Anna Grayson and The Order of Merlin

The BB5

As the cars drove along, Anna opened the photo album given to her by her father. The portrait of Victoria Grayson stared back at her from its place in the front. As she turned the thick pages, Anna could see the photographs moving and the people in the pictures laughing and waving back at her. Her father looked so happy back then, almost carefree in those days.

All of the Grayson children were very small; the four of them just babies, really. How could her mother take on so much responsibility when she married her father? Anna thought Victoria must have loved him very much. Anna finally reached the back page of the album, and there, sitting in a golden frame, was the last picture of her mother. Obviously very pregnant with Anna at the time; this was how she looked just before the accident, Anna assumed; just before her death.

She noticed something quite different about this photograph compared to the rest. Anna couldn’t put her finger on it, but it seemed as though her mother looked pale and very worried. It might have been easy to conclude her appearance was due to the late condition in her pregnancy, but, for some reason, Anna didn’t think so. Victoria almost looked emotionally trodden and unhappy; as if she knew her future was already written in the stars, bleak and dark. Within a few weeks after this picture was taken she would be dead, leaving Anna to be raised by her widowed father.

“What are you looking at there?” asked Eric, glancing down over her shoulder at the book of pictures sitting on his sister’s lap.

“It’s a photo album of my mother. Daddy gave it to me as a going-away present,” Anna replied. She wasn’t sure she wanted to share this moment with her brother.

“Really? Victoria Grayson? Can I see? I can’t even remember what she looked like.” Anna cautiously slid the book over to her brother’s lap, and then flipped the pages back to the portrait in the front.

“Wow! You look a lot like her. I mean… the hair, the skin color, and the face… it’s a little eerie,” he said, looking up at Anna with an exaggerated look of wonder. Anna smiled, as if she’d been given the nicest compliment, and all of her reluctance to share immediately evaporated.

“You really think so?” she asked, leaning in close to look at the portrait again.

“Absolutely,” Eric said, turning the page. “And wow… look at these pictures of us kids. Damon actually looks kind of cute and innocent… I wonder what ever happened to him?” he said with a smirk, and Anna giggled.

“Do you remember anything about my mother?” Anna asked him hopefully.

“I’m afraid not. I was only three years old in most of these photos,” he replied, still staring at the remaining pages. Looking up, he could see the disappointment in Anna’s face. He tried to think of something to cheer her up.

“There was one thing I remember.”

Anna brightened quickly. “What?” What do you remember?”

“Well… I was very small, mind you, so don’t hold me to any details, but I remember when I went to bed, Victoria would to come into my room before I went to sleep. She used to tuck me in and kiss me on the forehead.” Anna smiled happily, looking down again at her mother’s portrait. But when she looked up again, she could see Eric staring away as if in a trance.

“Well… that was nice… wasn’t it?” she said, as if trying to convince her brother of something rather obvious. Eric didn’t respond. Still staring out the window behind her, his eyes seemed to be focused on some distant memory. “Eric…? What’s the matter?”

Her brother was startled, and then looked at Anna in surprise. “What? Oh, yeah… sorry. It’s just that… I haven’t thought about this for a long time. I was remembering something that happened one night when I was a child… something really weird.”

Anna frowned. “Weird? What do you mean?”

“Something very strange. Wow… it’s been so long now; it seems more like a dream after all these years.”

“What was it? What was strange?”

Eric looked uncomfortable, but continued nonetheless. “I remember it because it was the night after my fourth birthday party in November. It was very late, and I was still playing with the little toy dragon father had carved for me when I heard Victoria coming down the hall. I didn’t want to get into trouble for being up so late, so I rolled over to face the wall and acted like I was asleep.” Eric paused again and frowned. “This time somebody was with her… another woman.” He stopped again, as if trying hard to remember.

“Somebody from the party? Was it a relative?” asked Anna, trying to push him along.

“No… it wasn’t anybody I’d ever heard before, but they came in together and were whispering to each other. The other woman’s voice was… very high… almost shrill,” he said. His eyes were beginning to glaze from his strained focus. “I remember being very frightened. Too scared to open my eyes and look at who it was that sounded… so… terrible.” His eyes suddenly widened.

“Terrible? Eric, what do you mean?” Anna asked, now turning to face her brother squarely in her seat.

“I mean dreadful… she sounded almost…like…a demon… very penetrating, almost cackling. I remember her voice hurting my ears as she spoke.”

“What did they say to each other?”

“Well… as they came into my room — I heard Victoria say:”

“Not in here… my son is in here.”

“Your brat is asleep; we must know the answer tonight!”

“Let’s do it in my room.”

“Your dim-witted husband is in there — do it here! Ask the question… do it now!”

Anna frowned. “She said that… about daddy?” Eric nodded, still speaking as if from a dream.

“Not here — what if Eric were to wake up? Let’s go downstairs — maybe Boris’s office.”

“No — you stupid girl. The portraits are everywhere; this is the only room where it can be done without our being caught. Ask the question… we must know where he is. Ask, ask it now!”

“We can ask tomorrow night… maybe in the woods outside. But not in here… not near my children… please.”

“Do it now! Now, I say! We must have the answer tonight!”

“I remember hearing Victoria sobbing as she walked over to my bed to make sure I was asleep,” Eric explained sorrowfully; he shook his head. “I’ll never forget that voice, swearing at your mother about wasting so much time.” Anna gasped, leaning away from Eric in her seat.

“I suppose they were convinced I was asleep, because the next thing I knew, the two of them were setting something up on my dresser. A few seconds later, I began to see flashing lights in the room behind me.”

“Flashing lights?” interrupted Anna, sounding confused. “Flashing from…what?”

“No idea,” Eric answered. “I was scared to death, and I wasn’t going to open my eyes and find some hideous face staring down at me. I could see the flashes of bright white light even though my eyes were closed.”

“So… What did they do next?”

“Once the flashing started, I heard your mom start muttering something. It sounded like a spell… I think; maybe a charm. I don’t remember now. Anyway, the other woman started screeching at Victoria again.”

“Ask! Ask the question… you silly girl. We must know where he’s gone. Ask now!”

“Who were they looking for?” asked Anna.

“That’s the thing — I don’t have a clue. But your mom began to ask where this person was, and another voice started speaking to the two of them. It was a strange — deep voice this time, almost like a growl. He said the person they were seeking was lost in the woods.”

“Somebody was lost in the woods? Where? You mean the woods around the house?” Anna asked quickly.

“Yeah — I think so. This voice told them they would find him in the woods,” Eric replied. “But then I could hear father’s voice calling from the hallway.”

“Victoria?”

“Quick — shut it off. Boris is coming.”

“No! You damn, foolish, stupid girl… ask it again. We don’t know where he is yet. We have to know. Ask again… now!”

“Stop it — we have to stop. He’s coming — my husband is coming.”

“No! No! ASK AGAIN. ASK IT AGAIN, you stupid filthy…”

“I heard your mom move to the dresser and started fumbling with whatever it was they had set up. The flashing light stopped just before the door opened.

“Victoria? Are you in here? What are you doing, sweetheart? I heard voices?”

“No…it’s just me. I was checking to make sure Eric was asleep. The little man had a big day today.”

“Yes… you spoiled him so…as usual. You know you went overboard again.”

“Oh, I don’t mind, Boris. He’s such a good boy, and everybody had a great time. The children were so happy.”

“Yes, it was a wonderful day, my dear… and all because of you. How are you feeling? You know you shouldn’t be working so hard in your condition. I wouldn’t want you to strain yourself now.”

“Typical husband. It’s all your fault that we’re in this condition, and then you fawn over us once we get this way.”

“Guilty as charged, Mrs. Grayson, but it’s only because I love you. I’m going to bed… please come with me.”

“And they closed the door and left my room together,” Eric finished.

“But… What about the other woman? Didn’t daddy see her in the room?” asked Anna in surprise.

“Apparently not, and that’s the really weird thing. I thought the other woman must have been hiding when father came in. I remembered being scared to death at being left alone with her. I must have laid there acting like I was asleep, too terrified to move, for over an hour, listening for her to leave, but I never heard another sound. Finally, I gathered the courage to open my eyes and sit up. There wasn’t anybody in my room; she wasn’t there.”

“But… where did she go?”

“I don’t know. I couldn’t figure it out… I still don’t know how she was able to do it. I mean, father never saw her, and she didn’t leave after they left my room. You can’t Disapparate in or out of the house. I don’t have a clue where she went. I do remember something else, though. I looked over and saw some kind of weird contraption sitting on my dresser. It was too dark to really see it properly, and I was too afraid to get out of bed to look at it. I was scared the old hag might still be hiding under my bed. In the morning, when I woke up, the thing on my dresser was gone. Somebody had removed it.”

“And did you ever hear or see this woman again?”

“Nope… that was the only time. The next morning, I asked father if anybody had spent the night with us after the party, and he said no. I remember it wasn’t very long afterward that Victoria died, and everything kind of went crazy in the house; you were born; Victoria was dead. The whole house was… well, you can imagine; it was bedlam. Whatever happened that night in my room wasn’t nearly as important as living through the madness of the moment. And after things started to settle down again, father wouldn’t speak of Victoria at all, so I just forgot about it. I never told anyone about that night until now.”

Anna thought about Eric’s story during their long drive down the coast. The sea was shimmering below them as the cars wound their way around the cliff road. Who was the woman that entered Eric’s room that night with her mother? More importantly, Anna wondered if her father knew anything about her. And what were they doing? Who were they looking for? And why would her mother allow herself to be treated in such a horrible way by this person? Worse yet, why would Victoria allow this woman to speak ill of her father in the way Eric had described?

They sat silently together for the rest of the trip, Eric occasionally pointing out the various sights of interest around them as they traveled down the road. As they got closer to their final destination, Eric began giving Anna instructions.

“Now Anna, when we get down to the docks, just stick close to me, okay? After waiting this long to finally travel to Castlewood, I wouldn’t want you to get lost while in route,” he said jokingly.

“Okay,” Anna agreed. Then, thinking of their final destination, she asked, “Listen, I know we have to get on a ship and sail to Castlewood, but how exactly does that work? I mean, there has to be a lot of magic involved if we’re going to travel three thousand miles by ship into the middle of Pennsylvania.”

“Well, there is a lot of magic involved, but…” Eric hesitated, “the thing is — it’s kind of hard to pin down exactly when and where the magic really takes place.” He could see Anna didn’t understand. “It’s rather hard to explain, but I’ll tell you what I know. When we get to the marina, we’ll meet up with another wizarding family, the MacKineys, and we’ll all board a small, chartered boat together, which is scheduled to depart at noon. We’ll travel out to sea for a couple of hours, and probably rendezvous with a few other boats out of Los Angeles along the way. Eventually, we’ll arrive at a small island and travel to a place called Loon’s Lagoon. It’s there that we’ll disembark and stow our gear aboard the Allegheny Pride.”

“The what?”

“Oh — that’s the tall sailing ship that’ll take us on to Castlewood,” Eric explained.

“So… this ship is waiting for us at this island?”

“Uhmm, well, not exactly,” Eric said with a frown. “Once we go through the falls, I’m not quite sure where we end up.”

“The falls?”

“Yes, the falls of Loon’s Lagoon act like a barrier between the Muggle and Wizarding worlds. When we get through to the other side, we’ll see a number of other boats from all over the country arriving just like us. Once we get on the ship, it’ll only be another few hours to the school.” Although Eric tried his best to tell her what was going to happen, Anna quickly realized their trip to Castlewood was something that had to be experienced rather than explained.

Before long, the cars were driving down a steep hill, and Anna could see a small set of docks coming into view below them along the oceanfront. A few tiny sailboats were moving out to sea, and Anna could see several Muggle fishermen carrying their long poles along the water’s edge. She could smell the heavy scent of fish coming up the hill as they finally parked on a graveled lot near the docks. As the drivers unloaded their trunks, the Graysons headed down a wooden footpath toward the marina, and soon they were standing to the side of a small undistinguished boat, bobbing precariously alone in an abandoned area of the docks. Anna smiled as she read the boat’s name in chipped paint on its tail.

Better than a Broom - 5

“Ahoy there, Eric!” shouted a burly man standing on the deck of the boat. The bearded man was wearing a blackened stained tee shirt and a captain’s cap atop a bald head.

“Ahoy, Captain! Permission to come aboard, sir!” Eric requested.

“Permission granted, Mister Grayson! How’s your father these days?” asked the captain as he shook Eric’s hand. “Oops — be careful there, miss,” he said, as he helped the Grayson twins individually across the gap between the dock and the boat.

“Very well, sir. He told me to give you this together with his fond regards.” Eric handed the man a brown paper bag wrapped unmistakably around a long necked bottle. The captain smiled.

“Ahhh, your father’s a good man, Eric. Knows what it takes to keep a sailor’s heart warm on these cold salty nights,” he said, looking into the bag with an anticipative grin.

“Well hello there, miss, and who might you be?” the captain said, helping Anna onto the boat.

“Hello,” Anna replied with a smile, holding on to the captain’s hand to shake it properly after stepping aboard. “Thank you. I’m Anna Grayson.”

“As I live and breathe!” the Captain said, beaming. “The youngest Grayson is finally on her way to Castlewood? Well, bless my soul. Welcome, Miss Anna. Welcome aboard the BB5!”

“Anna, this is Captain Reye,” Eric said pleasantly, patting the muscled old man on the shoulder.

“An old friend of your father’s,” the captain interjected. “I took young Boris on his first trip to Castlewood years ago. And your Grandpa Tarson and I were shipmates at the academy together. Ahh… those were the days!”

Anna liked Captain Reye. He was jovial and friendly, and very direct, something Anna remembered the twins saying they hated about him. As usual, Anna found their opinion of people dramatically different than her own.

After the MacKinsey family had joined them, the boat taxied out of the marina and headed out to sea. Anna still found it hard to believe it was finally happening. Every moment that passed seemed to bring with it a renewed sensation of wonder and excitement.

Within an hour another boat, very much like the BB5, motored in next to them.

“Ahoy, BB3!” yelled Captain Reye over the water to the boat next to them.

“Ahoy, Angus!” came the reply. “You old, salty dog. How are you, Captain?”

“Very well, sir — and you?”

“Couldn’t be better, but it sounds like your boat is due for an overhaul, Captain. Are you sure it’s going to survive this trip? Should I stand by with a tow rope and a wand?”

Reye was taken aback. “Excuse me? This boat’s as fit as a teenager on a date with twins. Unlike that bucket of bolts and Spello Tape you’re driving, I won’t be using charms to keep us afloat, hah!”

“Uh-oh,” Dowla groaned, glancing at Tencha with a frightened look on her face. “Eric, you’d better make them stop before…” but it was too late. Before she could finish her sentence, the captain of the BB3 was already shouting back across the water between them.

“WHAT? Why you old coot! I’ll show you what a real boat can do when properly cared for,” and Anna could hear the BB3’s engines rev forward as the boat along their side began to speed ahead of them.

“Not today, sonny boy… not today!” shouted Captain Reye in response, and he too pushed the throttle to the fore. The boat lurched forward as it began to gather speed.

“Eric! Make him stop,” Tencha shouted, and Anna could see Dowla already beginning to turn green in the face as their boat started to viciously slam up and down.

“I’ll put a stop to this stupidity,” Damon shouted, pulling his wand from his robes.

“Oh no you won’t,” Eric retorted, grabbing Damon by the wrist. “Have you so quickly forgotten our father’s speech about the use of magic? Just hold on and enjoy the ride!” Eric yelled back. The twins and the MacKinsey girls began to groan over the roaring engines behind them.

“Anna, you’d better grab onto something or you might…” but Eric stopped when he found Anna nowhere in sight. Panicking, he looked up to find her standing against the forward nose-rail with her arms outstretched. She was leaning forward, and screaming in exuberant delight.

“Yaaaahhhhhhhhhoooooooooo!!” Anna squealed, as the boat bounced and crashed up and down again and again, continually gathering more speed. Eric started laughing as he watched Anna barking orders to the captain, pointing at the other boat in front of them.

“Turn there! There!! Yes… now… go — go — go!!!” she screamed, jumping up and down with excitement.

“Hah! We’ve got them now, Miss Anna. We’ve got them now! You’ve got salt water in your veins, girlie. I’m gonna make you this boat’s new first mate!” shouted the captain, gesturing rudely with amused satisfaction at he BB3’s captain as they passed the other boat, which slowly began to fall out of sight behind them. The only thing more amusing to Eric than seeing Anna clapping and cheering, was watching Damon loose his balance and hurtle headlong into the boat’s stern, crashing into their trunks piled in the back.

TWO

An hour later, the boats were slowing as a very remote looking island suddenly fell into view. A few more little white boats were waiting there, each moving in single file into what looked like a private cove.

“Still feeding the fish, ladies?” woofed Captain Reye at the twins. Tencha and Dowla had spent the rest of the trip with their heads over the side of the railing. The captain chuckled as the girls moaned miserably, while Damon sat rubbing a large welt on the top of his head. Eric joined Anna at the front of the boat.

“Welcome to Loon’s Lagoon, Anna,” he said. “The falls are just ahead.” As the boat made its final turn, Anna could see a short but very wide waterfall coming into view through the thick and rainy mist. As their boat approached the tumbling water, Anna realized the captain had no intention of slowing down or stopping. They continued, on course, straight toward the falling water.

“We’re going to be sunk!” Anna yelled, as the boat plunged headlong into the wall of water. Eric laughed as Anna grabbed him by the robes and buried her face into his chest. The water never touched them. As Anna peered up, she could see they had entered a darkening cave behind the falls. Looking back, she could see the falling water covering the entrance to the cave entirely.

“But… we never got wet,” Anna said in amazement.

As the boat continued deeper into the cave the temperature dropped steadily. Anna strained to see through the darkening gloom expectantly while her breath began to fog around her head, and the boat quietly slipped into an area of complete darkness.

“How does he know his way through this? How does the captain know where he’s going?” Anna asked, in guarded wonder. She could hear her own voice echoing through the many twisting caves around them, as the two boats steadily rumbled forward.

“Ssshhh!” Eric replied. “Now watch; you’re not gonna want to miss this. You’re going to remember the next scene for the rest of your life.”

Anna looked up as the wet mist began to appear like a graying haze through the darkness around them. The cavern began to steadily brighten, and Anna finally released her brother’s arm and walked forward again to the bow railing. And then, quite unexpectedly, a bright light broke through the cold mist, and Anna had to shield her eyes from the glaring sun blazing into the cave. As the mist began to clear, Anna was astonished to find their boat exiting the cave and entering a very large and circular harbor. She could see dozens of small boats, exactly like the BB5, motoring forward toward a far off dock after each had exited one of the many caves in a crescent shaped cliff behind them. And there, standing tall and bright in the late afternoon sun was the massive sailing ship, the Allegheny Pride.

Living close to the ocean, Anna had seen many large ships beyond the Grayson cliffs, but nothing like this. Even from this distance away, Anna could see the ship was undoubtedly huge. It had five large masts sitting atop a heavy steel hull, and what looked like miles of rope stretching her riggings forward and aft. She could see several men, looking like so many tiny ants, moving about on its high deck.

As the flotilla of small boats carrying hundreds of students from all over the country motored forward, every soon-to-be first-year was pointing with excitement at finally arriving at this amazing place. One by one, each boat made its way slowly to an open dock, where a number of sailors, clad in white, tied them securely to old posts protruding out of the water. Finally, the Graysons were unloading their trunks.

“Nice seeing your family again, Eric,” said Captain Reye, grinning broadly. Tencha and Dowla were still moaning as they stepped off the boat, glaring angrily back at him. The captain frowned. “I hope the trip wasn’t too rough on the women,” he whispered woefully. Eric gave an unconcerned shrug as Anna soared down from the BB5’s deck. She hit the wooden dock with a loud bang, and then hugged the captain rowdily.

“Wow! What a ride. I hope you’ll be picking us up on the trip back, Captain,” Anna said gaily. The captain’s concerns faded quickly at seeing Anna’s happy face.

“Miss Anna, I wouldn’t miss picking you up for all the gold in Davie Jones’ locker,” he said, grinning back. He pushed her back straight, doffed his cap, and shoved it roughly onto her head. “There now… it’s official. You’re my new first mate!” Anna stood erect, smiling with pride.

“Your orders, sir?” she said, brightly.

“Well…it’s like this, you see,” he whispered, wrapping his arm around Anna’s shoulder, and directing her toward the tall sailing ship. “I’ve loaned you out to the crew of the Allegheny Pride… see. Your job will be to travel on to Castlewood, study hard… and make your daddy proud.” Anna stopped and turned to face the BB5’s captain. She saluted.

“Aye-aye, Captain,” she replied, shaking the man’s roughened, calloused hand and handing his hat back to him. “Keep those motors running, sir!” she chirped, before turning away to march down the dock. The captain smiled as he watched her leave before turning to Eric.

“That’s quite a sister you’ve got there, Eric. You’re father must be pleased.”

“You have no idea, sir. You have no idea.” Eric replied, shaking his head.

Just then Damon walked passed them, still holding his throbbing head.

“Better mind that bump there, land-lubber!” chuckled the captain. Damon turned only to sneer back at him.

“Hope he’s got a hard head,” Reye whispered to Eric.

Eric smiled. “Don’t worry… solid granite through and through.”

As Anna continued walking toward the great ship, she could see dozens of students massing around the docks below it. The air was extremely hot and humid, and she could see tropical birds of every sort flying overhead and squawking loudly from their dock posts.

“I don’t think we’re in Kansas anymore, Toto,” Anna mused, looking around and smiling to herself. “Maybe somewhere in the Caribbean.”

“Anna!”

Anna turned to see a pretty blonde-haired girl running toward her across the docks.

“Gwen…? GWEN!!” Anna screamed back, running over to meet the other girl, stopping only when the two finally crashed into one another in a tight embrace. “Oh — I can’t believe it. It’s so great to see you!” Anna cried.

Gwendolyn Reese was one of Anna’s oldest and dearest friends. They had lived very close to one another near the Grayson estate, and even went to school together before Gwen entered Castlewood two years ago. Since Gwen was an only child, her family decided to move to Pennsylvania to be nearer to their daughter. Although they tried to keep in touch by owl, the years apart had been hard on their friendship. After a while, Anna only heard from Gwen through her brother Eric when he came home for the holidays and summer break.

“What are you doing here?” asked Gwen, still surprised at seeing her old friend standing in the crescent harbor. “Are you seeing your family off?”

“Ohhh… it’s better than that, Gwen,” Eric interrupted, wrapping one arm tightly around Anna’s shoulder. “This year, Anna is traveling to Castlewood with us,” he said, beaming.

Gwen looked shocked. “What? But…How? Why?” Anna smiled coyly, trying to think of a way to quickly tell her friend everything that had recently happened at the Grayson estate.

Eric, seeing his sister laboring to find the right words, interrupted once more. “Let me put it to you this way… Hokus-pokus, Gwen-head-o-rock, guess who’s the newest witch on the dock?” He pressed his face into the side of Anna’s cheek, his eyes darting toward his sister as if to give Gwen a hint.

Gwen’s face went slack; her jaw dropped. “Anna! You? You’re… a witch?”

Anna’s eyes gleamed. “So they say.”

“Oh…my gosh!” And Gwen screamed so loudly, everybody on the dock stopped what they were doing to look up at them. Her arms flew open and around Anna’s neck as she jumped up and down in giddy delight. Anna, although very happy to see her long lost friend, was choked by Gwen’s enthusiasm.

“I can’t believe it!” Gwen said, pulling away with tears brewing in her eyes. “We’re going to be together all year? Oh, this is incredible! Anna, I can’t wait to show you around Castlewood. You’re going to have such a great time this year. Mind you — it’s very tough…” and for the next two minutes, Gwen went on a rampage of fragmented comments and sentences. Rattling on and on, her voice was a whirlwind of reports and suggestions. As Gwen began planning Anna’s entire schedule for her first month at Castlewood, Eric finally spoke.

“Well… it seems the two of you have a lot of catching up to do. I’ll leave you to it, then,” he said happily, before turning to walk back toward the BB5. Gwen was finally quiet as she watched Eric moving away.

“Mmmmmm… oh Anna, I must say, that brother of yours is soooo gorgeous!” She looked back at Anna and grinned evilly. “He doesn’t know it yet, of course, but I’ll be having our children in a few years.” Anna was struck dumb for an instant… and then burst out laughing. “What?” Gwen said, frowning. “I’m serious, Anna; you know I’ve always had a thing for Eric. Tall, tan, and so very handsome… oooooh, and now with you in my corner again…”

Anna smiled and then hugged her friend. “I’ve missed you so much, Gwen. It’s wonderful seeing you again.”

“You too, Annie G. This is unbelievable. Heckle and Jeckle riding onward again!” She sang out, pumping her fists in the air.

Anna put her arm around her friend’s shoulder and redirected them toward the ship. “So… what’s a witch gotta to do to get aboard this tub?” Gwen didn’t reply. She was still looking longingly over her shoulder toward Eric, who was talking to the BB5’s captain. She sighed dreamily.

“Will you come on?” Anna said, laughing and yanking Gwen forward again.

“Huh? Oh — sorry. Listen… Anna, there has to be something wrong with Eric. He can’t be as perfect as he seems. You have to give me something bad to consider or I won’t get anything done this year. So what is it? He… he hates kids! Yeah, that’s it, isn’t it? Or… he’s some kind of compulsive neat freak. Maybe he picks his nose when he thinks nobody is looking.”

“Yuck!” Anna flinched, with appalled surprise.

“Oh come on… there’s got to be something. He’s can’t possibly be that perfect? There has to be something wrong with him.” Anna thought, and then looked over at her brother, who was now directing the docks men toward the Grayson trunks.

Considering everything she knew about Eric, she turned to Gwen and smiled. “Nope… sorry; he’s every bit as perfect as he seems. If he weren’t my brother, I’d marry him myself.” Gwen’s face broadened merrily, her eyes full of future hope.

“But…if it’ll help, I can set you up with Damon. Now… he has a few faults I could tell you about.”

“Eeeeeoooowwww,” Gwen hissed, with a soured look moving across her face. “No way! I refuse to marry any man without a chin!” The two girls exploded into laughter once again as they walked down the dock and toward the ship.

“So, I want you to tell me everything. What happened to get you here today?” Gwen asked excitedly. “This has to be an unbelievable story — don’t leave anything out!”

As Anna began to explain, several nets full of trunks and barrels were hoisted high into the air around them. Men in formal white uniforms were barking and yelling as hustling workers dashed about, seeing to the many details necessary for getting the great ship underway.

A few minutes later, hoards of students were slowly walking up the narrow gangway as they began boarding the Allegheny Pride. Many of the students were already wearing their Castlewood robes, and it was then that Anna started to believe her trip to the Academy was really happening.

Wearing robes of black, each student had their Union colors proudly displayed on their forearms. Anna knew each of the five Dynasty Unions originally started as a separate school, all specializing in a very specific course of study. There were common classes each of the students had to take to be a fully qualified witch or wizard, but as the students progressed through their curriculum, they were eventually offered specialized classes more suited to their dynasty.

There were the Searchers, those who specialized in the discovery of new potions, magic spells, and charms. The study of Alchemy, magical theory, herbs, fungi, and the use of newly discovered magical substances were an important part of this Union’s course of study. Over the thousands of years of wizarding history, many sorcerers began to understand how to utilize the magic around them. Some spent their entire lives researching and documenting the capabilities of magic in all its many forms. In this world of academic study, a school, specializing in the work of discovery, was formed, which eventually moved to Castlewood at its founding and became the Searchers’ Union Dynasty.

It was much the same story for the other dynasties as well. There was the Servers’ Union; those who specialized in servicing the Wizarding community, which included the doctors, the beast, creature and animal healers, librarians, the religious, and teachers. They were all part of this proud dynasty.

There was the great Labor Union, which included the farmers, formation workers, and tradesmen. The Artisans’ Union, which offered its musicians, artists, and gifted seers a place to expand their creative insight. And finally, there was the Defenders’ Union. These students specialized in Wizarding law, Ministry service, and authority enforcement.

Each Dynasty had a cherished heritage and a representative color, which was placed on the students’ robes as angled stripes or hash marks across the sleeves of their right arms. Each band of color represented a year of the students’ study at the academy. First-year students had one hash mark on their arms, while the most senior students at the school carried up to seven stripes. This union color was also placed on the collars of the robes and on their hems at the bottoms. The colors were also proudly displayed in their Union Halls during social gatherings and school events; gold for the Searchers, royal blue for the Servers, emerald green for the Laborers, crimson red for the Defenders and splendid turquoise for the Artisans. Students also wore their dynasty coat of arms on their left breasts.

Like any other first-year student, Anna wondered what Union she would be asked to enter. Initially, she thought about following her father’s path, and maybe even work for the ministry. Mister Grayson had been in the Defenders’ Union during his time at Castlewood, which he always said helped him immensely in opening many doors during his career. It would be natural to assume Anna would want to join the Defenders herself, but there was a problem. Damon was also a member of the Defender’s Union.

Obviously thinking to take advantage of his father’s good name, Damon wanted the prestige that came with having a member of his family in a very high position within the Ministry of Magic. He was looking forward to using this leverage to further his own personal career and ambitions. Although Anna dearly wanted to please her father, she was determined to stay as far away from Damon as possible, and found herself secretly hoping against the Defenders’ Union.

Maybe the Servers’ Union would satisfy her needs. Eric was a member of this Dynasty, and was studying to be a healer to the magical beasts and creatures in the Wizarding world. There was no doubt Anna would love to be in a position in which to help the animals too, but would this choice satisfy her needs? Was the Servers’ Union the beginning of her future course in life?

The twins were in the Searchers’ Union, studying the in-depth nature of potions and spells. Maybe the academic world, and the excitement of searching the unknown, would become Anna’s calling as well.

In the end, it occurred to Anna that she didn’t even know how the decision would be made. Was it something she decided on her own, or would the school place her according to its own standards? Would she have to take a test? Like most of the uncertainties that came to her on this trip, Anna decided to let it all unfold before her. There was no use worrying about something she didn’t completely understand and couldn’t control. She began to trust that her journey would eventually see her placed into one of the five existing Unions best suited to her capabilities. It wouldn’t be long, however, before Anna realized just how wrong her assumptions had been.


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