Anna Grayson and The Order of Merlin

The Line

It took Anna several hours to finally get back to sleep after the ghost had come to visit her again. After replaying everything over in her mind the next morning, she began to take comfort in some of the things the apparition had said. It said Anna had to control her passions if she was to control the creature inside her. Although she wasn’t sure she understood this, at least there was hope the creature could be controlled. Thinking back, she recalled the last two times she had felt the dark coldness of the Lethifold. It had come during very similar situations, and when her emotions were nearly out of control. Anna realized it was the emotion of blind rage that seemed to set the thing off; when Mrs. Drummond had threatened her, and when Damon was torturing Widwick in her dream. It was during these moments of shock and anger that Anna began to change.

But the change wasn’t just physical. Her very being seemed to align itself to the creature’s most basic instincts as she transformed. The feelings of starving hunger, and her inability to recognize Damon when she was attacking him were extremely frightening to her. How could something like this be controlled? Her ghostly visitor had said that she, Anna, and the creature shared the same nature; what did that mean?

After much soul searching over the next two days, Anna became more resolute than ever not to give up her chance to go to Castlewood. She wearily began to trust her visitor’s advice, and started to believe she could control this inner beast if she had to. Once she had reached this conclusion, Anna didn’t want to think about it anymore; for if she did, she wasn’t sure she wouldn’t change her mind again. It was easy to convince herself of the validity of this decision where traveling to Castlewood was at stake.

Nothing else the visitor said made any sense to Anna at all. Apparently, the ghost had been awakened for the same reason Anna’s abilities had risen from wherever they had been hiding. She was expected to guard against some kind of future conflict to come. Although she didn’t understand any of this, Anna was sure the ally would come to her again to tell her more. For now, Anna understood they both wanted the same thing: She was to go to Castlewood, and, for now, she would accept this mutually satisfying objective.

In the days that followed, Anna received many more owls with instructions from Castlewood. Although Anna was almost thirteen years old, to be a fully qualified witch, she was expected to enter the academy as a first-year student, which meant she was already a full year behind her peers. Her course schedule and list of books arrived the day after Doctor Pearl had informed the Chancellor about her test results, and then, to her complete surprise, Anna received a letter from the Castlewood Chancellor himself, Professor Thordarson:

Dear Anna,

I was delighted to hear you would be joining us this coming year at Castlewood. Although the circumstances of your entry have been somewhat unusual, we are sure you will thrive in our scholastic environment. You know, of course, your father, Boris Grayson, also studied the magical arts here, and was, by all measures, an outstanding scholar. Your mother, Victoria Grayson, was also one of our top students and the recipient of many academic honors for her achievements during her time with us. Your family has demonstrated a fine tradition of success at our school, which I am confident you will carry forward in your studies here as well. Please feel free to contact me if you have any special needs pursuant to your late entry into the school. I will personally see to any changes in your accommodations where they are judged to be necessary. We look forward to seeing yet another member of the Grayson family here at the Academy.

Yours in Highest Regards, Elimar Thordarson Professor of Wizard Law, History, and Psychological Studies Chancellor of Castlewood Academy for the Magical Arts

On the day of their departure, the house was alive with the excitement of bustling teenagers packing their remaining trunks. Cages were brought out of summer storage for the owls each of the Grayson children would be taking with them to Castlewood. Only Eric insisted on the same owl every year; a very large and stiff looking horned owl, which he had named Butch. Mister Grayson told Anna to go to the attic owlry to pick out an owl for herself, and Eric went along to help her make her selection.

“Now… you have to choose well, Anna, because it could take a while to send a letter home if you your owl isn’t up to the task,” Eric said expertly. “I always take Butch because he’s a very large bird, and doesn’t stray off course so easily in bad wind and weather. Last year Dowla and I had a fight, and I found out she had sent an owl to father with a load of excuses. I sent Butch the next morning to explain my side of the argument, and he showed up at the house one full day before that stupid runt of an owl she was using,” he said, with an amused grin.

As they walked up the long spiral staircase into the owlry, Anna could feel the steady thumping sounds of several small heartbeats on the floor above them. To her, it felt like the steady, reverberating chorus of a marching band.

“Here we are,” Eric said, stepping into the musty room. He looked quickly about and then frowned. “Uh-oh,” he said worriedly. “The other horned owl is gone… Dowla must have taken it for herself. Our sister learns a fast lesson, doesn’t she?” Anna smiled as she looked around. The room looked like a hollowed out church tower with several splintered, wooden beams crossing beneath a series of open arched windows high above them in the ceiling.

“So… what do you think?” Eric said, looking carefully around the room. Several dozen owls of different size, color, and breed sat dozing in the shadows, looking down uncaringly from their many perches and hollows. “See anything you like? Outside the swift horns — I guess the rest are pretty much the same,” her brother explained. “How about that one?” He pointed to a young barn owl sitting on a ledge, overlooking the freshly swept floor. Anna looked closely at the bird and could sense his reluctance to go outside.

“Too lazy,” Anna whispered with a frown.

“Too what?”

Anna kept looking, slowly walking in a circle around the dusty room streaked with the rays of morning light pouring through the windows. A large tawny owl swooped down from the rafters and settled on a perch to Anna’s right.

“Why… hello there; interviewing for the job, are you?” she said with a smile. The owl spread his sizeable wings, as if to show his splendid aptitude as a future prospect. Anna looked into his eyes. “You’ve been having problems getting along with the others, haven’t you?” she said knowingly. “Why is that?” The owl dropped his head in noticeable remorse, and Anna kept looking.

“Listen Anna — you have to remember, you’re choosing something to deliver your mail. You’re not picking a friend,” Eric said impatiently.

“Who are you kidding?” Anna retorted, without bothering to look back at her brother. “I’ve seen the way you and Butch get along. Besides… who better to deliver my messages — than a friend?” Anna didn’t see Eric rolling his eyes behind her.

Unsurprisingly, Anna seemed to be able to sense each of the bird’s inner personalities, both good and bad. That one’s too shy; she’s too fickle; he’s very strong, but he doesn’t like packages; she only likes the blue envelopes; he likes the sound of tearing parchment, she thought with a probing frown. She was pleasantly surprised by the number of different characters that existed in the family owlry.

“Wait a minute,” she suddenly said curtly. “Does my father know about you?” she scolded, pointing at a very fat owl, dozing on a high perch.

“What are you talking about?” Eric said, grinning slightly.

“Why… you little freeloader! She hasn’t delivered a letter in months,” Anna said angrily, pointing at the owl.

“What? But how would you know if…?” but Eric stopped. He had learned long ago not to question Anna’s senses when it came to understanding the animals that lived around them. He looked up and frowned. “Maybe she’s sick.” Anna glared back up at the owl, which had now fully awaken and was clearly looking found out.

“No… she’s not sick.” Anna walked over and glowered menacingly up at the bird. “You had better start pulling your weight around here, fatso, or I’ll have my dad turn you into something more fitting to your way of life… perhaps a big, fat, lazy ground toad?” she said, with a scathing glare.

Looking shocked and very affronted, the large owl ruffled her large wings and jumped into the air. Rising steadily, the bird turned and flew out one of the open windows.

“Good riddance… slacker!” Anna waved angrily.

Eric laughed. “Well… how about that — a vagrant owl. Well… what do you think? See anything you do like up here?”

From the corner of her eye, Anna saw a small owl snoozing comfortably in the corner of a cubbyhole. The light colored bird seemed to be resting after just delivering a large package to the house.

“Hello there, little one,” Anna said, smiling. The tired old owl opened a single eye in response, and then lifted his wing to preen under his shoulder; he looked well nested and comfortable after his long trip. He was a very funny looking owl, with bluish-gray feathers and bright orange eyes. He had, what looked like, two little feathered tufts for ears, and a poof of down growing over his tiny beak, which looked unmistakably like a bushy little mustache. In fact, Anna thought the owl reminded her of a stoic English gentleman, who was mindfully proud of his many accomplishments and duties.

“He’s a hard worker,” Anna said, looking back at Eric.

Eric smiled. “Otus megalotis,” he said expertly.

“Say what?”

“A Philippine scops owl. He just arrived with a package for father from overseas. A tough little bird to be sure, but not very big,” Eric said, with an uninspired frown.

“Yes, but he’s dedicated and dependable, and there’s something else about him…” Anna started to explain, but then she stopped. For a moment, Anna didn’t know what to say about this owl, but something clearly made him different from all the rest. After a moment of inspection, it suddenly dawned on her. She couldn’t read him very well at all.

For most of the owls, Anna could tell Eric a lot about them, their habits, their likes and dislikes, but this one was unlike the rest. She couldn’t say much about him other than he was hard-working and proud of what he did for the family.

“Well, he’s proven he can fly the long distances,” she said. Then, looking back up at the bird, “Would you like to come with me to Castlewood?” The owl turned his head to stare down at her, looking unimpressed. He blinked his left eye, and then his right, as if to say: Let me think about it.

“I’m not sure about this one, Anna,” her brother said, frowning. “He seems a little full of himself to me.”

Anna smiled. Finally, a friend complicated enough to make her work to understand him, whose trust she would have to earn. “I’ll take him,” she said, surprising herself more than Eric.

“Okay… your choice,” Eric sighed, before picking up the bird and placing him into the cage. The tired old owl barely noticed his change of sleeping quarters. He looked up at Anna, hooted softly, and then returned to his well-earned nap.


An hour later, Anna was packing the remaining items for school when she heard Eric’s voice booming up the hallway.

“Time to line-up! Come on, everybody — the cars are here. Father wants us downstairs for the line-up in five minutes. Let’s go!” She could hear her brother clapping.

“Oh, my God — it’s time already?” Anna said, frantically sweeping the remaining items on her dresser into a small bag, which she threw onto the open trunk at the foot of her bed. There was a quick knock at the door. “Come in!”

Eric poked his head in. “Time for the line; you ready?”

“Oh, I don’t know,” Anna said, frustrated.

Eric rolled his eyes. “Are you sure you have ninety percent of what you’ll need?”

“Uhmm… yes, I believe so,” she said nervously, wringing her hands and looking around her room.

“Good enough — let’s go. Gabby can send you anything you’ve forgotten. Leave the trunk, the drivers are collecting them for us,” he said, directing Anna into the hallway.

“Oh, all right,” Anna heaved, walking toward the door.

“No looking back!” Eric warned, as Anna started glancing around the room once again.

“Hey… this is all new to me, remember?”

“Yeah, I know, but father won’t tolerate our late arrival in the line. We’d better get down there.”

The line was an old Grayson family tradition. As the children prepared to leave for school, the rest of the family stood to inspect them before their departure. It was here where Anna’s father offered his final words of wisdom and encouragement before sending them out and into the world beyond his control. Anna remembered standing next to her father so many times as he scrutinized the line leaving to go to Castlewood each year and how she prayed, some day, she might join those being inspected. Today was the day it would finally happen.

“Now listen, Anna… this is very important. Keep your comments and answers to his questions short and simple. If you talk too much — father’s gonna drill down on you pretty hard. The simpler — the better,” Eric explained, as the two galloped down the stairs. “Got it?”

“Got it.”

They arrived last in the family room, where they found their father impatiently waiting. “You’re late!” he barked irritably. “All right, then — line it up!”

Eric took his place at the far left of the line, facing their father. As Eric settled his feet, he seemed to snap his head straight, as if coming to attention. To his right stood his sister, Dowla, and then Tencha and Damon, shoulder to shoulder. Anna stood inside the doorway looking somewhat uneasy.

“Well — what are you waiting for, Anna? Take your place in the line over there next to Damon,” Mister Grayson said sternly.

Anna smiled, and then walked over to the spot furthest to the right in the line. Making sure her toes were even with Damon, she too snapped to attention. She could see Widwick, Gabby, and Mrs. McConnell standing shoulder to shoulder in a line behind their father. Gabby was quietly sobbing into her dirty dishtowel of a dress. Cookie was floating high above them, wearing an old floppy hat and holding a broken riding crop under one misty arm. The portraits in the room were sharing their frames with the other portrait occupants from the rest of the house, who were struggling to find the best place to watch. The suit of armor had moved itself from its pedestal in the dining room to a position behind the children’s line, its broadsword raised, ready for inspection.

Mister Grayson straightened to speak. “Once again… the time has come for me to watch you go. Every year, your line grows longer while our line on this side shrinks. That line represents the challenges and changes to come, and the many opportunities for each of you individually. By putting you in that line, I trust you to remember who you are and where it is you come from. Your honor, integrity, and the ambition to succeed will be tested in the months to come; I expect your best when you’re here with me, and I demand you honor your family when you are away. I do not give my trust casually and without merit. I only give it to those I know will honor our good name. Can I count on you to protect the trust I now bestow upon you?” Mister Grayson asked in a very loud voice.

“Yes sir!” the children bellowed together.

“Excellent! I now declare to the entire house that those of you standing before me have earned my trust,” said Mister Grayson, and the portraits politely applauded. He paused, looking down the line before walking over to face Eric.

“Eric, why is your family honor so important?” he whispered softly.

“The Grayson family honor is the binding element and defines who we are, father. It has been earned by the hard work and sweat of every past generation of Grayson who came before us. Each of us carry the responsibility to remember the sacrifice of those of our family who worked so hard to build our good name and reputation,” Eric replied, looking deep into his father’s eyes with building pride.

“Outstanding,” said Mister Grayson, as the family portraits whispered and nodded approvingly to one another. “By placing you in that line — I’m trusting you’ll keep and protect our family honor. Eric… can I trust you to do this while you’re away and out of my reach?”

“Yes sir — you can. Your trust is safe here with me, father,” Eric said, tearfully.

“Good luck, son,” said Mister Grayson. He then reached out and hugged him. “I love you. Please take care of yourself. I have very high expectations for you this year — more than all the rest.”

Eric hugged his father back. “I will, father — I love you too. I won’t let you down.” Mister Grayson nodded, straightened Eric’s shoulders, and then stepped to his left to face Dowla next in the line.

“Dowla,” Mister Grayson whispered, “tell me about your priorities while you are away and out of my reach.”

Dowla gave a relieved smile. “My priorities will be to keep God in my heart, protect my family honor, watch out for the other members of my family, the welfare of those around me, and to dedicate myself to the tasks given to me by my teachers and superiors,” she answered smartly.

“Good,” Mister Grayson whispered, nodding slowly between her every word. He reached out and hugged his daughter. “Take care of yourself, and please… try to stay out of trouble this year.” He pulled back and smiled at her. “But don’t forget to have fun,” he said, tapping her gently on the nose. “I love you, pumpkin.”

“I love you too, daddy. I’m going to miss you so much,” she replied through her falling tears. Mister Grayson nodded, kissed Dowla on the cheek, and then stepped over to Tencha.

“Tencha, why should we watch out for the welfare of those around us?”

“Because it’s what God expects of all good people, but especially those of us he has blessed with so much,” she replied, motioning around the room.

“Yes… and we honor the memory of those Graysons who came before us when we help and protect those in trouble or who are less fortunate,” her father added.

“Yes sir — our brothers everywhere,” Tencha replied. Mister Grayson sighed, and then slowly reached out to hug his second daughter.

“I love you, sweetheart. Study hard, and take care of yourself.” He leaned into her ear. “And do me a favor; make sure Eric gets enough sleep this year, will you?” Tencha nodded tearfully.

“I love you too, daddy,” she said, sobbing into her father’s shoulder. Mister Grayson kissed Tencha on the cheek, and then stepped over to Damon.

“Damon, would you say our family is strong?” Damon seemed taken back by the question.

“Yes, sir — we are powerful!” he replied forcefully. Mister Grayson seemed to hesitate at hearing his answer, thinking carefully about his response.

“Damon, what is the difference between power and strength?” Again, Damon seemed to struggle to find an answer. “Think Damon; there is a difference. What is it?” asked Mister Grayson; his eyes were peering into Damon’s puzzled face.

“I… I think… strength can take many forms and comes from within ourselves.”

“Good,” Mister Grayson purred, “and power?”

“Power is how we influence our authority,” Damon replied without hesitation.

Mister Grayson frowned. He stepped in close to Damon and then whispered, “Your strength does come from within; you’re right about that,” Mister Grayson said, pointing a single finger into Damon’s chest. “The strength of your faith, your character, your drive, and the ability to hold onto the things you know to be true and honorable. Power does not exist without these things, Damon, and it is fleeting without restraint. Power without these strengths is imaginary, and strength without honor can be immoral. Without honor, power can be evil. Do you understand?”

“Yes, sir,” Damon replied carefully, but Anna could tell Damon would be thinking about these words for many days to come. Mister Grayson reached out and hugged Damon.

“I love you, son,” he said, patting Damon on the cheek. “Work hard in school this year. I’m going to miss you very much.”

“I will father — I love you too,” Damon replied somberly.

Finally, Mister Grayson turned to face Anna. He stared at her for a moment and then, “Anna, what is the most important strength we as a family possess?”

Anna thought for a moment and then answered. “Our faith and love,” she replied cautiously.

“Good — and tell me, do these strengths depend on our personal power or abilities?”

Anna knew the answer immediately. “No, sir — they are gifts from God to us all.” Eric smiled in his place at the end of the line as their father brightened. He stepped forward, reached up, and cupped Anna’s face in his warm hands.

“Well… look at you. This was rather unexpected, wasn’t it? I was so looking forward to our chess matches this winter. I’m gong to miss you, Anna — I love you very much. I know you’ve waited a very long time for this — longer than all the rest. You’re going to learn a lot about yourself this year. It would be natural to question yourself many times; but never question who you are or where you come from. Can I trust you to honor your faith while you’re away and out of my reach? Can I trust you in this line?”

“Yes, sir,” Anna replied, and she sobbed against her father’s shoulder as they hugged. “I love you so much, daddy — how will I do this without you?” Anna asked tearfully.

“It’s always hardest the first year,” he said with a pause, “for both the children and their parents. But… you’ll do fine,” he said, smiling down at her as he kissed her on the cheek. He walked back to the middle of the room and turned to face the line once more. His expression became stern.

“I should warn you all, if you break my trust — you will regret it.” He scowled in the direction of Tencha and Dowla. “And I will be most vigilant in making sure you keep to your part of this bargain. If you break this trust and dishonor yourself — you dishonor our family,” he said glaringly, “you dishonor the memory of those around you,” he said, motioning to the imagines in the portraits watching them, all of which were nodding in agreement. “And you will have dishonored me!

“If you break my trust, I will remove you from this line and you will not be returned to it for the rest of the year.” Dowla and Tencha swallowed hard. “This means you will remain here with me until you can prove you can be trusted again. While the others return to school, you will become my student, and I can assure you, I will make that remaining year most difficult for you. This is not meant to be a threat, just the validation of a simple truth: With trust comes great responsibility. This is what was expected of me while I was in that line. You should expect nothing less now.”

Their father paused, trying to remember if he had forgotten anything important. “You must also remember that magic is not allowed outside the estate grounds until you are aboard ship and underway to Castlewood. Underage witches and wizards are not allowed to use magic outside of the school. By special circumstances, you are allowed to use magic here in our home only because of the work I do for the Ministry. Don’t forget… these are privileges extended to me, which I pass on to you while you are here. Don’t abuse these privileges while out of my reach.”

He looked down the line again at each of them. “I’m very proud of you, and grant you permission to leave our family home and venture out. Go out there and show the world what you’ve got.” Then he tilted his head down to glare at them from under his darkened brow, his face splitting into an evil grin. “Show them what a Grayson can bring to the party!” The Grayson children giggled maliciously at each other. Their father then lifted his head and smiled brightly. “Good luck — work hard — and return safe. I’ll see you all over the Christmas holiday.” And then, after a difficult silence, he finished. “We’re done here — you’re dismissed!” And with that, the children walked forward to their father and hugged him as a group. “I will miss you all very, very much. I love you,” he said, kissing each of them on the head with tears welling in his eyes.

“Get going now — your trunks have been loaded and your drivers are waiting. You’d better head outside.” One by one, each of the children hugged their father and then headed for the entranceway and out the front door.

“Anna — I’d like to speak with you for a moment, please,” Mister Grayson said, placing his arm around Anna’s shoulder. “Tencha, would you tell the driver she’ll be along in five minutes?”

“Okay… goodbye, daddy,” said Tencha with a wave, before turning to walk down the stone steps outside and toward the two parked cars waiting in the driveway.

“Follow me,” Mister Grayson said to Anna, as he turned to walk down the staircase toward the basement. Anna followed her father to the bottom of the stairway and down the long hall of portraits to the entrance of his Ministry office. Before he opened the door, he turned to face her again.

“I have a surprise for you — close your eyes,” he said with an anticipative grin.

“What? Why? What’s going on?” Anna replied, in a surprised tone.

“Never mind… cover your eyes and take my hand,” he said mysteriously. Anna did as she was told and covered her eyes and took her father’s hand. “No peeking now!” he ordered, as he opened his office door. Anna could feel her father pulling her along a few steps inside and finally stopped somewhere in the middle of the room. He released her hand, and then turned her shoulders to redirect her orientation. “Okay, you can look now,” he whispered softly. Anna removed her hand and opened her eyes. She looked up and gasped. There, hanging on the wall above her father’s chair, was a life size painting of a stunning woman with long red hair in a pink dress. Anna was so shocked by the woman’s immense beauty she didn’t even think who it was staring out into the room from the golden frame. Her father leaned over and whispered into her ear, “It’s… your mother, Anna,” he said reverently. “It’s my Victoria.”

And so it was. The image of Victoria Grayson was almost regal and certainly breathtaking. She was portrayed in a standing position holding a single rose. Her eyes were as blue as sapphires, and her skin was clear and perfect. She was young, vibrant, and carried a slight disarming smile in her pose. If a picture could tell the story of grace and beauty, this one could testify to these qualities, together with elegance, sophistication, and self-confidence. Victoria was all of these things and more. The image began to blur around its edges and Anna impulsively raised her hand to wipe her eyes, only to find her own tears streaming down her face. She looked at her father, who was still staring up at the portrait with a strange and unfamiliar smile.

“She’s so beautiful,” Anna said in awe.

“Yes — I told you so, didn’t I?”

“But I thought you said she wouldn’t pose for a portrait,” Anna said, walking up to the frame to get a better look.

“No — she wouldn’t. I had to have it done from a photograph,” he replied. “I’m very glad you talked me into bringing it out of storage. I realized that, with you leaving and going off to school, I needed to see her more than ever.”

Anna was speechless and in tears. The image of her mother was having an unexpected effect on her. It was a longing to know her, to be near her. Her reaction to the portrait was overwhelming, and Anna couldn’t help the intense feeling of grief that was now moving to engulf her. The knowledge that the woman Anna was seeing for the first time in her life was dead struck painfully deep in her chest. She looked at her father, but before she could reach out to him, he had already crossed the room and wrapped his arms around her. Anna cried desperately.

“It’s all right, sweetheart,” he said mournfully. “Now you know why I couldn’t do this for so long. Your mother was an amazing woman; I miss her very much, even after all of these years.” There was another long pause while the two held each other, gazing lovingly up at the painting.

“I have something else for you,” he said brightly, as Anna wiped away the tears from her cheeks.

“Now what? You know you’re going to send me away a complete mess,” she said with a groan. Mister Grayson smiled and turned to walk over to another table where two boxes sat next to a book. He picked up the book and handled it to Anna. Anna opened the front cover to find a photograph. She gasped again. It was an exact copy of the painting.

“Now we both can remember her in the same way,” Mister Grayson said lovingly. Anna hugged her father again. She turned the page to find photo after photo of Victoria Grayson with her father, with the other Grayson children, hugging Widwick. Mister Grayson reached in to close the book in her hands. “If we go through these pictures now, you’ll miss your ship. We can share them again over Christmas.”

He turned again and picked up a large wooden box from the desk and handed it to Anna. She opened the heavily carved lid on the box, which squeaked slightly as it was lifted. Within the box, sitting in beautifully crushed, blue velvet, was the gem-encrusted kaleidoscope. Anna, suddenly short of breath, looked up at her father’s display cabinet to find the scope missing from its normal spot behind the glass.

“Your grandmother would have wanted you to have it, and I know you will appreciate it the most,” he said, with a bright smile.

“Oh daddy, are you sure? No… I couldn’t take this. It belonged to your mother.”

“Well… actually… it belonged to Victoria’s mother, Mary Jennings.”

Anna’s jaw dropped. She looked down at the kaleidoscope again with renewed wonder. “I don’t know what to say,” she said gratefully.

Her father stiffened. “You could say thank you, my dear,” he replied in a very gruff manner.

“Oh… thank you. Thank you — thank you — thank you,” she said, hugging him again. “I’ll cherish it forever!”

“I know you will, and that’s why I wanted you to have it.

“I have one more thing for you,” he said, turning to pick up a thin wooden box from the table. Anna set the kaleidoscope down and opened the box. It was the purple heart wand. Anna frowned and looked up at her father. “Well… every witch needs a proper wand, lamebrain!” he said mockingly, and in a very bad imitation of Eric’s voice. Anna laughed and looked down at the wand again, running her finger across its smooth purple finish.

Her father leaned in again. “It was Victoria’s wand, Anna; it belonged to your mother,” he said softly. “You’ll need it for school — and it’s rightfully yours.” This was too much. Anna broke down in tears once again, leaning against her father, and holding the wand close to her chest. Her mother’s wand; Anna couldn’t believe it. There was a knock at the door and Mrs. McConnell walked in.

“Excuse me, Mister Grayson — but the drivers are getting impatient. Anna needs to go if they’re gonna’ board the ship on time,” she said with a look of concern.

“Yes — quite right Meredith — all my fault — thank you. Come on, sweetheart, you have to go.”

Anna gathered up her gifts and followed her father to the door. As she passed Mrs. McConnell, she noticed her father’s secretary looking behind her. Anna turned and saw she was staring up at the portrait of her mother behind the desk. Anna looked back at Mrs. McConnell again and found a sparkle of tears growing in the woman’s eyes.

“Yer mother was quite beautiful. I had almost forgotten… she…” but she stopped short. “Good luck at school, dear,” she said, with a look of pride on her smiling face. Anna quickly hugged her. “Oh… come-come now child… move, along. You’ll do fine, I’ll warrant it,” she said lovingly.

“Goodbye Meredith — I’m going to miss you all so much.” Mrs. McConnell straightened and pursed her trembling lips. Tilting her head to the side, she nodded in agreement. Anna glanced back one last time at the portrait and then ran down the hall to catch up with her father.

Within minutes, Anna’s things were packed in the trunk of the car with the rest of her belongings, and she was climbing into the backseat with Eric. As the cars pulled away, Anna and Eric looked out the back window to see their father, Widwick, Gabby and Mrs. McConnell waving them out of sight.

“You know, Eric… we have the greatest father in the entire Wizarding world,” Anna said, longingly.

“I think so,” he replied quickly. Eric looked over at Anna and could see she had been crying. “Yes, he’s a very good man. We owe it to him to do our very best this year. Are you up for that challenge, Anna Grayson?” he asked, deliberately adding a sense of contest to his voice. As the car passed through the gates of the estate, Anna was still looking back as they closed behind them. She could see the horses on the iron bars were still running. Anna turned to face the front and smiled.

“Yes, I am,” she said with determination. “I’m ready for anything now!”

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