2: Charlotte comes back
Charlotte’s departure had left a gaping hole in the children’s home, the spirit
she had introduced reigned on. There were only three of us, again, but we set
to work with such energy, one could have sworn that she was still there. It was
true that we didn’t find as many foster parents as she had during her short
time at the children’s home – it seemed none of us possessed her tactics of
persuasion. But we certainly made the children’s home a comfortable place to live,
and sent our children into the world with a good conscience. We even received a
prize a few years later, for being the best children’s home in Britain – and
although we all shared a profound dislike for the press, publicity was good for
the morale, and for funds. In fact, this enabled us shortly afterwards to hire
a fourth carer, Sarah, who was much more experienced and professional than
either of us. Of course, she was also more cynical, but you get that.
grew up and left, new children arrived. New carers arrived and left, among them
a very attractive man called Stefano, who returned to Italy after two years,
taking Mark with him. Dorothy visited us about once a month, with an
ever-growing Hermione, who was soon walking and talking and, with every word
she said, actively confirming Dorothy’s prediction that she would be a
was still in love with Steve. I had had no idea that I could love one man for
so long... maybe it was the fact that it was unrequited that made it so
durable? I often thought of something Charlotte had said to me, about two
months into her time at the children’s home. She had told me how impressed she
was with what we had built up, and added, "I don’t see how Steve could do
without Mark and Dorothy. And I definitely don’t see how he could ever live
without you,“ she had added, and burst into laughter at my stunned expression.
I wasn’t so sure about that, but like many things, Charlotte had also improved
this. I was a lot easier with Steve now, and I had the feeling that this
loosened him up as well. Every now and then I thought I saw him steal a furtive
look at me, and when I looked and smiled, he would quickly look away. But
perhaps I imagined that.
letters during her time abroad came up to a total of three. Every one of them
came from a different country – Morocco, Germany, and even Vietnam. None of
them told us exactly what she had been doing, although she alluded to having
found more children like the ones she had seen in Colombia – whatever this meant.
Instead of giving details, however, she liked to entertain us all with funny
stories about the respective country’s people and culture. I wondered whether
she was still as awkward with practical matters, but assumed that she must have
learned to dress and to cook by now.
years had passed. It was another grey April evening when I was in the dining
room, setting out the dishes and waiting for Dorothy. Since her daughter had
gone off to a boarding school in Scotland, she came round much more often. I got the feeling that she was
quite worried about this school of Hermione’s, but she had never told me which
school exactly it was. In fact, she seemed quite evasive whenever I mentioned
the subject, but I had no idea what that might mean. Maybe Hermione was at a
school for the highly gifted – I wouldn’t have been surprised – and Dorothy was
embarrassed by this for some reason?
so, it would be quite silly of her, I thought, when I heard a knock at the
door. Surprised that Dorothy came on time for once, I went to open it. But it
I exclaimed in astonishment.
you,“ she said, grinning, and hugged me. She looked very changed, and at the
same time, still the same as always. Her hair was shorter and less curly, and
her clothes were very fashionable and fitted perfectly; but her smile was the
in, come in,“ I said, taking her arm and leading her into the dining room.
"What a surprise! What brings you here? What have you been doing? How are
you, dear?“ I realized suddenly that I wasn’t giving her time to reply, so I
laughed. "I’m quite fine, thank you. How are you doing? And everyone
assuring her that I was very well indeed, I repeated my previous questions, and
Charlotte laughed again. I had missed that free, honest laugh; although I
noticed that she was overall slightly less cheerful. But then, that was to be
see you’re not so easily distracted,“ she said, sitting down. "Well, where
should I start?“
tell me what you’ve been doing, and what your plans are,“ I said, grinning.
she cocked an eyebrow at me. "Tell you what, I’ll help you prepare dinner,
and then we can take a walk and I can tell you everything. The thing is, not
everyone’s supposed to know.“
raised my eyebrows. "They won’t be very happy to hear that."
one of those laughs. "All right, how about this... I’ll give them an
abridged version at dinner, and I can fill you in later.“
me?“ I asked. I hadn’t realized I had been that much of a confidante.
suddenly grew serious. "Because I need you.“
started coming in at that moment and interrupted our conversation, so I tried
to postpone my curiosity till later. Charlotte eyed them all interestedly, but
– unsurprisingly – didn’t seem to find a familiar face. Then, however, George
Lonston wheeled his chair into the room – and they both gasped.
he said, in his pleasant baritone.
She grinned, stood up and bent down to hug him. "My my, you’ve changed!
You were, how old when we last saw each other? Five. So you must be sixteen by
now.“ She stood back a little and eyed him. "You look good, my dear boy.“
grinned, and I noticed with pleasure how much he had changed over the
last decade. He had become much calmer, much more balanced, and much more at
ease with his disability. We could really be proud of ourselves, I thought, but
then shook my head at myself. No, we hadn’t done most of that – it had been
are you doing here?“ he asked, but Charlotte shook her head. "I’ll give a
report at dinner if you don’t mind.“ He nodded.
was another knock, and it did turn out to be Dorothy this time – twenty minutes
late. How typical. She was equally surprised and pleased to see Charlotte, as
were all the others who remembered her.
there’s no beating around the bush anymore,“ said George, putting his fork
down. "Where have you been?“
grinned a little sheepishly at his audacity, but Charlotte didn’t seem to think
he was being rude. On the contrary, she seemed to think she owed us an
explanation – and right enough she did.
afraid I can’t tell you much,“ she began. "Yes, yes, you can groan all you
like, George. I’ve spent the past eleven years visiting several countries,
trying to find children who all shared the same ... physical disability. Not
all of these children are orphans, some of them live with their parents, but
some of them have also been rejected by their parents because of their
disability.“ Disgust clearly flitted across her face, and I remarked once more
how much she had changed, as well. She had grown older, more mature... and more
bitter. It was a sad sight.
also been in endless negotiations with the government because I want to open up
a school for these children.“ She sighed. "It hasn’t been easy, but we‘ve
reached a basic agreement.“
can we come there, too?“ asked Henrietta, who, as I knew, was very unhappy in
her current class at the local comprehensive.
Henrietta, I’m afraid not,“ said Charlotte sadly. "It’s only for the
children who share this disability.“
what kind of disability is it?“ the girl asked.
hesitated. "It’s a very complicated one that’s only been recently
discovered, and that I can’t explain properly. I’d need a specialist to do that
for you.“ She smiled. And there it was again! The feeling that she wasn’t
telling the whole truth. Was this never going to stop? But then, I reminded
myself, she had told me that I was going to know everything. I was growing more
and more curious.
another storm of seemingly endless questions, Charlotte finally managed to
change the subject and asked us how we had all been. Steve then launched into a
monologue about the last eleven years, but Charlotte didn’t seem to mind. She
was listening interestedly, and looked very content at the children’s home’s
development. And somehow, getting Charlotte’s approval of what we had been
doing felt very good. How odd, since she was younger than all of us carers.
tell me, Dorothy, how is Hermione?“ she asked.
quite well, I think,“ Dorothy said. "She’s at a boarding school in
Scotland now, and – well, she’s a very bright girl, so she’s learning lots.“
school in Scotland,“ Charlotte repeated and looked at Dorothy with a queer
expression, but didn’t ask any more.
I was alone in the dining room with Charlotte and Dorothy. Steve had gone
upstairs to get everyone to bed, and since he was an amazing storyteller, that
was bound to take a while. Jonathan, who had replaced Mark as a carer two years
ago, was upstairs listening as well, and Sarah was on holiday in Ireland.
were sitting together in front of the fireplace. I burned to find out more, but
I didn’t know whether I could broach the subject with Dorothy in the room.
However, it was Charlotte – once more – who spoke first.
very glad you’re here,“ she said, addressing Dorothy. "Because I wanted to
see you, obviously, but also for another reason. You see, Connie might not have
believed what I’m going to tell her, but with you here, it might get easier.“
hard to say who was looking more confused, Dorothy or me. I certainly had no
idea at all what Charlotte was talking about. Dorothy was frowning, but she was
also wearing that wary look I always saw on her whenever the subject came to
Hermione is at Hogwarts,“ Charlotte said, confirming my suspicion – although I
didn’t know what she was talking about. If that was the school’s name, why did
she know it?
you’re... one... as well?“
grinned. "Of course I am. Didn’t you realize after Hermione got her
letter? Didn’t it explain all my oddities?“
suddenly laughed. "You’re right, of course! I should have known.“
I should have known that Hermione would be going to Hogwarts,“ said Charlotte,
smiling, and I was suddenly reminded of the incident with the dummy. What was
going on, I asked myself over and over, but was too fascinated to ask.
nodded. "Yes, she’s very talented, it seems. She was devouring the books
we got in that... alley... during all of last summer. She always learns her
books off by heart, but it’s never scared me, you know.“
laughed. "Oh, don’t let it scare you! We’re not what history has made us
out to be, and with parents such as hers, how could Hermione ever use her
abilities for other than good?“
cleared my throat. Enough of this. Charlotte turned to me and smiled.
"Sorry, Connie, this must all be really confusing for you.“
can say that again,“ I said. "Although I’m really looking forward to the
explanation for your oddities, you know.“
grinned. "Be careful what you wish for, my dear. All right then. Remember
that incident with Hermione’s dummy?“
nodded. "Yes, it seemed to fly back into her hand on its own. It was very
smiled at me warmly. "You see, this is why I realized I needed you. I’ll
bet you anything that everyone else has completely forgotten what happened that
day, or attributed it to their imagination, or found a logical, scientifical
explanation.“ She chuckled. "But you’re different – you have a critical
mind, and an excellent memory.“
that I minded the praise, but I wondered where this was all leading. "So
you have an explanation for that incident.“
Charlotte paused. "The dummy flew back into Hermione’s hand because it was
the most precious thing she possessed, and she was very scared to lose it.“
frowned. This conversation was turning very odd indeed. "Not sure I get
made it fly back,“ Dorothy offered. "Magically. Because she’s a witch.“
a full minute, I stared at them. I was expecting them to start laughing, to
tell me that it was all a great joke and that I was really a very silly woman to fall for it. But something in their serious faces
told me that they weren’t joking.
a – what?“
witch,“ said Charlotte quietly. "Like me.“
almost choked on my wine. "Like – like you? Hang on a second there. You’re
telling me there’s such a thing as... magic? That there are witches and wizards
who fly around on broomsticks, say funny spells and change people into toads?“
giggled. "Oh, I love these stereotypes. Well, personally I’ve never
changed anyone into a toad, but yes, I’ve flown on a broomstick, and yes, I use
shook my head slowly. Dorothy laid a hand on my arm. "It’s true, Connie. I
didn’t want to believe it either, but when Hermione got that letter from
Hogwarts – that’s their wizarding school – we went to get her spellbooks and
all these other items with her, and I saw people everywhere performing magic. I
also saw goblins and other beings.“
I can say today is that I would never have believed anybody who came out with
this sort of rubbish, had they not been two of my best friends whom I trusted
right,“ I said faintly. "Suppose it’s true. Can you prove it to me,
nodded. "Yes, I thought that you might want to see proof, so I obtained a
special permission to perform magic in front of Muggles.“
people,“ Dorothy prompted just as I opened my mouth. Charlotte then took out a
slender wooden stick – a wand – pointed it at a chair, murmured
something, and the chair turned into a live, breathing rabbit.
the hat?“ I asked, stupidly, and they laughed.
I thought you’d like a bit of traditional magic,“ Charlotte said. I was still
shaking my head disbelievingly when the rabbit had turned into a chair again.
But there was no way I could deny or forget what I had just seen. And as much
as part of my brain was still trying to find a logical explanation, another
part whispered that this did explain everything. This was why she was
able to get so quickly from one place to another. This was why she had seemed
so completely strange to our world at first. This was why she had often
completed tasks much more quickly than I had thought possible.
right,“ I said, again. "So what do you need me for?“
school I’m going to open in September,“ she said. "It needs teachers.“
laughed. It was a slightly crazed sound. "You want me to teach witches and
wizards something?“ I was struck with a sudden inspiration. "How to cook,
laughed. "Yes, that’s one part. You see, there’s a subject called Muggle
Studies, which, as taught at Hogwarts, analyzes Muggle history and culture from
a wizarding point of view. However, I want it to be slightly different at my
school. Cooking and dressing in a non-magical way are only two of the things I
want them to learn.“
would wizards need to learn that?“ I asked, amazed. "I mean, it looks as
though your world is completely hidden from ours... if we except a few
centuries ago. Wizards don’t live among... Muggles, do they?“
many of them do. And these children might never live in a wizarding community.“
Her smile faded.
you know what I said about their special disability earlier? That was all
rubbish, of course. These children aren’t physically disabled.“ She sighed.
"They’re victims of a life-long curse.“
gulped. This was beginning to sound scary. How was she expecting me to cope
with that kind of children? "Which means what in... Muggle terms?“
gave a sort of half-smile. "The term is the same. Have you ever heard of
time I really choked on my wine, and Charlotte slapped me hard on the back.
"I assume you have,“ she commented dryly.
I said. "But they’re not... human... are they?“
grimaced. "Well, yes, that’s what wizards would have fed to Muggles. And
that’s also what wizards generally feed to their children, which is why
werewolves are actively feared in the wizarding world. And this is why many of
these children live in horrible situations.“
Charlotte... are you sure they’re safe?“ I wasn’t doubting her trustworthiness,
more her sense of judgment at this moment.
gave a short laugh. "Of course I’m sure. They’re as human as you and me.
They just turn into a wolf once a month.“
shook my head. I couldn’t believe she was talking about that so casually. But
then, I reminded myself, she had seen a lot more than I had in that
what happens then?“ asked Dorothy, who sounded similarly frightened. It seemed
Hermione hadn’t told her, or didn’t know about werewolves yet.
said Charlotte, leaning back, "they turn into beasts, incapable of human
thought. Which is why we will need security measures.“
was obviously looking very alarmed, for she laid a hand on my arm and said
soothingly, "Look, Connie, I’d just like you to come and have a look at
the children to convince yourself that they’re as normal as you and me. I’d
only need you there one or two days a week, and you wouldn’t be there for full
moons. Trust me, they’re completely safe in between.“
a while, none of us said anything. Then Dorothy cleared her throat. "So
you’ve been spending the last eleven years,“ she said, "roaming around the
world looking for werewolves?“
you want to open a school to teach them magic,“ I added.
believe that’s what I said,“ said Charlotte, her eyes twinkling.
completely off your trolley, you know that, right?“ I said, and Charlotte burst
will you help me? I wouldn’t have asked if I hadn’t seen that the children’s
home is going so well. I’m sure they could spare you for a day or two.“ She
grinned. "Although one person might not agree.“
shut up,“ I said and grinned back. "Yes, of course I’ll help you.“