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Chapter 2 : Middle
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Sea serpents are often confused with kelpies and the kraken, but are a distinct and rare species in their own right. Often living in the shallow waters of natural bays, sea serpents are not known as aggressive beasts unless their territory is threatened. They prefer fish to the taste of human flesh. However, due to human stigma and fear of the great beasts, they have been hunted near extinction throughout the centuries. Sightings describe the sea serpents as appearing like enormous snakes, with some shared features with dragons, who can breathe underwater and have many rows of sharp teeth, similar to a shark.
The most famous sea serpent is known among Muggles as the Loch Ness monster, living in Loch Ness near Inverness in Scotland. Researchers believe that the monster was actually a kelpie who prefers to take the form of a sea serpent, which accounts for the many failed attempts to locate it through spells and Muggle technology. In the south of England, the sea serpent of Cromer was a legendary beast which was slain in 1700 by Glanmore Peakes, a local man whose brave act has set his name down in history.
-Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them by Newt Scamander
Children, are you sure you want to hear the rest of the tale of the sea serpent? Your Nana Nellie had some words with me last night when you were asleep: she fears the story may be a little frightening, and I must confess that soon it shall take a turn for the darker.
No? Well, if you insist. Yes, my boy, you will certainly be a Gryffindor like your parents. Did you know I was a Gryffindor as well? No? Why, it takes great courage to be as old as I, to see what I have seen. Aye. I have known a great many Gryffindors in my years, and you are as brave as the best of them, my dear little girl. Now, lie down, and cease with your interrupting. You are as cheeky as my children were at your age – how long ago that seems!
I find it prudent to explain a little about the state of the Ministry in those days, though doubtlessly when you attend Hogwarts you shall be thoroughly prepared to address the state of politics. The English Ministry for Magic was in a bit of a shambles. The great lords and the rich wizards were controlling it, and often their prestige and wealth was based on military might. They took more joy than anger in hearing of a breach of magical law as it frequently allowed them to intervene and claim the offender’s possessions to add to their own considerably deep pockets. Many of the old families were involved, and it was a most corrupt business.
The International Statute of Secrecy had only come into effect eight years prior, and this had implemented a withdrawal of magical presence from involvement in Muggle affairs. In France, mind, it was not until the death of the Roi Soleil and soon the stirrings of the French revolution that we wizards decided to go into proper hiding, as it was too dangerous. At the court of France, keeping magical folk about for purposes of alchemy and astronomy and playful little tricks was very fashionable, though it was important that the wizard in question not give too much away, not show the extent of his true power, or the Muggles would grow gluttonous and greedy.
I do not blame myself, fully, for my need to flee from the court, but let us say that it was something of the sort which led to my exit of that sparkling place. The King had demanded too much.
Meanwhile, in England at the beginning of the eighteenth century, there was a large problem with “informers” as they were called. These were layabout wizards and witches who would spy on their neighbors in exchange for rewards from the Ministry. Naturally, in this modern age the Ministry has magical means for tracking improper use of magic and the appropriate legislative processes for dealing with it, or at least, this was quite successful before the dreadful war began. My first instinct on my first morning waking up in Cromer was that I had been betrayed by an informer who was hoping for some extra gold.
As a precaution, I cast several protective charms around my belongings – my potions, my books, and the few fine things I had brought from France. I laid out a few sets of robes on the bed along with a few books, so that in case they came looking for my possessions to take as payment there would not be much to find save a few battered old outfits.
It worked out that this was wise, for the first faces to greet me that morning, alongside Yuna’s rather frazzled one, were those of the Ministry Obliviator – a thin, unpleasant wizard who looked like a glass of milk and had bloodshot eyes, doubtlessly from being haunted by all the memories he stole – and the Investigator – my old adversary Cadmus Bode, back from his killing sprees among the Crown’s enemies. It had been over fifteen years since we had last met, and old Bode had aged considerably. His hair was considerably grayer than before, though his shoulders still had that trademark appearance of being too broad for his body, like a gorilla. His face was as finely cruel as I remembered it.
“Hello, gentlemen,” I said smartly, shaking each of their hands. Bode’s eyes narrowed in suspicion, but it was not until I made a wild mention of the French court that he realized who I was, seeing as I barely looked a year older than when we had last met. Yuna brought us biscuits, the Obliviator trotted out to look for the Muggle witnesses to my bit of sorcery the day prior, and Bode grew more and more bothered by my sympathetic protests of why I should not be charged with saving the lives of the poor fishermen.
“You’re a slippery one, Flamel,” he growled finally, slamming his teacup into its saucer with a decisive and destructive clang. Hastily, I mended the teacup (though Bode visibly flinched at the sight of my wand pointed towards him – evidently he could recall the strength of my Stinging hexes for those who irritated me). “But I’ll warrant ye this – ye’ve got the tongue of a courtier. I reckon ye could charm the crown off the devil himself if ye put your mind to it.” He glared at me.
“Oui, oui, eet is ze mark of a sophist,” I said, raising an eyebrow at him. “Now, Bode, Gentleman Warlock, why don’t we go for a leetle walk through ze village and I will tell you what your Ministry should be worrying about?”
So we did. It was quite early in the morning, and the fishermen were all about in their boats, praying fervently the monster would still be asleep. I thought I could nearly hear the sounds of the poor men’s teeth chattering from the pier.
I stopped a boy. “Excuse me, young man, has ze creature been seen yet zis morning?”
The child looked up at me. The bottom of his trousers were wet, as if he had been wading in the rocky shoreline, but in his hands he carried dry, very fine leather shoes. He was topped with dark hair and a polite, controlled smile. “No, sir, there has been no sign of the beast, though creatures sent from hell never stay asleep for long, I suppose.” He nodded to us and continued his barefoot climb up the rocks.
“How strange, the child appeared so familiar,” Bode said suspiciously.
“Perhaps you have seen him about the village?”
Bode scoffed. “I am no frequent visitor to this dingy hole, Flamel. I merely thought the child resembled someone I might have seen. His voice was very proper, not the voice of a child urchin.”
“Zen perhaps he is not a sailor’s boy,” I remarked, a cool tone in my voice. “Really, Bode if zis is ze best zat Eengland’s wee Ministry has to offer zen I am not too hopeful for England’s chances against France in ze future.”
He scowled, great furrows and crags growing through the lines of his face. “Ach, monsieur, at least the English Ministry is putting its foot forward to control the improper use of magic in front of Muggles – I heard tell only last week of one of those French…whatever tis you call them, those tartuffes and puffy bloody princes of the French court turning the queen’s fool into a peacock to the great delight of the nobility. They say that any wizard who graduated in the top half of his class at Beauxbatons can make a fortune for himself at the court of Louis. What I would like to see is what hell will rain down when old Louis is dead and the populace aren’t so pleased with the way he treated the magical folk.” He glared at me.
Ironically, children, I believe Cadmus Bode was a wiser politician than I had given him credit for. I suppose that he knew much about revolution – indeed, not long after our encounter he was sent off to dispel some trouble in the colonies. I believe he died there. However, sure enough, two generations later when the Roi Soleil had passed on his empire to rulers who believed in their own absolute, divine right to power, yet were not strong enough to exercise it, that France fell to pieces and set the rest of the old European monarchies into a panic. The French Ministry was quickly thrown together to protect the magical folk of France, but indeed the revolution was not kind to them either.
But that is a bloody, long story for another night. Perhaps when you are a little older, if I am still around. I pushed aside the insults to France – after all, I was a little miffed with the King myself at the time – and returned to the matter at hand.
“Now, Bode, surely your Ministry must have some sort of department for controlling and confronting magical beasts? For you do know that had it not been for the danger the sea serpent presented, I would not have been forced to act with such blatant disregard for the Statute of Secrecy.”
“We are far more concerned with the improper use of magic-”
“Bode, you are not understanding me clearly,” I said, growing a little impatient. “For were ze sea serpent haunting zese waters perhaps taken away to a less populated coast, or a system established with the fishermen to feed ze beast on a daily basis and thus persuade it to leave the nets alone, zen perhaps all might fare the better instead of waging a daily war with the creature.”
“Though I am yet to see any proof of the creature’s existence-”
His words were cut short as out in the water, the sea serpent chose a very appropriate time to make its appearance known. Ripples began to pool around as the beast’s scaly, snakelike head protruded from the water, followed by the green-twinged coils of its body, the sort of body which could easily wrap itself around a boat and squeeze it into pieces. I heard Cadmus Bode suppress a large gulp as the creature circled once, twice, around the crab traps marked by floating buoys. From the shore there came the sounds of screams as three young ladies and one broad-shouldered man whom I believe was the blacksmith of Cromer shrieked and recoiled from the rocky shore, scrambling up towards the town square.
Bode and I looked at one another in an unusual display of shared disgust at the blacksmith’s girlish behavior. Oh, do not pout with me, child! You see, in those days women were just as brave as the men, only they did not know they were allowed to be, and so this sort of cowardly behavior was seen as delicate and proper. You cannot blame me for the way everybody else saw the world, so do not look so indignant.
“Very well, Flamel, you are victorious. The thing is real,” Bode said as the sea serpent began to slither through the water towards the open water beyond the bay. “I suppose I must heed your advice and have the problem dealt with, before coming out to Cromer every week becomes a reality.” He hooked his thumb through the belt loops beneath his cloak and staggered off in the direction of the inn, shaking his head.
“Bode, do be so kind as to wait,” I called after him, trotting a little to keep up. “For you have not told me who ze informer was, who told you of my helpful deed yesterday?”
“We received an urgent owl from Lord Gaunt, in the next county,” Bode said, spinning around. His face was still a little green, and his eyes kept darting out to where the humps of the sea serpent were disappearing into the distance. “He said one of his men was passing through Cromer on the road from Norwich and witnessed the incident, and the anguished commentary of the Muggles who witnessed it, the Muggles whom my poor Obliviator is searching out and performing complex deeds of magic on as we speak.” He glared accusingly at me, as if lamenting the poor Obliviator’s task.
“Oh, and what is your Obliviator’s name, Bode?” I asked, mildly.
“Besides the point, Flamel,” the Gentleman Warlock growled, slouching off towards the inn where I was sure Yuna was preparing a warm mug of ale. Children, I am not usually a smirking type of person, but I did smirk then.
However, the matter of the informer did intrigue me. The Gaunt family at that time were a very wealthy old family, who had long ago crept their way into the Muggle nobility for the sake of the title and the land. There are no wizarding princes, children, but particularly in the years before the Statute of Secrecy it was quite common for English wizards with money to integrate themselves into the Muggle hierarchies and wealth.
Now, long ago the Gaunts had done just that. They were very high-minded, even in those days, and even claimed to be descendants of Salazar Slytherin himself. Now, don’t say that, children. Just because He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named was himself a Slytherin does not mean that all members of that house are bad, and it is very wrong and unfair to think so. But nevertheless, the Gaunts were notorious in the wizarding world for their narrow-minded views in only allowing wizarding tenants on their farms, magical servants to join the house elves in their manor, and the thorough purging of any Muggle blood from their lands. I had known a member of the Gaunt family a few centuries prior and though a stern man, he was well adept to fraternizing with Muggles – thus, I believe the prejudice must have been a recent development. As the Gaunt line continued and they developed a habit of marrying their own cousins the family grew more paranoid and more mad with the generations.
Any history book of wizarding genealogy will simply say that the Gaunts were an old, rich family who died off several years ago. Then again, the books would also say the Flamels died off years ago as well, when the blood has been carried forward by generations of wizards, both through the male and the female lines. Your father and your uncle, Alfred and Artemius, both carry the Flamel blood though your last names are Peakes. They show their bravery as well, for as you know your parents are out fighting their hardest against the dark forces in Britain for the sake of your own futures. Yes, yes, I am hopeful they shall return shortly, for then I would no longer have the tedious task of relating your family’s history! Oh, no, no, I am sure they are alright and will be returning to you soon. Yes, you are too young to fret about it.
Now, before I return to Glanmore Peakes himself, allow me to say one more clue about the Gaunt family. As I said, their ancestral fiefdom bordered the district of Cromer, and thus their magical tenants were often competing with the Cromer fishermen for control of the seas and the fishing industry. Nasty stories of poaching and raiding traps between fishing communities litter the pages of history, magical and non-magical alike, though granted the magical folk have more tricks up their sleeves.
In the meantime, the pigheaded Cadmus Bode, inspector for the Ministry, had decided, in the absence of any department equipped for dealing with dangerous magical creatures, to put a bounty on the sea serpent’s head. The reward for killing it was ten gold coins, which was more than most peasants or fishermen would make in a year.
I was most displeased with this proposal, thinking it a sloppy move on the part of the Ministry, but Bode was gleefully persistent. I argued with him on this point, but the stubborn gentleman warlock seemed to take great satisfaction in my annoyance. The notices were put up around the town, and attracted young men from all around the region, both magical and Muggle alike. I am very sorry to say that, while I did not know their names or their stories, several were snapped up by the sea creature’s jaws and their entrails found floating in with the flotsam – ah, I mean to say, they perished most painfully. Others returned on their boats, spears dangling from their hands and faces bleary and confused from where the rough waves had their way with them.
The names of the dead can still be found, doubtlessly, in the ledgers from that year, and perhaps weathered inscriptions in the family plots conceal their battered remains beneath crumbling stones.
One particular victim of the bounty stands out in my mind: an old man, who had been a physician and a failed alchemist in his youth who, out of interest, had come to speak with me a few days earlier at the inn. He did not know my precise identity, yet Yuna had boastfully spoken of my talents and thus he had sought out my company for a fine meal and good conversation. I showed the old man some of the gold pieces produced by my work and allowed him to keep one, for selling or preserving or as he wished.
I was quite shocked to join the crowd of villagers by the coast the next morning to see off the old man, who had announced that he would be trying to slay the sea serpent. I pulled him aside, past the jeering young men who were to take their turn later, and asked what he was thinking, at his great age and condition.
“Ach, me good man, I ‘ope for a better life for me children and me grandchildren,” he told me quietly, his bushy whiskers curling earnestly. I took pity on him and lent him my dagger, which was goblin made and very fine. Needless to say, the old man fought bravely, but he was no match for the tireless sea serpent, and he joined the dead that morning.
The old man had refused to sell the gold piece I had given him: his daughter said he had been planning to keep it as a token, whether or not he won the bounty.
These grim tidings brought an atmosphere of fear and gloom over the village. The sea serpent was growing more vicious, and became prone to attacking the fishing boats which came within its vicinity. Before, the creature had been far less inclined to attack: now, it seemed to have developed a habit of aggression, which I believe was one of the gravest consequences of Bode’s foolish plans.
Thus, the time was right for Glanmore Peakes to return, his thin body frail and tired from the long journey from the North but his eyes bright and eager and cold. He appeared, as he had the first time we met, in the door of the inn, haggard and tired against the fading light from the evening outside. Yuna, who had been animatedly telling me of her studies in literature, abandoned all trains of thought and sense and charged into his arms, leaving her collection of Shakespeare’s sonnets strewed dangerously close to the candles we had lit in order to be able to see better.
“Bonsoir, monsieur,” Peakes said in rusty French as he took a seat at our table. I greeted him graciously, and asked whether his travels had been fruitful.
“Did you find it, dear one?” Yuna whispered, resting her cheek on his dusty, cloaked shoulder. A little smudge of gray decorated her pale skin. “Did you find the sword… oh, perhaps you should not speak of it here, there are men from the Ministry in the chamber.” She looked behind her nervously, towards where Cadmus Bode and the Obliviator were sitting close by the fire.
“It is of no matter, the sword is not upon my person,” Peakes said coolly, signaling to the server for a pink of ale. He took a large sip and leaned back in his chair, sighing.
Yuna was distraught, but Peakes quickly calmed her nerves by telling her that he did not have the sword, but that he had something which would lead it to him. And he reached into the folds of his cloak and pulled out an old pointed wizard’s hat, much like the one your uncle Artemius was wearing when he came by this afternoon, but much older and rattier.
I know you children are not allowed to know the sort of test which Hogwarts will provide in order to Sort you into your houses when you are old enough… indeed, your father told me that he was having a marvelous time teasing you about the difficulties of the test the last time I spoke with him. Of course, at Beauxbatons we had a very different system, so I am not aware of all the particulars despite my thorough understanding of English wizarding history over the years. Well, I shall not spoil his fun. But the important thing to know is that this hat came from Hogwarts.
Peakes was wary to explain how exactly he had obtained it, but I think it can be safely ascertained that he had to break into Hogwarts in order to do so. Knowing his abilities with destructive potions, such as the love potion he had sold to the lord I mentioned the other night, I am sure that there was some manipulation involved. Today, under Dumbledore, it is said that Hogwarts is the safest place in Britain, but at the time it was governed by a corrupt Headmaster and was in a shambles. You see, Muggleborns were only permitted access if they proved themselves to be exceptionally talented, and only wizards and witches from the upper and middle classes got the opportunity to continue for more than three or four years of schooling. So that school would have been understaffed and poorly managed, and Peakes knew it well from his time there a few years prior.
Regardless, Peakes explained to Yuna – and to myself, I suppose, as I was there – how he had stolen into the castle and filched the hat. I was most scandalized, and I believe Yuna was as well, though she tried her best to hide her horror. Suddenly, the idea of Peakes battling the sea serpent became less of a romantic fantasy and more and more dangerous, whether he was slain by the forceful wild creature or arrested by the makeshift Ministry of Magic for his treachery and thievery. Peakes explained that there was a legend which said that from the hat would come a mighty weapon – the sword of Godric Gryffindor – which would emerge from the hat to help a Gryffindor who was worthy and brave and in need of it. He was quite pleased with himself beneath the grime of the road and the stain of his deed.
“…and as I am a true Gryffindor, I shall pull the sword from the hat and rid Cromer of the vile monster,” he told Yuna, twisting the black ring round and round his thin finger. It seemed to glitter evilly in the light from the candles. Peakes had that effect of being able to silence greater men than he, and all around our table the guests of the inn were leaning in to listen.
Peakes was especially pleased to hear about the bounty. His eyes glittered and he took Yuna’s pale, pretty hand in his and pressed it to his oily lips, and promised that when he had slain the sea serpent and won the prize they would be rich and would be able to marry, and that she could leave the hard work at the inn behind and he would provide everything for her. A man asked Peakes how he could be so sure he would succeed in killing the great snake when so many others had failed.
“Why, because I will wield the weapon which was forged for the killing of serpents,” Peakes had growled, slamming his glass onto the table. His fingers traced the worn indents of the old wizard’s hat. He truly believed in himself. And perhaps, rightly so.
That night, I wrote a letter to your Nana Nellie telling her of the strange events of Cromer. I had only expected to take a short repose in the sleepy town, but the events surrounding it were both mystifying and disturbing. I wrote of the stubborn ruthlessness of Cadmus Bode, of the state of shambles of the English Ministry, of the fact that the infamous Gaunt family bordered Cromer, of the old man who had perished for the sake of the reward, of the well-spoken young boy with cold eyes whom I had seen leaving the pier on the day Bode and I walked down to view the serpent’s destruction.
Well, perhaps that is all we have time for tonight, my dear children. Rest easy, dream freely, and be thankful that you do not have to face the sea serpent tomorrow as your ancestor Glanmore Peakes did. I shall go and check on Nana Nellie and see whether she has a warm cup of tea ready for me. What is that, child? Yes, we shall check the post and speak with your uncle whether there is any news of your parents. But rest assured – you are safe here, you are safe.
Author’s Note: Thank you for reading! I hope you are enjoying the story, and the next chapter, in which the battle takes place, should be up soon. The passage from ‘Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them’ at the beginning was written by me – I’ve never actually seen JKR’s book – but some of the information was inspired by the HP Lexicon.
Roi Soleil - The Sun King, a nickname for Louis Quatorze of France. Louis ruled from 1643-1715 and was known for his centralized power and belief in the divine right of kings. His great-grandson, Louis the Sixteenth, was overturned in the French Revolution and executed with his wife, Marie Antoinette, in 1793, which Flamel and Bode reference in this chapter.
Oui – yes
monsieur – sir
Tartuffe – translates to ‘imposter’ or ‘hypocrite’ in the play of the same name by Moliere. The play was first performed in 1664 and was quite famous, so while Cadmus Bode may have heard of the play or even seen it performed, his use of the word here isn’t quite right, showing his general ignorance.
bonsoir, monsieur – Good evening, sir.
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