The Pied Piper of H(ow Do You People Sleep?)amelin
It was raining again. Harry was rapidly coming to the conclusion that all it ever did in Scotland was rain or snow. Almost at once, the pelting noise on the roof of the tent suggested that the weather was proving him wrong once again as it threw a lovely bout of sleet into the mix for good measure.
Harry sighed and stared for the thousandth time at the locket, still no closer to figuring out how to destroy it. He'd toyed with the idea of throwing it into a Muggle nuclear reactor, but Hermione was quick to point out that might end in a catastrophe. Most likely, she was right. He wondered if chucking it in a live volcano would do anything, but he really didn't want to recreate the burning of Pompeii either. For now, he was out of ideas, and he felt like his brain couldn't handle another moment of trying to save the world. Even Hermione was just staring off into space tonight, apparently transfixed by a spot on the carpeting. Ron, on the other hand, was sprawled across the sofa and staring up at the ceiling, but equally silent and seemingly lost in thought.
"You know what we need?" Ron said abruptly, making the other two jump. "A pet."
"A pet?" Hermione said, raising her eyebrows and coming out of her stupor. "We can barely get enough to eat as it is. How would we feed a pet?"
"I don't know. Maybe it could hunt for itself like Puss in Boots did. I just kind of miss having one around," Ron said, shrugging. "I haven't seen Errol or Pig in ages, and even Arthur the Pygmy Puff is sort of nice company, though never tell Ginny I said it."
Harry tried not to think about Hedwig. Everything had happened so quickly the night of leaving Privet Drive for the last time that what with Mad Eye's death and George's ear, he hadn't really taken any time to mourn her properly. He didn't want to fall apart at the seams just now, though, and it seemed Hermione sensed what was up. She abruptly shifted the conversation.
"Well, at least none of us misses Scabbers," Hermione said, tucking one leg underneath her.
"No, I suppose not," Ron said, frowning. "I do sort of miss the pet I thought he was, if that makes sense."
"If I recall correctly, at various times you called him boring, useless, pathetic, and embarrassing," Hermione said, ticking the words off on her fingers.
"Well, yeah," Ron admitted, "but that was just me. That's different. It's not like I would have let anyone else call him any of that. Kind of like how we call you a know-it-all bookworm who's incapable of having fun and downright deadly dull to listen to and acted like a worn out spinster by age fourteen, but we wouldn't put up with anyone else saying it. Right, Harry?"
Harry's eyes had slowly widened to the size of dinner plates as Ron had gone into the litany of Hermione's supposed faults, and his only reply was to move as far as possible away from Ron so as not to be in the path of any jinxes.
"Uh, Harry?" Ron said, now sounding significantly terrified, and Harry schooled himself not to look in Hermione's direction because whatever facial expression was going across her features at the moment probably made Voldemort in a rage look as dangerous as a Flobberworm by comparison.
"Oh, pants," Harry heard Ron mutter under his breath.
Harry risked a glance in Hermione's direction and immediately wished he hadn't. It was worse than he'd imagined. She wasn't angry. She was crying.
"That's not what I meant!" Ron half-yelled, looking panic stricken. "I don't mean you're, I mean, you're not, there isn't, you don't, HARRY! A LITTLE HELP, PLEASE!"
"Ron's a git," Harry blurted out.
"Yeah, I'm a git!" Ron said, nodding fervently. "A great big prat of a git!"
"Yeah, giant git. Troll-sized. And he's really rather stupid," Harry added quickly. "But then you know that."
"Dumb as a garden gnome. A particularly dense one, really," Ron said. "One that makes Crabbe and Goyle look bright in comparison."
"It's true," Harry said.
"I see," Hermione said in a tone that suggested she didn't believe any of it past Ron's cruel assessment of her. "I think I'm going to go to bed early as I've had enough of today. Good night."
As she got awkwardly to her feet and began to make her way to the curtained nook where Hermione's bed was, Ron did something extremely rash. He bolted off the couch, stumbled after her, and slung his arms around her tightly in what looked like a bone crushing hug.
"Really, 'mione," he said, a look of total terror on his face. "I didn't mean it. My mouth just runs away from me sometimes, you know how it is. You're not… any of that. I wouldn't rather be trapped with anyone else in all the world on this Merlin forsaken camping trip without end. I'm just tired and hungry and cross at the world is all, and I'm not thinking straight. Sorry."
Harry felt like he really should be in some other place, but other than wandering out of the tent and into the sleet, he didn't have much choice. Hermione's face twisted a bit, and she seemed torn between aggravation, emotional turmoil, and the sudden realization that Ron was actually hugging her, something Harry guessed she'd been hoping for going on several months at this rate. Really, he might have to have a talk with Ron. He was hopelessly dense about girls.
"All right," Hermione said, clearing her throat so it sounded a bit less sniffly and looking up at him. "We're all under a lot of pressure here and I suppose none of us is acting as we normally would, so let's forget it then."
The look of relief that washed over Ron's face practically lit up the tent, and he gave her one more rather overly enthusiastic hug followed, to Harry's and Hermione's obvious surprise, by a quick peck on her cheek.
"Thanks," he said, immediately awkward again and abruptly putting the sofa between them. "So, ehm, I don't suppose we could have a story before bed?"
"A what?" Hermione asked, and Harry couldn't help thinking she looked like she'd been hit by the Whomping Willow and was trying to regain her balance. "Oh, right, yes, a story. I know those. Of course I do. Just, let me think."
"Yeah," Harry said, trying to help her find her mental footing. "What with Ron's fond attachment to Scabbers, I don't suppose you know any about a rat, do you?"
"Actually, yes," Hermione said, looking much more calm now that she was thinking about anything other than the last few minutes.
"Seriously? There's a story about a rat?" Ron asked, sitting down on the sofa again.
"A whole plague of them, actually," Hermione said, carefully sitting in the chair opposite. "It's called 'The Pied Piper of Hamelin.'"
"What kind of pie?" Ron asked, brightening up.
"No, not pie, pied," Hermione said. "It's an old word that means patched or two different colors. Basically, it means he's dressed in clothes that are two colors. A lot of the old illustrations show him wearing brightly colored striped clothing, but it may just mean that his clothes were old and raggedy."
"Oh," Ron said, sounding disappointed. "I thought it might mean people had been throwing pies at him. You know, 'Oy! Stop playing that pipe on my lawn at three in the morning!' and then splat, hit upside the head with a shepherd's pie. Pied."
"That's a rather interesting use of verbing," Hermione said.
"Verbing?" Ron asked.
"Turning a word typically used as noun into a verb via its placement and use in a sentence or by adding endings traditionally associated with verbs, such as pie, a noun, into pied, in your instance used as a past tense of a technically non-existent verb," Hermione said.
"Adjective," Ron added.
"What?" Hermione said.
"In the original title, pied describes the piper, so it would be an adjective and not a noun, right?" Ron said.
"Ehm, well, yes, though technically it's a participle form used as an adjective," Hermione said, looking impressed.
"So, adjectiving," Ron said, folding his arms and smiling. "Anyway, I think it's at least worth considering standing on people's front lawns at terribly early times in the morning and shrieking until they throw pie at us for our next meal to shut us up. We've tried everything else, including theft, covert shopping via the cloak, and rummaging dust bins full of poxy rats. I say we should try to get pied!"
"Somehow I think the authorities would probably respond long before people would start pelting us with food," Hermione said, giving him a look as though she were trying to decide if he was joking or whether the lack of food had completely unhinged him.
"Oh," Ron said, deflated. "Yeah, that'd be inconvenient. Nix that idea."
Harry looked back and forth between the two of them, convinced beyond doubt he was witnessing the single weirdest courtship in the history of humanity.
"Okay, so we've got a patched piper," Harry prompted. "Now what?"
"Once upon a time in a land far away," Ron prompted, but he was stunned when Hermione shook her head. "Did I get that part wrong?"
"Normally you'd be right, but this one begins differently," Hermione said.
"Crikey, just when you think you've got something straight in your head with these nutty things," Ron said. "How does this one begin? Twice upon a place in a time far past?"
"Not quite," Hermione said. "The strange thing about this tale is it's remarkably specific. In the year 1284 in the city of Hamelin in Germany, there was a horrible plague of rats."
"Is that a real place?" Ron asked, looking surprised.
"Yes, it is. Just a moment," Hermione said, digging around in her beaded bag, which was never far from her side. "Ah, there it is: A Complete Atlas of Muggle Communities in Western and Central Europe. I packed it in case we needed to start looking for Horcruxes abroad. There should be a page in here of Lower Saxony."
She flipped through the pages rapidly and finally stopped and pointed to a dot on the map very clearly labeled Hamelin. Harry and Ron both stared at it.
"So, do are any other fairy tale places in Lower Saxophone too?" Ron said, prodding the page with his finger. Harry suspected he was trying to get it to move.
"Saxony, not saxophone. If you notice, none of the other ones are really specific about where they take place," Hermione said. "That's one of the things that make this story so odd."
"And 1284?" Harry said. "Not 1283 or 1285?"
"Yes, the year is definite too," Hermione said. "Granted, not every version mentions that detail, but any of them that do always mention the same date."
"Okay," Ron said. "This is just a made up story, right?"
"That's actually quite open to debate," Hermione said mysteriously. "At least part of it probably happened, but I'd doubt all of it did."
"Okay, so there are some rats in Hamelin, which is in Lower Sexy Knee, I mean Saxony," Ron said, and Harry noticed he had abruptly moved his eyes away from Hermione's crossed legs. "They're just a few rats, so what's the catastrophe there?"
"Not just a few rats, but loads of them," Hermione said. "There were rats in the homes, in the wells, in the barns, running down the streets, skittering across the roofs, swarming in the cellars, eating everything in the farmers' fields, gnawing on clothes and furniture and food, just everywhere. It was a horrible situation."
"Yeah," Harry said, screwing his face in disgust. "I mean, we go to a school where people keep rats as pets, and even I'm a bit sick at that idea."
"I used to sleep with a rat in my bed and it's giving me collywobbles," Ron affirmed. "Fine, I'll grant they have a problem. How did they get that many rats?"
"It's a good question," Hermione said. "The thirteenth century was a time of a lot of superstition, and some of it centered around cats. People thought they might be demonic because they could see well in the dark, their eyes turn odd colors by firelight, their caterwauling, and their ability to land upright and unharmed most of the time. Even one of the popes, Gregory IX, thought the devil might appear as a black cat at meetings of witches."
"Did I miss that part of the curriculum at Hogwarts," Ron asked with wry grin, "or is that just something you lot get up to at your pajama parties?"
Hermione gave him a withering look and went on.
"Remember, even before witches and wizards went into hiding, the Muggles didn't understand very well what we did," Hermione said. "A lot of them thought we were evil, and it did tend to cause trouble for a lot of random people and even animals."
"Okay, so apparently kitty cats are bad. In Mrs. Norris's case they might even have a point. But what's that got to do with rats over running Hamelin?" Harry asked.
"Well, a lot of communities killed cats since they thought they were demons, and that led to a rapid increase in the number of rats in certain areas," Hermione said.
"Suddenly I feel a lot less sorry for the people in Hamelin," Ron said with a frown. "I may not be overly keen on cats, but killing them is way too far over the line."
"Quite," Hermione said with firm nod. "It was even more dangerous since rats could carry the Black Plague, and that wiped out a lot of towns and cities back then, so they really were in trouble. The people of Hamelin simply couldn't catch all the rats, and none of the poisons or traps they were using worked. Then one day, a mysterious stranger came to town."
"The Tarted Tambourine Player?" Ron asked, all wide-eyed innocence, but the wink he shot to Harry suggested he wasn't quite as daft as he let on.
"The Pied Piper," Hermione said, over enunciating it, but her smile left no doubt that she was wise to him as well. "Yes, he went to the mayor of the town and said he could get rid of all the rats in return for payment. The mayor, thinking that it would be nearly impossible for anyone to end the plague of rats, agreed to a sum in gold coins if the piper succeeded."
"Really, the mayor wins either way. Either the piper can't do it and he doesn't have to pay, or the piper can and the mayor can stop having to fish rat droppings out of his morning tea," Ron said.
"Ronald, please!" Hermione said, looking disgusted. "Your choice of imagery!"
"Well, it's true!" Ron said. "I doubt they're all politely using the loo and washing up after."
"Anyway, what does the piper do?" Harry asked, trying hard to forget that picture.
"The next morning, the piper came back to town just at sunrise. He began to play a strange, hypnotic melody on his pipe, and after a few moments, all the rats, thousands of them, came pouring out of the homes and into the street towards the piper," Hermione said.
"Blech," Ron said. "If I were him, I think I'd drop the pipe and run."
"Except that's not at all what he did. Instead, the piper began to dance as he played, and the rats followed him wherever he went, cavorting and dancing as well."
"Cavorting rats?" Harry said. "Somehow that's almost more disturbing."
"Eventually, the piper and his companions came to the bridge over the River Weser, and the rats dived in of their own accord, every last one, and were all drowned," Hermione said.
Harry and Ron looked at each other.
"You do realize what that sounds like, right?" Harry said.
"If you're thinking of the Imperius Curse, then yes," Hermione said.
"Blimey, is it possible to cast it on that many animals at one time?" Ron asked.
"I don't know. It certainly does work on animals since Crouch used it perfectly on spiders in Defense Against the Dark Arts class. Remember, he even threatened to have the spider drown itself like the rats. There were supposed to be a lot of wizards under it all at the same time in the last war, so controlling more than one entity isn't impossible. I suppose if there was a wizard who was particularly gifted at it, he might be able to work out a way to do it, but it would take a lot of concentration," Hermione said.
"Yeah, I'm not sure I like this piper fellow," Ron said. "'It seems a bit rude, killing all the rats he'd just had a dance number with. Couldn't he just have Vanished them all rather than turning them into suicidal puppets and drowning them? Rather excessive, that."
"It is a bit sinister, I agree, but the people of Hamelin were very happy to have their town free of rats once more," Hermione said.
"Now that I can see," Harry said. "So how much did the mayor pay the piper?"
"Nothing," Hermione said.
"Wait, nothing? The piper did exactly what he said he was going to do, though," Ron said, looking angry. "They cheated him!"
"Not exactly the brightest lot out there, are they?" Harry said. "Take a fellow who can convince every rat in the village to drown itself, and then don't pay him. Brilliant idea."
"You've seen the problem exactly," Hermione said. "The mayor was a very greedy fellow and said that since all the piper had done was play a tune, he should be content with a single copper, the usual fee for such a service. The piper was furious that he hadn't been paid, and he left the town, promising to come back and wreak his vengeance upon them all."
"Wreak?" Ron said, quirking an eyebrow at her.
"It means he'll do something awful," Hermione said.
"Yeah, I know, but wreak? It's just such an odd word. I mean, do people wreak anything other than vengeance? Can you wreak happiness or fun or laughter or something?"
"Well, I've heard of wreaking destruction or havoc," Hermione said, tilting her head in consideration, "but aside from that, no. The connotations of the word are heavily negative."
"Okay, so the piper, who I have to admit I'm kind of siding with at this point, leaves town without so much as a Knut in his pocket for his trouble and fully intent on wreaking. Then what?" Ron asked.
"Then nothing happened for several long weeks," Hermione said, "and the townspeople began to think his threat was empty."
"That's usually when trouble starts," Ron said.
"Precisely, for they let their guard down. On June 26, the feast of St. Peter and Paul, all the people of the town were in church when the pied piper returned," Hermione continued.
"Wait, not only do we get a specific city, and a river on top of it, and a year, but now we've got an actual date?" Harry said.
"Yes, though a few sources list it as June 22 instead, though that could be a transcription error," Hermione said. "At either 7:00 in the morning or noon, depending on the source—"
"Now we've got the actual time? What is this, the fairy tale news report?" Ron asked.
"—the piper came to the village square. However, instead of his previous brightly colored suit of clothes, he was dressed all in green with an odd little hat of red with a feather on it," Hermione said.
"Why green?" Harry asked.
"Some of the sources say it was to make him look like a hunter, but there's a fairly strong tradition of the color green being linked to the Fae, at least in the British Isles, and it's often regarded as bad luck," Hermione explained.
"Which is probably why Slytherins wear it," Ron said. "Bunch of cheeky gits, wandering around in green, thinking they're so threatening. Anyway, wild guess. The piper pulls out his pipe and lo and behold, all the rats coming running back into the village and he leaves them to sort out the muddle for themselves. How close am I?"
"That does seem perfectly logical and really quite just," Hermione said.
Ron grinned broadly at Harry, obviously thrilled with his success.
"But that's not what happened," she added.
"Oh," Ron said, looking very disappointed.
"However, it was an extremely good guess, and frankly I like it much more than the way the story does go," Hermione hurried to mention.
"Fine, so the piper comes back in new clothes, but he doesn't bring rats," Harry said. "What's his revenge?"
"Well, Ron had it at least a bit right. He did begin to play his pipe again, starting with nine loud blasts," Hermione said.
"What came out of the houses this time?" Ron asked.
"The town's children," Hermione said.
"I thought you said all the townspeople were in church?" Harry said.
"Yes, the stories to agree on that point, but apparently they'd left the children home. That actually wasn't terribly unusual back then since church services could be very long and older children could have seen to their younger brothers and sisters," Hermione said. "Every child over the age of four, and for some reason the mayor's grown daughter came out to the piper as though they were all in a trance and began to dance."
"Wait, what? The kids started following him?" Ron said, looking ill.
"Yes. The piper began to dance along the streets, and the children, never once questioning what they were doing, danced along in a long line behind," Hermione said.
"On a scale of one to one hundred in disturbing, this breaks the scale like a Hippogriff sat on it," Ron said. "He's using the Imperius on a load of kids! That's just sick!"
"And where's he taking them?" Harry said. "Tell me it's not the river or I'm not sleeping for a week."
"No, none of the versions do that. The piper led them out of town, and then the story has a few different possible endings," Hermione said.
"Right," Ron said. "Multiple choice nightmares. Gotta have that."
"In one, the piper led the children to a cave in the side of a great mountain, and once they were all inside, the cave closed up. Some say the children continued through the mountain and came out the other side somewhere in Transylvania and founded a city, while others say that the 130 children simply disappeared, never to be seen again," Hermione said.
"Wait, if all the kids were gone, and the adults were all in church, then how did anyone find out what happened?" Ron asked.
"Oh, three children didn't go with the others," Hermione said.
"Why?" Ron asked.
"One was blind, another deaf, and the third had a bad leg. The blind one was unable to follow by touch the steep path of the other children, the deaf one had been unable to hear the music and had not fallen under its spell but followed the children out of curiosity for a while, and the one with the bad leg had been unable to keep up. Among the three of them, the villagers were able to piece together the story and understand what had happened," Hermione said.
"This is seriously one of the less pleasant stories you've ever told us, and that's saying something," Ron said.
"What's the other version?" Harry asked.
"That one's a bit better. In that one, the piper led the children to a hill called either Koppenberg or Koppelberg, and the side of the hill opened up to reveal a lovely enchanted land that the children entered. They stayed there until the townspeople agreed to pay the piper double the original amount of gold, at which time he released them unharmed," Hermione said.
"That's less disturbing, though again that sounds a bit like the stories my Aunt Tessie used to tell us about fairy hills and the like, warning us to stay a good way away from them. Maybe the piper really was one of the Fae," Ron said. "If so, holding a bunch of kids ransom until he gets paid is actually a fairly light penalty. Most of them would go the first route."
"This is just a story though, right?" Harry asked.
"Well, it's hard to say," Hermione said. "The actual documents of the town all date themselves from the day that 'the children left,' and a church window from 1300, only a few years after the event, does depict a brightly dressed piper leading off children dressed in white. Some people think that what really happened is a plague killed the town's children, and the piper with his magical abilities and control of rats is a personification of death. Others think that perhaps it's a reference to some sort of Children's Crusade, that a highly gifted speaker convinced the children to follow him on a trip to the Holy Land or off on a military battle that they never returned from. Others think there was just a large immigration of people from the town to another area of Europe far to the east, and that the term 'children' is used to refer to people of the town in general rather than actual children."
"Uh… huh," Ron said. "So basically, some wizard or Fae got angry over not being paid and kidnapped a bunch of Muggle children."
"Honestly, that really does seem like the most logical solution," Hermione said. "The story obviously has morals about greed as well as possibly the importance of hospitality and a certain xenophobic undertone regarding strangers, but the base incident certainly fits your assessment, Ron."
"So… who's the good guy in all this?" Ron asked.
"You mean the protagonist?" Hermione said. "That's another good question. You'd be hard pressed to find a hero in it at all. Both the piper and the townspeople have bad traits, and an argument could be made that they both protagonists and antagonists simultaneously, a situation verging on modern moral cynicism with a heavy undercurrent of pessimistic fatalism."
"Uh huh," Ron said, nodding in a way Harry knew meant he had no idea what's she'd said. "Exactly."
"It sounds a bit too much like the Deathly Hallows story from Beedle," Harry finally said. "Death shows up to make a bargain that he knows he can win through somebody else's greed. No matter what happens, he knows he's doing to get them all in the end."
"Well, that's a cheerful outlook," Ron said, giving Harry a look. "If that's the case, then why don't we just turn ourselves in to the nearest Death Eater patrol and be done with it."
"Because that's not what it's about at all," Hermione said, looking at him sharply. "The villagers had a choice. So do we. They could have cleaned up their own mess, or they could have paid the piper, but because they let things get completely out of control and ignored the future, the worst thing possible happened. Maybe people just needed to realize what was happening and fight to stop it instead of ignoring what was going on outside their own windows. That's what we're doing. We're telling the piper no, he can't have the future."
Harry and Ron looked at her for a moment.
"Hermione?" Ron said tentatively. "Have you ever considered a future in politics?"
"Good heavens, no," Hermione said looking flustered. "I'd be utterly miserable in all that bureaucracy. Who in their right mind would go into the Ministry?"
"Well, if you ever change your mind, you could sure whip up a crowd," Ron said. "It's about time to turn in, though. Another long day tomorrow."
The other two nodded, and in a few moments the lights were turned down and they had each gone to their own beds.
"Harry, any idea where we're off to tomorrow?" Ron asked.
"No idea," Harry said.
"I suppose we could always try Lower Sexy Knee," Hermione said out of the darkness, but Harry could hear the suppressed laughter in her voice, and he pictured Ron's blush perfectly. "Night all."
Harry stifled a laugh and rolled over, trying to bury his worries in sleep. That night, though, he dreamed of a piper playing in the streets of Hogsmeade, leading the children in a macabre dance, his red eyes malevolently glittering in the night.