Chapter 1 : Poison
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She is alone and haggard, her skirts ruined and her face tormented
She wails and she weeps for the one she loved so dearly
She wanders the streets and she weeps
And she asks her fellows, Why?
Charlotte Browe was a lover of poetry, a girl who dwelt in dreams and forgot to live in the real world. She was not particularly sturdy; in fact, it could be said that for a country girl, she was downright fragile. She was not particularly skilled in magic, being unable to attend the famous Hogwarts School due to her family’s low social status. In fact, that only thing she seemed particularly good at was bringing shame to her family name.
She had committed the ultimate act of foolishness when she was only sixteen years of age. After reading so many novels filled with silly nonsense, she felt that she, too, had fallen in love with the first man who spoke sweetly to her under the starlight. He had been a cad, a rover who moved from town to town in search of naïve young girls such as herself.
When she found herself round with child, she knew that her life was over. There would never be any hope for moving away from her godforsaken town, filled to the brim with gossips and town drunks. Instead, she would be forced to bear the weight of every judgmental look, every loaded whisper. She would forever be labeled as taboo and unweddable, raising her child alone in her parents’ home.
Until he appeared.
She knew instantly from his arrival that he was a wizard. There was something about his presence that was not found in the simple Muggles in her town. He sat upon a horse of such a brilliant white that it could have only be groomed by magic, and his robes were a deep midnight blue that made Charlotte view him immediately as a celestial being. His hair was dark and windblown, and his face, although handsome, bore the distinct look of someone who has stepped in something rotten.
She watched anxiously from the window as he tied his horse to the fencepost and strode quickly to their door. His knock was loud and purposeful, and Charlotte cringed as she heard her child awake with a cry in the next room. “Mother!” she called. “There is a man at the door!”
Torn between leaving the window and rescuing her wailing child from his crib, Charlotte hovered for a moment, gazing at the interesting looking man. Her son, Jethro, let out a particularly loud sob, and she dropped the curtain closed, just as the man’s dark eyes shifted towards her. As she made her way to the bedroom that she shared, her eleven-year old sister Henrietta pushed past her, followed by the third sister, thirteen-year old Felicity.
“Jethro is screaming,” exclaimed her only brother, who was, as usual, tagging along behind his sisters.
“I have realized that, Henry,” snapped Charlotte. “I was just coming to get him.”
“You are going to miss the man at the door,” said Henry, running past her and into the front hallway.
Charlotte gritted her teeth angrily. Of course she knew. How could she not? The first time that there was something new and exciting, and it was her child yet again who was making her late for it. She gently lifted her son from his cradle; he was small still, despite his two years, and his weight was nothing in her arms.
Shushing him to silence as she went, she tiptoed back towards the front door. The handsome man was speaking to her mother with a rather bored expression on his face. His eyes caught her movement in the corner and connected with hers for one brief moment, sending Charlotte’s heart beating at the speed of light.
She slid back into the shadows, full of shame at being seen with her illegitimate son, before an idea came to her. This man was not from her village; he would not know of her foolish activity and the disastrous repercussions. Determined to find out more about the stranger, she stepped forward to stand behind her three younger siblings, who were all listening intently to the man in the midnight blue robes.
He was even more regal than she had originally imagined. He was wearing an elegant waistcoat which looked as if it were made of satin, and his riding boots were so finely polished that Charlotte was sure that she would be able to view her own reflection if she desired.
He was hardly paying attention to her, continuing his conversation with their mother. Since she had come in late, Charlotte took a minute to absorb what he was saying. He kept using the words “lower-class” and “magical education” before he finally use the most brilliant word of all- “Hogwarts”.
“Are we going to be able to attend Hogwarts?” she asked, feeling her cheeks flush with excitement.
For the first time, the man truly looked at her, and Charlotte had to fight not to shrink back from the intensity. He surveyed her for a moment, taking in her modest house gown and the baby on her hip. “How old are you, miss?” he asked finally.
“Eighteen,” she replied, flushing again.
“You are far too old,” he said shortly. “Your sisters are of the right age to be attending.”
“We don’t have the money to pay for that sort of luxury, Mr. Crane,” said Charlotte’s mother modestly.
“We are aware,” said Mr. Crane. “However, the Headmaster has concluded that the magic which the common folk teach themselves is dangerous and rather abysmal. Of course, they will be expected to work for their keep. We currently lack the House Elf staff needed to keep the castle in order.”
He continued on, explaining that there would be a carriage sent to their town later in the month to escort Henrietta and Felicity, as well as the three other wizarding children in the town, to Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.
Charlotte heard none of it, though. She was too full of jealous misery. She would be stuck at home forever, unmarried and uneducated, while her sisters moved up in the world. They would be surrounded by the wealthy sons and daughters of the upper class and would learn all sorts of magic that Charlotte could only dream of.
She was only snapped out of her horrifying daydream when Mr. Crane tipped his three-cornered hat to her mother and said, “Good day, madam,” leaving out the door before she knew what was happening.
In a moment of bravery, Charlotte thrust Jethro into Felicity’s surprised arms and bolted out the door. Mr. Crane was settling into the saddle and seemed shocked to see Charlotte running through their small yard. “Please, sir!” she called desperately. “Please, wait!”
Surprisingly enough, he did. That did not prevent him, however, from looking down his nose at her, quite literally. “May I help you with something?” he inquired.
“I cannot stay here forever,” said Charlotte, trying to prevent herself from begging. “My sister’s do not have the desire that I do to learn. I have read so many tales of the wonders that magic can do. I will learn quickly.”
“You are far too old,” said Mr. Crane, although something in his face softened for a moment. “There is a possibility of-“
“Of what?” she asked eagerly.
Mr. Crane’s face showed a small sign of pity before returning to his previously bored expression. “That child is yours, though, am I correct?”
Charlotte’s breath caught in her throat, and she hung her head in shame. “Yes, sir,” she mumbled.
“We do not take mothers into her our school,” he said finally. “Good day, Miss Browe.”
To her great dismay, he spurred his horse on and road into the night, taking Charlotte’s hopes and dreams with him.
She presumed that she would never see the rude, condescending Mr. Crane ever again. Her life would continue as it were, caring for her child, milking the cows, tending to the herb garden, and reading, when she could. She would grow magically inferior to her siblings, and they would leave her. They would all leave her to rot.
It was only later that evening as she was reading by the dying fire that she heard a weak knock at the door. She was alarmed for a moment, afraid that it was thieves, for who else would visit at such an hour. Reasoning with herself that robbers would not be so courteous as to knock, she headed towards the door.
She heard a faint moan as she pulled upon the roughly hewn front door and looked down to see a crumpled shape lying on the ground. It took a moment to register who it was before she cried, “Mr. Crane! What has happened to you?”
“Acromantula attack,” he whispered. “There were two, and I was bitten before they were dead. I need….antidote.”
His body slumped forward, and she hurried inside to wake her parents. With the help of her father, she dragged him into the house and laid him on the kitchen table. “I need Bowtruckle eyes and a tail of Ashwinder,” she said hurriedly. “They should be in the cabinet. Hurry!”
With that, she rushed out into the garden to pluck the necessary herbs. She returned seconds later, with the necessary ingredients clutched in her hands. Her father looked at her, white-faced but still skeptical. “How can you be sure this is right?” he asked.
“I know this,” snapped Charlotte, throwing all the contents in at once. “It will slow the poison not cure it, but it will buy him more time.”
She stirred rapidly, knowing that it was a poorly made potion, but also aware that Mr. Crane only had a half of an hour, at best, to live. There was no time for silly stirrings patterns and carefully chopped roots. In the time she had, this was the best she could do.
When the potion was bubbling, Charlotte grabbed a spoon and quickly pressed the steaming utensil to Mr. Crane’s lips. There was no response, and so Charlotte had no choice but to open his mouth by force and pour the hot liquid down his throat. He coughed and spluttered, spraying it everywhere, and his eyes opened slightly.
“What-“ he began.
“Don’t speak,” commanded Charlotte. “You must drink this.”
He obediently gulped down the potion, swallowing three spoonfuls before he finally broke into a sweat and fell back on the table. Her father reached out to help, but Charlotte stayed his hand.
“He will survive,” she said calmly. “Give him a few moments.”
Nearly two minutes later, Mr. Crane slowly opened his eyes and tried to sit up. She held him fast when he began to sway on the table. He looked up at her, amazed, and said softly, “You saved my life.”
“It was nothing, sir,” she mumbled. “Would you like to sit in the living room chair?”
“Yes,” was all that he could manage, and so her father helped him stumble over to the chair in the next room. It was the most expensive piece of furniture they owned, but Charlotte still worried that it would not suit the needs of a high-class gentleman. He be quite content, especially when she brought him the patched quilt from her bed.
“What happened to you?” she asked, as he tucked himself into the armchair.
His face was still a ghostly white and his body shook slightly. “There were two Acromantulas in the forest,” he explained. “They were not yet full grown, but still very strong. I was lucky to get away with only a bite.”
“Only a bite?” said Mr. Browe, incredulous. “Lottie’s potion may have healed you, but only temporarily.”
“I guessed that much,” said Mr. Crane, glancing interestedly at Charlotte. “Was that a Draught of Distraction?”
“Yes,” said Charlotte, embarrassed. “I know it is not an advanced potion and will not do much good in the long run-“
“Quite the contrary,” said Mr. Crane, stopping her. “It kept me alive, and it must have been a fine potion. I hardly feel the sting of the poison at all.”
Charlotte flushed deeply and bowed her head, unable to meet Mr. Crane’s intense stare. Rather than looking disdainfully at her, as he had earlier in the evening, he was gazing at her in appreciation. She felt it improper, given the circumstances, and was unsure of what to do. The last time that she was looked at in such a manner, she had found herself in the moonlight, behaving as no unmarried woman should.
But surely Mr. Crane was not thinking such sinful thoughts, especially about her. He was a wealthy man, who most likely owned a great deal of land, and she was only a small step above a peasant. That did not stop her from wishing.
“I must make my way back to Hogwarts,” continued Mr. Crane. “Our Potions master will be able to cure me instantly. However, it is at least three days of journeying, and I will need someone to accompany me.”
“I will go!” exclaimed Charlotte.
“No,” said her father instantly. “You are a young woman, and it is not right for you to be traveling with a man who is not your husband.”
“Surely, sir, you do not intend to imply that my intentions are impure?” said Mr. Crane, his dark brown eyes narrowing.
“Never!” spluttered Mr. Browe. “It’s just that Charlotte has a history-“
“I am well aware of her history,” interrupted Mr. Crane. “I assure that I pay no heed to it. If it eases the insult, I would be happy to pay you a small sum for your daughter’s help.”
Mr. Browe looked stricken. His family was desperately in need of money, but he was not sure that they could risk another scandal. In the end, he must have decided that, if necessary, he would disown Charlotte because he agreed to the gentleman’s plan.
“Thank you,” said Mr. Crane, and Charlotte saw a quick glimpse of relief pass over his face. “We will leave first thing in the morning.”
She didn’t know what she expected during her three day journey to Hogwarts. She knew that her dreams of Mr. Crane falling madly in love with her during their travels were silly and frivolous, but she couldn’t help but have them. She had grown to adore his dark, curly mop of hair, and she had fallen in love with his brown eyes and slender nose.
But he seemed indifferent to her throughout the whole journey. He hardly paid attention to the way that she had combed her hair before the left. He did not comment on the lovely green riding coat that she had begged her parents for three years ago. He barely even spoke.
By the time they reached the castle, Charlotte was almost too frustrated to appreciate the beauty of the great school. But when its gate opened, and she entered for the first time into the courtyard, she was awestruck by the enormous structure. Her appreciation was short-lived, however, as a fat, bumbling man in a purple waistcoat and breeches that were entirely too tight hurried to their side.
“Professor Crane,” he wheezed. “I have the antidote in my office. You look pale as death.”
Charlotte looked closely at her companion, alarmed to find that he was, in fact, the color of a ghost and that there were dark circles under his eyes. She concluded that his growing sickness was the reason for his muteness. She was not given permission to study him further, as a slender woman wearing an impossibly large dress, no doubt with an impossibly large hoop underneath, approached.
“Come with me, Miss…?”
“Browe,” finished Charlotte.
“Miss Browe,” repeated the older woman, studying her carefully. “I am Professor Peale, teacher of Herbology. I have been John Crane’s good friend for many years now. Come with me.”
Charlotte’s brain gave a jolt of surprise as she realized that up until that moment, she hadn’t even known the object of her great affections first name. She had expected something much more regal than John, but somehow, it seemed to suit him. “I was not aware that Mr. Crane was a professor here,” she said softly.
“Ah, yes,” said Professor Peale, leading her through an elegantly decorated corridor. “He teaches Charms, though he is hardly a charming man himself.” She looked sideways at her. “But the first impression he gives can be very deceiving. I do hope he wasn’t terribly rude to you?”
“He did not speak very much,” admitted Charlotte.
“But he let you speak as you wished?” asked Professor Peale, and Charlotte confirmed with a small nod. “He must find you interesting then. He would have told you to give him silence, otherwise.”
They had reached a small parlor at this point, and Professor Peale gestured towards a large pink settee. “Would you like some tea, my dear?” she asked kindly, already pouring it into a delicate teacup.
Charlotte gingerly accepted the cup, not ever having tea before. The older woman must have realized this because she spoke just as the cup reached Charlotte’s lips, “Two cubes of sugar will make it better.”
Blushing furiously, Charlotte added the sugar and then proceeded to try the tea. When she lowered her cup, Professor Peale was watching her intently again. “He was right,” she said nonchalantly. “You are very pretty.”
“I beg your pardon?” asked Charlotte, coughing violently on her tea.
“He sent a letter before you arrived,” said Professor Peale, with a small smile. “He indicated that he would be traveling with a very pretty young lady who had helped save his life. You must have done something to interest him.”
“Madam, forgive me,” said Charlotte. “I do not understand what you are saying.”
“Mr. Crane is already thirty,” said Professor Peale, her small smile growing. “He’s been looking for a bride for quite some time now, but it is very difficult to amuse him. I can only assume that he brought you all this way to pass my judgment.” She seemed to be enjoying the stunned look on her guest’s face. “I do approve,” she concluded.
John Crane burst through the door, his face full of color again and his demeanor slightly desperate. He looked from Professor Peale to Charlotte to the tea and back again. He quickly smoothed over his wild expression and bowed politely to the two women. “May I inquire about your conversation?”
“Nothing of importance,” said Professor Peale airily. “However, I shall leave the two of you alone. I am sure that Miss Browe would be interested in your health.”
“And have you no interest?” asked Mr. Crane, obviously a little anxious at being left alone with Charlotte.
“Not as much as I believe Miss Browe does,” said Professor Peale, disappearing through the door.
Mr. Crane nodded slowly before glancing at Charlotte. He seemed to be trying very hard to mask his nervous expression with one of complete boredom. “I see that my friend has informed you of my letter,” he stated.
“She did,” said Charlotte breathlessly.
“I am no longer a young man,” continued Mr. Crane, beginning to pace. “I have looked for a companion for awhile, but there is no one here who has seemed adequate. You are, of course, beneath me, but I find you utterly-“
He stopped himself, noticing the hurt look on Charlotte’s face. Something inside him snapped. He could no longer resist the delicate figure sitting before him, and, in one swift movement, he knelt at her feet. “Not beneath me,” he corrected. “Please, that is not how I meant it. I only meant that it is expected of me to marry a daughter of wealth.”
He took one of her slender hands in his own and kissed the back of it, creating a small gasp out of Charlotte. “In the four days that I have known you, I have found the most enticing creature I have ever met,” he said boldly. “I am sorry for the way that I’ve behaved, but I was unsure of what to do. Of what was proper. Your child would be welcomed by me, and I could teach you things.”
“What are you asking?” said Charlotte, her eyes wide and her heart racing. She needed confirmation.
“I am asking that you become my wife,” said Mr. Crane, reaching for the ring that had long waited in his study. “I could make you happy.”
Charlotte was afraid that if she spoke, her heart would exit her body through her mouth. When she finally found her voice, she gasped, “Oh, yes!”
John Crane, looking happier than she had ever seen him, took her gently in his arms and shared a first kiss with his bride-to-be.
The first few months of wedded bliss flew by like a whirlwind. Jethro was sent for, and the new family took up residence on John Crane’s property in the south of Scotland. He remained true on his promise to keep her happy. He taught her new skills as a witch and loved her son like his own. As for Charlotte, John grew to be her whole world.
No woman had ever loved a man as deeply as she loved her John.
When the time came for school to begin again, John decided that it would be a wonderful time to visit her family and escort her younger sisters to Hogwarts personally. Charlotte hated the idea of returning home, back to the burning stares and vicious gossip. As they prepared for the journey, little Jethro included, Charlotte made sure to pack her most exquisite gowns.
She knew that she was being vain, but she needed to show them that she had risen far above their expectations- that she had become a lady as they would never be.
The three day journey left a permanent knot in her stomach, and as they exited the woods to find her small hometown, she felt as though she might faint. They rode past the villagers, all of whom had gathered outside to watch as the fine lady and her infant brat rode by. They sneered at her fine gown and spat on the ground as she rode by them.
Quick to temper when it came to his wife, John sent a minor hex towards the offending farmer, who dropped to the ground clutching his stomach. Charlotte glanced anxiously at him, but the villagers seemed too concerned with her return to notice. Except for one.
Charlotte’s gaze met that of Robert Fillray, a nearby farmer who had always suspected the Browes of strange behavior. From the look on his face, he looked as though his worst fears had been confirmed. He narrowed his eyes at her and stalked away.
“Don’t worry,” whispered John from his horse. “It will wear off in three minutes.”
Charlotte nodded slowly, but she couldn’t get the image of Fillray’s face out of her head.
When they approached the Browe’s small house, they were met by the three youngest children sprinting out and dancing around their horses. Dignified as always, but more polite than his last visit, John greeted them shortly before leading his wife into her old home.
Though she was happy to feel the comforts of her old home, Charlotte could not put to rest her feeling of unease. Something bad was going to happen, and she could feel it in her very bones. Her mother’s twittering was not helping her nerves at all.
”Olga Greensen, you remember her?” she was saying. “She invited us over to play cards tonight. She wants to hear all about Hogwarts. She used to attend, you know.”
“Of course,” said Charlotte, deciding that she would speak to Olga about Fillray. The older witch would surely know whether there was any danger to her or her husband.
John seemed reluctant to stay behind, some of his wife’s uneasiness having rubbed off on him. “I do not like the idea of my most precious possession wandering around the streets at night, unarmed,” he said, kissing her hair. “I want you to take my wand with you.”
“But then you will-“
John cut her off with a short kiss. “It is you that I am worried about,” he insisted, pressing the wand into her palm. “Take care, my love. I will be safe.”
He was wrong, and Charlotte knew it to be so. When she saw the smoke rise from across the town, she knew that something was wrong. She didn’t take the time to explain as she fled the company of her mother and Mrs. Greensen and sprinted through the village, her heavy skirts weighing her down.
The fire that was devouring her house was large enough to light up the night sky as if it were afternoon. The villagers danced around the flames, adding flaming torches and throwing more and more wood to their destruction. Charlotte ran forward, screaming and drawing her husband’s wand, not caring that there were dozens of Muggles watching.
She wracked her brains, trying to remember the spell for water. “Agmenta! she screamed, to no avail. The flames taunted her, rising higher still. “Agmenti!” Still, nothing. “Augmenti!,” she shrieked, only to have a pitiful stream of water burst from her wand.
She collapsed to the ground, starting to sob uncontrollably until she heard someone shout, “Throw the witch in, too!”
She leapt to her feet, her entire body shaking with fury for the villagers who had ruined her life for so long. “Step back!” she screeched, waving the wand at them. “I will kill every last one of you!”
A hush fell over the crowd, and she stared wildly around at them. “You have ruined everything,” she shouted, trying to hold back her tears. “You have killed my love!”
She swiped the wand through the air, striking one of the villagers blind. Her grief began to overtake her, and she did not see Fillray sneaking up behind her with a knife. She glanced around at the mob once more, tears filling her eyes, as the blade came down between her shoulder blades.
With a gasp of surprise, she fell to her knees. But she was not conquered; with her as much breath as she could muster, she let out a hideous wail that was amplified through the entire countryside. The villagers covered their ears as it echoed for at least two minutes, while the Charlotte slowly dropped lower and lower to the ground.
She glared at them all one last time, crying, “I shall haunt you and your children forever!”
The townsfolk cringed at her dying vow and watched as Charlotte Crane took her last breath and slipped into death.
She curses their names as she passes by
And all shall weep at the sound,
At the echoing curse of the Wailing Widow.
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