Magical image by Eponine at tda.
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:
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!
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