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Marjorie Stretton: An Albion Witch in Chicago

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Chicago Tribune Sunday Magazine, February 21, 1999

  

Marjorie Stretton tucks her wand into her sleeve as the camera and interview crew arrives, with a little self-deprecating laugh. "It's fine, I'm in America now," she says. "I know you lot aren't as used to wizards and witches as our lot." Since the wards fell last summer and the wizards not only in Albion but everywhere in the world emerged from the shadows of history, most of us have become at least somewhat more accustomed to seeing the occasional jar of pickles flying off the grocery store shelf to a 'summoning charm,' but as a businesswoman, Ms. Stretton says that her first priority is always putting potential partners (or interviewers!) at ease.

She's here in Chicago this week to meet with the dozens of corporate officers to discuss how magic might be integrated with technology in the 21st century, but set aside time today for a few interviews.

I start by asking about her family. "I have five children, plus of course my foster-daughter, Sally-Anne Perks," she says, proudly. "My two youngest, Val and Mars, are just eight years old. Gemma started at Hogwarts this year…" That's the magical boarding school? I ask about Gemma's 'House,' and Ms. Stretton suppresses a wince. "Hufflepuff. Not that there's anything wrong with being in Hufflepuff -- Alice Longbottom herself was in Hufflepuff! -- but Houses typically go by family, and we are a Ravenclaw family. Philip, the next one up, is in Ravenclaw, and so was Jeremy, when he was in school. Sally-Anne was in Slytherin, but you know, she didn't come to live with us until she was eleven. She was also from a Ravenclaw family, though."

So, yes: Sally-Anne Perks and Jeremy Stretton, both children of the Stretton household, both official members of the Order of the Phoenix, pre-dating the May Battle in which so many died. Philip, despite his youth, was a member of a secret society formed at Hogwarts School; Megan Jones, who had come on to work at the Stretton family business in the waning days of the Protectorate, fought and died in the May Battle. How much, I ask, did you know?

"I knew very little, of course, because there were members of the Protectorate's secret police who can read minds, really read minds. So for obvious reasons, neither Sally-Anne nor Jeremy could tell us what they were up to; we didn't need to know. Of course, there were things that made us wonder, but we were careful not to ask anything we didn't really want to know the answer to."

And your workers, under the Protectorate…?

"Muggles -- that is, non-magical people -- were treated as chattel by the Protectorate government. It was a terrible situation, absolutely terrible; families were split up, muggles in camps were provided with the most minimal food and housing that you can imagine, in a few cases they were systematically starved to see if rations could be cut back. Utterly terrible. We did our best to protect as many as we could. We had a set of extremely large farms and factories and a nearly entirely muggle work force. We weren't allowed to pay them properly, but we were able to get away with paying them in scrip, which they could spend on additional luxuries, and of course we provided them with decent housing and sufficient food. We kept families together. Once Sally-Anne started Healer training we were even able to provide them with magical Healing, when she was home on holidays."

You mentioned 'things that made you wonder, earlier? What sorts of quiet support were you providing, without asking too many questions?

"Food, mostly -- it was easy enough to turn a blind eye to things going astray. For a while we were also growing illegal potions ingredients, but that didn't turn out nearly as well. One of the dangers, of course, of people not being able to trust one another, in fact. Sally-Anne, Order of the Phoenix member and hero of Albion, actually called the Protectorate secret police down on our heads over the Diviner's Mint growing in one of our fields. Well, technically she'd had a run-in with a group that was stealing it…at any rate, instead of providing a rare ingredient to a resistance group, we wound up providing it to the Protectorate Government, but our overall ignorance served us well and we were let off with a fine."

Tell us about Sally-Anne. You said she didn't come to you until she was eleven?

"That's right. Her mother was -- is -- a muggleborn witch, her father a pureblood, and under the law as long as they were very, very careful they were able to stay together until Sally-Anne was taken off to school. At that point, she needed a foster home. We volunteered to take her because fostering was presented as a civic duty, though of course we became quite fond of her. Gemma, especially, saw her as the big sister she'd always wanted and never had. I'm not sure she was quite so attached to us, and who could blame her? She was a teenager, first of all, but more than that, she'd been robbed of her real family by the Protectorate authorities and handed off to us like a stray cat."

Teenagers can be difficult.

"Yes! Yes, and for all that Jeremy gave us plenty of headaches, he didn't prepare us even slightly for Sally-Anne. Not to mention her friends. Slytherin House was where most of the children of the Protectorate elites were Sorted. So she was close friends with Pansy Parkinson -- the rest of you know her as one of the heroines of the Order of the Phoenix, but of course when they were eleven she was noteworthy for being the goddaughter of Lucius Malfoy, who at the time was one of the closest advisors of the Lord Protector himself. She was also acquainted with Harry Marvolo -- Potter, really, but we all called him Marvolo -- and the times that he stopped in for help with Charms or a friendly chat, I can't even tell you how nerve wracking that was. I mean, imagine that you're an ordinary person with a few things to hide, and the son of the Lord Protector starts dropping in."

When did you start to suspect that Sally-Anne was more than met the eye?

"Probably after the incident with the measles outbreak. There were some families who were recent arrivals, and they'd been exposed during a measles outbreak at a camp nearby. The result was several dozen very sick children. Sally-Anne, bless her, went to help -- she was a very novice Healer at the time, but she did what she could, and she talked Madam Pomfrey, the Hogwarts School matron, into coming in to do what she could not. Sadly, one of the children didn't pull through, and we wound up being subjected to a long series of inspections, during which it turned out the dead baby's body was claimed by imposters… there were so many odd things, not the least of which was the fact that the School Matron turned up to help, and Sally-Anne was clearly not telling us everything she knew. Though I'll admit that at the time, my suspicion was that she'd brought down those inspections on us deliberately out of malice."

And Jeremy, did you have your suspicions about him? 

"When Jeremy suddenly got a job at the Ministry, we had no idea what to think. He spent extremely long hours at his job and didn't want to answer any questions about it. We kept our suspicions to ourselves, though -- asking him questions he didn't want to answer would have only resulted in a fight, anyway." 

Talk to us about last summer. When all the secrets were revealed.

"Last summer, frankly, was terrifying. First was the standoff, when the Lord Protector took all of Hogwarts hostage. Sally-Anne Perks was in the class that was literally being held at wand-point, along with our new employee Megan Jones; Philip was trapped in Ravenclaw House and we had no idea what was going to happen to the rest of the school, if Harry didn't hand himself over. Then there was the battle. Jeremy left to assist at the triage point, and we suspected he was involved but had no idea whether he was in the middle of danger, or not. We found out afterward that Megan Jones literally threw herself between a fatal curse and former Hogwarts student Sarah Fawcett; Sally-Anne was in the middle of the battle, trying to get to the injured to keep them alive; Philip, along with Bitsy Corner, brought most of the younger Ravenclaws through the active fighting and to a safe spot to shelter.

"Then the summer itself was tremendously unsettled. We knew that Sally-Anne and Jeremy's activities could make us a target; we warded the house itself but we couldn't stay holed up and the farms themselves were much too large to fully protect. Our muggles were told they were free to go, but most stayed put, at least at first. As things got a bit more settled, we transitioned to paying them proper wages rather than scrip, and we were -- are -- tremendously grateful that so many were willing to stay. As things became safer, more of them chose to move on, but fortunately, the waking of the Sleepers meant that quite a few more people were seeking work. And I don't just mean it's fortunate for us -- the food supply of Albion is still a bit shaky, which is part of what we're hoping to shore up with this joint venture."

I understand that one of the muggles is now joining the family?

"You mean Maureen? Oh, she's not a muggle; she's a Witch born to a muggle family. Not, of course, that it would be a problem if Jeremy were marrying a muggle! I just wanted to be clear, Maureen's a Witch. And yes, they're engaged to be married. Gemma, Sally-Anne, and Pansy Parkinson are going to be her attendants, I think. We're all quite looking forward to it."

Any regrets, looking back?

"I think everyone who survived the Protectorate has regrets, and I try not to dwell on mine. I focus on how grateful I am that my children all came through the war alive, and how excited I am to be building this new future."