orion0905: Hags are very much NOT cannibalistic. It's why they said they couldn't eat Hazel when they came to the conclusion that she is part hag. They are predatory.

PascalDragon: Hedwig mentioned having a couple of hours of beauty because she is referring to the Beautification Potion she took before leaving the cabin. Wizards have a version of the potion that just makes them look more attractive, but the hags' version is somewhere between the wizards' potion and a Polyjuice Potion. It actually turns them human for a few hours.

As for her "ID", that was not a legitimate driver's license or whatever the German equivalent is. It was a square of pottery that has what is essentially a Confundus Charm built in so anyone who looks at it sees what they expect to see.

Guest: I say Jen and Hazel are opposites because of their outlooks into life and power. Jen was extremely selfish, constantly focused only on herself and later the people she considered hers. Her primary – really only – driving goal was accumulating power in some way or another. Hazel, on the other hand, is far more innocent. She is more likely to do beneficial things for other people and place herself in their shoes. Her desire to know more has little to nothing to do with accumulating power but simple, otherwise purposeless curiosity. She wants to know for knowing's sake. Ironically, she would also be a horrible Ravenclaw.

deathbykitsune: Yes, I plan on splitting Hazel's story into chunks. I don't know whether it will be by year necessarily (that kind of depends on how long each one takes), but her first year will be included in this 'book'.

Planar-Walking-Entertainment: Correct, Dumbledore hasn't noticed she's missing. I'm planning on doing something that I don't normally do and portray Dumbledore as someone who actually isn't arranging Harry/Hazel's life to use her as a sacrificial lamb. You know, the way he did in canon. I was going to try that in Deal with a Devil, but since I abandoned that story out of necessity, I might as well pull on it for this one.

This means that Dumbledore has to be blind to what was going on inside the Dursley home. The device that broke in his office in chapter 3? All it did was keep an eye on the status of the wards, the intent being that if someone tried to take them down or otherwise bypass them, he could get there in a flash. Unfortunately (for him, not for Hazel) he wasn't in the office when Hazel sent them crashing down, so he doesn't know that anything has happened.

Chapter 22
The Piper

Hazel leaned against the outside wall of one of the many white and old-fashioned buildings that lined a cobbled street, the sun beaming down on her from its position overhead. It had not been a short walk to get here from the hags' home – two full weeks on the road, in fact – but she was glad she had finally arrived. There were not many locations in Western Germany she could find from her search in Bristol's library that were definitively connected to magical events, but this one was, and even better, it still stood and had supposedly gone out of its way to preserve its admittedly darker history.

She had been looking forward to checking out Hamelin for weeks, and she was finally here.

Taking a swig of water and offering a sip to Morgan, she dropped the bottle back into her satchel. Not only was her trek over for now, she also had to admit that it had been through pleasant surroundings. If she had not already planted the magical maple seed at the border of France and Germany, there would have been multiple places on the way she could have done so, and not a few where she wished she still had the seed because she had found more lush and fertile locations that could benefit from having a magic tree nearby.

She sighed and pushed herself away from the wall. No use crying over spilled milk, she supposed. She was no fortune-teller who could know whether the seed would take and sprout or whether it would perish. All she could do was hope that the soil she had found was good enough.

Her feet carried her unseen through the streets, and her mind drifted back to the story she had read and reread before making her way out to this town. She had heard about the Pied Piper before, but either she had not heard the full story or she had forgotten crucial details because the story was just so… sad and dumb.

Back in the Middle Ages, the town of Hamelin was suffering a massive infestation of rats and mice. These rats were either eating all the food or spreading a plague or just being a general nuisance, depending on which version of the story she found, and the town was at their wit's end. One day, a man in colorful clothes and a flute in his hand arrived and told the mayor that he could take the rats away. The mayor agreed and promised him an unclear amount of money if he could really do what he said he could.

The piper went up and down all the streets in town playing his pipe, and as he walked through the streets all the rats came crawling out of their holes to jump and scurry along behind the piper. Once he had every single rat in the town following in his wake, he led them to a nearby river and crossed it. The rats, unable to stop or turn away, walked into the river as well and drowned.

His task finished, he went back to the mayor and asked for his promised payment, but the mayor had decided instead that he did not want to pay the man. In some tellings, he even accused the piper of bringing the rats to the town himself just to charge for getting rid of them. The piper left the town without his money, but he threatened that he would be back.

And come back he did, during the celebration of some saint or another. This time he was dressed in the green of a hunter, and when he played his pipe it was not rats that came. Children, all the children in the town, heard his tune and came out dancing and singing, unable to resist the siren song of his music. He led them away, all but a boy who was blind and a boy who was lame. Some versions said he took them to the same river as the rats and drowned them, too; other versions had him leading them to a mountain cave. Either way, one hundred and thirty children vanished, never to be seen again.

That was what made the story so sad and dumb. Everything about it besides the rats themselves could have been easily avoided. If the mayor hadn't gone back on his word and paid the piper what was promised, if the piper hadn't decided to go so far over the top to get his revenge, an entire town's worth of children would have lived.

Hazel could only shake her head and start walking down a street after passing a plaque mounted on a stone wall. Out of respect for the tragedy of the Pied Piper, the people of Hamelin had made it a law that this single street, already present when the rats invaded, would be forever without dancing or music of any kind. She walked down the street and around a curve, her gaze drifting along the street's stones and the nearby walls and her mind simply drinking in this testament to an ancient tragedy.

As she was looking around, though, she could not help but frown. Something was… off.

She came to a stop and moved her head and eyes more slowly. Nothing was out of place. Nothing unusual was present or missing. Nothing had moved since she started walking down the street. Everything looked perfectly normal.

And yet. And yet. Something was making her pay attention. As strange as it sounded even to her, the sensation reminded her more than anything of a couple of years ago when she had lost one of her two front teeth – 'helped' by Dudley hitting her in the face with a cricket ball – and the tip of her tongue kept poking out the hole left behind. This was like that, a surety that something was different and changed even though she could not see it or hear it.

What do you think, she asked her friend. Morgan looked up from his preening and glanced around for several seconds before giving her a birdy shrug and going back to his cleaning. She shot him a quick glare and went back to looking around, and the more she looked, the more frustrated she became. What was it?!

Over to the left, just at the very edge of her vision, something flickered.

Her head whipped farther around, but the whatever-it-was was gone. Now she turned her whole body to face that side of the street squarely, her head turning back and forth like a satellite dish. All the way to the right, then all the way to the left, and back again. Slowly, to make sure she did not miss anything. She was not entirely sure where the flicker had come from, but it had not looked like it was in or moving towards the sky. It was on the ground. Or, she amended with a scowl, maybe it was under the ground although how it could do that without leaving a hole she did not know.

There! As she turned her head once more to the left, the thing that was hiding from her showed itself for just an instant. This time it was at the corner of her right eye, and in that split second she knew it was something dark. Hazel had a rough idea where it might be, and she started walking in that direction. This thing was hiding off the side of an alcove beneath an overhang. She did not know anything else about it, but she was going to find out.

The closer she got, the more she could feel something pushing her back. Not physically, not slowing her down or shoving her to the side, but an idea kept poking her in the brain. 'There is nothing here,' it said. 'Nothing to look at. Why are you looking here? There's nothing to see.' With every step she took, it became more insistent.

She was used to hearing thoughts that were not her own in her head. This was not her mind saying this, and as if to prove it the flicker happened again, this time directly in front of her. She squeezed her left eye shut tight, and she looked at the world only through the lens over her right eye. The lens that had seen the rift floating above Elva Hill when it was perfectly invisible to normal eyes. The lens that no doubt helped her see the chained up building in Machecoul, the remains of de Rais's castle where he did his actual experiments.

If anything was going to help her, it would be her lens.

With only her right eye looking at the alcove, she grinned when the flicker revealed itself, then again. She gave that area a narrow glare, and something small and dark flashed and flashed, faster and faster and faster as pieces tried to hide from her, were revealed for as much as a second or two, and finally escaped. But she dragged them back again, and as a headache built in the back of her head—

—the object finally gave up.

Where before there was nothing, now stood a short, four-sided pillar or obelisk rising from the ground. It was made of a dark stone, maybe a marble or slate or something. She came closer and walked to the other side, and then she stopped so she could read the words that had been carved into the stone and – as if to prove they were supposed to be there from the start – inlaid with gold.

Zum Gedenken an Friedrich Pfeiffer,
der am 16. Juli 1284 in Mainz
zu Unrecht hingerichtet wurde,
nachdem er den Verrat der Schlammmenschen
mit dem Gehorsamfluch bestraft hatte.

Despite spending a few weeks in Germany at this point, most of these words she did not know, so Hazel plopped herself onto the ground and pulled out her dictionary. Several minutes later, she thought she had everything, but parts of it still did not make sense.

In memory of Friedrich Pfeiffer, wrongfully executed on 16 July 1284 in Mainz after punishing the treachery of the Schlammmenschen with the Gehorsamfluch, she told Morgan. I don't trust my translation of those two words, though. 'Gehorsamfluch', I think, is supposed to be 'obedience curse'. Mind control, maybe?

Her friend burbled at her, and she nodded. Yeah, that's what I'm thinking too. And in this city? Punishing 'treachery' with mind control can only mean one thing. Friedrich Pfeiffer was the name of the Pied Piper, and he was a magician. Maybe a wizard, maybe a sorcerer or something else a little closer to me if he really used a pipe instead of a wand. It says he was executed, and I know wizards have their own shopping centers and laws and stuff. That was his punishment for killing all those kids.

The part I don't get is 'Schlammmenschen'. Literally it means 'mud people', but I can't believe that's what it's supposed to mean. She tapped her fingers on the stone ground. It was the 'treachery of the mud people' that he punished, and everything he did was because the mayor refused to pay him. I wonder; the hags have different names for regular and magical people, pig-humans and wand-wavers. Maybe German wizards do the same, and they call regular people 'mud people'? That's really mean, though, and it's not like wizards are any better than normal, non-magical people.

And it really doesn't explain why it was so hard to find. Who would spend the time to build this and then go hide it where no one can see it? It doesn't make any sense.

Morgan did not appear to have any insights into the matter, so she sighed and pushed herself to her feet. She supposed she did appreciate knowing the name of the man who caused this tragedy, but this was not what she came for, and she still had a lot of city to look at before jumping back to the Black Forest.

She did, however, plan to swing back again before leaving the city entirely. Just to see if the memorial stone would try hiding from her again or if it had given up entirely.

Hazel reappeared in the hags' home late in the afternoon, and when she looked around she found herself surprised. Generally the interior of the building was lit by a number of jars and lamps filled with a bright blue flame. Today, however, the light was dimmer than it should be, and the reason appeared to be because several of those lamps were missing.

'Why' was her question. That and where the hags were in the first place. A thought crossed her mind, and she glanced around for a moment before shaking her head. There was no reason to worry about anything happening to them. Nothing was out of place in the house other than the lamps, so there was little to no chance that anybody had attacked them.

Poking her head out the door, she nonetheless breathed out a small sigh of relief. Gertrud was not immediately visible, but both Elfriede and Hedwig were. She walked outside and over to the table set up in the grassy yard where they were sitting surrounded by all number of odd materials. 'What are you doing?'

Both hags looked over at her, surprise written across their faces and through their thoughts. "There you are," Elfriede said after a moment to master her surprise. "We did not know when you would be coming back. If you would come back."

'I left a note,' she reminded them. After dealing with the werewolves' constant worrying whenever she went off on one of her exploratory trips, she had written a short letter and left it in the cabin telling the hags that she would be out of the house for a while. She appreciated the werewolves and the hags worrying about her in a sentimental way as it meant they really did care about her, but she did not need to be watched constantly so she would not burn her hands on the range or something.

She had been traveling on her own and taking care of herself for ten months now. She knew what she was doing.

'You still have not told me what you two are doing. Is there something wrong with the lamps?'

"It is not that there is anything wrong with them," replied Elfriede. "The lamps do not burn forever. They will go out eventually, and when they do we need to replace and relight them. Actually," she continued after a moment, her voice becoming thoughtful, "why don't you sit down and help Hedwig? She can show you how to do it. She never does anything with the Making, so teaching Hazel will be a good way to reinforce what she does remember."

Hedwig was clearly not fond of this plan, and she shot her mother a shocked glare. "What is she doing?! She knows I have never been good at any of this stuff. I really do not think that is a good idea—"

"Of course it is, and it will do you good as well. Eventually you will have to teach your own daughters how to do this. This is good practice." Standing up before Hedwig could say anything else, Elfriede waved for Hazel to take her place at the table. "Now, I have my own chores to worry about. Have fun!"

The glare grew more heated, and while Elfriede did not turn around Hazel was sure she could still feel it boring into her back. Only after the older hag was out of sight inside the house did Hedwig sigh and look over at Hazel. "Might as well sit down. It looks like you are stuck with me teaching you."

'I am sorry if I caused any trouble.'

"It isn't your fault," Hedwig told her with a sigh. "My mother was like this long before we met you. If anything, I need to apologize. I'm… not very good at this. Never have been, so I try to avoid it."

Ditching magic, especially some of the only magic someone believed they could do, seemed more than a little silly in Hazel's opinion, but after a moment thinking about it all she could do was shrug. It was not as if she herself lacked certain skills. Despite many, many attempts, she still could not create fire or anything else, really. Manipulate the world with raw magic, yes; create things on demand, no. 'That is okay. You still know more than I do.' Waving her hands at the assortment of seemingly mundane objects sitting on the table between them, she continued, 'How does this all work? And how did the lamps go out in the first place? I thought the Making was permanent.'

That was how it had been explained to her, anyway. If that was wrong, if she had misunderstood how it worked, then that raised a number of questions and worries. Worries like whether her bag would keep working or whether it would fall apart and spit all of her belongings all over the place.

Hedwig waggled one hand side to side. "It depends on what you are doing and how you made it. Real artifacts, like your bag and your staff? Those are personal, and you are putting a little of yourself in them. They will last all your life. There are said to be ways to make things last longer, even forever, but that kind of Making is forbidden… tricky.

"When you do not need something that is so intensely personal, when you want something you can make many of that do not matter to you, putting yourself into them is a waste. Instead we can pull on other sources of power."

'What kind of power? Do you mean ley lines or something like that?'

"I don't know what you mean by ley lines," admitted the hag, "but specifically I mean creating imbalance." She held up her hands six inches apart, both upright with the fingers pointed at Hazel. "So much of the world is a matter of cycles and balance. Light and darkness. Life and death. The sky, the sea, the land. The Greek elements. None of these are static, they move, but it is always in harmony with their fellows." She rocked her hands back and forth so they moved together. "But if you can shift them in such a way that they stop being balanced"—her left hand tilted away from her right hand, which remained upright—"then there is power available for the taking. It is not a great deal of power, but for things like this? It is enough."

Hazel frowned thoughtfully and looked at the lamps in a new light. That was actually really impressive. 'If you have that power,' she asked after a minute to think, 'then why do the lamps go out?'

"This power comes from imbalance, but imbalance itself is not permanent. Everything will pull back towards its proper balance in time. It may take days, months, even years, but no matter how long it takes, it will happen. No one, neither hag nor wand-waver nor vampire lord nor anyone else, can truly break the cycles of the world.

"Anyway, that is really all I know about the theory side of it," Hedwig said, embarrassment wrapped around her like a loose shawl. "I do not know if what I said made any sense, but it will be clearer if you see what I mean. First, we need an empty jar." Hedwig held up one jar, the bottom of it covered by a small pile of black ash, and turned it over so the ash fell into a brown clay flowerpot.

"These lamps are made by pulling at the Greek elements. Mother says the more things that make up a cycle, the easier it is to push them into imbalance, but I don't know if that is true or not. Anyway, since these use the Greek elements, we need to have all four of them – fire, air, water, and earth – in the jar at the same time. Earth is easy, just a handful of sand." Setting words to action, she scooped her hand through another pot and showed Hazel exactly that, sand resting in her palm. Then she poured it into the jar. "After that is water."

A pitcher of water already sat on the table, and Hazel grabbed it to pass it over. Hedwig did not use a lot of water, just enough to surround her island of sand and darken it. Taking a small stick, she stuck it upright in the sand. "The wood is not important on its own, but it is the fuel for the fire. Air is already in the jar." Hedwig reached for a short candle, the flame at the tip wavering slightly in the faint breeze. "Now, if you wanted to push these elements out of balance, how would you do it?"

Push the elements out of balance? Hazel thought for a minute, two, then shrugged. 'I do not know. Pour out the water?'

Shaking her head, Hedwig smirked slightly. "Wrong. If you simply pour out the water, you are just taking your microcosm apart. You are not shifting its balance. You are on the right track, though. What we are going to do is light the wood and then put the top on the jar. We will then have all our elements contained."

'But that will not work,' Hazel protested. 'Fire can't burn if there is no air.'

"You are right. Normally. When the jar is closed, the fire burns away all the air. When there is no air in this closed space, we have unbalanced the system. Left on its own, this little system will just collapse, and the fire goes out. We have only a short time to pull on that imbalance and make it work for us. I have found that visualizing it in some way helps. For me, I think of colors swirled together, and as the fire burns I imagine one of those colors fading way until there are only three left. Then you pull."

'Pull how?'

Hedwig shrugged. "I do not have a better way to explain it. I feel like I'm pulling the imbalance out of wherever it is hiding. Mother has her own way of doing it, as does Aunt Gertrud. You will have your own way. The only way to find out what that way is is to do it. Let me show you."

Holding the candle upside down, Hedwig lowered it into the jar and lit the end of the wooden twig on fire before pulling it out. The lid went on the jar next. Hedwig placed her hands on either side of the jar and glared at the flame, an impatient irritation painted across her face. Once it was obvious the hag's face was going to stay in that expression, Hazel switched her attention onto the flame in the jar. The flame glowed bright for several seconds, but quickly it became obvious that it was dying without air to feed it. It shrank, the yellow turning into a dull blue, and eventually it flicked out entirely.

In less than the time it took to blink, the end of the twig erupted into a bright blue fireball that swept over the sand and the water until there was nothing left in the jar but flame.

Hazel looked up in shock and amazement, and Hedwig gave her a grin. "And that is all there is to it. Now, it's your turn."

Setting up a jar just as Hedwig had, Hazel lit the stick and closed the jar. She placed her hands on the sides and watched the little flame. It started getting smaller and smaller and dimmer and dimmer, and she imagined herself pulling the blue flames she wanted out of the last embers.

The fire went out, and other than a thin wisp of smoke, there was nothing.

She opened the jar to let the smoky air out, then she lit the stick and sealed the jar again. Once more she watched the flame die down, and once more all it did was snuff out just like fire was wont to do. She looked up at Hedwig and gave her a pleading expression, hoping her face said everything her voice could not.

"You can't just stare at it," Hedwig told her. "You have to reach into the elements and pull. Harnessing imbalance goes against how the world wants to work, so it will not just happen. You need to make it do what you want."

Reach into the elements? She chewed on her lip for a second. Technically, she already had a way to reach into the world. When she meditated, she spread imaginary roots into the ground. Could she do the same thing with this jar?

This time when she opened the jar, she did not immediately grab the candle. Instead she closed her eyes and slowed her breathing. Excitement, irritation, worry; all these she nudged aside until there nothing but clear purpose in the center of her mind. When she opened her eyes again, she took the candle and lit the stick. The timer started as soon as the lid was on the jar.

Unlike the other times, she did not push roots out her legs and her behind. It was from her hands that they came, just like when she and Grégoire had hunted the boar and she needed to ask the spirits that lived in the forest for help. Some of the roots wrapped around the jar, but most of them pushed through the glass and reached out towards the tiny flame. She was not pulling this time, merely watching.

Again, the flame went out and nothing happened.

It took her a moment to hold off the irritation that wanted to intrude on her calm, but again she lit the stick and let it burn out. Then again. And again.

"Maybe you should take a break."

Hazel ignored Hedwig's comment and kept her eyes and her mind on the fire. By now her roots were not just around but on the stick, getting closer and closer every time. The flame snuffed itself out, but now? Something shifted in that brief instant.

She looked up at the young hag and pulled her left hand away from the jar to write, 'I felt something just now.'

"You… felt something?" She nodded, and Hedwig frowned. "This quickly? It took me an entire day to feel anything at all when Mother was teaching me how to do this."

Lighting the twig again, Hazel watched and waited. That shift happened again, and this time she was ready for it. Whatever wanted to squirm away, she tried to wrap up and pull into view with her roots. She was not going to let what she could only imagine was the imbalance Hedwig wanted her to look for get away.

The fire died, and for just one single, solitary instant, the end of the now thoroughly burnt twig sparked with a blue glow.

"…I think you almost got it that time."

Hedwig offered her a new stick for her jar and then leaned her own face closer to the jar. Hazel had to pull back on her excitement before she fully stuck the candle in the jar; the last thing she wanted was to get in her own way when she was on the cusp of success. Her roots were ready, and when the imbalance appeared she snared it and yanked hard.

Blue fire poured from absolutely nothing and swirled around and around until there was nothing else in the jar.

"Congratulations," Hedwig said after several seconds taking in what had just happened. Her words carried a hint of frustration as well, which made Hazel look up at her. "Now you know how to light an everburning lamp, and you know how to make and tap into that momentary power. And it took you all of ten minutes to figure it out. I told Mother I was no good at this!"

Grabbing another jar, Hedwig violently dumped the black ashes out into the flowerpot and started filling it with new ingredients. Hazel's eyes, however, lingered on that pot. She scooted on the bench closer to it and laid her hand over the opening. After half a minute to pull herself back into the proper frame of mind again, she stretched out her roots to dig into the thick layers of ash. As soon as they were submerged, she could feel a tingling sensation in the back of her mind, one accompanied with a faint crackling sound. It was not totally unlike the hum she had heard when she encountered the magical maple tree in the forest, the tree from which she took the branch that became her staff.

She pulled her hand and her roots away and wrote, 'What do the ashes do?'

"What do they do? Nothing. They are just ashes."

'Can I take some?'

Hedwig shrugged. "I do not care. We don't do anything with them, just toss them in the scoured clearing."

She was already reaching into her satchel and pulled out a small plastic baggie. Scooping her fingers through the ash, she shuttled it back and forth until she had a hard time resealing the bag. There was magic here, of that she had no doubts, but what she could do with it?

Learning that would take some experimentation.

Quick disclaimer: I don't speak German. I'd love to learn it if I ever had the time because I actually like the sound of the language, but I don't currently. The inscription in this chapter I made with the help of Google Translate, which means it's wrong somewhere. That said, I neither need nor want any corrections to the inscription. I don't care THAT much.

In case you're wondering, the tale of the Pied Piper written above does not have my personal spin on it. That's the actual tale. Moral of the story: pay people when they complete a job you contracted them to do. It's just right and proper, and it might save your kids from being brutally murdered.

Silently Watches out.