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Chapter 3 : Exodus
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Trip, the potter's son.
Beautiful image by Eponine at tda.
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.
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