's thoughtful words as Stephane once cried as a child, wondering why everyone so preferred the strapping, handsome young sons of Godric Gryffindor.

"I suppose," Marigold says, and sighs. "Do you think Trip will stay angry with me, Piper? For he is a wizard as I am a witch, and it would not do to be divided amongst ourselves. I am most grievous for the unkind way in which I treated him, my poor friend."

"He will recover," Stephane says, the jealousy a little too plain on his voice. For Marigold is so beautiful to him, the one person who seems to respect and choose him above others. He looks at her little hand, pale and gentle upon the grass. "Indeed, I have never heard of this... abomination, a wizarding boy being born to Muggle parents, like some changeling. But, miss, how goes your father's task to convince the mayor of sending the children to my father's school?" He hides the desperation in his voice carefully, for the evening prior he had received harsh words from his father. Indeed, Stephane greatly feared his father's anger should he return without the children of Hamlin.

Marigold shrugs her thin shoulders, delicate beneath her dress. "My father holds little sway, I'm afraid. The man is stubborn as they come, and set in his ways and thoughts." She pauses, wanting to say something good about the mayor in case someone is listening. "But... his son, Vincent, the cripple, is very sweet and kind, so perhaps the man cannot be all bad. She smiles fondly. While many in the town find Vincent Radley unnerving, Marigold has always pitied the poor lad for his affliction, believing there to be a good soul underneath the twisted expression.

"You are most kind," Stephane says, a little forcedly.

"Perhaps. I try to be kind, as my father would wish me to be, to those who are less fortunate or pushed away by others, to see that which is important in them as well. There was an old woman- she sadly died to the disease, a few months past - who was quite mad and could barely speak, yet spun the most beautiful threads. She was a Muggle, yet there was magic in the flow of her fingers, the gentle humming of the spindle." She pauses. "I don't think anyone else cared to see that. They cast her onto the street quickly enough, but I tried to be kind to her. And yet..." Marigold glances down the hill, where the pretty Prince sisters are climbing their way, expensive skirts clutched in their puny hands. "There are some in this town who I find it most difficult to even exchange a civil word with."

Stephane laughs, a silvery, unexpected sound. He longs to ask Marigold if she would follow him from the town, if this gentle, charming girl would entrust her life into his hands and let him lead her away from the coming uprising. He would risk losing his father's approval and his task if he could only protect this one soul, and would go on the run with her if that was what it took to keep her alive and safe. Yet, as he is about to ask for the impossible, Marigold rises to her feet, sending a look of disgust down towards the approaching figures.

"I'll be off then. Goodbye, Piper. Stephane." And with a spin of her skirts she is gone, running barefoot towards the town.

Sssstay focusssed on the tasssk, Massster. The snake warns.

I am focusssed. Stephane snaps back, before painting a tranquil expression across his face as the two Prince daughters reach him, huffing a bit from the steep climb.

"Good afternoon, Piper," says the elder and prettier of the two, Camilda Prince, seating herself boldly in the place Marigold Peverell has just vacated. The folds of her skirt and the rich bold colour boast of her father's wealth, who many believe owns half the town. Her sister is darker, more sallow, not as plump and pale as Camilda. Having been himself in the presence of wizarding aristocrats such as Rowena Ravenclaw and Godric Gryffindor, Stephane finds the uppity, nouveau-rich attitude of families like the Princes disgusting. His father has taught him to be suspicious of those who appear as something they are not: though perhaps coming from the prince of secrets himself, these thoughts are not so comforting.

"Can I help you with anything?" Stephane asks diplomatically.

"There is nothing, we are only seeking a reprieve from the busy, hot town," Camilda says breezily, casting a small levitation charm to rip a dandelion from the ground and send it hovering above her head. "Was it that Peverell girl I saw up here? She hasn't been pestering you, has she, Piper? My father would be most willing to have a word with her father if she has. Doesn't know when to quit, that wench."

"There was no issue with Miss Peverell," Stephane says coldly. The Princes exchange glances.

"She is most strange, is Marigold," the younger sister says matter-of-factly. "There have been... whispers, if you will, among some others, that you aim to persuade her to leave Hamlin with you, abandoning her parents and those rag-tag boys she calls friends." Her dark eyes settle on Stephane's. "Is this true, Piper?"

Stephane resists the urge to laugh at the irony of it. Here he is, wishing just Marigold could run away with him, and already rumours are beginning that was his intention all along.

"For let me tell you, if you seek a beautiful wife from the town for your efforts in proecting us from the Plague," Camilda juts in importantly, "there are much more suitable candidates who would be most willing."

Stephane wonders to himself if all girls in Hamlin are so forward. He rubs a blade of grass between his fingers, wishing fervently that the persistent Prince girls would leave him alone to his scheming. Looking down the hill again, he sees the light-coloured head of Quince Malchance collecting scrap wood to fill the fireplaces of the poor, his head bowed.

"And Marigold would never leave her family," the younger sister adds, catching her sister's eye. "She is her father's only child, and very dear to him. And she helps that useless Blind Johnny with the healing potions, and navigates him through the town on many a day. And everyone knows she has always meant to marry Trip P-"

Here Stephane stops listening, his core filling with a dull kind of rage, a storm raging in his ears. Does Marigold truly intend to wed that scrawny friend of hers, the dirty blooded Muggle? He wonders furiously.

"I must go," he mutters to the offended girls, and stalks away, whistling to his black mare who abandons her grazing with indignant eyes. The hope, excitement he felt at the thought of Marigold accompanying him away from Hamlin, into safety, grows dim and cold.




He is awake long into the night, stretching down to the early hours of the following morning, until finally he rises, pulling the brightly coloured cloak against the chill.

I mussst do sssomething, Stephane complains as he stalks back and forth in the main room of his little cottage, wringing the letter from his father between his slim hands. He remembers the empty corridors of the great castle they are calling Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. He thinks of Gryffindor's warm, disappointed eyes, set deep into his broad and honest face; of Rowena Ravenclaw's cold interest, his father's rage which he will unleash upon Stephane the moment they are beyond the watchful eyes of the others. Of Marigold Peverell, bright and trusting, in her soul a sort of unusual beauty.

And Stephane Slytherin acknowledges what he must do, his hands gliding like soft mist over the betwitched flute. He wraps his fingers around his wand, feeling the potential for power coursing through him.

Today, the guilty will rise before the sun.




A/N: All references and inspirations from the story 'The Pied Piper of Hamlin' is credited to the Grimm Brothers, though many creative liberties have been taken. All references and inspirations from the Harry Potter books are credited to JK Rowling. The song at the beginning is written by me. I would love to hear any thoughts or reactions to the story!


Chapter 3: Exodus
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Chapter Three
Exodus




Trip, the potter's son.
Beautiful image by Eponine at tda.



A lonely soul at dawn did rise
To see the birthing of the skies
He rose into the eerie morn
Then began the infernal horn.

-old wizarding folk song, author unknown


 
In the breaking of the morn, a week since the miraculous and mysterious Piper came to haunt Hamlin’s street like a spectral prophet, the sun breaks low to warm the night-chilled streets. Damp are the dirt roads, narrow to allow for the passage of a horse and carriage through the empty streets. Somewhere, a rooster crows, and the wind moves slowly through the trees like a lover’s caress. There is nobody to see the solitary figure, cloaked in his rich, colorful threads, tiny puffs of breath emerging from beneath the hood and the only hint of fear. The cloaked man holds his wand delicately in his grizzled hand, a fine sapphire perched upon his finger like a gaudy bird. Something moves beneath his cloak: the careful observer might hear a slight hissing sound emerging from beneath the hood: as if, impossibly, the stranger were speaking the language of a snake.

Dirt moves beneath a man’s feet: and quickly and silently man is joined by another: slimmer and less hardened than the first, the bottom of his cloak muddy from the quick run down the hill into the village. He is bareheaded, his pale skin shining slightly in the red glow of the sunrise.

They told me you had come. That you had summoned me here, before the sun. The newcomer’s voice is low, hissing.

I came to see if you were prepared to complete the task. The task I won for you. Beneath the older man’s hood, black eyes dance dangerously. The son sees the man’s fingers curl over his wand, deliciously, as subtle a threat as any.

I will not fail. I just need more time, is all.

You do not have time. The father’s voice is quick and harsh. You must carry out your plan today. There is no time to waste. Prove your worth to me, as a wizard and a man, or prepare yourself for the consequences.

With a faint crack, the elder man has vanished. Now only one stands in the high street of Hamlin. From his sleeve, a small creature twines round his wrist, dark eyes cold and expressionless. The small forked tongue slips in and out of the lipless mouth like a knife.

You mussst act, young masssster. You mussst act with haste.

Stephane Slytherin turns in a full circle, breathing deeply. He blinks as his eyes meet the rising sun, leaving large dark spots on his eyes. Hands barely trembling, he removes from his cloak the carefully whittled pipe, which beckoned the rats of Hamlin from the depths of the town and to a watery death, which he enchanted the night before with a complex layer of spells which – or so he hopes – will call to the young people of Hamlin in much the same way.

The spell was invented and stolen from the brilliant Rowena Ravenclaw, who Stephane has so dearly admired since her collaboration with his father. Before here was Hogwarts, when Ravenclaw was a young, brilliant witch with a fatherless child to support, her services were rented out to the paranoid Scottish King. She wove a similar enchantment to call attention to herself in a room of powerful, aristocratic men consumed with their own importance, to call them mindlessly with the trills of her magicked singing voice to follow her through the halls of a nobleman’s castle to the dungeon, where they were soon incapacitated and interrogated one by one by the merciless guards of the King. Ravenclaw won a pretty purse off that venture, then ran silently in the dead of night before the King could turn his attentions on the strange, wild girl whose powers were so manipulative and great.

But, no matter. Hesitantly, yet knowing his father must be watching from an invisible place in the hills, wary of the disappointment of his peers, Stephane puts the pipe to his lips. He looks to the cottage on the hill, where he and Marigold laughed so dearly into the night, where he could have just reached out and touched her small hand with his fingers. Marigold Peverell is something worth protecting. Closing his eyes slightly in concentration, he prepares to blow.




Not a soul was awake to see the brief meeting in the High Street, save little Quince Malchance, his blond head grubby and soiled as he lay snugly in the corner of the street near the baker’s shop. Wrapped in a few rags and blankets, he watched silently and with quiet breath as the two Slytherin men met in the street, tall and mighty against the sky. Quince, himself the son of the town drunk, has never been permitted a wand. Nobody has spared a thought for him, unless it is to pay him a pittance for the most mundane of tasks: emptying chamber pots, serving wine and other unsavory demands. Sometimes Quince hates his father for ignoring him, for laying the patterns of bruises across his skin when there is no more alcohol to be wasted upon his foul breath. Quince watches the hooded man disappear, the Piper turning in a slow survey of the slumbering town.

Quince Malchance thinks it must be nice to be powerful and command respect and comfort, like the Piper. The small boy wishes it was in his own power to rise.

The music begins, and all of little Quince Malchance’s thoughts are lost. Covered in dust, he rises to his feet. He is the first to follow the Piper.




Throughout Hamlin, parents rise to the sounds of banging doors, of thudding footsteps, unlike those they are accustomed to witnessing in their homes.

Tommy? Leonora? Donnie? What’s wrong, child? Where are you going? Why won’t you speak to me?

Mister Peverell, the healer, watches helplessly as his daughter Marigold, hair unplaited and streaming in golden waves down her back, walks, her head straight and stiff as a string connects the crown of her head to the heavens. Her bare feet are small and white, revealed beneath and hem of her nightgown. The father, shouting to his wife to rise quickly, shakes his daughter’s shoulders: with blank eyes she shakes him away, her hands repelling him with a strength one so slim should not possess.

Stiffly, empty, Marigold walks on precise, graceful feet to the door of the Peverell cottage, deaf to her parents’ cries of confusion. She slips through the wooden door, leaving it to hang loosely in her wake, and joins them: the steady walk of the wizarding children of Hamlin leaving their homes, eyes glazed and emotionless, with a purposeful grace that is both uniform and adult. Peverell stares from the doorway, his shock pausing him from chasing after his daughter: he nearly trips over a small boy who can’t be more than three, shuffling along on tiny feet. Camilda Prince is followed by her younger sister, proud, aristocratic faces expressionless. The street is strangely silent, with only the bare heads of the children shining in the sunrise.

Roused from his shock, Peverell has lost Marigold in the crowd. He hurries back into his house, ignoring his sobbing wife, and tucks the gift of Death, the cloak of invisibility inherited through his blood, into the pocket of his cloak, unsure of how this mysterious object can possibly help him when confronting this most unusual magic.

Peverell runs through onto the High Street of Hamlin, staring around as more dead-eyed children appear in the curves of the narrows and closes. A handful of young people must have risen early to practice flying in the peace of the morn, for they fly on brooms with the same monotone progress of those on foot. One small girl’s arm is bleeding, from a long and nasty scratch. Peverell thinks mechanically that she must have sliced it open without noticing: even pain is not enough to rouse the children. A father and mother are fighting to restrain their child, throwing their arms round his small frame with tear-stained faces. Peverell recognizes them as a couple who lost their three eldest to the Plague: his heart hurts for them as the child fights back with an inhuman strength, his mother’s nose breaking with a resounding crack as he smacks her with precision: her arms fall back as she recoils and the boy follows the others steadily.

The people of Hamlin scream and wail as they fail to keep their children with them as they advance towards the hills, on teetering legs, and legs long like a colt’s. They step delicately over cobblestones and bumps in the roads they have so often tripped and tumbled among. Peverell notices not only the children of those neighbours he knew to be magical, but also a handful of the sons and daughters of Muggles, like his daughter’s friend Trip.

Leering and stooped in the entrance to a narrow alleyway, Peverell catches a glimpse of the taunting, eager head of Death.

Shoving ahead, ignoring the laments and appeals of the people of Hamlin, Mister Peverell at last finds Marigold, dull and empty. Impulsively, helplessly, setting eyes on his beloved, sweet daughter for the last time in this life, he throws the cloak of Invisibility over her head and she vanishes from the sight of Death.

A Muggle woman of the town, perched at the window to cast her bowl of human slops into the street, gasps at the sight of the children of her magical neighbors in this solemn procession. She backs away from the window, crossing her heart to ward off the Devil.




At the top of the hill, flute held lightly to his lips, the Piper surveys the result of his curse: dozens of magical children, called to his music, following him loyally and without question. This, then, is true power, the kind his father has always thirsted for and fought to instill in him. Somewhere, he is sure, old Slytherin is watching in grudging approval.

You should be proud, Masssster. The tasssk is nearly complete.

But as Stephane looks behind him, at the faceless children trudging up the hill in his wake, he does not feel power. For a moment, they look not like children, but animated corpses, an army of the loveless dead.




And in the town of Hamlin, as the silent folk watch the last of the stragglers pass the last of the cottages in the exodus of the town. The parents of the lost ones remain: many battered and bloody from trying to keep their children from abandoning them: mothers sobbing helplessly in the street, fathers exchanging fearful stares. Then there are the Muggle families: holding their own children tight, watching the mourners with confusion and even fear. A few Muggles’ children answered the Piper’s call, and these individuals stand a careful distance from the others, puzzled and frightened. Trip’s father, the potter, wrings his hands over and over again.

Mssrs. Bermondsey, McDonald and Cooke gather in a basement to hold a quick council. Councilor Cooke’s small, piggy eyes glint in the darkness.

“This is the push we require to banish the vermin from our town forever, my good men,” he murmurs. “The Devil has come and summoned his children away: it falls to us, the avengers of God, to purge the rest of the town from this foul, unnatural threat. Who knows if they will turn to our own good, strong children next? It is time, men. Tonight, we must strike.”

Of the possessed ones, three children remain.

Vincent Radley, the crippled, young son of the mayor, remains still in his father’s arms. Every so often the frail frame tries to pull away, yet he is weak, even beneath the urges of the curse. The mayor weeps, trying to soothe his son. As night falls he listens to the cries from outside, sees the glimmer of torches floating outside the expensive glass window. He closes his eyes against the coming of the light.

Little Greta, deaf and alone with her unharnessed magic, cannot hear the strange melodies of the Piper which so entreat her peers. She watches, ignored, as they abandon the town to its fate. As night falls, she slowly slips between shadows and doorways, avoiding the passing frantic face. She hides herself in a tree on the outskirts, from which small, round eyes watch as the torches move through the winds of the streets. But she cannot hide forever.

And Blind Johnny, unable to see with the surefooted glare of the other magical children, has fallen into a ditch, his long limbs entangled and broken in the mud. Even so, he fights to free himself and follow the Piper’s call, his wand snapped and useless in his pocket, his hands clawing. He does not cry for help: it does not occur to the blankness of his mind. No child pauses to help him. When the enchantment finally breaks beneath a cover of evening stars, he will slowly die there, lonely and frightened with only his injuries to contemplate, the screams from the town of Hamlin only just reaching his tired ears.




And what of the lost children of Hamlin?

The curse breaks in the eve, as the procession reaches the gates of the great castle that will soon become Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. The Founders Four stand in the doors leading to the mighty entrance hall, watching silently as the Piper leads the children into the courtyard. Now, at last, he can relax, and he staggers as the flute tumbles from his lips to the stones in a great clatter and he sinks to his knees.

“Father,” he gasps, short of breath and strength. Behind him, the children shuffling in are suddenly roused from their enchantment. There are cries of confusion and fear at waking in this unknown place. Siblings find each other and cling to each other, friends holding hands as they look around, taking in the awe-inspiring scenery of the mighty castle and the four wizards watching them.

An expression of hurt and pain passes across Helga Hufflepuff’s kind face as she watches the awakening. She wonders of the fate of the parents who raised these lovely children, dirty and scuffed from the long walk. Several have collapsed, their legs suddenly feeling the consequences of the endless stroll, and she hurries to help the dears, conjuring capes and cloaks to cover the tattered nightclothes they have been wearing throughout the long, mindless walk. Stephane thought they looked like animated corpses, but now, an army of terrified children.

Godric Gryffindor wipes a small tear from the corner of his eye, preventing it from falling down onto his beard. He prepares himself to address these children – his students. Even Rowena Ravenclaw, ever the cold one, twines a gentle hand through her daughter Helena’s hair in an unusual display of affection before moving to help Stephane Slytherin to his feet. Only old Salazar Slytherin watches the scene with narrowed eyes.

Marigold Peverell searches the crowd frantically, finding her friend Trip and seizing his arm with her small hands.

“What is happening? Do you know? Where are we?”

Trip examines the scratches on his arms, the cuts on his legs. Marigold’s hair is tangled and filthy, a delicate bruise on her cheekbone. They both startle as the booming voice of Godric Gryffindor echoes out over the crowd of children, his wand held to his throat to ensure his words will reach each and every soul gathered there.

The children will be fed, and be helped to baths by the many House Elves in the servitude of the castle. They will be cleaned, and the situation of Hamlin explained. They have been brought here to learn the glorious magical arts, and they will prosper, and be happy. As for the fates of their families, the school will send a messenger to examine Hamlin and contact the parents. But Helga Hufflepuff thinks to herself with a sinking heart that there are not likely to be many parents left waiting, after this extraordinary display. She watches the tired, drawn face of Stephane Slytherin and wonders if they have done the right thing.

Looking around, Marigold slowly slips the light, silvery cloak beneath her cape.




In Hamlin, night falls.

“For years, we have suffered under the yolk of the strange ones!” cries out Counselor Bermondsey, his eyes gleaming in the light of the torches. The church frames his body, the prized colored glass image of Christ staring down, a general rallying his troops to bloodshed. “You witnessed the sight, dear people of Hamlin, of the young scum, following the demon Piper. How do we know they will not return, the women impregnated with the spawn of the Devil himself, the men wielding their fearsome sticks, preparing to raze Hamlin to the ground?”

He takes a deep breath, reveling in the pleasure of the frightened, anxious faces below him, staring up at him desperately.

“The wizards brought the Plague, snaring so many of our precious assembly. It was them, the wicked beasts, who slip like succubus in the night, invisible to the innocent eye, stealing the purity of this noble town. The Piper led away some of our own beloved children, those who fell beneath his spell. Who will be next?” The whites of his eyes flash brightly. “And now, we must fight fire with fire!”

Bermondsey thrusts his torch roughly to the air , brightly extinguishing the Northern star. With a warlike cry, the Muggles of the town rally to his aid, cloths rustling and boots snapping through dirty streets, those who woke that morning peaceably and innocent transformed, as if by magic, into a mob. The town councilors in the lead, the mob moves towards the High Street, hungry.

The first wizard they meet is Old man Malchance, the town drunkard, swinging a bottle as he staggers through the eve. He stops, puzzled and tired, as the mob surges towards him, roaring. In the occupied houses of Hamlin, families close their shudders against the din.

“Master Malchance,” Counselor Cooke calls, smirking at his cohorts. “Do you deny the Mark of the Devil, the sign of sin, that which makes you a wizard in this forsaken street? Do you dare deny that you were cursed at birth, a wretch who makes deals with spirits and have brought ruin and death to this town?”

Poor Master Malchance’s struggling reply is lost in the clammer, the sounds of pitchforks and cries piercing the night. They drag him behind them, gleefully, his wand snapped in two and held high as a trophy, a bounty prize. The hunters bring him to the town scaffold, and tie him to a great wooden pike built from an elm tree, the man’s nearly unconscious head lolling against his chest. His silhouette is dark against the heavens.

Hearing the noises, Mister Peverell, the healer, sticks his head out the door, his horror increasing as he realizes the size of the mob, their faces bared in ugly masks, teeth seeming to rot in the light from the fires. He steels himself not to recoil, praying that his wife will have hidden herself. Despite the loss of his daughter, he thinks Marigold would be better off dead than to have suffered this sight.

“The hedgewitch!” A woman screeches, pointing towards Peverell. A large man, the town’s best butcher, grabs the gentleman around his neck like a common animal. His wand is plucked from his pocket.

“Too bad yer little slut of a daughter i’nt ‘ere to see ‘er father burn,” the butcher chuckles, a low and malicious rumble.

“Gave ‘erself up to the devil like a common whore!” Someone else cries, met to raucous laughter.

“Dirty witch’s brat!”

“Sirs, I beg of you not to dishonor my daughter so-“ Mister Peverell begins, extending his hands to show they are empty, but his words of protest are cut short as the horde seizes him and drags him from his home, his wailing wife close behind. Great red welts form, and he wills himself to have magic: anything, to drive these monsters away from his poor wife, to cause them to fall back and see reason, these people whose children’s bedsides he tended, whose pockmarks and scars are the result of the Plague he nursed them through, bending his back over difficult potions and remedies to make them more comfortable.

They drag the Peverells to the scaffold, to the charred remains of what was once Master Malchance, and set Mrs. Peverell alight. Her screams tear holes in the sky.

For Mister Peverell, the witch healer, the man who the Muggles knew best as a wizard, the butcher is brought with a great axe. As he is held tightly, as he listens to the mad and excited cries of the mob, Peverell sends a wordless blessing to his daughter Marigold, whevever she may be. May she be safe. May she be loved.

A bloody trophy is held high for the jeering mob to see.

Mister Prince hears them coming from his grand home on the edge of the town. He runs to the stables, hardly pausing to grab a sack of gold coins and tuck it into his cloak. He hastily saddles his finest horse, the cries of the mob hot on his heels, and gallops away into the night, bent low over the beast’s neck.

Prince’s wife is not so fast, nor so lucky. She tries to fight off the Muggles, she waves her wand bravely, slashing open the throat of one, subduing another with an accidental curse which sends him reeling into another assailant. But she is no master of magic, and soon she is dragged out to the lake, poked and prodded for any sign of a deformity, the mark of the devil’s kiss, the mark of a witch. It is all pretense, really, for she is a beautiful woman despite being a witch. A few men are sad to see her pretty face swell and scream as they push her out into the lake, her heavy skirts causing her to sink slowly beneath the dark waves.

“If she were a witch, shouldn’t she ‘ave floated?” a young woman whispers to her husband. He hushes her. It is of no consequence.

One clever wizard hides his wand among his clothes as he is brought to the stake. He casts a quiet charm to protect his skin, then feigns shrieks of pain as his body seems to disappear beneath the flames. When the mob’s attention has turned, he will flee quickly and without bothering to save a soul. He is clever, a survivor. He will go to London, where among the hustle and filth of the city the cries of the lost ones of Hamlin will haunt him ‘til the day he dies, penniless in a Muggle slum.

Mayor Radley holds his young, whimpering son’s hand tight as they are dragged from their home, the cackling faces of those who once respected and trusted him swimming in his head even when he closes his eyes against the fear. This is a peculiar brand of hell, he thinks, as he watches his son be pulled away from him, his eyes wide, his mouth open in a silent scream, mouthing a word which could be Father over and over again. Radley wonders if he should have prayed more, or more deeply. He sees the church spire shining in the distance, and as the ropes tighten around his wrists, he thinks he hears the churchbells sing an apologetic requiem.

Mssrs. Bermondsey, Cooke and MacDonald are pleased, their hands plump and clean.

The parents of the Muggle children who follow the Piper are the only ones who the mob puzzles over. Are they secret wizards, hiding their powers until the devil’s ungodly song finally revealed their children’s true natures? Or are they simply innocent victims of a wicked joke spun by ghouls to punish those who have only done good?

In the end, they test each parent by looking for the point in their body which will betray them: a certain spot which will be immune from pain. Trip’s father, the potter, yells freely as a needle is driven into his flesh, over and over again. When the ordeal is over, he looks down at the bloody ruin of his hands, his hands.




Dawn breaks into a ruby sky. Bodies float gently beneath the surface of the lake, eyes closed in peace. Piles of ash tremble in the former town square. Spirits float through the smoky air, calling for their lost children. The silent figure of Death gathers them close to his chest like a child hunting will-o-the-wisps.

But the fire has gone too far.

By morning, it has caught to wooden cottages and shops. The remains of the mob attempt in vain to make a firewall by tearing down the city hall, but the fire surges through without mercy. The church burns, glass melting into a puddle of color. The Peverell house burns, the apothecary in the back sending sweet smells of herbs through the smoke. The vegetable market is soon to go.

Hamlin is fallen, is ruined, as if the mighty hand of God himself has come to purge this place.




A/N: All references and inspirations from the story 'The Pied Piper of Hamlin' is credited to the Grimm Brothers, though many creative liberties have been taken. All references and inspirations from the Harry Potter books are credited to JK Rowling. The song at the beginning is written by me. I hope you are enjoying the story- thank you so much for reading.



Chapter 4: Unity
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Chapter Four
Unity


 



Rowena Ravenclaw.
Magical image by Eponine at tda.



 

If history has no secrets,
or no tall tales to hide,
then a circle has no corners
To hide a clue inside.

-Wizard children nursery rhyme, often sung while jumping rope. Author unknown.




As a young girl, Marigold oft dreamed of grandeur and chivalry, of knights and beautiful ladies with fires in their eyes. Against the lids of her idle eyes she imagines cloths of fine colors with beautiful lace cuffs, gowns fit for ladies – a different one for each day of the week! Sometimes, the merchants who brought these fine cloths from Spain and France would pass through Hamlin with the scraps and ends, the bits the fine ladies in London and Edinburgh did not want, and would sell them for great prices at the Hamlin markets. Marigold was so unbearably jealous of the wealthy Prince sisters, so fine and proud in their pretty frocks as they flounced through the streets, casting a critical eye over Marigold as she hurried along after her father to heal. She wished bitterly to attend a ball in which a handsome young lord would ask her to dance and graze the back of her hand with a respectful kiss; she wondered after ladies such as this, whom she had only glimpsed from a distance. Indeed, it would be many generations before Marigold’s children would be considered equals to the descendants of those fine folk. Marigold would have been shocked to be told of a world where the child of the humble Peverell line could speak freely to the descendant of a duke.

Hamlin didn’t know finery, not truly. But Hogwarts did.

Over the next few days, the children of Hamlin are whirled through the castle, having baths, their hair combed by house elves, fit into pretty clothes to which there seemed to be no end. The little ones are coddled in a large nursery. They meet with the strange adults who had greeted them, and are interviewed about their lives and family histories, their particular talents and their interests. Those lucky enough to have brought a wand hand them over to a stern old wizard with bushy eyebrows, who weighs each carefully in his knobby hands before either pronouncing them satisfactory or outfitting the child with a new wand of his own design.

It was gently and carefully explained to the children that a great massacre had unfolded in their home: that their parents were dead. A few trinkets were carefully collected from the homes: rag dolls, silver spoons, a few family heirlooms, which were held in small hands and wept over, ash dusted from the edges.

For Marigold and Trip, this dreamlike state, sudden rise to favor and luxury, is suspicious. They whisper concerned thoughts to each other in quiet, empty corridors, and make a point to be cold and closed off when speaking with the adults. Trip mutters to Marigold that all this is his fault, the infernal Piper, who stole them away from their loving families so that these deluded wizards and witches might have playthings to worship them, dumb village children who know no better than to trust the hand which gives them thick, delicious bread and warm broth.

Marigold chooses to amuse herself in the night by walking the halls of the dark castle, sheltered beneath the cloak of Invisibility. Night by night, accompanied only by the muffled sound of her own footsteps and the quiet lull of her own breath, she learns the passages and corridors, mapping them upon her mind. She builds a mimetic copy of the castle in her head, marked by distinctive qualities. The portrait of the sleeping lady reveals the third floor corridor. The room with the trapdoor in the ceiling is never uses. The door hidden in the great hall hosts the castle’s armory, and it is poorly guarded.

She rarely sees Stephane Slytherin, the boy she had trusted, the devil who had brought them there. At meals he dines alone, or at his father’s side at the high table, looking down on the masses of sloppy village children. She wonders if she hates him for his wrongs: she blames him for the loss of her parents and blind Johnny. The adults told them, sympathetically enough, that their parents were dead, that all they left behind is gone, that a terrible disease ravaged their beloved Hamlin: the inevitable disease of hate. Marigold thinks bitterly that this disease lives within her own heart, nurtures itself on the burnt flesh around its invisible core.

Everything has been taken from her, except, by some miracle, the cloak of Invisibility.

When she was a child, she saw and knew Death, and feared him. Now, a small part of her longs for Death’s cold presence at the archway leading to the dormitory she shares with the other girls. She wishes in the darkness of the castle that Death would pick her up from her bed like a ragdoll, move her limp hand to his gray lips, embrace her like a meek lover and rejoin her with her beloved parents and siblings. These dark thoughts, she dares not confess to Trip, nor anyone. They are a silent covenant between her and Death.

After a week of this sorry existence, Godric Gryffindor stands up at dinner to address the children, asking they all rise and come to stand at the front of the room. He explains that each of them shall have a special mentor, one of the Founders Four – who would be a leader and a confidant. The students chosen by each Founder would group together to form an academic “House”: they would dine together, sleep in the same quarters, and attend the same classes, and perhaps, Gryffindor had added, eyes twinkling, this would lead to some friendly and gentlemanly rivalry. They would each continue to be tested thoroughly in their abilities and assembled into class groups according with their skills.

Marigold wonders dully who will choose her as a member of their house. She doubts it will be the mighty Godric Gryffindor, for he has more time for the young men than for weaker girls. He hopes to teach them all he knows of the arts of swordplay and enchantment: they live in a feudal age, in a dangerous country, and these skills are commodities among the young gallants of Scotland and England. His interest in the girls stems only as far as seeking proper and pretty wives for his strapping young sons, to carry on the magical lineage. Rumor is that Gryffindor himself forged his own magnificent sword in a bewitched forge, and that it can defeat any enemy: a handsome Vulcan he is, indeed.

If Gryffindor is Vulcan then Rowena Ravenclaw makes a shining Athena, wise and cold. Marigold heavily doubts that the beautiful lady will have any interest in her, or the weaker sex in general: Ravenclaw believes she herself was born into the wrong body, that she has the weak body of a woman but the mind and heart of a man. For someone like Marigold, who cries herself to sleep every evening thinking about her parents, who plots poor ways to get back to Hamlin and try to make sense what has happened, Ravenclaw would have no patience. No, they would not suit.

She supposes that she could be chosen by Helga Hufflepuff, the plump woman and the kindest of the four. Hufflepuff was the one who explained to the children of the loss of their parents, who tried, with a worried crease between her eyes, to explain what had happened without frightening them into nightmares. She had good intentions, Marigold grudgingly allows.

Her eyes shift to the fourth, and most mysterious figure: the two curtains of dark hair framing a thin and cunning face, the heavy robes hiding his neck, the twig-like fingers curling around his wand. Beside Slytherin sits a nervous Stephane, a younger copy of his father, though perhaps a little more pale, a little more frail. To Marigold he looks like a creature from another world, perhaps a sprite sent to taunt and challenge her. Yet he is quiet, and avoids her eyes, perhaps ashamed of how he has used her.

She knows not how each mentor chooses his or her wards. It hardly seems random, for the children are called in alphabetical order to stand, trembling in front of the high table, before they are chosen and sent to the corresponding table. Marigold notices that the choosing is uneven: Hufflepuff’s table has the most, while Ravenclaw seems to be the choosiest, thinking very carefully before accepting any students under her wing. Marigold smiles at two little girls who came from Hamlin; they are shaking, close to tears as they advance to be chosen, and Marigold scoffs coldly to herself at the irony of them coming to her for comfort when she is so frightens herself. Ravenclaw touches her hand absently to the bright, thin crown which encircles her dark head, her brows furrowed in thought.

Finally, it is Marigold’s turn, and to her shock she is chosen by Ravenclaw herself to join the select group of students at a table draped in blue. Trip is selected by Gryffindor, and poor little Quince Malchance and both Prince sisters are chosen by Slytherin, and Marigold feels quite lonely as she watches them chat and preen next to Stephane. She wonders at the children, who are quite content in their new groups, who seem to have forgotten that they left parents and homes back in Hamlin. She wishes they could fight for themselves, could see the perversion in their entrapment here, could understand the deception of how they had been bewitched. But the children of Hamlin were lured by pretty spells and lovely things and promises of rich lives with delicious food and a warm castle – a castle! – to explore. Even Trip seems content to accept the warm patronage and bask in the promise of glory which surrounds his new mentor.

Marigold knows she is alone.

After dinner the children are led by their heads to their new dormitories. Marigold’s lies behind a shining door knocker protruding from a stone corridor. Behind the knocker is a finely dressed sitting room in colors of blue and silver: blue cloth is a symbol of wealth, as only the finest weavers in the Muggle world can afford it.

Ravenclaw explains that this common area will constantly be supervised for any mischievous or improper behavior. The little children nod with wide eyes, taking in the area with awe. Marigold reminds herself that most of them are small village children from simple homes, where only the basics of household and trade magic were taught. They have only heard tales of castles and finery: for them, this is a miracle. For a moment, she wishes she could embrace the wonder of it, could become swept up in the majesty.

Yet Marigold could not shake the feeling that the danger the adults spoke of had been fabricated, that somewhere their parents, her beloved mother and father included, were mourning the loss of the children. She felt the sorrow as if in a dream, floating on the gentle breezes which survived the castle fortifications. She worried for Blind Johnny, whose only two friends had deserted him. She feared for Trip, whose blind acceptance of their fate at Hogwarts led him to be too trusting. He was not born of wizardkind: what if he was only there as an experiment, to test the boundaries of magical blood. Marigold does not trust the cold, calculating eyes of Rowena Ravenclaw, nor the raw hatred and suspicion of the cunning Salazar Slytherin. Of Stephane and his betrayal, she hardly bears to dwell upon.

Marigold is ushered into a dormitory with only one other girl, Polly Pettigrew, who is so small and excitable that Marigold can barely stand from cursing her to be silent. Polly chatters away as she dons the fine-laced sleeping gown that have been set aside for the girls.

“Must you be so joyful in these dire circumstances?” Marigold blurts out at last, unable to stand it. Polly looks up and blinks with round, pale blue eyes.

“Why, Miss Peverell, you are an ungrateful wretch as everyone thinks,” she sniffs, her pink cheeks the only betrayal of her hurt.

“Do you not think of your poor parents, and how they must be worrying for you?” Marigold demands. She scoffs at the grandeur of the room: large four-poster beds with engraved birds on the wood which seem to move and flutter in the candlelight, rich blue coverlets which look soft to the touch. The air is sweetly perfumed: Marigold knows that the bedbugs and ticks which would have clung to the children on their ghostly pilgrimage have been scrubbed out by rough-handed maids and house elves. She wonders why these maids must serve the humble children of villagers, and whether they are only to be so finely educated to serve their betters.

Polly takes a few moments to gather her thoughts and reply. “I am sure my parents would have wanted this for me, though I believe the Lady when she says they have sadly been killed,” she says quietly. “And you would do best to forgive and embrace this opportunity, Marigold Peverell, as I have.”

Marigold reaches into the deep pockets of her robes and pulls out the cloak of Invisibility. The flowing softness comforts her; she holds it to her cheek and closes her eyes for a moment. In the silvery folds she imagines she can smell the herbs brewing in her father’s cauldron, the smell of her mother’s cooking.

“You may be content to quietly accept your fate, but I have no such weakness, Polly,” Marigold says tightly.

Polly sneers at her, her round face twisting most unpleasantly. “I always felt sorry for you in Hamlin,” she says with quiet malice. “You having no friends but that dirty potter and blind beggar. I was kind to you while others laughed at you: I defended your good name when people spoke of your unchaste behavior with the son of one of our new masters. Yet now I believe you deserve every unkind word, for you are a fool, and you will suffer for it.”

“Save your curses for your new classes,” Marigold snarls. Turning, she flounces from the room, seething and ignoring Polly’s cry that she would not be permitted to wander the castle at night. As the thick wooden door, like the door of a prison cell, closes behind her, Marigold lifts the cloak about her shoulders and smiles a little as her legs disappear beneath her, revealing only the rich, clean carpets. Silent as a cat she creeps down the stairs leading to the girls’ dormitories, and steals through the empty common room like a ghost.

The castle is a quiet place at night. Marigold listens to the near-silent thud of her own footsteps passing over the cold stones of the corridor, and tightens the cloak, her father’s last gift to her, above her head. She is in search of the castle weapon supply, off the great hall.

On the second floor staircase her invisible pilgrimage is disrupted by the sound of shouting which cuts through the grand staircase like a knife. Marigold startles at the racket of what sounds like several cooking cauldrons being hurled against the ceiling, and ducks as one pewter object clatters to the floor beside her, narrowly missing her skull. She looks up to the great ceiling, puzzled: there is something floating near the roof, what could be a little man, twisting and contorting gleefully.

As she looks up she realizes she is not alone: Gryffindor and Slytherin, both dressed in fine dressing gown robes, are standing at the foot of the staircase and staring up in confusion. Gryffindor has drawn his sword, and the goblin-wrought metal shines in the darkness.

“Salazar, what in the name of the Holy Father is that dreadful disturbance?” he mutters, his ginger whiskers turning down in a frown. He stalks up the stairs, Slytherin close at his heels. The snake coiled around Salazar's neck hisses at Marigold as they pass, close enough for her to be overwhelmed with the scent of roast animal distinctly resembling that from the feast, and the strong smell of alcohol. Slytherin gives the empty air where she is hiding a sharp look, but his attention is quickly diverted to the little floating man who has drawn such a disturbance.

Tucking his sword into its scabbard in a fluid motion, Gryffindor pulls out his robes and extends his wand with his left hand, pointing it at the little man. Marigold is surprised to see this: using the left hand for anything, even magic, is seen as a sign of the devil. She is sure Gryffindor wielded his wand with the proper right hand when demonstrating a complicated conjuring spell for his delighted students during the evening feast. “Reveal yourself, spirit! What is your nature and who allowed you into my castle!”

Marigold took advantage of the distraction to disappear down the stairs to the great hall. The words of a singsong voice trailed after her:


Tis Peevsie, no ghostie, gave those elves such a fright!
I’ll be happy to throw pans at Gryffie all night!
I live in the school, with the wee wizzie brats,
I'll dump cream on the stairs and fill the castle with rats!
And old stiffie Slythie, Peevsie hasn’t forgot-
I’ll take that old snakie and tie it in knots!




This was quickly accompanied by a yelp of fury from Gryffindor.

If the bothersome creature was going to cause some grief for those dreadful men, Marigold had no quarrel with it. By some miracle, the door to the weapons room just off the great hall was unlocked: she thought perhaps the two chevaliers had been inspecting it before they were so rudely interrupted. She let the cloak of invisibility slide from her thin shoulders as she carefully buckled a dagger about her waist: it looked oddly out of place against the richly inlaid dress that she had been coerced into donning that morning by a gray-faced elf.

She is turning to go when voices come from outside the door.

“But I shan’t part with my sword; it is extremely valuable and belongs to me!” A childish voice says petulantly. “You are a commoner and have no right to speak as such to one of the nobility.”

A soft sigh coats the outside of the door: the golden knob turns.

“You are on Hogwarts grounds now, and must concede to our rules, my Lord Baron,” a voice, all too familiar to Marigold, says quietly, coated in velvet. She shrinks away despite herself. “Students are not permitted to carry weapons as they were when you lived at your father’s castle.”

“Preposterous rules,” the young baron mutters. “You had best not be plotting to steal my riches, squire: my father would have your right hand cut off for that.”

“Very well,” Stephane says. Marigold suspects he is concealing an irritated smirk. “As your father’s own hands- and his legs, and his head now I think of it- are currently rotting at the gates of His Majesty’s great cities to frighten future traitors, I should think I have a much better shot at maintaining my own.” The tone in his voice is triumphant, almost cruel: Marigold thinks she hears a muffled sniff or sob from his boy companion. But in a moment the door swings open, sending light from the torch in Stephane’s hand streaming into the weapons room and landing on Marigold, glinting in the reflection from the dagger she had stolen.

Stephane stands still for a moment, clearly startled. Marigold glances at the boy beside him: he is perhaps ten or eleven, wearing a traveling cloak which conceals richly embroidered clothes. A long, thin sword hangs at his side. His eyes are small and piggy, and his face scrunches up as if he were holding back a tantrum.

“Miss Peverell,” Stephane says finally. “This is the Baron Haima. I have escorted him to be trained as a young wizard. Baron, this is Miss Marigold Peverell, an honored student here at our school.” His eyes soften a little.

The little boy examines Marigold as he might when assessing an object for its value. “At my father’s castle,” he says, “wenches are not permitted near the weapons. I do not expect they could lift them, much less wield one.”

Stephane sighs. “I must pass your custody into the hands of my capable father,” he mutters. “Come. And Marigold-“ he turns back to look at her. “Stay here. We must talk.” He snatches the sword from the baron and hung it on an empty hook in a swift movement.

“As if I would trust you,” Marigold says quietly. Her hand drifts towards the dagger: she does not even think to point her wand at he who betrayed her.

“You must trust me,” Stephane replies softly. He turns back to the little baron, who
observed the scene with the perception of a scribe. “Come, boy.”

“He is on the second floor,” Marigold calls after them, without knowing why. “Your father, that is.” She shivers as her voice echoes through the room, resounding from the suits of empty armor which stand in attendance. Quickly retrieving the cloak, she disappears again beneath it. As the light from Stephane’s torch fades and the voice of the angry little lord becomes fainter, Marigold tugs at the large, heavy doors which enclosed the castle from its courtyard. But they appear to be sealed against visitors, and though she curses at them with the tongue of a sailor which would have led to great scolding from her mother a few weeks ago and pulls with all her strength they remains fast against her. She feels tears of frustration welling in her eyes.

“Marigold?” the hushed whisper comes from behind her: she spins to see Stephane gazing around the great hall confusedly. “Are you here?” His dark hair frames his thin, pinched face. Smoke from the smothered torch mingles with his hair, causing shadows to dance across his eyes. He is unarmed, his wand tucked away, hands spread in a gesture of peace.

Marigold flies at him in a sudden rage. The cloak slips, revealing her angry face and blond hair curling behind her as she beats her fists against his chest, more in desperation than any real violent intent. Stephane’s face recoils in shock at the sight of a disembodied head floating towards him, fury in her eyes.

“Let me leave,” she half-sobs. “Oh, you must, if you have any honor. You brought me here- you owe it to me to let me leave this horrid place and return home. I hate you, how I hate you.”

Stephane takes the assault, eyes half-closed as a strand of golden hair whips across his cheek. To her surprise, he does not curse her back with a whispered word, or make any attempt to restrain her. Instead, he bows his head in submission. “Very well,” he says, and his voice has lost all trace of velvet.

Marigold draws back, more from surprise than anything else.

“Very well,” Stephane repeats. He smells of ash and wind: the scents linger in the charged air between them. “I shall take you to your village and let you see for yourself. Perhaps then you will be at peace and accept that I did you a great boon by bringing you here.”

“I shall think no such thing,” Marigold spits at him. “You had best be telling the truth, Stephane. I think I shall never trust a man again.”

“I tell the truth, but we must hasten, else my father and godfather will return to find you in a most dangerous position,” Stephane says quickly. Marigold gives a grudging nod and turns towards the doors, gathering the cloak from where it has fallen.

She starts when she felt Stephane’s hand on her wrist. “Come, there is a better way,” he told her, putting a finger to his lips. “Follow me.”

They move silently through the corridors without meeting another living soul. It takes only a few minutes for Stephane to lead her to what appears to be a statue of a tall, frail wizard, with an open mouth is wide and round in shock. Marigold shivers at the sight: the stone flesh looks a little too lifelike, as if it had once been skin; the eyes too bright, as no true sculptor could have created with the humble gifts of hammer and chisel. Marigold notices that the statue is holding something aloft in his knotted hand, and leans up to investigate. She catches a glimpse of a flash of her own golden hair and pale skin and shrinks away.

“The druid of Upper Ditchford,” Stephane says grimly. “My father purchased the statue from a peddler a year hence: it depicts one of his enemies who he slew with the use of a monster. I do not know who created such an imitation, but that is not important.”

Marigold purses her lips: the ghastly thing sets the hair on her arms to stand on end. She watches, arms crossed, as Stephane leans up on his toes to reach the statue’s ear and whispered something. Immediately, the statue’s open mouth begins to widen, and widen, until it stretches down to his toes. Beyond the mouth is a dark, low passage, lined with crooked, unfinished stones and roots: but a passage, nonetheless.

“This corridor will lead us beyond the castle grounds,” Stephane explains.

Without a word Marigold led the way into the passage. She lit her wand with a whispered spell and smiled as the light emitted from it set the passage aglowing, and heard a shuffling as Stephane stepped in behind her. She led the way.

After a few minutes Stephane curses.

“What is wrong now?” Marigold asks, curiosity defeating better judgment.

“The statue is not yet closed,” Stephane says tightly. “My father will not be pleased if he happens to hear of my using it. The passage is meant to be only used in times of dire need.”

“Do the others know of it?” Marigold asks, bending over to travel through a particularly low part of the passage.

“Nay, though I suspect they have added their own secrets about the castle,” Stephane explains. There is a scuffling as he looks behind him yet again. “I fear my father will require a new guardian to hide his secret here.”

“It is of no matter to me, as I shall not be returning to the castle after this night,” Marigold says stiffly. She looks down and wishes she had thought to adorn a pair of travelling boots: her slippers are already dark and scuffed.

“Perhaps,” Stephane says apprehensively. She hears him take a deep breath. “Listen, Marigold, I am sorry. I know that you are angry with me, how dearly you claim to loathe me. Yet we were once friends, and I am confident that when all has been revealed: when we find the sight which awaits at the other end of this infernal tunnel- you shall understand better, and we shall be friends again. I long for that dearly. I pray for it.”

“I do not pray,” Marigold retorts. “Not anymore. You and your father are the worst kinds of enchanters, and I shall never forgive what you have done.”

“Twas for the greater good,” Stephane says earnestly, but he falls silent after that. Marigold focuses on the tunnel, on clutching the cloak to her, taking comfort from the hope she would see her father again soon and witness his comforting gaze.

When at last they reach the end of the tunnel, Marigold is surprised as she steps out into the empty air without warning. She glances behind her to see Stephane emerging from a bank of grassy dirt, brushing the grime of the tunnel from his sleeves. Behind him, in the distance, rises the towers of Hogwarts castle, black and foreboding against the bright moon. Marigold smiles fully for the first time in days, taking a large, greedy breath of the fresh country air.

“Shall we require a horse to get to Hamlin, or perhaps to travel on brooms?” she asks Stephane. She feels much more kindly towards him now that he had proven himself thus far. The sensation of being free of the castle and close to her home does not hurt her improved mood either.

“There is no need,” Stephane says stiffly. “Walk with me.” He offers his arm. Marigold hesitates, but does not take it, instead crossing her arms to warm herself across her body. Stephane does not betray any hurt: he purses his lips and begins to walk with a long-legged stride. He points in the distance to a small structure looming in the darkness. “Do you recognize this cottage?”

“No, I…” Marigold hesitates. “Tis the cottage where you lived during your stay, is it not? It overlooks the village… I have only ever seen it from the other side, looking up.”

“Yes,” Stephane says tersely. He muses with warning her for what she will see, but decides against it. He does not know the words of comfort to prepare a soul for such a sight. “Hamlin is just on the other side of this incline.”






“I do not… what has happened here?” Marigold asks helplessly, her voice breaking. Stephane hesitates, thinking to take her in his arms and comfort her, but he cannot bring himself to touch her. Guilt settles between them.

“It was not my fault,” he says hastily as she turns to him, eyes flashing. “Twas the non-magical folk, the leaders, who were stirring against our kind. I saved you children: the call of the pipe brought you away from certain destruction. I’m sorry, dearest Marigold, but tis not of my doing.”

Marigold’s knees weaken beneath her, but she does not crumple to the floor of ash. For Hamlin has fallen: the once-cheerful cottages now blackened skeletons from the fire which had devoured the captured wizards and witches and then raged through the town. Hatred is much easier to ignite than to destroy. The makeshift pyre still holds the remains of a burnt figure: Marigold is careful not look too closely. A great smell of rot and burning rose from the broken streets, from the touch of the night itself.

“And Mama and Papa?” her voice broke again. She lunged forward and seized Stephane by the sleeve. “You must help me find them, for I am sure they would have done all in their power to stop this carnage and, failing that, save themselves. Rescue me. You must help me search for them, for clues. Please, Stephane.”

Stephane’s heart sits heavy in his chest. He eyes the grisly trophy placed high on a stick, above the reach of the flames which have ravaged Hamlin. He cannot quite bear to draw Marigold’s attention to it. Even in death, Peverell’s eyes seem to command him to protect his orphan daughter.

“I am so very sorry, but I am quite sure they are dead,” he tells her tersely, and draws out his wand. “Homenun Revelio.”

The spell casts a searching golden light over the ruins of Hamlin, and softly there is a scuffling, like a mouse stirring in a pantry. Marigold turns and cries out to see a grubby child hobbling towards them. Her eyes are bloodshot, her face grimy and haggard from starvation. As the girl reaches Marigold she falls to her knees, and the healer’s daughter catches the child in her richly-clad arms.

“Poor little Greta,” she whispers. She looks up at Stephane, stroking the girl’s hair as the urchin sobbed into her shoulder, her body frail and weak like a bird’s bones. “She is deaf, you see- she must have not followed we others when you piped. Greta,” and she peels the child back a little, so that she could see her lips. “What has happened?”

The child cannot speak, cannot hear. A tear stains her dirty face: the only pure and clean thing in the forsaken landscape. She mouths a word: it might have been end, or help, or merely a twitch. Then Greta closes her eyes and tumbled gently into Marigold’s arms.

Stephane puts his fingers to the child’s neck. “Dead, I think,” he says. “Tis a miracle, truly, that she has survived this long. Perhaps being reunited with you was the last thing she needed to properly pass on.”

And Marigold buries her face in little Greta’s ash-colored hair, and held her arms around the little body, and rocks and cries and cries.






They return to the castle- how could they not, when there was nothing left for Marigold in Hamlin, when the village was burnt and deserted? But Marigold is firm: the remains of the fallen town shall be cleared away, and the children of Hamlin will be permitted to set eyes on that which had once been their home, and pay their respects to their butchered parents.

They make a mottled sight: the dozens of children: born the heirs of farmers and laborers, those common spirits shining from beneath the fine clothes they had been given. They look out upon the dale with sadness, and touch their scrubbed-clean fingers to their lips, as if to bid farewell to another life.

The three children who have flown on their broomsticks from Hamlin plant them in the ground as a salute outside of the site of the village, in memory of the three children who had not survived the journey to Hogwarts: Blind Johnny, whose body was never found in the wilderness beneath the castle’s shadow; Vincent Radley, the crippled son of the mayor, whose body disappeared into the shadows of the lake along with his beloved father; and little Greta, the orphan street child, who died last in Marigold’s arms, the last of a dead legacy, the final fall of the town.

To the day, a pub stands in that place, named after the humble salute of the children to their dead.

Marigold surveys these events with solemnity, hand held tightly in Trip’s. They have gone together to find the remains of his father’s shop, to salvage the remains of what had once been Trip’s home. Trip has taken a shard of the last delicate pottery dish his father had been creating when the mob had come from him: he now wears it on a leather string around his neck, tucked beneath his clothes.

“No matter my future, I’ll always be the potter’s boy,” he had told Marigold, touching his lips to her temple. There had been nothing left to salvage from the Peverell apothecary stores or home; Marigold was grateful that she had the cloak of invisibility. She kept it with her always.

As the afternoon sun shone on her blond hair, she catches the eye of Stephane Slytherin, flanking his father, his dark head bowed. He had played the greatest role in all of this: he was the Piper, the traitor. Some days Marigold thinks he is a savior, a hero like the knights in tales, who has rescued them from a terrible fate. Other days, she is not so sure. Stephane is not like Trip: he does not have that inherent golden character, the goodness. He has too much reckoning. There is nothing secure nor safe about him: he is a creature of stealth and shadows. She tightens her grip on Trip’s hand, and fights not to meet Stephane’s gaze across the groups of whispering, mourning children.

“Marigold Peverell,” a cold voice speaks from behind her. Marigold turns to see the thin, stern face of Rowena Ravenclaw, dressed in robes of the deepest black of mourning. “I must speak with you, girl. Direct descendant of Ignotus Peverell, possessor of the third hallow- we have much to discuss.” The witch looks down at the little child who hovers at her side. “Run along, Helena. Go and play.”

“I have got nobody to play with,” the child says, stomping a delicate foot. Ravenclaw sighs, her eyes rolling upwards as if to plead with the heavens for help. “All of them are so sad. Nobody wants to run and play with me now. I’m lonely, Mama.”

Marigold thinks to herself what a spoiled little creature the girl is, though she betrayed no thoughts. “Perhaps you might go and play with the boy standing over there, with the sword at his waist,” she says, bending to meet Helena’s eyes. “I know he seems quiet, and tis true that he is a lord: but I think he may be lonely. Look, over there by Master Slytherin.” She smiles reassuringly at the girl. Helena hesitates, then bounds off towards the young baron.

“You have a way with children,” Ravenclaw says, a note of something which could have been bitterness echoing in the air between them. Marigold smiles sadly.

“Perhaps. Trip, I shall find you later.” She reaches up to tuck a strand of hair behind his round ear, lingering as she sees Stephane turn sharply away from behind Trip’s back. Trip nods and moves away to speak with little Quince Malchance, who is sporting the green robes of a follower of Slytherin. Unlike the other children, the son of the town drunk- the most unlucky Master Malchance- has not spoken a single word in his father’s memory.

“He is a handsome boy, a kind boy,” Ravenclaw says lightly, linking arms with Marigold. The two women walk slowly away from the other crowds of children, turning away from the glare of the sun. “Perhaps you will marry him one day, and have children of your own.”

“Perhaps,” Marigold replies crisply. Marriage is not something she is yet prepared to contemplate. The glittering eyes of Stephane Slytherin linger somewhere in her head, hovering like a ghost on the borders between love and hate.

“His name? I forget these things so easily.”

“Trip,” Marigold says, her voice softening. “His name is Trip Potter. He is my oldest friend, and most lovely.”

Ravenclaw sniffs. “I suppose there will be an official name in the future, for those born of Muggles. I must say, the idea comes as a great shock to some of my peers. But the boy – and the others like him – seem powerful enough. I cannot see why one might protest to their inclusion among wizard society.”

“Neither can I,” Marigold says crisply. She wonders who had been the individuals to contest the inclusion of Trip and the few others at Hogwarts. Judging by the way Godric Gryffindor is slinging a brotherly arm around Trip and the knight’s sons are showing off their swords’ craftsmanship for his admiration, she doubts it could have been he.

“Oh, do not be cross with me, dear little Marigold,” Ravenclaw says with a small smile. “I appreciate intellect and wit; blood is of little value to me unless it enhances these more important traits. Your friend Master Potter is welcome here, indeed we shall mould him into a fine wizard.”

“Very well,” Marigold says. “But I must ask: is there something specific you want with me? I was quite surprised when you chose me for your house: indeed, I was quite sure you did not care for me, not one whit.”

“I care for few,” Ravenclaw says shortly. “But I see potential in you: fire, and passion. You are a woman like me, Marigold Peverell: your ancestral pedigree fades in comparison to your bravery in the face of adversity, your insistence on forging your own path. In these dark times, women must claw and battle for their place among men. In you, I see a kindred spirit: one who will not settle for being a simple maid or tender of the hearth: we are more than that, you and I. And you will grow to care for me, and I shall teach you all I know of the burning of men and the rise of women. Not all ladies have this potential, and in you I know I shall not fail, as I have failed in the past.” Her eyes seem to linger for a moment on her daughter, who gazes up at the young boy baron, his chest puffed out proudly as the girl’s doll hangs forgotten by her side.

Marigold smiles at this impressive speech. “Very well,” she says quietly. “You shall teach me, and I shall be your pupil. But I shall choose my own future, my own destiny. I may not be a Piper, but I will never again dance to the tune of an enchanted pipe.”

And she never did.






A/N: All references and inspirations from the story 'The Pied Piper of Hamlin' is credited to the Grimm Brothers, though many creative liberties have been taken. All references and inspirations from the Harry Potter books are credited to JK Rowling. The song at the beginning is written by me. There will be a final epilogue after this chapter. If you have the time I would love to know what you think of this story!


Chapter 5: Epilogue
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Epilogue

 

Salazar Slytherin 
beautiful image by Ande (Eponine) at tda 


 


Hamlin lies in ruins now
in piles of covered rubble.
The story lingers in the wind,
tis not quite forgotten yet.

-old wizarding folk song, author unknown.






Reader, she married him.

Of course, much had to happen first. They had to complete their educations. Marigold became a great favorite of Rowena Ravenclaw, in whom she saw her equal, a child who Ravenclaw saw as her duty to educate in the role of a witch in this day and age. Ravenclaw was a forward thinker who had forsaken her responsibility as a mother to be a great scholar and respected voice. When Marigold graduated from Hogwarts, Rowena adopted her as her handmaiden.

She urged Marigold not to imprison herself in marriage. “For when you marry,” she told Marigold once, strict and bright-eyed, “everything you once own becomes your husband’s: any fortune and possessions you may hold- though God knows you are a penniless orphan. Your body becomes his to do with as he pleases, your soul to carry forward into Heaven, joins eternally with his. Your children will belong to him, you will be expected to care for them until they are old enough to flee you. You will put your soul and your life into a house: your eyes will become its doors, blinking to let in the sun’s bright rays and shunning the nightly moon. Your hair will become entangled in the thatching of the house, and you will die from a traitor’s death, hanging from the eaves. Your body will become stone, your lips brown as wood. Your soul will haunt the rooms until it can barely scream or flail: you will be a captive, and your husband the jailor.”

Marigold had laughed to herself at this. “With respect, darling madam, I think you underestimate my own power as a woman and a witch of this world. For I am no fool to lock myself in a prison, to suffocate myself with a ring of gold. For if I marry, I will choose a good man who loves me, and we shall be as equals.”

There were many rumours about Rowena Ravenclaw and the parentage of her little daughter, Helena, a thin, sprightly thing who haunted the edges of the castle, anxiously waiting the day when she would turn eleven and be a proper student, be of interest to her mother at last. Some said the child’s father was a great southern lord who had been a patron of Ravenclaw: others claimed he was a famous adulterer from the south who scarcely recognized his illegitimate children. Others still whispered that the child’s father was an incubus who had stolen into the famous beauty’s bed one night, or a fairy king she had enchanted in the wild woods of the north. Whether Helena Ravenclaw was a child of north or south, man or spirit one never knew, for she while she was highly educated with the best of tutors, a fair hand with a wand and a quick wit when called upon, she was also temperamental, often falling into rages at the slightest infraction. She was spoiled in wealth and starved of love, a dangerous combination which made her vain and selfish and desperate for desire.

Helena had playmates in the children from Hamlin, but they were simple village children who could barely spell their own names, much less participate in the witty banter and creative play to which Helena’s fine blood was accustomed. She, who could speak French and read Latin as well as English; she, who could compose and dance and play the lute as beautifully as a little elf! She tried to teach the orphans some of these skills, but quickly lost her patience and abandoned them to the care of the hired nursemaids and tutors.

Helena had disappointed her mother by merely being born a girl: a girl who the great lady Ravenclaw could not be bothered to raise, whose value in that time was simply correlated to her beauty and the dowry she would bring a rich husband. In Marigold, Ravenclaw acknowledged a great mind she rarely saw in the fairer sex, someone who she could train to be her equal. Perhaps if the lady had given the wailing creature placed in her arms all those years ago the attention it craved, things would have turns out differently. But the truth is that the ghost of that wretched child haunts her mother’s school to the day, and will for all eternity, her miserable lover, the careless man who had been an arrogant child, dragging his chains with a melody she shall never escape in the castle which she longed to belong within.

Helga Hufflepuff, one of those gentle, good people with an iron will, lived to a grand old age of a hundred and two, and taught at her beloved school until the very end. She founded a great dynasty, and many wept upon her death, and made pilgrimages to place posies and plant flowers upon her grave, and ask for guidance and mercy in their future endeavors. Many of these were the children of Hamlin, and their children, and their children’s children, who loved and learned under the kind, grand lady.

As for the great men of Hogwarts, Slytherin and Gryffindor, it is impossible to tell whether their own brutal ends were deserved. For a score of years after the founding of the school, when the eldest of the children of Hamlin had been taught and had disappeared to make their own destinies, Slytherin, tired of being equals with the weak women and a jovial fool, enraged with conceptions of his own potential for greatness, chose to leave the school.

It was a dark night, the night of an unnatural tempest which ravaged the surrounding highlands. His familiar, the great snake, coiled around his neck, and Slytherin’s great cloak billowed around him. He was a powerful man, his eyes spitting the fire of the devil himself.

Marigold knew not exactly that over which they had quarrels. She and Stephane had kept a cordial distance over the past few years, occasionally punctuated by dark looks across a crowded room, by cordial smiles when passing in the corridors. Stephane was thin and pale and dark as ever, a creature of the night, a specter of darkness who seemed to see through the laws of invisibility and light.

In the moment of the father’s departure, Marigold looked to the son. He was standing alone, as he so often did. He was poised, nervous to whom he owed his allegiances: to the father he feared, to the girl he admired, or the school that had become his home. Will you go with him? her eyes demanded. And he bowed his head solemnly: he was his father’s missionary, his servant: there would be others to lure into following the piping of power which the Slytherins promised, many indeed.

A shame about Stephane, Marigold thought to herself often throughout the years. History would record him as a villain when the Piper was remembered, the first heir of Slytherin, the agent of his father’s greed. To the children of Hamlin, he would become all of these things, who would carry on the legend of Slytherin’s lust for greatness and ownership. He was these things to Marigold as well, but beneath the layers of tales and whispers she thought of the earnest young man who spoke with her so kindly and respectfully, with the dark, intelligent eyes and the shy, delicate smile. And they would cross one another’s paths again in those medium years: the first time in the crowded marketplace brimming with the smells of enchanted brewing herbs at a market fair.

Many of the lost children of Hamlin would make something of themselves. Trip would carry on the trade his dead father had taught him, using the magical arts he had learned to create wondrous creations: bowls with designs of mosaic glass across which images would dance, and goblets which refilled themselves promptly.

He and Marigold married. They returned to England, to the old village of Godric’s Hollow, where Marigold nursed the ill and wounded of the village with her father’s gentle spirit, and where Rowena Ravenclaw was a frequent and beloved visitor.

Young Quince Malchance, chosen by Slytherin, used his drunkard, degenerate father’s death to create a new identity for himself, make full use of the lessons his mentor, Slytherin, had taught him at Hogwarts and the new powers he had access to. He became a great sorcerer, gaining favour with the ruthless English nobles through his willingness to use any magic to suit his own ambitions. He became well-known and feared throughout wizarding and Muggle England alike, and rid himself of the curse of the Malchance family forever by changing it to mean bad faith, warning his enemies to steer clear. He invented a story of his father, a great knight under William the Conqueror, and founded a mighty estate upon which his family would rule and dwell for generations, coldly proud of their mighty ancestry, the unfortunate fate of the elder mister Malchance fading into rumour. Thus was born the line of the Malfoys.










And of the lost village of Hamlin, the burnt shells of the houses and shops and farms slowly crumbled into the earth, until a careless visitor would not know there had once been a village there. A new town sprung up in the shadow of the wondrous castle of Hogwarts, a town named for the school, and filled with magical folk from about the island. And the town would see it’s own times of strife and conflict as other creatures saw fit to rise against the wizards in a way the poor children of Hamlin could never have done.

But one structure remained, and that was the house on the hill overlooking Hamlin where the son of Slytherin, the infernal Piper had once dwelled as he sought to carry out his task. By some unworldly magic, the spells holding the house together kept it there, a monument to the past. And into the shack flowed the displaced spirits of the witches and wizards of Hamlin, whose children had been stolen, whose lives had been ended by the vengeful fear of their neighbors and one-time friends. And on an especially silent night their shrieks and cries for their children could still be heard in that shack, and so the inhabitants of Hogsmeade avoided it, and did not look too closely at the boarded windows for fear of seeing a tearful face.

But sometimes descendants of those ghosts would find their way into the shack, and they would find themselves blessed and protected against danger no matter how helplessly the situation seemed. For one day, four boys would creep from the castle to bide the night of the full moon there, and the wolf in his frenzied state would think he saw a wall of spirits, of mothers and fathers with childless arms, standing between his teeth and the other creatures assembled there. And one day a fifth boy would follow the others, and as he recoiled and screamed from the terror within he thought he saw the face of a beautiful woman in fine robes, her hair streaming and her expression the cool resting of a drowned person, of a witch who had been drowned, touching her cold lips to his cheek as he was pulled to safety. And years later, a rat who had once been a man, facing his death in the crumbled walls of the shack, thought he witnessed the form of a round, kind woman in an apron whispering fervently in the ears of the last descendant of the Peverells, begging him to spare the life of the last of her sons.

And when the last Peverell hid from the last Slytherin in that forsaken place, the spirits of Marigold’s and Trip’s parents shielded the boy, and Master Peverell, the healer, looked with pride and love upon his last descendant.










Stephane traveled for a long time with his father, serving the kings and nobles of Europe, often performing devious and undesirable acts of commissioned magic at his father’s request. He gained his own infamy: the Sword of Slytherin, the one who executes the wishes of the Elder, the one who destroys. In his travels, he encountered Camilda Prince, the daughter of the sly old merchant, who had lost her father’s fortune but none of his pride. With encouragement from his father, Slytherin married her, and built her a great manor deep in Scotland. They founded a legendary dynasty of Slytherins – legendary for those who were part of the dynasty, perhaps – children who spoke to snakes and plotted for power and glory, dark-headed generations of children whose pride was always their undoing.

For a line of descendants is made up of mighty and cruel people, and no generation’s virtues nor vices are necessarily encased in the next. Of the great ancestors of the Slytherins and the Potters, few would think to look back to Stephane or Marigold as their guides. Few would think to peel back the staunch floods of the generations to discover that once, the golden girl of Hamlin, the last of the Peverells, the protégée of Rowena Ravenclaw, had once loved the dark young heir of Slytherin.

And Trip and Marigold married, and thus the line of Ignotus Peverell, the humble man who had tricked death, became forever entwined with the common, Muggleborn line of the Potters. And the Invisibility Cloak would be passed down through the generations, through future potters and craftsmen, and statesmen and merchants, and gamblers and chimney sweeps and lawkeepers and students. And in one far away day, a descendant born of Stephane and a child born of the line of Marigold would have a great blood confrontation, indeed.

And later, reader, is when she married him.

She was too old to bear children, and her own were sent off into the world to make their own fortunes as grown adults. His father was long dead, slain by his greatest friend, so he no longer had the puissance to object to the match. Trip had died long ago, buried by weeping children and a solemn Marigold, whose heart had burned and bled for the fine young boy in the village of Hamlin who had so boldly taken her wand to repair a bowl.

So when Marigold met Stephane again, many years later, the cries of outrage of their children and the whispers of society could not pause their parting, not now, as their bodies grew faded and withered, as their eyes stayed the same.

And for a time they were happy, so gloriously, inexcusably happy.

A day came when the bile gathered in Stephane’s lungs could no longer be bled from his body, when he was but a whittled wisp of the powerful man he had once been, Marigold gave the cloak of Invisibility to her eldest son, and took the hand of the man she had loved for nearly a lifetime. In his eyes she saw the bright, inquisitive spark of the boy who had come to the village in the dawn, riding upon a horse. And in her touch he felt the comfort and trust of a girl whose trust he had once destroyed, and whose love he had longed for in the course of a lifetime.

Death was pleased to finally add to his ranks the young man who had spurred and inspired such carnage and hate in Hamlin long ago; to finally claim the life of the last Peverell, who had cheated Death and known Death with her own eyes.

Can you see them? His beard a white wisp, her silver hair flooding across his arm, her thin hand stroking the blue veins of his hand, his lips pressed against her cheek. And as Death claims them he finds them entwined so peacefully, and as Death’s shadow sweeps the room into blackness they squeeze one another’s hands and smile, a painless smile for Death. And the wind which flows from the cloak of Death brings not promises of pain and hurt, but a certain reckoning, a promise for peace.

In times of hate, remember the lost people of Hamlin, the terrible sacrifices which must be made for the greater good. Remember the spirits shrieking throughout the centuries, the last messengers of a lost way of unity. And in the storms and the rages of our day, find an inkling of hope in the story of Stephane Slytherin and Marigold Peverell, the Piper and the One who Saw, and think that perhaps our world must not be so desperately lost.


The End






 





Author's Note: The line “Reader, she married him” is shamelessly adapted from Charlotte Bronte’s novel Jane Eyre. All references and inspirations for the story of The Pied Piper of Hamlin are credited to the Grimm brothers, though many creative liberties have been taken. All references and inspirations from the Harry Potter books are of course credited to the incomparable JK Rowling. The song at the beginning was written by me - if you are interested in reading the rest of each song at the beginning of the chapters, send me a PM on the forums! :D

Thank you, if you have stuck with this story until the end. I have loved writing it and hope you enjoyed! Keep an eye out for a sequel one-shot in the coming months.



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