The Welcoming Party
That afternoon, the entire school gathered for the Castlewood graduation ceremony, which took place outside and in front of the Server and Artisan tower. A large stage and podium sat beneath the tower connecting the two halls, and something that looked like an altar was placed to the side under a purple drape. A magnificent choir holding deep-throated bullfrogs sang each of the school’s Union songs to the assembled parents and townspeople.
There were many speeches, but none better than Eric Grayson who, as the class valedictorian, spoke of their future as something yet to be discovered. He told his fellow graduates the most difficult challenges awaited all leaving Castlewood that day, and although Voldemort’s name was never mentioned, Eric’s speech was filled with several uneasy warnings of the trials yet to come for the Wizarding world.
In the days that would follow, those who only whispered You-Know-Who in trusted circles would read of the things written about him in the wizarding newspapers from Europe, and the claims from the Headmaster of Hogwarts that the most evil wizard in a century had somehow conquered death and was back to prey among them once again. Albus Dumbledore’s warnings would be mocked in America just as they were in most of the magical world, and soon flocks of owls were calling for the Headmaster’s removal from Hogwarts for wantonly causing a public panic with his unsubstantiated claims of You-Know-Who’s return. Yes, all of this would come in the days following the students’ departure from Castlewood, but on this graduation day it seemed the cloudless, blue afternoon refused to allow anything to spoil the celebration at hand.
The Crimson Guards and their Lieutenants had gathered to the right of the speaker’s podium. Dressed in their crimson robes, white gloves, and carrying gleaming swords, they formed themselves into wide rows several ranks deep. Captain Dunning was front and center, barking orders loudly as he moved his men through their practiced drills. They finally halted and the crowd applauded at the manner in which the guards moved with military precision.
Anna noticed one particularly oversized guard standing to the back of all the rest. Although he was at least twice the size of the men around him, he moved with ease within the formation, turning and snapping to attention at the Captain’s command. He was covered from head to toe in crimson silk and Anna smiled at seeing her very large and mysterious friend once again.
Finally, Mayor Ulric stepped up to the podium. “Ladies and Gentlemen, it is with great pleasure that I speak to you on this beautiful day about something Chancellor Thordarson and I have been talking about since the beginning of the school year.
“A majority of us have already seen or met most of the wonderful students now calling themselves The Guardians, and for those of us who carry a strong appreciation for wizard history, it must be said today will be remembered for something monumental in its importance and significance. The establishment of a new Union at Castlewood hasn’t happened in more than two hundred and fifty years, since the very foundation and merger of the original five magical institutions we now call the Dynasties of Castlewood. It is then with enormous pride that I announce to the residents of Spellsburg this happy news. Early this morning, the Guardian Union was sustained within the Academy.”
There was a gasp of shocked surprise by some of the townspeople, and then a round of spontaneous applause began to roll forth from the crowd. After a long moment, the Mayor raised his hands to quiet them.
“Yes, my dear friends, this is a memorable day indeed, and we hope the Guardians will remain a vital and integral part of our wonderful city for many, many years to come. But, as many of you have undoubtedly already asked yourselves, where will our future Guardians live? We cannot ask the students of Castlewood’s newest Union to continue to share space within the Server Hall. What kind of hosts would we be?” The crowd laughed and cheered again. “It would seem the only proper thing to do is to build a new Guardian Hall, and to do that, our wonderful city will need to expand to allow for its construction.
“Therefore, I am also happy to announce the Spellsburg City Council, in special session just a few hours ago, has approved the building of a new Guardian Hall, and has ordered its construction to begin immediately and be completed within the next two months for our returning and, what we hope will be, growing Guardian population.” The crowd cheered again.
“We are all standing in the exact spot where three future streets will connect the old parts of the city to the new. These streets will be called Guardian Drive, Guardian Way, and Avenue of the Guardians.” Some of the shop owners in the crowd jumped to their feet and began clapping excitedly.
The Major smiled and then motioned to his right. “And now, I would like to ask Chancellor Thordarson of Castlewood Academy to join me here to help with the honors. If you please, Professor.”
Thordarson walked over to the podium, his orb-topped staff tapping the wooden floor beneath his feet. He was dressed in black robes, different from those he wore at the morning breakfast, with gold embroidery on his front and sleeves. His white hair shimmered in the bright sunlight under a matching wizard’s cap. He looked up to smile at the audience.
“Let us… make some space,” he said simply, and then turned to face the Server and Artisan Tower behind him. He raised the orb over his head and bellowed, “Expositus… Moenia… Guardian Novus!”
He thrust his staff toward the wall, and the orb upon it began to glow a bright-shimmering blue. Suddenly, a jet of blue light shot from the orb’s surface, hitting the center of the tower wall with a staggering BOOM. The structure began to shake on its very foundations, swaying unbelievably as if in some immense earthquake. The crowd began to rise from their seats, awed by the remarkable sight as the tower finally split itself away from the Server Hall.
“Look at that!” yelled a man from the crowd of astonished onlookers.
Thordarson thrust his staff forward once again and the beam of light coming from the orb began to glow white-hot, and then the great tower unbelievably started to move. It began to slide away, pushing the entire Artisan Hall back and to the right. As the building crept backward, it opened a huge gap in the wall surrounding Spellsburg. And now the crowd could see the Server Hall was moving back as well, falling away like its disconnected brother to the left.
The enormous gap between the thick, stone walls continued to open wider and wider, revealing a clear view of the plateau outside that hadn’t existed in more than two centuries. As the two buildings moved away, the audience could now see Thordarson was making room for the future Guardian Hall between the old structures. They began to cheer and applaud as the breach within their city’s walls continued to grow with every passing second. Finally, the rumble under their feet stopped, leaving a great opening, an enormous rift in the wall surrounding the city. Thordarson lowered his staff, cutting off the beam hitting the tower. He slowly turned to face the crowd, who looked positively awestruck by the Chancellor’s immense power, still radiating like a glowing blaze around him.
“Here, on this very spot, the new Guardian Hall and Tower will rise,” he said. “Where once our ramparts consisted of five walls, they will now become six.” The audience cheered, whistled, and continued to clap excitedly.
“And now,” Thordarson continued, “I would like to ask... Miss Anna Grayson to join me here at the podium.” Anna looked around in surprise and then slowly stood. Professor Thordarson finally saw her in the back of the sea of students watching him. “Ah… there you are. If you please, Anna,” the Chancellor said, beckoning her forward.
Anna advanced uncertainly and then joined Professor Thordarson on the stage. When she was standing next to him, the Chancellor turned to address the crowd once more. “Every new building should have its own dedication, and I cannot think of a better individual to help us do this than the very first Guardian of Castlewood.” He pulled away the purple-drape covering the altar-like structure to reveal an enormous block of granite cut into a perfect square. It was a foundation stone with the following words carved upon its front:
HERE WE DEDICATE THE GUARDIAN UNION
SET THIS DAY – JUNE 27TH 1995
MAY GOD KEEP OUR DYNASTY STRONG
Professor Thordarson turned to Anna. “I would be most honored if you would help me set this first of what will soon be many foundation stones.” Anna looked at Eric and then to her father seated in the front row. Mister Grayson was grinning with enormous pride as Anna whipped out her purple heart. She smiled, and together with Professor Thordarson, took careful aim at the heavy stone.
“Wait!” Anna barked, suddenly moving her wand away.
She turned to gaze into the Crimson ranks behind her and then leaned over to whisper something into Thordarson’s ear. The Chancellor pulled back to look at her for a moment and then smiled, nodding his furtive approval. Anna turned and marched passed a confused looking Mayor Ulric standing at the podium, passed Eric who was rising out of his seat to watch her moving toward the Crimson Guards.
“Anna…? Where are you going?”
She walked straight up to Captain Dunning who was still standing in front of his men; she finally stopped before him. “Excuse me, Captain,” she instructed, stoically.
Dunning looked down at her, his lips curling in a wave of unreserved contempt and loathing that reminded Anna of the great ape of the hoard. He reluctantly swung to the side to let her pass, and Anna walked straight into the ranks of Crimson Guards, through the first, second, and third rows, down an aisle to the very back. She finally stopped in front of the enormous, crimson-wrapped guard, whose face was hidden beneath his silken mask.
“Hello, Trog,” Anna said brightly. The giant guard did not move, but Anna could sense his twin hearts beginning to increase their pace. “I see Professor Thordarson was able to talk the captain into letting you join us today; I’m very happy to see you again.” She could feel his hearts quicken once more, but still the guard never moved, continuing instead to stare straight ahead. The crowd and watching students were amazed at the sight of this small girl talking up to the enormous crimson hulk.
“Trog… could I get you to help me with this stone?” Anna asked him, hopefully.
Finally, the great figure slowly dipped his head to look down at her. His beautiful green eyes shown like emeralds in the late afternoon sun through the two holes cut into his mask. For a moment, Trog looked like he wouldn’t be able to speak. He then looked up at the spot where the foundation stone sat, and where the Professor Thordarson stood waiting. He could see the Chancellor motioning him forward with his staff.
“Please, Trog…” Anna pleaded. “It would mean so much to have you help us set this stone in place.”
He looked down again and Anna could see what would be a smile under his mask wrinkle the corners of his green eyes.
“I would be… most honored, I would,” he said in a deep and flattered voice, and Anna smiled.
“Come…” she said, taking him by his gloved hand. She led them back through the other guards, all of which had to move aside to allow for the giant to pass between them. When they reached the podium again, Professor Thordarson reached out and shook Trog’s enormous hand and Anna couldn’t help noticing Eric’s stunned expression, the crowd’s astonishment, and Captain Dunning rolling his eyes in utter disgust.
“On three, then?” Thordarson said happily. “One…” Anna pointed her wand at the stone as Trog bent down to take a firm grip. “Two…” Professor Thordarson tilted his staff toward the stone. But before he could count more, Trog gave a mighty heave and pulled the giant stone up to his waist. The crowd gasped in amazement.
“Wingardium Leviosa!” chanted Anna and Thordarson together, and immediately the heavy block lightened in Trog’s enormous hands as he lead it to the place where Mayor Ulric directed them. They finally set the stone down with a muffled thump, and the crowd erupted into another wave of spontaneous applause. Anna smiled brightly and then turned to give Trog a hug.
“Thank you, Trog,” she said gratefully, squeezing him tight across his large middle.
The creature wrinkled his eyes at her again. “Trog can be most useful sometimes, he can.”
After the ceremony, Anna took a detour back to the stables to say her last goodbyes to Doctor Pearl and Jeremiah Kingston, who were quietly working to avoid the heartache of seeing the students leaving the plateau. Anna hugged and thanked them both before making her way back to Swooper’s stall.
“Now I don’t want to hear about you going invisible again while I’m away,” Anna warned, wrapping her arms around the mighty steed’s neck. “I’ll be back in two months, and we’ll go flying the very same day, okay?” The thorse stared at her and Anna dipped her head.
“I’m sorry you had to fly back to Castlewood alone the night you took me to Drogo,” she said, painfully. The creature licked her forehead and then flapped his marvelous, ebony wings. As it was with all good friends, any part of her personal failure was immediately forgiven. Anna gave Swooper one final brushing and then kissed him on the nose.
“Have a good holiday, big boy. You’ve earned it,” she said, patting him on the neck and offering him a last carrot.
An hour later, the Graysons were walking together with Gabby through the cobbled streets of Spellsburg toward the city gates. They stopped to talk with several shop owners along the way, who lamented the long summer holiday without the students of Castlewood among them. Eric seemed to be gathering most of the attention as they approached the tram station. Several residents came out to shake his hand and wish him good luck, and some of the shopkeepers hugged him like a member of their own family taking his final leave.
Soon they were piling into one of the trams and rumbling over the union walls and wooded plateau. Anna looked down and watched as dozens of construction wizards moved massive stone blocks and wooden beams into the newly created gap between the city’s walls. Soon, the new Guardian Hall would rise up to enclose the city again. She tried to imagine it; a massive Hall with purple flags flying between its notched merlons.
As the city of Spellsburg fell out of sight, Anna realized just how much Castlewood had become her second home. She rose up on her toes to watch the last flags on the castle’s turret dip below the plateau’s rim before sadly turning away. She was going to miss this enchanted place, where the sound of magic’s voice first reached out to touch her.
Anna found Gwen and Sarah on the docks still admiring the new Academy emblem on their robes. The Guardian crest had magically weaved itself together with the other five Unions surrounding the embroidery of Castlewood in its center.
Two hours later the Allegheny Pride emerged from Neptune’s Veil, splashing down in full view of the crescent harbor. There, a flotilla of little white boats was waiting to take them home. Along the way, Anna sat with Gwen and Sarah to relive her flight to Drogo and the obstacles she had to face on her way to its lowest dungeons. But when she reached the part where it came time to tell them about Voldemort’s curse on her mother, Anna hesitated. Her friends could see the pain it was causing her to talk about it, and especially the horrifying part about her mother falling victim to a vampire’s curse. Through it all, Anna sobbed and broke off several times, but she finally told her friends everything.
Gwen was especially sympathetic, but she couldn’t bring herself to imagine what it must have been like for Anna to see her mother and witness the full horror of what she described in that awful dungeon room. She hugged Anna, and the three friends sobbed together until the sailors on the docks outside could be heard hollering to those aboard the Pride.
“Hey… I forgot to ask,” Anna said, pulling away from her friends to wipe her runny nose. “Whatever happened at the Triwizard Tournament?”
Gwen frowned. “You would have to ask.”
“What do you mean?”
“The Potter kid won, of course,” Gwen said, in a tone that insinuated Anna might have known all along this would be the final result.
“Really?” Anna was surprised. “He won the final task, then?” she assumed.
“I don’t know… none of us really do.”
This time Anna frowned. “I… don’t understand.”
Gwen sighed. “We don’t know what happened because we never got a chance to see the final task.”
“What? But… I thought you said…?”
“We were all watching the beginning of the tournament as the champions entered this huge maze filled with creatures and spells to block their race to the center.”
“We saw this terrible scorpion-like creature attacking Fleur Delacour, the champion from France,” Sarah chimed in. “Oh… it was very scary.”
“Yeah…” Gwen agreed, excitedly, “and we saw Krum escape an enchanted shrub that tried to eat him.” Anna listened eagerly as Gwen continued. “But then something happened to the projectors sending us the pictures, and everything just… went black.” She shrugged. “We waited for a while for the projections to return, but they never did.”
Sarah was nodding. “Oh… the crowd in the stadium got very angry when Professor Thordarson decided to go ahead and start the Vollucross race afterward, but after waiting for nearly thirty minutes, it was obvious we weren’t going to see the end of the tournament anyway.”
“We didn’t even know Potter won the thing until the next day when the Spellsburg Seer reported the results,” Gwen explained. “Apparently, the other three champions did sustain some minor injuries in the maze, but it also said the inspector wizards at the scene confirmed somebody had sabotaged all the projectors. Can you believe that? Strange, isn’t it? There were even a couple of editorials suggesting somebody at Hogwarts might have disabled the projectors to make sure nobody saw them helping the Potter boy win, but I don’t think anybody really believes that.”
Anna was suspicious, and then she remembered something Dumbledore told Professor Thordarson while she was still in the hospital. Dumbledore had said Potter was a witness to Voldemort’s return, and Anna knew exactly when that happened. The evil one had screamed in jubilation when the dark mark on her arm burned black within Drogo. But how could Potter have been in two places at the same time? How could he have been at Hogwarts participating in the tournament and then somewhere else watching Voldemort rise again? And now there was this news of sabotaged projectors. Anna wondered: Who at Hogwarts would have purposely interfered with the tournament… and was that somehow connected to Voldemort’s return?
After the ship landed and the students had disembarked, Anna kissed and waved goodbye to her friends. “Have a good holiday,” she said happily, and then laughed when Gwen noticed a particularly handsome young sailor securing the ship’s ropes to one of the piers. Gwen looked back at Anna, bounced her eyebrows twice, and then turned to strike up a conversation with the boy.
Anna turned to find Sarah still standing beside her, looking shyly troubled.
“I just wanted to say… well… thank you.”
Sarah looked at her and smiled. “For everything, Anna; for being kind to me on our first day; for wanting to be my roommate even after you found out about my talking in my sleep; for allowing me to hang around you and Gwen, and helping me to become a Guardian. I…” her words stumbled slightly, “if it wasn’t for you, I don’t think I would have made it through my first year at Castlewood.”
Anna smiled and put her arm around Sarah’s shoulder. “Hey… no problem. But you should know… my services come at a price.” Sarah looked up at her questioningly. “It’ll cost you one letter a week until we’re together again in September. What-da-ya-say, roomie… deal?” Anna stuck out her hand and Sarah grinned.
“Deal!” she returned, enthusiastically.
Anna walked with Sarah until they located the boat to take her home, and then she found Captain Reye and Gabby loading their trunks aboard the BB5. Soon, they were leaving Loon’s Lagoon once again and setting course for the open sea.
“Miss Anna?” Reye bellowed, “The Captain’s mate should stand aport in these waters. The sunsets are better over there,” he added, with a wink.
Anna smiled. “Yes, sir,” she yelped, delivering a snapped salute before moving to the left side of the boat where she stopped to coil a large pile of tangled rope. Eric and Mister Grayson were alone at the stern and laughing as Anna dashed about the deck to Captain Reye’s hollered orders.
“Have you heard anything from Dumbledore about what the Order of the Phoenix will be asking of you, father?”
Mister Grayson looked at his son and then turned to watch the churning, white water falling away behind them. “Yes. I received an owl from Hogwarts this morning before we got underway. They want me to begin informing those we can trust in the Ministry about Voldemort’s return. That’s going to be very difficult, because both the Ministers of England and America are denying Dumbledore’s statements about what’s happened.”
Eric looked scandalized. “You’re kidding?”
His father glanced over at him and smirked. “Don’t be so surprised, son. Their response to all of this wasn’t exactly unexpected. You were too young to remember how bad things were before the days of Voldemort’s fall. It isn’t going to be easy to convince people he’s come back again.”
“Is Dumbledore sure about this, father? I mean, after all these years… how is it really possible?”
Mister Grayson considered his son’s question. “I trust Dumbledore completely… and you should as well.” Then he looked over at Anna who was still running about the boat. “But there’s another reason I believe he’s returned.”
Eric looked at his father watching his sister work. “Anna…?”
His father nodded. “All year long I’ve labored to understand why all of this has happened to your sister. Why did her powers suddenly emerge? Why was Anna selected to start a new Guardian Union? Why are her gifts so strangely different? What would explain this amazing ability to communicate with magic?” He looked at his son. “Just imagine that for a moment, Eric. If anybody in the Wizarding world would have said magic had the ability to summon some form of consciousness, they would have said you were crazy, but now we know Anna can somehow connect with that consciousness. The concept is explosive.”
“I’m not sure I really understand any of this, father,” Eric replied, shaking his head in puzzled bewilderment.
His father sighed. “I’m not sure any of us really do… not yet anyway, but it only makes sense to believe Voldemort is back. His return this year coincides with everything Anna told us about magic’s move to protect itself.” He looked down worriedly and then up into his son’s troubled face once more. He reached out and braced Eric’s shoulder. “I believe Voldemort is back because Thordarson and Dumbledore believe it; because Victoria believed it before she escaped; but most importantly… I believe it because Anna is convinced of it.”
Eric looked at his sister and then back to his father again. He nodded. “I wish you would let me help you, father. I really don’t know what to do now that I’m a Guardian.”
His father’s face turned somber. “I wanted to talk to you about something important when we got home, but I suppose now is as good a time as any.” He reached out to Eric again and then turned his son away from the others to the back of the boat.
“Eric… I need to ask an important favor of you.”
“Anything, father. What is it?”
“I want you to go back to Castlewood in September.”
Eric was surprised. “What? But father… now that Voldemort has retuned, my place is by your side.”
“No, son. You’ve always planned to study advanced Beast and Creature Healing, and I have reason to believe it would be best if you did that in Pennsylvania.”
“But why, father? You know I can do my studies just as well at home or in Los Angeles. The great healer Madam Slayer has agreed to take me on as her apprentice; it would allow me to be closer to you in case…”
“Your place…” Mister Grayson interrupted him, “would be better served wherever Anna is.” He stared at Eric in a way that told the young man his father’s every word to send him away was causing him the greatest pain. “I need you to watch over your sister. She will need you next year more than I, and you’re the only man other than Thordarson I can trust to protect her.”
“Protect her? Protect her from what?” His father remained silent. “From whom, father?” Eric pressed him, but still, Mister Grayson would not speak. Comprehension suddenly dawned on Eric and he understood the unbelievable fear his father was holding close to his heart. “From… Voldemort?”
“Shhh…” his father motioned before drawing his son close. “We must assume… that Victoria has returned to him.”
Eric looked at him in stunned silence and then slowly started to shake his head, but his father reached up and grabbed his son by the back of the neck to stop him.
“All of his Death Eaters would have known how to find him if ever he returned,” his father explained. “Victoria is with him now, which means we have to assume he knows about Anna. He knows she somehow entered Drogo unseen. He knows from reading the newspapers that Anna was the first of a new Guardian sect at Castlewood. Voldemort is going to want to understand this power, because he understands the possible repercussions of ignoring it. Anna could be seen as a danger to him.”
Eric quickly glanced over at his sister again. The panic in his voice was clear as his frightened gaze returned. “What are we going to do, father? What are we going to do?”
“You will return to Castlewood with Anna in the fall. I can protect your sister while she’s at the estate, and Voldemort would never enter Castlewood so long as Thordarson is still its Chancellor. But Spellsburg is a big city; Anna would be most vulnerable there.”
Eric thought for a moment and then looked up again. An angry determination was steadily building in his face. “I will go where you and Anna need me, father.”
Mister Grayson smiled and then reached out to hug his eldest boy. “Thank you, son. I knew I could count on you.”
Suddenly, there was a loud screech above their heads and they both looked up. Shielding their eyes from the late afternoon sun, they could see a small owl circling over the open water; his tiny body was buffeted by the wind as he looked for a place to put down. Hobbs finally dipped his wings and landed upon the boat’s railing, clicking his beak madly. Mister Grayson looked back at Eric and then walked over to the bird who was clutching a small scroll in one of his fisted talons. The owl snatched the scroll up with his beak and then gently handed it to Eric’s father. Mister Grayson unrolled the parchment and turned his back to the remaining sun to read the message as Hobbs took off to look for Anna.
“What is it, father? What does it say?”
Mister Grayson finished reading the message and then tucked the scroll into one of the pockets of his robes; his expression was a mix of both surprise and anger. “Well… it would seem Anna might have one less problem to worry about when she returns to Castlewood in September.”
“What do you mean?”
“That was a message from Chancellor Thordarson. It would seem Dunning has stepped down from his post as Castlewood’s Captain of the Guard; he’s been replaced by a Lieutenant Hayman.”
“John Hayman?” Eric yelped, in surprise.
“Do you know him?”
“Yes… yes I do. This is wonderful news, father. John is a very good man; he’ll make an excellent Captain.”
Mister Grayson quickly moved to cool his son’s obvious glee. “Don’t get too excited yet,” his father replied, somberly. “It would seem Lieutenant Dunning is still going to be around a while longer.”
Mister Grayson heaved a heavy sigh. “While the Chancellor agreed to accept Dunning’s resignation, he didn’t believe it fair to go as far as sacking him outright. So… he’s demoted Dunning to the grade of Lieutenant and placed him in Hayman’s old post.”
Eric’s eyes widened in surprise, “But… that would make him the Commander of Castlewood. He’ll be in charge of all the Crimson Guards inside the moat. Father… this is not good. Dunning will still be in a very powerful position and he’s sure to make trouble for Anna. He’s going to make things very difficult for our entire family next year.”
“Perhaps not,” said Mister Grayson, pulling out the parchment from his robes to read it again. “The message also says Dunning’s memory has been modified. Now that he’s no longer in charge of Drogo prison, there’s no further reason for him to know its location. A memory altering charm is standard practice for any guard on duty at the prison once they’ve completed their tour of duty there. He won’t remember anything Anna did to break into the prison while on his watch, because he won’t be allowed to know of Drogo’s existence near the plateau. Apparently, Dunning’s younger sister has had her memory modified as well.”
“Still… that man shouldn’t be anywhere near Spellsburg, father. He’s going to be trouble. Mark my words… Gregory Dunning is going to be a problem for us.”
Mister Grayson twisted the parchment into a ball and dropped it over the side of the boat, his growing frustration becoming more vocal. “I can’t believe Thordarson kept the man on. It doesn’t make any sense. Why would he do that after everything Dunning’s done?” He looked at Eric. “Well… all the more reason I’m glad you’re going back to Pennsylvania. Maybe you can keep a close eye on Lieutenant Dunning while you’re there.”
“You can count on that, father,” Eric replied, hotly.
“Hey… put me down!”
Eric and Mister Grayson looked up and to their amazement they found Dowla hanging upside down in midair over the side of the boat.
“Put me down, Anna!”
Anna, donning a fright of very bright-green hair, had her wand out and was using it to bounce her older sister up and down over the boat’s railing while Damon and Tencha stood to the side howling with laughter.
“Say you’re sorry… and you’ll never do it again, Dowla,” Anna demanded.
“It was just a joke. Come on… put me down.”
“Say it,” Anna warned, as she lowered her sister closer to the water.
“All right — all right!” Dowla screamed in a panic. “I’m sorry! Okay?”
“And I’ll never hex you behind your back again!” she yelled back.
Anna looked skeptical. “We’ll see…” she said, moving her flailing sister back over the deck of the boat where she started bouncing her up and down in the air again.
“Daddy! Make her stop. Tell Anna to stop it!” Dowla roared angrily, trying to keep her robe and dress from tumbling over her head in front of an amused Captain Reye.
Mister Grayson was trying not to laugh. “Anna Grayson…” he said sternly, adopting a straight face. Anna looked over, still holding her wand high. “No magic allowed… and stop picking on your sister.” Anna grinned coyly at him, and then glared back up at Dowla once again.
“Fine…” she said with an angry sneer, before dropping her sister on the wood of the deck with an unforgiving thud. Anna quickly spun on her heals to point her wand at Damon and Tencha who were still laughing. They immediately froze and then pointed an accusatory finger at one another. Anna huffed irritably and then tapped her hair twice with the tip of her wand, which quickly changed back into its original color. She then slipped her wand back into her robes and marched off.
Damon could be heard leaning over to Tencha, “How’d she do that without the counter spell?”
Eric turned to his father and smiled. “I never thought I’d hear you say something like that to Anna.”
His father smiled back. “This is going to be a very interesting summer.”
“There she is folks… home-sweet-home,” yelled Captain Reye, and everybody on the boat looked up. Sure enough, they could see the sandy white beaches of the southwest coast coming into view on the horizon. “And it looks like we’ve got ourselves a welcoming party.”
The Graysons looked out over the bow of the boat and could see two giant whales swimming directly at them.
“They sure look like they’re happy to see us,” Reye added, as the whales passed like enormous hills on both sides of the boat going the other way. They quickly turned to circle back, matching the speed of the BB5 easily.
“Well I’ll be…” said Reye, amazed by the sight. “In all my years… I’ve never seen anything like that before.” The family looked out and saw one of the whales gliding effortlessly through the water as it rolled over and raised a large pectoral fin, like a giant sail along the side of the boat. The whale on the other side matched the maneuver, and Anna reached out and let her hand slid over its smooth, rubber-like body. She smiled as she listened to the giant’s enormous heart, beating like a drum between her ears. As the giant fin began to slowly sink down, Anna ran to the opposite side and stretched out an open hand to the other whale.
Eric stepped in next to her. “Remarkable…” he said, in amazed wonder. He then reached out as the whale started to slide down and stroked the enormous fin before it fell out of sight and into the murky depths below them. He looked at Anna and could see tears running down her face.
“What’s the matter, Anna?” he asked her, putting an arm around his sister. She buried her face in her brother’s robes and then turned to look out over the water toward the dipping sun.
“They really were,” she said, smiling.
“They really were — what?”
She looked up at him. “The whales… they really were happy to see us.”
Eric looked at Anna and smiled as they turned together to watch the remaining sun fading away and the darkening sky change to purple near the end of the green sea. Eric held his sister close.
“Welcome home, Anna.”
Two weeks later, Anna and her father were walking through the rubble of the old Jennings estate.
“Mind your step, sweetheart,” he said warningly, pointing to a flattened panel lying on the ground next to her feet. “That area is very weak; you could fall into the basement if you’re not careful.” He was looking at an old scroll held open in his hands.
“And that area over there…” he said, with a sharp nod toward one of the broken chimneys.
“— the parlor,” Anna finished for him as she stepped over another fallen beam. Her father frowned and then turned the scroll around, tilting his head to study the old parchment again.
“Yes… that’s right.” He looked up at her. “How did you know that?”
Anna shrugged as her father lowered the scroll and looked up into a memory full of high-vaulted ceilings.
“Ah… I wish you could have seen it, Anna. Your mother’s family estate was truly magnificent. But I see these drawings are missing quite a few details; I only hope I can remember most them for you.”
“The details aren’t that important, daddy. Oh… except for the round window in the front.”
“Window?” he said, reaching out to help her over an open hole in the floor.
“Yeah… the round, stained glass window at the top of the front porch. It had an angel battling a dragon. I’d like to have that window restored if possible.”
Her father thought for a moment and then smiled. “Ohhh… of course. I had forgotten about that; it was a very beautiful piece. It had…” he stopped, and then quickly looked down at the scrolls again. He jerked up in surprise. “Wait… that detail wasn’t in the plans, you couldn’t have possibly known about that,” he added, skeptically.
Anna bent down and picked up something from under a fallen piece of slate. She looked at it pryingly, and then held it up for him to see. It was a piece of colored glass with part of an angel’s wing. Her father grinned.
“Listen… I have to get back to the house. I have a meeting with the Director of The Office of Wizard/Muggle Communications. I’ve been given permission from the Minister of Magic to tell Sidney Heidelbach about the Wizarding World. His boss John Landers of Westfront International will be there to help us.”
“Oh daddy… that’s wonderful. I hope this will help the poor man put his ordeal behind him.”
“I really think it will, and I believe Sidney will be a great asset to what we’re trying to do with our investments.”
“Please… could you pass my good wishes to him?”
“I will.” He looked up at the sky. “It’ll be dark soon; don’t stay out here too long. And please… do be careful around all this debris. It’s still very dangerous out here.”
Anna looked around at him. “I will, daddy. Don’t worry.”
Her father nodded and then walked over to the waiting horses, which were grazing on the soft grass under their hooves. He mounted his black stallion and reined around. “I’ll see you at dinner,” he said, with a wave.
Anna watched her father drop out of sight below the trees and then immediately turned and headed directly toward the back of the house. A pile of mixed wood and stone blocked her path to the forest behind the estate, and she struggled to climb to the other side. After finally sliding down again, she stopped to look into the woods and smiled.
“I never had a chance to thank you for helping me at Drogo,” Anna said, peering around the remaining mounds of fallen brick and rock. A faded, white image suddenly came forward from out of the woods toward her.
“Hello, Leola. How long have you been watching us?”
The ghost of Leola Grayson grinned. “My apologies, Sithmaith. I thought I felt an intrusion on the property some time ago; it awoke me from my sleep. Your ally will endeavor to remain more diligent next time,” the specter replied, turning the summer air around them icy cold.
“I can’t possibly thank you enough… for coming to my rescue that night,” Anna said, suddenly struck by the irony of a murdered ghost attacking its own killer.
Leola smiled again. “But I should be thanking you, child.”
“You did not tell Boris the details of my death. I never want my husband to know of Victoria’s crime. He’s been through so much already; it would shatter him to know the truth. He always loved Victoria. Even when we were children, I could see it … even if Boris could not. And Victoria loved Boris more than anyone in the world.”
Anna was surprised. “Victoria told you she loved my father? She told you that before you married him?”
“Yes… she did. At the time, Victoria believed Boris would always consider her more of a sister than ever his wife, and when he asked me to marry him, it was Victoria who told me I should accept.”
Anna thought. “You know… it was all Voldemort’s fault… what my mother did to you, I mean.” And Anna told Leola what she had learned about her mother’s kidnapping and subsequent torture at the hands of the Dark Lord. She told her ally everything, and at the end, Anna could clearly see how the story hurt Leola deeply even through the soft and pale glow of her spectral state.
“Oh Victoria… my poor, dear friend,” said the ghost, turning back toward the forest. “I have waited so long for a reason to forgive you… and now… I finally have it.” She was almost out of sight again when Anna called to her.
“Will I ever see you again?”
The ghost turned. “I do not know, Sithmaith. I grow weary now as never before. I will guard the grounds from Victoria’s intrusion for as long as I possibly can. In the meantime, I await magic’s call.” She turned again and, within a few steps, the shadows of the forest absorbed the light of her body entirely.
“Goodbye, Leola… and… thank you.”
Anna turned and made her way back through the rumble of her future home, the air around her quickly warming after the ally’s departure. She stepped carefully, more out of reverence than worry, and noticed something strange catching the light from one of the crumbled mantles. She worked her way toward the object, surprised by the sparkling glimmer it was giving off amidst the dust and dirt surrounding it. She reached out and lifted a delicate chain off the mantle, and then marveled at the familiar, soft whispers it sent into her mind.
A cross of gold with a centered emerald hung from the chain. It was her mother’s necklace; the very one Victoria had taken from Anna’s neck while still in Drogo. The whispers from the necklace were louder as Anna squeezed her mother’s most precious heirloom tight in her closed fist. She could hear the whispers clearer now.
“A mother’s love is always true. A mother’s love is always true.”
Anna turned quickly to look around. “You were here,” she whispered, looking around the fallen house with hopeful anticipation. “That’s what awoke the ally again; she could sense your intrusion.” She stroked the cross again, sobbing as she spoke.
“Thank you, mother. I knew you were still alive. I knew it.”
Anna opened the tiny latch and returned the necklace to her neck, stroking the cross as it fell against her breast. She made her way back to Apollo, and they walked together to the edge of the cliff overlooking the beautiful ocean below. She stroked Apollo’s nose and watched the sun set as the voices from the necklace whispered its message to her again and again.
“A mother’s love… is always true.”
Hallelujah, hallelujah, God bless the child who suffers
Hallelujah, hallelujah, God bless the young without mothers
Hallelujah, hallelujah, let every man help his brother
Hallelujah, hallelujah, Let us all love one another
Hallelujah, hallelujah, Make all our hearts blind to color
Hallelujah, hallelujah, God bless the child who suffers
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