By Sarah Watkins
Disclaimer: Dementers, the Bloody Baron, Peeves and all the other Hogwarts references kicking about in this story are the property of Warner Bros and J K Rowling in disproportionate measure. This is not a profit making venture, this is FUN! No infringement, yada yada yada
* * *
East Anglia, England
He stood at the crest of the hill, surveying what were now finally his lands. The old man had finally passed on peacefully – with his son's dagger firmly embedded in his belly. That he had killed his own father was nothing new: the family had been committing patricide for generations.
He was now master of all he surveyed. The richest, strongest, most powerful member of the small community.
He was Baron.
And of course now that he held that prestigious – yet precariously tentative – position, he had to keep a close eye on his own son. A young man in his early twenties, the Baron's son was a sly youth, who the Baron trusted no further than he could comfortably throw him. Fortunately, he had been so eager to fight, he had gone off to join in the Muggle Civil War. With a little luck, he would get himself killed.
"My Lord Baron? I'm sorry to disturb you, but there are matters in the village that demand your…attention." The Baron turned from the scenery to glower angrily at the Captain of his secret army. Many had spoken out in anger against his military style, expressing doubt and disbelief at the inhuman tactics that he employed.
"What is it Captain?" The Baron adjusted his wide-brimmed hat and turned to face the young Captain.
"A visitor, my Lord. A Muggle going by the name of Hopkins. Demanding the right to interrogate seven people in the village he has been told are accused of witchcraft."
The Baron's heart pounded painfully in his chest. "Only seven?" he said, his tone belying the concern he felt at this news. They had managed to keep their small, wizarding community virtually hidden over the generations, but with the coming of the Witch Hunts, it had become harder and harder to remain inconspicuous. And if the rumours of this Matthew Hopkins were to be believed…
"Tell this Hopkins I will meet with him in an hour's time at the Manor House." With that, the Baron swept away, his cloak billowing out behind him.
"Aye, my Lord," answered the Captain, following the Baron's passage with narrowed eyes. How could he be so confident? The earlier witch hunts had ended in burnings, which all the wizarding world could easily counter. Take Wendolyn the Weird. Her love of being burned at the stake was legendary. But Hopkins and Stearne…preferred other methods of eliminating witches.
Matthew Hopkins put the Baron in mind of his own son. In his early twenties, possessed of an arrogance beyond his years, the self-styled Witchfinder General sat in the chair easily. The Baron cast a scrutinizing glance over the young man opposite him, taking in the fine clothing, the proud bearing, the slightly manic glint in the eyes.
"It is good of you to spare me this time, Baron," began the Witchfinder General, smoothing out the folds of his cloak. "You understand that I must follow up these accusations wherever I hear them."
"I understand totally, Master Hopkins," the Baron replied, fingering the hilt of his second favourite dagger. The favourite had, of course, recently been buried along with his father. "I like to consider myself an equally quick responder to tales of trouble amongst my people."
"Ah, you must think me a true heathen," the young man said, watching the Baron's response carefully. "I understand that they have only recently become your people. My sincere condolences on your tragic loss."
The Baron lowered his head as though in grief, acknowledging the Witchfinder General's thanks.
There was a suitable pause as befit the solemnity of the topic of conversation, then the Baron raised his head again. "I can promise you, Master Hopkins, that there are no witches in this village. Think you that I do not know my people?"
"Are you a religious man, my Lord Baron?"
The question was sudden and spontaneous, and knowing of Hopkins Puritanical leanings, the Baron answered with complete conviction in the affirmative. Hopkins nodded. "Then you know that my work is critical in the eyes of the Church. Would you deny me access to confirm the raised suspicions of witchcraft?"
"I would, Master Hopkins," said the Baron, a dangerous tone in his voice. "I have heard of your methods of confirming such suspicions and I do not hold with them."
The two men leaned in towards each other, stares clashing with an almost audible clang. Hopkins gave in first: the Baron seemed to be possessed of an unbeatable glare. "If I were to allow you to be present at the interrogations, Lord Baron, would that satisfy you?"
Damn the man. He had manipulated the Baron into a situation where he had little if no choice but to agree.
"It…would satisfy me, Master Hopkins. However, I would request that you leave the east side of the village well alone."
"And why is that?"
"The hooded ones. They must not be disturbed."
Hopkins ears pricked at this. "Hooded?" Wearing hoods was, in his fanatical eyes, almost an open admission of witchcraft.
"They are lepers in the final stages of their disease," lied the Baron smoothly, and inwardly smirked at the look of distaste on the Witchfinder General's face. "We are a leper colony."
He surprised himself at the swiftness of the lie. Were the Witchfinder General to discover the army of Dementors that the Baron was gathering, the plans could well be swiftly undone.
"What is wrong, Master Hopkins? You do not look at all well. Perhaps the travelling – the heat of the day? Would you like something to eat and drink before you begin your work?"
Hopkins, who had been staring at the cup of wine in front of him as if it were poisoned, looked up with a start. "A leper colony? Nobody told me of this." He automatically put his sleeve to his face. The Baron laughed, humourlessly.
"Do not fear, Master Hopkins. The disease has not reached the richer side of town." He waited for the sleeve to lower before adding, ominously, "Yet."
* * *
The Baron stayed awake late into the night, long after Hopkins had retired to a coaching inn outside of the village. His offer of hospitality had been politely, if swiftly refused, Hopkins clearly not wishing to risk himself to a non-existent disease.
Chuckling at his own cleverness, the Baron levitated the decanter of wine from the table and drew it to himself, pouring more of the drink. He was privately looking forward to playing a little with the man and making him taste some of his own particularly nasty brand of medicine.
There was a soft knock at the door and irritated at the disturbance, the Baron growled for the transgressor to enter. The Captain slunk into the room in a manner almost as oily as his hair.
"What do YOU want," snarled the Baron, irritated at the interruption.
"Please, Lord Baron – the Dementors have taken another villager. They grow hungry, Lord. How much longer are you going to keep them here?"
"Until the battle, you fool. Who did they take this time?"
"A woman who recently lost her husband. They were attracted by her grief, it seems, and she is now insane."
The Baron thought for long moments. "Hand her over to the Witchfinder General tomorrow," he said, ignoring the look of disgust on the Captain's face. "She will be of no further use to us, and we cannot afford her to give too much away."
He poured another glass of wine.
"Why are you still here, Captain?"
Muttering an apology, the Captain left the room. Would that the old Baron were still alive. He would simply have obliterated Hopkins on sight. The new Baron was not made of the same stuff, it seemed. He was not as bloody as his father – yet was a truly impressive tactician. His plans to use the Civil War raging the country as a cover for a magical war of his own devising was truly intuitive.
But to give up one of his own…
The Captain shook his head grimly. Dark times indeed.
* * *
It transpired that the Baron's plan to hand over the gibbering widow to the hungry arms of Matthew Hopkins was a perfect one. Hopkins, grateful for the opportunity to retire to the dungeons of Colchester Castle with his latest captive, took her gladly away and was gone for some three days.
On his return, he looked decidedly haunted.
"I've never heard such tales," he confided to the Baron, his formerly strong voice shaking slightly. "Over the time I have worked to rid the country of the devil's scourge, I have had tales that would raise your hair on its ends. But she spoke of dark things. Things I have never heard. She spoke endlessly about someone named…" Hopkins screwed his face up. "Salazar Slytherin."
The Baron let no flicker of emotion cross his face.
"She is, of course, quite mad," continued the Witchfinder General. "We will be swimming her today. It will be a merciful release from this world for her if she fails the swimming."
Nodding his head, the Baron murmured agreement. If she floated, she would be pronounced a witch and would be hanged. If she did not float, her troubles would be over. What happened to the old widow was no longer his concern. She was no longer a risk to his plans.
Therefore, he no longer cared.
"I must remain here for a few days longer," said Hopkins. "Where there is one witch, there are, more often than not, more witches. I swear to you, Lord Baron, that I will divest your village of these foul creatures of Satan."
"Yes, Master Hopkins, I believe you will," replied the Baron idly. "If the leprosy does not do the job for you first."
The threat worked for a second time, and shortly afterwards, Hopkins found reason to leave again.
Angry at continually being forced to delay his plans, the Baron stormed out of his manor house and went to the stables to take his temper out on a long ride. Ordinarily, he would have taken a broomstick, but with the accursed Witchfinder army nearby…he would have to resort to Muggle methods.
He had employed a young stable hand to deal with the horses, a somewhat simple wizard who went by the name of Peeves. The Baron did not like the man at all. His antics and tomfoolery irritated him immensely. However, he worked well with the horses, and worked for food and drink rather than money, which was a good thing as far as the Baron was concerned.
"Oooh, Lord Baron," said Peeves as his master entered the stables. "Oooh, you gracing me with yer presence like as not, it be good to be seeing you."
"Silence, Peeves," snapped the Baron. It seemed to all the Baron's other staff that the Baron enjoyed exerting his superiority over the simpleton, who fawned and cringed around him as he saddled up the bay gelding. Several times he had to push the stable hand away.
"Begone, Peeves," he said, angrily. "Before I hand YOU over to Hopkins as well."
He could not help but regret those words as they came out of his mouth. Peeves ugly little face crumpled and the stablehand scooted out of his sight. The Baron checked himself for feeling remorse for the idiot and headed out on his ride.
* * *
For two days, the Baron was on edge. All the time Hopkins and his gang of Muggle fools were around, he could not advance his battle plans. The army had been ordered to retreat to their emergency sanctuary, with the Muggle Repellent charms cast over the vale. The Dementors, despite the Baron's best efforts and promises of human food, had refused.
They were starting to become restless. Despite their apparent lack of faces, the Baron had known they were sizing him up, deciding whether he would be a mere snack or an entrée.
The Baron handed two more of the Dementor's victims over to Hopkins who finally seemed satisfied with his efforts, demanded his payment of sixty shillings for the three trials and departed to return to Manningtree, the Muggle village from whence he had originally arrived. With disgruntled satisfaction, the Baron was able to return to his tactical planning for an attack on the Muggles.
But destiny has a habit of throwing spanners in the works – and this particular spanner came would come in a shape that the Baron would never have suspected.
* * *
Peeves was nowhere to be found when the Baron came out to fetch his horse. This irritated the already angry Baron, who took his temper out on one of the other stablehands, flinging him nearly halfway across the stable with a harshly spat spell. He had to ride out to nearby town to pick up some rather dubious Potion ingredients and he would be away for the better part of a day. He was still highly on edge as he cantered out of the village stronghold.
So preoccupied was he with his own worries and concerns, he barely noticed the tall, confident stride of the young man walking back towards the village.
The Witchfinder General was returning.
* * *
Thus it was, that when the Baron rode back home late the following day, he was greeted with a sight that chilled his blood to the marrow. The dying flames of a fire burned where the village Inn had once stood, and the worst…a line of gallows from which hung the limp, lifeless bodies of those who had been his most faithful, the staff at the manor.
But Peeves was not amongst them.
The Baron knew instantly what had happened. "Peeves!" he roared, sifting through the ashes of the Inn in disbelief. His plans! His plans were as destroyed as the wood and thatch that burned in the dying light of the day.
He had been betrayed.
He searched the village, but found no sign of life. With a certain amount of trepidation, he headed for the east side and was stunned to discover the Dementors gone. In place of the small group that had formed the key section of his dark army, were several gibbering, salivating wrecks of humanity that had once been his villagers. There were even one or two Muggles amongst them that the Baron in his blind fury recognised as part of Hopkins' entourage.
They were pitiful in their misery, and whilst the Baron told himself that what he was doing to them was a merciful release, it was more of a way to take out the sheer rage that was making his blood boil.
His sword drawn, he slaughtered them all. Men, women, children, Muggles alike. Steel and sorcery combined to make short work of the poor victims of Peeves' betrayal.
Finally, drenched in the blood of his victims, the Baron finally turned towards the manor. From the mad rantings of the village people, he had managed to glean most of what had happened in his absence. And he headed to the manor with murder on his mind.
The majority of what the Baron liked to think of as the 'common' people had fled the village immediately on the arrival of Hopkins and his men. Some, panicking beyond belief, had made the mistake of fleeing in the direction of the Dementors, who had gleefully drained them dry. The foul creations then turned their attentions to those on the makeshift battle ground, feasting until their appetites were gorged on wizard and Muggle alike.
When he arrived at the manor, the huge oak front door was wide open and the Baron took a deep breath and entered. He knew that he would not leave this building alive.
But he determined to take Hopkins with him.
* * *
The Witchfinder General was where the Baron expected him to be. In his study, with his feet up on the huge oak desk. Hopkins had removed his hat and cloak and seemed quite at home. The Baron stood in the doorway, his sword drawn.
"Take your feet off my desk, Hopkins," he sneered nastily. The young man turned cold eyes on him.
"I don't think you are in a position to order anybody around, are you?" Hopkins pointed to the seat opposite. "Sit."
"You will pay for this." The Baron refused to sit, but remained exactly where he was.
"I think you will be the one to pay, my Lord Baron. The ultimate price." Something in Hopkins' tone startled the Baron. The man was totally driven mad by his desire to rid the world of witches, that much was evident. Moving into the room, the Baron cursed himself for being hesitant.
"There is nobody here except us, Baron," said Hopkins, amused. "Just you – and me. I bet you never expected your Baronial period to end so swiftly."
"Where is Peeves?"
"That useless gibbering idiot of a stablehand? I intend to keep him around as my jester. My new settlement will need a village idiot. He fits the bill rather admirably. You should be proud of him Baron. He lasted a whole day and a half under torture before he told us everything."
Something in Hopkins' tone disturbed the Baron greatly. What did Hopkins mean by his 'new settlement'? However, he was in no mood to ask the question. He merely pointed his sword at the young upstart.
"You, sir, have spoken your last. You will now taste my steel, preferably in your gut."
"Like your dagger in your father's belly, perhaps?"
The Baron started. How could Hopkins have known that? Peeves would not have been privy to such information.
The only solution that presented itself to the conundrum was one that the Baron was starting to like less and less. He stared intently at the Witchfinder General, who finally took his feet off the desk and stood up, moving towards the Baron, who held out his sword automatically.
"Come now," laughed Hopkins, his voice noticeably different. "Is that any way to greet your son back to the fold?"
Even as the words left his mouth, the last effects of the Polyjuice Potion wore off and Matthew Hopkins slowly regained the visage of the Baron's estranged son.
The sword fell to the ground with a clatter.
"So surprised, Father?" The young man's tone was pleasant, even warm as he moved to pour himself a glass of wine. He moved a lazy hand. "Accio sword!" The blade swiftly flew to his hand and he turned it over in his hand, the metal glinting in the light of the fire that roared in the grate. The Baron's son pointed the sword at his father.
"Sit," he repeated in that same pleasant tone.
The Baron sat.
"For generations, we have been vying for power," began the young man. "For generations you have settled your petty family squabbles with cold steel. None of you have ever sought to use the power that Hogwarts gave to us. The power that Salazar Slytherin bequeathed us."
He continued to walk around the room.
"None of you have ever been gifted with the intelligence to use those powers – until I came along. When I left this godforsaken hell hole to go kill Muggles in the Civil War, which was, incidentally, highly enjoyable, I found myself thinking. All your family line have spent generations killing one another by dull, boring means." He yawned lazily. "It would be, I reasoned, so much more fun to make a game out of it. But I just couldn't find the way."
He snapped his fingers. "And then fate sent me the answer – in the form of Matthew Hopkins."
The Baron watched his son as he paced.
"Hopkins was a fool – a zealot who sincerely believed in what he was doing. Tragically for him – he died at the hands of a village who no longer believed in his puerile and useless methods. He failed his own witch trials and was sentenced to death. His body was never found. Neither will it be found now. My need for him is no more."
"You took on his form just so you could destroy me?" Despite himself, the Baron could not help but be proud.
"Those Muggles who continued to follow me around, believing me to be Hopkins…they were an abject nuisance. I had to kill several of them before I got this far east. Still – they kept the Dementors happy."
"What did you do with the Dementors?"
"They have been…removed to another place," replied his son, curtly. "Do not interrupt me." He paused, trying to pick up the thread of his thoughts. "Ah, yes. I remember. I had to find somebody who would willingly betray the whole village as wizarding folk. Somebody simple enough that the Muggles would be convinced. And convinced they were. This village was seen as a danger to society and the church wholeheartedly agreed with my plans to raze it to the ground. Peeves played his part admirably. His reward is that I will not kill him. Until I tire of him."
The Baron's son yawned.
"A new era is beginning, Father. An era ruled by magic, not by the sword. 'Tis a great shame you will not be around to enjoy it."
As the sword slid into the grip of his belly, the Baron's final living thought was that Peeves would be called upon to account for his actions.
* * *
The death of one whose life was cut short, the death of one who has unfinished business is, as is well documented in the wizarding world, the birth of ghosts.
When the Baron came to his senses, he found himself back at the very place he had always despised – Hogwarts.
The Baron's son, true to his word, had spared the life of Peeves, but kept him around for idle torture and entertainment whenever there was a Muggle shortage. Both men were ultimately destroyed during the Mage War of 1653, led by a movement of white wizards determined to put an end to the cruel reign of the Baron and his family.
Peeves, who died as the result of a badly thrown Killing Curse, was by this time quite mad. His rebirth as a poltergeist in the halls of Hogwarts was a violent one, christened with shattering glass and screams of hysterical laughter.
The walls of the Long Gallery rang out with his giggles and the sound of breaking china.
But Peeves' misery was not to be over.
"Hello, Peeves," came the sonorous boom. The poltergeist dropped the plate he had been about to gleefully hurl at the wall and turned to face the ghostly form of the Baron. Silvery, as were all the other ghosts – even as he was himself, the Baron was still covered with the ghostly silver droplets of the blood that had been on him when he had died.
"Baron…I was just admiring the china…" Peeves put the plate back on the stand carefully.
"Welcome to the afterlife, Peeves." The Bloody Baron glided a little closer to him, and the little poltergeist cringed visibly.
"You betrayed me, Peeves."
"Yes, Baron." Peeves looked shamefaced. The other ghosts in the Long Gallery watched the exchange wordlessly. Until the arrival of Peeves, their lives at Hogwarts had been peaceful and almost harmonious. But the little poltergeist had entered the spirit world almost totally insane. Yet the Bloody Baron seemed to be able to take that insanity, fold it in half, and half again, and turn the poltergeist into an almost rational being.
"You will obey my every order here, Peeves. Remember that. Now begone, little man." The Bloody Baron turned and glided through the wall, laughing nastily the whole time.
And in death, even as in life, Peeves could only obey.
Huge thanks to the 'Zilla….