Anna Grayson and The Order of Merlin

A Wand in Hand

“I knew it! I knew it! I could tell by the look of it. That’s the only thing it could have been,” Eric yelled excitedly. Mister Grayson was still in his chair, staring at the letter with a look of unabashed disbelief. Anna was still sitting in her bed looking just as confused as when Eric first ran into her bedroom. Eric stopped dancing at the foot of Anna’s bed and frowned. “Well… isn’t anybody going to say anything? Anna… do you know what this means?”

“No… I don’t,” she replied, sounding slightly afraid. “What does it mean, daddy?”

“It means…” Eric went on, walking up to her bedside, “you’re going with us to Castlewood, of course!”

Anna’s face distorted into a surprised frown, “But… how can that be? I’m no… I’m not even… you know… I’m not a witch.”

“Well, they must obviously think you are or they wouldn’t have sent that!” Eric replied, pointing at the letter in their father’s hand.

Mister Grayson was re-reading the letter for the fourth time, still surprised by this unexpected turn. Why would Castlewood send an invitation to Anna? And why would they send it now, right in the middle of all of these questions about her abilities? Mister Grayson’s own words, said just a few moments ago, suddenly returned to him, I’ve had too much experience in my life to believe in this many coincidences.

He also remembered the passing weeks leading up to the children’s departure to Castlewood one year ago before Anna’s twelfth birthday. Although nobody had expected Anna to receive her invitation at the time, there was the lingering hope she might have the tiniest hidden, yet unseen, spark of magic the school might recognize. Her letter never came, of course, and Mister Grayson would never forget the look on Anna’s face as they sent the other Grayson children off to Castlewood that fall, leaving his youngest daughter behind to start her first year in a Muggle school. Locking herself in her bedroom for the next three days, it was only then that her father realized Anna was still carrying the hope she might be able to study the magical arts, as the rest of the Graysons had done for the last eight hundred years. Anna was devastated, and her unexpected reaction and disappointment at being left behind still haunted Mister Grayson in ways only a father who truly loved his children would understand. He wasn’t going to allow that to happen again.

Without telling her, Mister Grayson privately swore to bring all the resources under his power to help his youngest daughter, and make up for this terrible setback in her life. Although Anna didn’t realize what her father was doing on her behalf, Mister Grayson was working quietly in the background to insure her future happiness. As time passed, he watched Anna closely, and was very proud of his daughter’s ability to accept her destiny as a future Muggle. She had come a long way since that day one year ago, and he wasn’t going to allow anything to hurt his daughter like that again.

“Anna… there’s so much to do. We have to get you ready,” Eric went on excitedly. “I wish I had known about this last night… I would have bought your school supplies. You’ll need your books, some scales, and you’ll need a new set of robes.” Eric was almost talking to himself as he circled the foot of Anna’s bed, counting on his fingers. “Oh…and you’ll need… a wand!” he finished, looking up with a smile.

“A wand? Me?” Anna blurted out, her tone betraying her guarded excitement.

“Of course, lamebrain; you’ll need a proper wand — won’t you? Every witch has to have a fitting wand,” her brother replied, a huge grin blooming ever larger on his face.

“Me? A witch? Really?” Anna yelled, rising on the bed to her knees.

That was it. Mister Grayson had heard enough. “STOP IT!” he yelled out from his chair. Eric and Anna looked at their father. Eric was surprised at the angry expression of doubt on the man’s face.

“But… father — don’t you see? Don’t you realize…?” Eric started to say, but his father stopped him short.

“I realize you’re putting a lot of silly thoughts into your sister’s head. We have no idea how or why this letter was sent,” he said in a very stern tone, smacking the letter with the backside of his hand as he spoke.

“Isn’t it obvious?” argued Eric. “The school must have realized they made a mistake last year, and they’re looking to correct it.”

“You don’t know that. A mistake like that could just as well have happened when they sent this letter today. Need I remind you, Anna has never shown any magical ability,” said Mister Grayson, getting angrier by the second.

“Well… yes, I agree — Anna has never shown any sign of being a witch, that is, until yesterday — and look at what happened!” Eric replied, gesturing toward the letter again.

“I won’t have you building her up like this!” Mister Grayson yelled, now standing to face Eric in the center of the room. He then turned to Anna. “I’m sorry, sweetheart, but the last thing I want to do is to cause you more pain right now. I think your brother is a little over enthusiastic without knowing all the facts.” Then he turned to Eric again. “We won’t speak of this again until I’ve had a chance to talk to the Chancellor of Castlewood.”

“But… father — I don’t understand why you have to…”

“Enough!” bellowed Mister Grayson. “I want you out of here, right now, and I don’t want you speaking to your sister unless I’m present in the room. Do you understand?”

Eric was too shocked to immediately respond.

“Do you understand me?”

“Yes, sir… I… I understand. As you wish,” Eric said in an injured tone. He looked back at Anna, smiled slightly, and then left the room.

Mister Grayson turned and, looking down at the letter, he began to mutter himself. “School supplies… a wand… of all the stupid…” He sat down in his chair with a huff. He folded the letter and placed it in the pocket of his robes and then leaned back in his chair to look at Anna. She was still kneeling on her bed with a look of mixed disappointment and confusion. Mister Grayson could see what she was thinking.

“I won’t have him pumping you up like that; I won’t see you hurt all over again,” he said, trying to explain his actions.

“So… you think the letter is just a mistake?” asked Anna, softly.

Mister Grayson sighed. “At this very moment, Anna — I don’t know what to believe. I’ll get to the bottom of this in the morning. Try and get some sleep. If you need anything, I’ll be right here next to you.”

Anna knew better than to argue with her father. She lay back down, pulled the covers over her knees, and slid into the warm blankets. Her father used his wand to slowly turn down the light by her bedside, but Anna knew it would be several hours before she fell asleep.

TWO

The morning air was whipping through Anna’s hair. The horse she was riding was her favorite. It was the chestnut stallion named Apollo she had helped to raise and care for since he was a colt. Although Anna had tried to escape the house to be alone and to think, it was no use. Every five minutes she would ride upon another Ministry wizard searching the grounds, looking for the Lethifold.

“Hello, Miss Anna… how are you feeling today?” they would ask; the same curious questions time and again.

“Fine… I’m feeling much better, thanks,” she replied with a struggled but friendly nod.

She was lying, of course; she wasn’t fine at all. The last two days had turned her whole world upside down. These new and strange abilities she had found within herself seemed to be explained by the letter from Castlewood, but something the healer had said kept coming back into her mind: It sounds more like the abilities of some of the magical creatures we know. I do not know of any case describing a witch or a wizard that can do the things you’ve described. What if he was wrong? How could she possibly go to Castlewood, knowing she was some kind of freak?

She thought about Eric and how excited he was when he saw the letter. For a moment, Anna had allowed herself to believe what Eric was saying might be possible. To go to Castlewood and study magic had always been her dream. She would have done anything to be given the chance to go with Eric, to go to Castlewood Academy; and now… was it possible? Was this her chance to finally fulfill her dreams? Suddenly, a real sense of fear moved in to engulf her once again, and Anna immediately knew why. She had become a monster, a killer. Something inside her was trying to get out, to take over her body again like it did when it attacked Damon. She could still feel it lying in wait, deep inside her chest. Its cold presence stirred at the very thought of it.

“Hello, Miss Anna. It’s good to see you outside,” said another wizard, looking in the hollow of a tree with the light of his wand.

“Hello,” she replied as she galloped by him. Anna turned sharply to the left and, ducking under the branch of a tree, she climbed up a steep slope to another opening in the cliff overlooking the beautiful ocean below. She threw a leg over her saddle and slid down to the moss-covered ground. There, in the clearing, stood the burnt remnants of another vast estate.

At least as big as the Grayson Manor, this place must have been the beautiful home to another prestigious family, who had long since abandoned the cliffs the Graysons now owned. Many stone chimneys stood like sentinels amongst the tall trees surrounding them. Although the only thing remaining of the vast structure was a cracked foundation and charred beams standing at odd angles where they had fallen during the fire, Anna truly loved this place. She seemed strangely drawn to it during her most difficult times, like a lost lamb seeking its mother. Anna didn’t understand why, but the fallen structure seemed to deliver a sense of peace and solace to her. She sat against one of the trees, looking up into the vast canopy of branches and leaves above her. She always came here when she needed to think, or when seeking the understanding of something most difficult in her life. Now was one of those times. For there was something else that was bothering Anna and it weighed on her conscious like a load of heavy stones. There was something she hadn’t told her father; something even she, up to now, hadn’t dared to admit to herself.

Although what had happened that night in Damon’s room scared her, the creature she had become allowed her to feel something she had never felt before in her entire life: power. True, it was very frightening to know there was something happening to her that she couldn’t control, but she had to admit, at some primal level, she liked how it made her feel. She liked believing she had an ability nobody else possessed. But what was the price of this newfound power? What was going to happen to her? What if she was right and she did change into that monster? How could she keep it contained? What was the purpose of having such abilities if she couldn’t control it? And if she was wrong, and she was attacked like everybody believed, then what was wrong with her mind to think she was doing these things herself? She finally asked herself the question she had been avoiding more than any other. Who was it that attacked Damon the other night? Was it the monster everybody saw in his bedroom, or was it me, looking to punish Damon for all his past sins of cruelty?

The birds were singing brightly in the morning breeze, and Anna closed her eyes to smell the fresh damp earth all around her. A slight smell of smoke still lingered in the air from the rubble of the collapsed structure within the landscape. As a child, she would fantasize about building a magnificent house on this very spot. Right next to her father’s ancestral home, overlooking the ocean below, she knew she could be happy here no matter what challenges life brought her way. She stood, dusted off her pants, called Apollo to her side, and lifted herself into his saddle again. Anna turned to head back down the hill, but stopped to glance back once more. Someday, she thought, maybe this would be her home.

When Anna entered the main road again, she turned and clopped down its gentle slope. As the iron gates came into view, she sped to a trot, as they swung open before her. She nudged Apollo in the sides with her heels. “Let’s go!” she said, leaning forward in anticipation of his sudden burst of speed. She flew by the gates and onto the grounds outside without a sideward glance.

After riding another hundred yards, she stopped and yanked the reins around to watch the gates closing behind her. No barrier, no fallen trees, no Muggle protection charms, nothing but what was truly there, the gates to her family home. She slowly clopped back up, until she could see the ordainments on the gates; they were still galloping. Anna smiled. The gates opened again like a pair of welcoming arms as she approached, and for the first time in her life, Anna felt as though she truly belonged as she passed over the line. As the gates rattled shut behind her again, she closed her eyes and leaned back in her saddle to breathe the cold morning breeze. There was something in the air, a strange smell, like the scent of somebody walking in the woods somewhere to her left. Anna stopped, dismounted, and dropped the reins.

“Go on ahead — I’ll catch up to you in a minute,” she said, giving Apollo a gentle pat on the rump. The horse stepped casually forward up the hill, stopping every few steps to nibble on the clumps of grass to the side of the path. Anna stepped into the woods, cautiously looked around, and then sat down against the trunk of an old tree. She closed her eyes and, in her mind, tried to reach out into the spaces around her. To her astonishment, it worked. The ground started passing under her, now racing by her low gaze among the bushes and trees. She began looking for the source of the scent she had detected while riding, and quickly found a Ministry wizard a few hundred yards away to the east. He was muttering to himself about wasting his time, looking for a creature that was obviously already dead. Anna circled the man unnoticed several times before continuing again up the hill toward the estate. She swiftly located at least twenty other wizards in various locations on the grounds and, after a time, she finally saw the estate coming into her view. The sight was incredible. The house was nearly three quarters of a mile away, but she could see it just as clearly as if she were standing on the gravel road in front.

She quickly scanned the house, looking for a way to enter. All the windows and doors were closed, but that wouldn’t keep her out. She found an opening in the base of the foundation and effortlessly slipped through one of the small cracks. Immediately her view went black, the connection was lost, and Anna was forced to open her eyes once again.

“Hmm… it only seems to work when I’m outside, which explains why I couldn’t do it when I was in my bedroom the other night,” she said to herself. Still, this newborn ability made her smile broadly. Magic or not, this was pretty cool. “I wonder where Apollo is?” she said, looking around her tree. She closed her eyes again and reached out. Her mind raced up the path, honing in on the animal’s smell. Anna’s senses were incredibly sharp, and she found the horse without a second thought.

“There you are,” she called, without thinking. Apollo jerked up with a start and looked around. Anna was startled too. She could see the horse looking back at her, seemingly aware of something of herself coming up the path.

“Can you hear me?” she asked. The horse took a step forward toward her and then stopped, his ears alert and pointed forward. “Can you see me?” she said, her mind’s eye moving to her left, as if to test the animal’s responsiveness. She could see the horse’s eyes tracking her movement left and then right as she examined his ability to follow her. This was strange. Apollo could see and hear whatever there was of her current form, but none of the Ministry wizards she had found in the woods had noticed her presence at all. Remembering her earlier encounter with the small chipmunk she had chased into the woods, it suddenly dawned on Anna that it was only the animals with which she shared this strange connection.

“Come to me,” she called to the horse, which then followed Anna’s thoughts back to where she was waiting beneath the tree. She opened her eyes again and saw the horse walking toward her up the path. Anna stood, “Good boy, Apollo,” she cooed, patting him on the nose. She produced a cube of sugar from out of her pocket before lifting herself into his saddle and trotting off into the woods again.

THREE

Mister Grayson was back in his office working at his desk. He was mindlessly rereading a piece of old parchment text while waiting for the call he expected at any moment. Several scrolls were unrolled in front of him, and he was inspecting the writing on one of them with a large magnifying glass. He then reached over to compare what he read to the scroll next to it. He was interrupted by the sound of a soft whistle coming from a stone bowl sitting on the corner of his desk. A blue streak of light shot up from the bottom of the bowl, which instantly ignited into a blaze of blue flame. Within the flames sat the face of a very old wizard staring into the room.

“Hello, Boris… it’s nice to see you again. I hope the Ministry isn’t working you too hard,” said the talking head over the bowl.

“Hello, Chancellor Thordarson. Thank you for taking the time to speak to me on such short notice…I hope I’m not taking you away from anything important?” said Mister Grayson. There was a high level of respect resident in his voice.

Professor Elimar Thordarson was Chancellor of Castlewood Academy, and a highly respected and powerful wizard. He was wearing dark robes and a wizard’s hat, which draped over his right ear to his shoulder like a sleeping cap. The hat sat atop a shockingly white head of hair, which was pulled back in a ponytail. The only thing whiter than the man’s hair was the wizard’s face, which was so colorless of natural tone it almost glowed within the blue flames over the bowl. He wore very dark blue sunglasses in square frames just barely big enough to cover his eyes, which made him look like a bandit. He spoke in a soft, warm timbre. “Not at all Boris — anything for one of Castlewood’s best and brightest students,” he said through his broadening smile. “I received your owl just a few moments ago. Your message sounded urgent… so… here I am, of course.”

“Thank you, Chancellor — it is rather important. It’s about my daughter, Anna.”

“Ah, yes; a wonderful child — spunky and full of life… you are a blessed man, Boris. I remember her well. I also remember my very sore knees after my last visit a few years ago; too much bouncing for an old man, I’m afraid. So… tell me… does she still carry that flaming red hair?” asked the wizard, leaning inquisitively into the room from amidst his guttering flame.

Mister Grayson smiled, “Yes, sir — and the temperament to go with it, I’m afraid,” he replied, guardedly.

“Ah… you would say, ‘like her mother’, but more like her father, say I,” the Chancellor beamed.

“Yes — well… I’m afraid it’s been a bit longer than a few of years since you last saw her. She’s twelve-years old now,” Mister Grayson replied, still smiling.

“Really? That long since I’ve seen her last? Oh my… Boris where has the time gone? So… what is that spirited redhead up to these days?” asked the Chancellor.

“She received a letter of invitation from Castlewood Academy last night,” said Mister Grayson, and for the first time he could see the Chancellor’s smile beginning to fail.

“Really? A letter of invitation… from us? Are you sure?” he asked, puzzled.

“Yes, sir. It was the standard parchment, with the Castlewood seal, addressed to her personally, and sent directly here to the house by owl.”

“Curious… very curious,” said Thordarson, and Mister Grayson could see the wizard’s head turn away as if reaching for something behind him. He turned back and began writing with a large white quill. “And you say… Anna is now twelve-years of age?” he asked, sounding somewhat skeptical.

“Yes, that’s right; she’ll be thirteen in November. I thought you should know and could, perhaps, check into how such a mistake might have happened,” said Mister Grayson, looking for a reaction more than a response.

“Mistake? Well — if we’ve made one… it would be the first of its kind since the school opened. Isn’t it true Anna was born a…”

“A squib… yes, sir… That is correct,” said Mister Grayson reluctantly.

The Chancellor noticed Mister Grayson’s hesitancy at once. “Boris, there is no shame in this… surely you must know that by now.”

“Of course I know that… I love Anna no less than the rest of my children. It’s just that,” he halted, and then, “we just… can’t seem to leave this behind and move on.”

“I see. And… what does Anna think about this unexpected turn?”

“Well — she’s confused, of course. I mean — we’re all a little puzzled.”

“Yes, of course — quite natural,” said the wizard sympathetically. “If I may make a suggestion; allow me to send to you our school’s resident doctor. With your permission — we can have Doctor Pearl test the child, and so help us get to the bottom of this mystery,” he finished, and then nodded to somebody standing to his left.

“Thank you, sir — that will be fine. A family healer will be here as well — so they can work together on this,” said Mister Grayson.

“Very good, then; I’ll make the necessary arrangements from this end and we’ll talk again afterwards.”

Mister Grayson leaned back in his chair slightly relieved, staring off into the room beyond the blue flames. The Chancellor leaned forward again.

“When was the last time you slept, Boris?” asked the wise old wizard from over his bowl. His eyes were probing his favored student with a high level of concern evident even through his dark glasses. “Your last visit with us, I know, was… rather difficult for you.”

“Oh, I’m all right, sir — it’s just been a very long couple of days.”

“Yes — so I’ve heard. You have always been a strong man, Boris. Hard working — dedicated to the Ministry and your role in both the Wizarding and Muggle world. But what has always impressed me the most about you is your equal dedication to your family. You’ve never let your ambitions overtake your love for your children or the memory of their mother,” Thordarson said reassuringly.

“I hope not… I only want what’s best for them.”

“You have always made your objectives clear on their behalf. They are all gifted children, doing well here at school, and Eric has even surpassed his father with his academic prowess. You have much to be proud of in them.”

“As long as I can keep them from getting suspended, you mean.” Mister Grayson said with a wince, a clear reference to the antics of his twin daughters the year before.

The old wizard chuckled brightly. “Yes, the girls are a lively pair — to be sure, but the school would be so much less without them among us.”

“You’re being too kind, sir,” Grayson replied in a grumble, looking shyly down into his lap.

“Perhaps — but if I may, I’ve always prided myself in my ability to recognize the hidden talents within our students. Given time, I’m sure Dowla and Tencha will find in themselves what I already see: The drive and ambition to prove themselves… and to make their father proud.”

Mister Grayson smiled. “You’ve always had a talent for saying just the right thing, Chancellor.”

“Oh… well… that’s probably why they’ve given me the funny hat,” said the old wizard with a twinkle in his eye. “Take care, Boris, and please, for the children’s sake, try and get some sleep.” And with that, the wizard’s image disappeared with a soft pop.

Mister Grayson leaned back in his chair, thinking about what the Chancellor had said; We’ll get to the bottom of this mystery. “I hope you’re right, old friend… I hope you’re right.”

FOUR

Anna finished her ride and was walking Apollo back to the stable. A bent old man limped out of a stall in a rubber apron and very dirty boots, carrying a shovel.

“Hello, Miss Anna — out for a morning ride, I see. Feeling better, I hope?” said the man.

“Good morning, Sam — I’m feeling much better, thanks,” said Anna. “How’s Mrs. Porchdow today?”

Samuel Porchdow was the Grayson stable master, and one of Anna’s closest friends. He and his wife lived on the Grayson estate in a little cottage on the other side of the hill. It always struck Anna as odd that Sam spent his whole life taking care of the Grayson horses and assisting his wife with the work on the grounds whenever his arthritic knees would allow it. This was because, as wizards go, Sam was very talented, which more than made up for any physical weaknesses he often had to carry. Mrs. Porchdow was the estate grounds keeper, which was an immense job as well. All of their nine children were grown and living separate lives in different parts of the Wizarding world.

“Fit as a fiddle,” smiled Sam, speaking of his wife. “She’ll be happy to hear you’re up and about again, Miss Anna. We were both very worried when we heard you were… well… not feeling well. The Miss’s almost wand-cocked one of those pesky Ministry wizards just this morning though; caught him sticking his big-fat nose into our bathroom window. The boils on the poor fellow’s face will take a while to heal, I’m afraid,” Sam chuckled. “That woman of mine can be a bit feisty at times.”

Anna laughed at the thought of Mrs. Porchdow attacking a Ministry official through her bathroom window.

“Well, hopefully, they’ll be gone soon enough,” Anna replied with a sigh.

“I’m so glad to see him getting a run,” Sam said, looking at Anna’s horse. “Only you and Eric ride anymore. Of course, your father is a fine horseman as well, but the Ministry keeps him from enjoying the simple things in life — like a quiet ride on a fine horse,” he said lovingly, patting Apollo on the neck. He turned to face Anna again. “But not even your father can hold a candle to you on this animal,” the stable master said with a grin. “Pure natural talent; I was just telling the missus the other day: You’ve got what it takes to be the best, Anna; talent, ability, and a connection to the animal; that’s the important thing. The two of you ride as one; you can’t teach that kind of skill.”

Anna blushed. “Why… thank you, Sam. What a very nice thing to say.”

“I wouldn’t say it if it weren’t true. Now — if you’ll hold Apollo back a few more minutes, I was just getting ready to clean his floor,” the man said, unlocking the gate to Apollo’s stall. There was a sign over the opening with Apollo’s name emblazed in gold.

“That’s all right, Sam — I can do that,” Anna said, hopping down to tie Apollo’s reins to the post.

“Are you sure, Anna? I mean you’ve been ill; you shouldn’t be inside a dirty stall shoveling…”

“No… really, it’s all right. I really don’t want to go back to the house yet anyway; too many strangers gawking about, if you know what I mean.”

“Well… All right then, but give me a yell if you tire. And if those pesky Ministry types come around jawing at you…”

“I’ll call Mrs. Porchdow, pronto!” Anna finished with an evil smile.

Sam laughed. “Yes ma’am — you do that, and she’ll have them running for cover faster than you can say ‘blistered backside.”

Anna giggled as Sam retreated with a wave of his wand. The saddle on Apollo’s back unbuckled itself, rose into the air, and sat itself on a cleaning bench next to the stall door.

“Don’t forget to brush him down good, now,” he said, handing his shovel to Anna with a pair of gloves.

“Okay… Thank you, Sam.” Anna took the shovel and stepped into the stall.

An hour later, Anna entered the house to find two people standing in the entryway talking to her father. One of them was the bearded healer from the day before. Anna groaned under her breath as the man turned to greet her.

“Hello, Anna,” said the healer. “Ve ver not properly introduced yesterday. My name is Healer Nosova.” He shook Anna’s hand, which was still covered in mud and mess from her work in the stalls. She didn’t bother keeping the mess to herself.

Anna’s father stepped forward as Nosova began wiping his dirty hands on a handkerchief from his pocket. “Anna — I’d like you to meet Doctor Margaret Pearl from Castlewood Academy.”

“Castlewood? Really?” Anna said, excitedly.

“That’s right, dearie,” answered Doctor Pearl, “Castlewood Academy for the Study of Magical Arts. I hear you’ve been riding outside and about the countryside this morning. Good! Fresh air and a strong horse — an excellent remedy for most wizarding ills,” she announced, in a strong forthright voice.

Doctor Pearl was a very short and rather stocky woman, who, Anna thought, was built more like a cube. She was dressed in black robes and wore a stout cap on her tightly cropped black hair. She was also wearing very large and thick glasses, which magnified her blue eyes to the size of silver dollars. Anna liked her right away.

“So — what’s this I hear that you received a letter from our school?” asked Pearl abruptly. “May I see it, please?”

Mister Grayson reached into his robes and pulled out the parchment; he handed it to the doctor. She looked down at the letter, bringing it as close to her nose as possible. Then she raised and lowered her glasses to inspect every part of the paper.

“Hmmm… yes… I see… ahhh… uh-huh…. yes…” she muttered, looking the parchment over. The gruff looking healer standing next to her seemed to be watching Doctor Pearl rather cautiously as she continued to inspect every inch of the letter. A frightening thought came into Anna’s head. It couldn’t be a forgery, could it? She held her breath nervously thinking about the many pranks Tencha and Dowla had done in the past.

“YEP!” Doctor Pearl yelped without warning. “Definitely one of ours,” she said, slamming the parchment into the other healer’s vested chest.

The misty-silver swirls of Cookie the ghost began to appear above the black marble of the newel post behind the healers. He seemed to be eyeing the visitors standing in his entryway suspiciously.

“Anna, Doctor Pearl and I vood like to run a series of tests on you today, if you vouldn’t mind,” said healer called Nosova. Cookie curled his lip and frowned distrustfully at the man.

“Tests? What kind of tests?” replied Anna, trying not to laugh as Cookie stuck his tongue out at the healer behind his back, and then began to change his misty form into that of a horse’s rear end.

“Vell… ve are sometimes asked to run a series of tests to ascertain if an individual, such as yourself, might have any lingering… or residual…”

Cookie was mimicking a large yawn behind the healer’s back, and then lulled his head mockingly over to the side as if to fall asleep of boredom.

Nosova continued, “Interacting properties that might explain some of the on going…”

Doctor Pearl abruptly cut him off, “He means we want to test you for magic!” she quipped harshly.

Cookie snapped straight.

“Magic? Me?” Anna replied in surprise.

“Yes, dearie. Now it won’t hurt a bit, but it will take some time. I have to explain why you incorrectly received this letter from our school, and the easiest way to do that is to first confirm it was a mistake from the start. We do that by checking you out from head to toe to see if your personal abilities have changed,” explained Doctor Pearl, in a fact-filled tone of voice. Cookie was nodding his head approvingly behind Doctor Pearl, giving Anna two misty thumbs up.

“Oh… all right, well, I’m ready then… what should I do?” asked Anna.

“They’re going to set up in my Ministry office downstairs while you go and get yourself cleaned up,” said Mister Grayson, pointing her with a frown toward the steps. “We’ll meet you downstairs in a few minutes.”

With a quick nod, Anna dashed up the staircase and into the shower. This was it; the time had finally come. She was going to get the answers she had been searching for all her life. What if they told her she didn’t have any magical abilities? If that were the case, then what would explain the strange things that had been happening to her? She was nervous and anxious, and the more Anna thought about it, the more frightened she became. She took a deep breath, and let the shower’s warm water pound at the back of her bent neck; she groaned. What was she thinking about? It wasn’t going to happen; she wasn’t going to Castlewood; it was impossible. She tried to calm herself. They wouldn’t find anything magical about her, and that wouldn’t be so bad, would it? She liked the Muggle school she was attending, and she could stay home with her father during the year. She would be nearer to Gabby, Mrs. McConnell, Widwick, Cookie and Apollo. She would have the beach and the grounds all to herself; what could be better? She wouldn’t have any complaints. Life would be grand.

Still… to go to Castlewood…“No… I can’t think about that… I have to keep my expectations low.” She finished cleaning up and headed downstairs to her father’s office.

When Anna entered the room, the entire family was waiting there for her. To her surprise, her father’s office had been transformed, resembling something more like a museum than a place of business. There were many spinning and whirling objects that clicked and buzzed dramatically, and little colored puffs of smoke snorted and coughed from under an examination table. There was a wooden chair that had what looked like dragon wings sticking out of its back. Several Ministry goblins that worked for her father were moving boxes and equipment into place under the direction of the two healers. Finally, they looked like they were ready to begin.

“Everybody out!” barked Doctor Pearl. “These are very sensitive tests, and we will need absolute control of the room’s environment if we’re to get accurate results. You will all have to leave now.”

“Ohhh… but I was hoping we could stay and watch…” Dowla started to argue.

“OUT!” Doctor Pearl howled, pointing at the door behind them.

Without saying another word, Damon and Dowla left the room. Tencha walked by Anna and whispered, “Good luck, kiddo. Don’t let the old spider scare you too much; she hasn’t eaten anybody at Castlewood in a very long time,” she said, raising her eyebrows in a worried, yet practiced, grin.

Eric walked up and gave Anna a hug. “I’ll be pulling for you, sis,” he said, grinning. Then, quickly glancing back at his father, he leaned in to whisper, “I’ve set up an appointment with Mrs. Porchdow tomorrow morning… she says she wants to fit you for your new school robes.”

Anna, trying not to smile, whispered back, “You’re not making this any easier, you know.”

Eric smiled and kissed her on the cheek. “I’m certain things will come out just the way you hope.” He hugged her again before being tapped on the shoulder by their father. Mister Grayson pointed to the door with a frown and Eric turned to leave. Mister Grayson stepped up to Anna and smiled watchfully.

“Your brother is still confident, I see,” he said, motioning with a nod toward Eric as he walked out of the room.

“It’s okay, daddy… I’m ready for the answer, either way. No matter which way this thing goes… I’ll be all right.”

Anna saw Mister Grayson’s eyes brighten. “You’re very brave to go through this again, you know. I’m very proud of you. No matter how this turns out, I couldn’t possibly love you more than I do right now.”

“It is time,” said healer Nosova. “Ve need to begin. Some of our tests vill need to be taken… at very precise moments of the day.”

Mister Grayson turned to look at Anna again. “Either way — magic or not — you’re still my daughter.” Her father grasped her shoulders and pushed them back straight. “You’re a Grayson… strong of heart… with a long and proud heritage. Your family will be waiting for you upstairs. Come to us when you’re done.” Mister Grayson hugged his daughter one last time before escorting the goblins and Widwick out the door. Only Gabby remained.

“They is going to check your magicalness?” the elf asked, through a face mixed with worry and doubt.

“That’s right, Gabby.”

“But you’s have all you’s need to be happy, Miss Anna.” The elf’s large oval eyes were bright and caring. “You’s have love… and that is the bestest magic of all.”

Anna hugged her friend. “Thank you, Gabs… I’ll see you later.” The elf finally left, leaving Anna alone with the healers.

FIVE

Three hours later, the Graysons were still waiting in the family room. The worried tension in the air was nearly suffocating. Many of the images in the portraits had fallen asleep, some of them snoring over the crackling fire above the hearth.

“What could they possibly be doing down there with her?” barked Tencha, throwing up her hands in frustration. “Daddy, maybe you should go down and check to see if…”

“Patience…” replied their father.

“But how long should these tests take? They’ve been down there for hours,” said Dowla, who was glad somebody had finally broken the dull and painful wait.

“Maybe it’s taking so long because it’s hard to find something that isn’t there,” said Damon with a rude sneer.

“Oh, you’d love that…wouldn’t you, Damon,” said Eric angrily. “Ever since Anna was a child you’ve bullied her, and made fun of her, made her feel like an outsider within the walls of her own home. What are you going to say when it turns out she’s a witch after all?”

“You’re all kidding yourselves. Anna’s no witch — she never has been. The fact is… I’m one of the few people in this house who’s accepted her for what she really is. She’s a Muggle — and that’s all she’ll ever be.”

“You might have told yourself she was a Muggle — but you’ve never accepted it. You’ve never accepted her,” Eric retorted. “And you two have been just as bad,” he said, pointing at the twins.

“Us? What do you mean?” Dowla shot back.

“Making her the butt of every joke… Continuously torturing her at every turn — that’s all,” Eric said heatedly.

“Oh… we were just having a little fun. We never hurt her,” Tencha snapped back.

“It would have been better if you had just cut her heart out. Can’t you see what your fun has done to her, you little witch!” Eric yelled.

“And proud of it!” Dowla shouted back.

“Well, even if these tests turn out negative, there’re going to be some changes around here. The three of you had better lay off… or you’ll be dealing with me!”

“IF?” Damon fired back. “IF these tests are negative? Is that the shallow extent of your confidence, dear brother?” he said, his voice dripping with sarcasm.

“Knock it off — all of you,” interrupted Mister Grayson. He turned to face the children. “Anna is… and will always be… a Grayson. She’s my daughter and your sister. Some of you need to remember that fact,” he said, pointing at the twins. “Some of you need to honor that fact,” he said, scowling at
Damon.

“Here — here,” Eric said in satisfied agreement.

Mister Grayson snapped around to face his eldest son. “And some of you need to accept things as they really are, and stop trying to turn everybody into what you think they should be.”

Eric looked surprised and hurt by his father’s reproving comment. “I have always accepted Anna for what she is,” Eric said carefully.

“Yes, Eric, there’s no doubt you love your sister — but you have a way of overcompensating everything you do with Anna, because of what you perceive as her limitations.”

“What? That’s not true,” Eric replied.

“Isn’t it? When was the last time you had a serious, helpful, and encouraging conversation with Tencha or Dowla? When have you ever offered any help to your brother?” Mister Grayson fumed.

Eric glanced over at the other children. “They don’t need my help,” he said, resentfully.

“Oh, really? And why is that? Is it because they have magical abilities? Can’t you see that you treat Anna differently because you really believe she’s limited in some way?”

“I never… I mean, I in no way intended to do anything more than to help Anna,” Eric said mournfully, turning to walk away.

Mister Grayson hotly pursued Eric with a look of rage building on his face. He grabbed Eric by the shoulder and spun him around to face him. “She doesn’t need your help — she can do things well enough on her own… can you respect that?” he yelled.

“But I…. of course… I can,” Eric replied, meekly.

“Then do it! Anna is strong. She doesn’t need her big brother’s protection. Trust me… Anna can take care of herself.”

Damon seemed to be enjoying his father’s verbal lashing of their brother. “It’s about time somebody knocked him off of his high horse,” he whispered, turning to smile back at the twins.

Mister Grayson whipped around to face Damon. “And you!” he shouted angrily. Damon fell back as if pushed off balance by his father’s words. “You had better get one thing straight. Anna is… and always will be… a Grayson. She is a member of this family. Not a half-member, not a pet, and not something we’ve asked you to hide from the rest of the Wizarding world. Your lack of respect of a fellow Grayson is revolting to me,” he bellowed, steadily backing Damon into the wall. “Where is your honor, boy? Where is your family pride? Why is your dignity hiding? Your sister will not be shut away just so you can feel comfortable with the world around us — get that out of your head right now!”

Finally, there was silence. For a long while, nobody said a word. After what seemed like an eternity of deafness, Dowla carefully spoke. “I think we’re all just a little edgy because of what’s going on downstairs,” she said, softly.

“I’m not edgy, I’m angry — but this discussion has been on the way for a while now, and I’m glad we’re finally clearing the air,” their father barked back. There was another long period of silence while Mister Grayson nervously paced and circled the room, muttering irritably to himself.

Finally, “Listen,” he said, taking in a very deep breath, “I’m… sorry I yelled at you — especially now and at a time like this. I apologize to you all. The pressure of the last few nights… and my lack of sleep, have made me a little tense.” He held out his arms and the children circled around him.

“We’re sorry too, daddy,” said Tencha, hugging her father. “I, for one, will try and cut Anna some slack.”

Mister Grayson smiled at her. There was another quiet pause as the family shared a moment of closeness in a clustered hug.

“You know what?” said Dowla looking around at her family. “I just had a frightening thought.”

“What’s that?” asked Eric

“I’ll have to admit — I’m a little scared here.”

“Scared? Scared of what?”

“Well, we all know what a ball of fire Anna can be… even without any magical ability. Can you imagine her… with a wand?” asked Dowla, an enlightened look of fear shining forth on her face.

For a moment there was silence, and then Mister Grayson started to slowly chuckle. Before long, the other children were starting to snicker as well, which culminated with all of them screaming in hysterical laughter.

“My God… we’ll all be in a lot trouble then, won’t we?” Eric said, snorting loudly.

“Oh, dear… with that attitude, all that fiery-red hair… and then a witch to boot? I’m heading for the hills!” laughed Mister Grayson, and they all started roaring again.

“What’s so funny?” a voice chimed in from the doorway.

“Anna!” shouted Eric, running toward his sister. “It was taking so long; we were starting to get worried.”

“So — what did they say?” asked Dowla, walking over eagerly.

“Well… nothing, really; they didn’t tell me anything. They did a bunch of tests, cast a few spells, they even tried to hypnotize me once, I think. They put all kinds of stupid things on my head and greasy stuff on my skin. They made me jump off of daddy’s desk a few times and tried to bend me into a pretzel once. It was weird,” Anna explained.

“So they didn’t tell you anything? They didn’t give you the results?” asked Eric.

“No — they told me to go upstairs and find you guys, and stay here. They said they would be up in a few minutes. I’m exhausted,” Anna complained, sitting in a chair next to the fire.

A few minutes later, the voices of the healers could be heard climbing the staircase from the basement. The entire Grayson family met them at the door.

“Oh… good, you’re all here,” Doctor Pearl said with a smile. “Healer Nosova and I believe we have enough information to form a summary opinion,” said the plump witch, walking into the center of the room with Nosova following close behind.

“Well, then?” said Mister Grayson cautiously, “Tell us… what did you find?”

Nosova spoke first. “Now… you must understand… our tests are looking for any small, minute signs of magic from someone who has never shown any capabilities in the past. As such, ve never expected Anna to cast a spell, or conjure something impressive for us.” He could see the impatient look from those listening in the room around him. “Vot ve are saying is — this is not something that she can directly control and show us. It is, rather, how you say… digging for something out of her. So… after all of our tests — there is enough evidence to suggest that Anna might be a vitch.” The healer finished in a self-satisfied voice, but there was confused silence from the family in reply.

“What does that mean? ‘She might be a witch’? Is she, or isn’t she?” Tencha shouted in frustration.

Mister Grayson stepped forward. “Healer Nosova… we really expected you to tell us if Anna…”

“Calm yourselves,” interrupted Doctor Pearl. “We have learned enough to give our permission to take the final step. We want to test her with a wand.”

“So… do it!” demanded Damon testily.

Pearl smiled and then shook her head. “You must understand; it is against wizard law to purposely give a Muggle a wand, and it’s for her own protection that these laws exist. There are very strict protocols that must be followed here. We now believe the best way to see if Anna has any capabilities is to put a wand in her hand. The wand amplifies the witch or wizard’s abilities, little as they may or may not be, and focuses the mind by the use of the magical substance in its core. A few wizards can do very simple magic without a wand, but almost all have to use a wand for any complex spells and charms. Some wizards can’t do anything at all without a wand. Some have to actually say a spell verbally, while others can do it by concentrating on the spell in their mind. It all comes down to experience, talent, and the personal gifts each of us possesses. No two witches or wizards are exactly alike, so there is no sure way of knowing how much help an individual needs until that person actually holds a wand. We would like to give Anna a wand and see what she can do. We are confident enough from our tests that she should be safe from any unforeseen harm,” Doctor Pearl finished.

“So… vit your permission,” added Nosova, “ve vood recommend proceeding to this last step. Naturally, ve could have done this downstairs — but since this should give us the final answer ve ver looking for, ve thought it should be done vith her family present, no?”

“All right,” said Mister Grayson, “so what do you need from me?”

“A wand, of course,” chirped Pearl, “preferably… one from her family. An immediate family member might provide a wand closest to what she would need, one best suited to her personal needs and abilities. When looking for these minute signs of magic — a family wand would give us the best chance of detecting what’s there.”

“Here — use mine,” said Eric, pulling his wand out from inside his robes. The healers looked at Mister Grayson.

“We were thinking… the father’s wand would give her the best chance,” said Doctor Pearl.

Mister Grayson stood there looking at Pearl. He then slowly pulled his wand out of the pocket of his robes, and looked down as if to inspect it closely. Then he looked at Anna and smiled. Everything seemed to be moving in slow motion for Anna. She had never held a wand in her life, and now her own father was going to hand his wand to her. Anna’s heart was thumping heavy in her chest. This was it, or so she thought.

“No,” Mister Grayson said firmly.

“What?” yelped Doctor Pearl, with a heavy jerk. “Mister Grayson… I can assure you of Anna’s safety. All of our tests have shown…”

“Not this wand,” said Mister Grayson. “I have another — let me go and get it.” He swept out of the room quickly and trotted down the staircase.

“Very… well, then,” said Doctor Pearl, looking utterly perplexed.

Anna looked at Eric and saw him shrugging at the healers. He obviously didn’t understand what their father was doing either.

A few minutes later, Mister Grayson walked back into the room carrying a long wooden box under his arm. He stopped near the fireplace and flipped opened the lid of the box. He then pulled out a deep purple wand.

“Purple heart!” said Doctor Pearl in amazement. “Excellent… but a very rare wood for a wand, to be sure. And… the core?” she asked, inquisitively.

Mister Grayson looked at Anna. “Nundu hair wrapped in Manticore skin,” he answered guardedly. Anna looked at the wand in her father’s hand; she had never seen anything like it.

Nosova frowned. “A very rare vood, and an exceptionally uncommon core. Mister Grayson… I am not sure this vand vood make for a suitable test,” he said, looking at Doctor Pearl, who was cautiously nodding in agreement.

“No — this would be the right wand… it’s been in the family for a very, very long time,” replied Mister Grayson, still not taking his eyes off of Anna.

“I see. May I have a look, then?” asked Doctor Pearl.

“Of course,” said Mister Grayson, who walked over to the doctor and handed her the wand.

Pearl inspected every inch of the purple heart in much the same way she had done with the letter from Castlewood earlier that morning. She pointed the wand into the fireplace and shouted “Relashio!” Immediately, bright purple sparks shot out from the end of the wand. “Oh… excellent condition, but very old. Mister Grayson, are you sure you want to use this particular wand for our test?”

“I’m sure,” Mister Grayson said sharply.

“Very well… if you would be so kind as to hand it to Anna, then?” said Pearl in a somewhat worried tone. Mister Grayson took the wand from the doctor’s hand.

“Gladly,” he said, turning back to look at Anna again. He walked over to her as the rest of the Grayson children stepped in next to him to watch. He held out the wand by its tip toward Anna. She stared down at the purple handle of the wand in front of her, and then up again into her father’s eyes.

“Magic or not — we are all Graysons,” he said with a wink.

“Go on, Anna — take it!” Eric said, excitedly.

“Yes, dear — just grab it firmly by the handle,” suggested Doctor Pearl, who still looked a little worried.

Anna reached out and, looking into her father’s eyes, she took the wand from his hand. Immediately there was a bright flash of purple light shooting out of Anna’s body. A strong blinding wind seemed to blow upward from the floor standing her red hair on end. She looked down in shock and watched, as the wand seemed to sink itself into the flesh of her wrist, as if sliding up her sleeve, and then retracted itself once more into her open hand. She could feel a hot flash burst forth from her body, knocking the rest of the Graysons backward a step. And then everything was suddenly quiet; it had ended as quickly as it started.

Doctor Pearl quickly marched up to Anna and snatched the wand from her outstretched hand. Without saying another word, she walked over to Mister Grayson and handed him the purple heart. She then walked back to her spot next to Nosova and nodded before turning once again to face them. Her hardened expression suddenly broke into a very large smile.

“Congratulations — it looks like the Graysons have another witch in the family!”
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