Since his father died, Charlie Bone has lived with his mother and her mother, in the house of his other grandmother, Grandma Bone. Looking at a picture of a couple with a baby and a cat, he suddenly discovers he can hear their voices. Although he tries to hide his new gift, Grandma Bone's scary sisters soon find out, and determine to send him to Bloor's Academy. Mr Onimous appears, and tell Charlie he must find the baby from the photograph, lost inside Bloor's. The mystery deepens when Charlie tries to return the picture to its rightful owner, a bookseller who gives him a heavy box, saying only that it was once swapped for a child. Charlie quickly finds life at Bloor's pretty tough, with its strict rules and the malevolent head boy, Manfred, set against him. He meets someone else with a gift, Gabriel Silk, who can pick up people's feeling from their clothes. Charlie asks about his father's tie, and Gabriel surprises him by saying his father is lost, not dead. Mr Onimous' cats have been involved in a mysterious fire at the school, and more frightening than that, Manfred's sinister gift is to be able to hypnotise people. Exploring at the weekend with new friends Olivia and Billy, Charlie overhears a conversation between Dr Bloor and Manfred. They discover the cats are eight hundred years old, and that Bloor and Manfred are keeping a girl under hypnosis. Charlie realises the girl from the photograph must be Emilia Moon and manages to awaken her using the box. The hypnotism cannot be proved to the authorities and the children will have to return next term, once more under the power of Dr Bloor.