Who, after all the wars and strife is over, will
still be there? If the struggle killed everyone, who would be left standing?
They set out in the cool autumn air, hand in
hand, giggling as they walked. The little girl stopped to jump into puddles,
and her mother just laughed as she watched. The wind was gentle and sweet
smelling, the sky a bowl of deep blue; it was a wonderful day for a walk.
The little girl begged her mother for stories.
Had she come down this road before? Did she know the people who lived
in the tiny thatched houses? Where did that road lead? And the mother
answered all her questions patiently and happily, enjoying the chance
to reminisce about her childhood on the downs.
"Did you ever get to play at the castle?" the
little girl asked. A confused look passed over her motherís face.
"What castle, Suzy?"
Indeed, just beyond the rise in the road were
the remains of a majestic castle. The mother paused, but had no memory
of this magnificent building. "Thatís odd. I thought that was just an
old abandoned lot."
Giving in to her daughterís requests and her
own curiosity, the pair passed through the unhinged gates to the grounds
below the castle. A large, ominous looking forest spilled out over the
grounds, where the grass was thick as a jungle. The road hadnít been traversed
in a long time, and weeds had overgrown it. A black scorch mark the size
of a house could still be seen in the middle of the grounds, although
muted by nature and sprouting a riot of flowers.
From a closer view, the castle was even more
impressive. Huge and expansive, the stones seemed dignified even though
the tower was caving and several walls were sagging. It looked like a
place of warmth and laughter that was drowned with sorrow.
"Can we go in?" Suzyís voice was pleading.
"I donít know, honey. It doesnít look safe."
"Weíll be careful," she said.
For some reason, even though it didnít look
safe, even though she would never do such a thing normally, she found
herself wanting to enter. It was if the castle was silently inviting them
into the main hall.
The stones gave off a chill in the darkness. Through
a tremendous doorway, they saw many tables set up for a dinner that was
never served, and candles strewn about as though they had fallen from
the sky. Sunlight filtered through cracks in the dull, lifeless ceiling.
Ivy vines crawled up the walls. In the four corners were molding tapestries,
and she could still make out some of the colors: scarlet, green, yellow.
The wind whispered through the hall, and she could almost hear the echoes
of school children laughing and talking.
Their feet scraped on the thick dust that layered
the staircase. Up they tramped, past strange paintings, each one looking
more like a candid photograph, the subjects being caught in a moment of
surprise; past rusting coats of armor; past odd-shaped statues.
"Mom! Look! A secret passage!" Suzy called.
One of the portraits, of a fat lady in pink, had been swung off the wall,
revealing a doorway. Inside, thick couches and comfortable looking armchairs
lay rotting and tattered, the fireplace full of long-cold ashes. On a
table in the center was a pile of books, one opened to a page with a bookmark
set carefully in place.
She could nearly feel the warmth of a fire
blazing at the hearth, see the students studying and talking, gathered
around. But then, she came to her senses and saw the black stones and
"Címon, Suzy. We should go."
"Oh, please, Mommy. One more room?"
How could she deny those adorable, pleading
They found another secret passage; this one
leading to a winding set of steps that went up quite far. At the top was
another room, full of the strange portraits and books. The handsome desk
that faced a window looking out upon the grounds, and faded overstuffed
armchair spoke volumes about the person who had sat there.
"What on earth happened here?" she wondered.
"Where did everyone go?"
A squawk from behind startled them both.
A large red bird fluttered down from a cage,
settling on Suzyís arm. The bird regarded both of them with expressive
black eyes, and let Suzy pet him before he spread his wings and flew back
to the perch and sat, patiently waiting. A jingling sound came from the
rod he landed on. She approached cautiously.
"Fawkes. What a name for a bird! But surely
you canít be that bird, now, can you?"
Strangely, the bird seemed to nod at her.
Suzy, having tired of the bird, poked through
"Oh, honey, you shouldnít do that. Come on,
itís time to get back to grandmaís house."
She took the little girlís hand, not noticing
that she had pocketed something from the desk. The two went back down
the long, spiraling staircase, down the stone steps, and out of the hall.
The sun seemed to greet them cheerily as they walked out the door. She
saw part of a crest, mostly gone and faded, that said "Hogwarts School
They walked home, speculating about what they
had seen. The little girlís grandmother met them at the door.
"Welcome back, my dears! Did you have a good
"Itís was great, grandma!"
"Go wash up for dinner, honey. You can play
in your room until we call you," the mother said. Then, she turned to
her elderly mother, who was stirring soup on the stove. "Mom, do you remember
a school up on the hill?"
The older woman looked at her daughter with
"I donít remember it at all," she continued.
"But today, there it was. And Suzy had to see it, so we went all through
it. It was sad, almost. The building, I mean."
"Any school would be sad, when its children
are no longer there," her mother answered wisely.
"But what happened to it? Why did it close?
And why donít I remember it?"
"Oh, thatís a long, long story, my love. And
one youíll hardly believe. But it ends with your father and his friends
and a hot spring night many years agoÖ"
In her room, the little red-headed girl amused
herself with the long, slender stick she had found in the castle. She
waved it about, giggling at the shower of red sparks coming from its end.