Anna stepped through the front door and dropped her bag.
“Anna’s home, Anna’s home, Anna’s home,” squawked the blue parrot in the entranceway. She ran over to the black sphere on the newel post and hopped up onto the first step.
“Hi, Cookie! Do you know where my father is?” she said, rubbing the top of the heavy ball. A dark green cloud began to form on the surface of the sphere. Light blue flashes like hidden lightning seemed to emanate within its green translucent swirls, which slowly turned to form a face.
“Ye-haaa! Howdy, little lady. Welcome home. The critter’s in the kitchen makin’ vittles,” said the scruffy bearded face, speaking from the surface of the black marble.
“No — no, not Widwick. Do you know where daddy is?” asked Anna, rolling her eyes.
“Oh! Well then — why dit’n ya say so? Yer daddy’s in the boardroom yakketty-yakkin wit-dem fraowgs. Hate dem dang smelly ugly fraowgs. Caught em swippen the silver last time they came a-callin. Lousy no-good thieven fraowgs — can’t trust any of em.”
“Thanks, Cookie,” said Anna, and she turned to run down the staircase.
“Take care yer-self little missy — and watch out fer dem fraowgs…. lousy… smelly… good fer nothin’…”
“They’re not frogs, Cookie, they’re Goblins,” Anna yelled back, trying not to laugh.
“THEY’S FRAOWGS! Dirty, smelly, bug-snitchin fraowgs — don’t trust em. Keep an eye out — and watch yer back! Greedy dang hobby gobbles,” the ghost said, angrily, as his voice faded out of range.
Anna galloped down the twisting staircase three full flights before she finally made it to her father’s Ministry floor. There was a very long hallway connecting the bottom of the steps to the door of her father’s private study. As Anna walked along the long corridor, she studied the many pictures hanging on the wall of various past members of the Grayson family.
There was Tarson Grayson, her grandfather, from whom everybody said Anna had inherited her green eyes. Then there was Senseless Sarasil Grayson, who had a habit of mindlessly laughing out loud from his portrait for no apparent reason. Anna remembered an occasion six months ago when her father couldn’t continue an important meeting through all the noise coming from this hallway. Sarasil’s picture had to be removed and placed in the deepest part of the basement until his behavior had improved. He didn’t appreciate this kind of treatment, of course, and did everything he could to be a burden on Anna’s father ever since. On the quiet evenings following that day, you could hear Sarasil’s irritated hooting guffaws, whistles, and animal calls throughout the entire house from his place of isolation downstairs.
“Hello, Uncle Sarasil,” Anna said, walking by his frame.
“Hee, hee, hee,” snickered the odd-looking man in the portrait.
Then Anna stopped in front of the last portrait next to her father’s door, the one she always remembered trying to avoid as a child. The woman in the picture seemed to radiate a sense of dislike toward her, which made Anna feel like an unwelcome guest in her own home. Posing before her, nearly six feet tall was the solemn image of Leola Grayson. Anna stared at the portrait of this, her father’s first wife, and the mother of Damon, Tencha, Dowla and her brother Eric. She was standing next to a lit fireplace, holding a closed fan near her waist. The woman was very pretty in a natural way, with long jet-black hair, elegantly wrapped to expose her beautiful pale neck. Her eyes were nearly black, and Anna thought the look on her face was strangely mysterious. Anna couldn’t decide if the woman was trying to present a stately manner, or a look confirming she was barely tolerating the world around her. Her cheeks were rather bony, but she was clearly promoting an image of health, vigor, and strength. Her lips were pursed so tightly they were nearly invisible. Anna always thought the portrait delivered one distinct emotion — that of some unknown sense of immense gratification.
Anna despised the portrait. It wasn’t the way the woman looked, or because she was the mistress of the house before her own mother. No, it was because the portrait simply existed. There were no portraits of her mother, Victoria Grayson, anywhere in the house. In fact, Anna had no idea what her mother even looked like. She remembered asking her father about her mother many times as a child, but he always refused to speak of her. Initially, Anna remembered thinking he was angry with Victoria, as if her dying was something she had carefully planned and looked to implement without remorse or a care of those left behind. Then there were the years Anna felt as though her father couldn’t remember anything about her mother at all. Recently however, Anna had giving up trying to discuss the subject all together, believing she would probably never understand the complicated relationship her mother and father shared. It seemed odd to Anna that her father, a man of great passion and enthusiasm, a man so strongly driven, found it difficult to discuss anything. But his unwillingness to talk about her mother had lead Anna to privately believe they must never have really loved each other at all.
There was another problem with the portrait of Leola standing before her. It was bad enough the first late Mrs. Grayson’s picture was here, but there was another one just like it in the family room hanging above the fireplace. That portrait portrayed Mrs. Grayson seated next to the same hearth where the picture was hung, and because the picture occupied the same room depicted in the portrait, the woman seemed to hold a permanent presence within the house that Anna hated; because it was something to which Anna’s own mother obviously was not entitled.
Anna looked into the woman’s dark eyes. “I have just as much a right to be here as you. I’m a Grayson too, you know,” Anna said, trying to show the portrait she wasn’t a frightened little girl anymore. She smirked, and then turned to look at the office door beside her. She stepped forward.
She placed her ear up to the oak door, listening for any activity coming from within. She knocked softly, opened the door, and looked inside, but nobody was there. Her father’s study was a fairly small space as compared to the rest of the adjoining rooms on his Ministry floor. There were shelves of books on one wall, and scrolls rolled and stacked neatly on the other. There was a desk sitting against a third wall, next to a leather couch and a door, which Anna knew lead to the adjoining conference room. There were no lamps anywhere in the office. Instead, an assortment of various colored globes was painted into the walls and ceilings, which emitted a warm amber light. The glow from the globes gave the room a restful-welcoming feeling, inviting of a nap on the nice couch.
There was a large glass case, which contained several of her father’s personal mementoes, including several decorations from the Ministry, a gem incrusted kaleidoscope, Grandpa Tarson’s wand, and several old photographs.
Anna carefully opened the cabinet. “Don’t touch,” warned one of the pictures inside. Anna glanced back over her shoulder to insure nobody would see her, and reached in to point the barrel of the kaleidoscope toward the middle of the room. She then ran her finger down the length of one of its legs, and then tapped it twice. A soft blue light began to glow from the scope’s lens and the entire room suddenly exploded in an array of fabulous color.
Various objects of different shapes and sizes began circling and filling every corner of the room around her. They seemed to be painted an assortment of bright colors that faded in and out of focus and intensity. First; there were common shapes, squares, circles, triangles, and then a variety of elongated rectangles. Then the shapes slowly began to change and evolved into different animals, each looking like small cardboard cutouts being carried about the room by children on little sticks. The shapes never seemed to touch anything in the room, but they circumvented and darted around the different fixtures and furnishings like small animals at play. A calm waft fell over Anna’s mind like a gentle breeze, and she knew she could sit there for hours watching the beautiful cabaret of lights. She hadn’t noticed before, but the glow of light given off by the globes had slowly dimmed, as if surrendering their place to the magic of the kaleidoscope.
And then, “I win,” came a voice to her right.
Anna recognized the voice even though it was too dark to see. She spun around quickly, gave the scope two quick taps on the leg again, and watched as the colored shapes in the room were sucked swiftly back into the kaleidoscope’s lens. Anna looked around as the warm light from the painted globes began to brighten the room once more. It was Meredith McConnell, her father’s secretary.
“Oh… hello Meredith, I was just…ah,” Anna stammered. “What did you win?”
The woman was smiling gently as she looked behind her that led into her father’s conference room. Anna heard her father’s voice on the other side of the door.
“Sorry about that everybody, just a bit of old magic. Thank you, Meredith,” said Mister Grayson, as the woman quietly closed the door behind her.
“Oops,” Anna said, raising her eyebrows, and forcing a toothy smile. She realized the show of the kaleidoscope had obviously invaded her father’s conference room when the secretary had opened the office door. Mrs. McConnell was wearing a dark green velvet robe with a formal lace sticking up like a collar. Her hair was pinned up in a business-like bun, and she was looking over the top of her half-moon glasses attached around her neck with a length of silver chain. She had gray-streaked red hair, which was always pulled up. Anna’s father was totally dependent on Mrs. McConnell, as she helped him maneuver through his day-to-day business meetings and appointments. She walked over to Anna, placed the scrolls she was carrying down on the chair next to her, and stood straight again with her hands cupped in front. She was smiling triumphantly.
“I won the bet I had with yer father,” she said, with a grin. “Mister Grayson said it would take ye at least a month to figure out how to work the scope, but I said it’d take ye no more than a week,” she said, gratifyingly through her thick Irish brogue.
“Ohh,” said Anna. “When did he put it in the cabinet?”
“I believe your father placed it there Wednesday-last,” she replied.
“Hmmmmm,” Anna hummed, looking back at the scope and thinking to herself. “Two days then,” she said, grinning back at her father’s secretary.
Mrs. McConnell smiled kindly, dropping her chin to look at Anna over her glasses again. She reached over and slid her finger down the scope’s leg as Anna had done and, tapping it twice, she tilted her head to look at her. “It belonged to yer grandmother,” she said, reverently. The scope burst forth once again in a beautiful array of color, and Anna smiled as she looked across the open spaces to see the transforming shapes dance about the room.
As the lights from the globes began to dim, Anna heard McConnell instructing her, “Now watch.” She taped a second leg of the kaleidoscope, and the flattened images floating around the room surged forth and changed into very detailed animals galloping, running, and swimming through the air. Anna cooed with delight.
“Oh… they’re beautiful,” she sang in amazement, as a purple zebra slowly galloped by her head and then turned green as it leaped over her shoulder. The animals were moving slowly and gently, changing their colors to match the rainbow of possibilities from within the scope.
“Yes,” said Mrs. McConnell, watching the scene around them with deep admiration. “Mary — ahhh, I mean, yer grandmother, loved animals almost as much as you, dear,” she said, in a longing voice.
“Did you know my grandmother well?” Anna asked, looking at her.
“Oh yes, dear. Yer grandmother and I were very, very good friends. We used to play on the grounds around the estate together for days in the summer months.” She leaned forward with a grin and whispered, “I had such a crush on yer Great Uncle Allison.” Anna smiled, as Mrs. McConnell straightened again to look back up into the room, the silver in her glasses reflecting the colors around her head.
“Well!” McConnell said abruptly, reaching over to tap the scope once more. The lights in the room suddenly popped on again, as the galloping rainbow around them was sucked back into the barrel of the scope. “So…What can I do for the youngest Grayson,” she said, in a returning business-like voice as she closed the cabinet door.
Anna squinted slightly, “I really need to talk to daddy, Meredith. Can you tell me when he’ll be finished with his meeting?”
“Ohhh,” McConnell groaned in a rather stern tone, “he should have been done long before this, but the goblins from Gringotts are making such a fuss about a few sickles. You’d think they were bargaining for a member of their own family.” She grimaced. “It’s a good thing they’re not. I think those creatures would sell their own mother for a sack of gold,” she said, in a sickened voice, shaking her head indignantly. “Go on inside, dear… and wait for yer father in the conference room. Make sure they all see ya too; it’ll give yer father a reason to end this.”
Anna walked to the door of the conference room and slowly turned the knob. She opened the door just enough to squeeze her body through, hoping not to make a disturbance. Her father, seeing her, smiled and motioned to Anna to sit in a large leather chair against the wall to his right. Those not speaking in the room watched her as she walked over to take a seat.
The room was moderately lit, and her father was standing at the stone pedestal at the head of the shiny black oval table. There were many witches and wizards wearing different colored robes and seated in the chairs around the conference table. They were all listening intently. A light blue fire was blazing out of some of the stone bowls sitting on the tabletop in front of empty chairs, and each had a different face looking into the room through the flames. There were several goblins sitting in a small group at the end of the table, listening to one of the bluish talking heads.
“Alvight,” said one of the voices inside the flames with a Russian accent, “ve vill reduce our rates by one half of one percent, and the banks in London vill do the same.” There were whispered grumbling sounds coming from the goblin’s circle as they began nodding to each other. They were suddenly quiet as they sat back in their chairs. One of the Goblins looked up at Mister Grayson and then to the individuals seated in the room. He nodded.
“Right, then,” said Anna’s father. “Well, my friends, I believe we can conclude. I’ll have Meredith draw together the appropriate scrolls for your final review. Thank you all for coming.”
The lights in the room brightened slightly as Mister Grayson stepped down from the podium. The Goblins stood and started heading for the elevator doors across the room, grumbling and seemingly bickering back and forth at one another. The floating heads over each bowl disappeared from view with a slight pop, and the flames over the bowls extinguished themselves as their image disappeared. Mister Grayson was standing by one of the large fireplaces, which was roaring high with bright green flames; he was shaking hands with each of his visitors as they passed him in a line toward the hearth. As each witch or wizard entered the glowing emerald frames, they called out their final destination.
Each then disappeared from view within a gusting whoosh of flame. As the last group of goblins entered the elevator, Anna heard a rush of wind behind the brass doors and they too were gone.
“Finally,” said Mister Grayson, heaving deeply and unbuttoning his robes. He turned to face Anna still sitting in the chair. He smiled, and walked over to her. “Hello, sweetheart,” he said, kissing her on the forehead. “How was your day?” He sat down in the leather winged-backed chair next to her, pulled out his wand, and waved it above the small table between them. A small cup of coffee on a saucer slowly whirled into view next to a small bowl of fruit on a silver tray. He picked up a spoon on the tray and began stirring his coffee. “Can I whip you up something?”
“No thank you, daddy,” Anna said, brightly. “I needed to talk to you about something that happened to me today,” she explained, thinking about her walk up the driveway.
Her father studied her. “Oh — I think I know what this is about,” he said, in a calm and unsurprised voice, raising his cup to take a sip.
“Yes. You see… I got a message from a Mrs. Drummond this morning,” he said, pointing his wand toward one of the television sets in the wall behind his desk. One of the screens suddenly brightened, and Anna could see the back of a woman’s head shaking animatedly as she began to speak.
“Hello? Hello… this is Mrs. Drummond, one of your neighbors from down the hill. I wish to speak to you about your daughter, Anna.” Anna shuddered at the woman’s voice. She tried to remember how Veronica Drummond’s mother sounded when she found her lost in the woods, just to keep her blood from boiling over again. “I have two witnesses,” the woman continued, “who told me your daughter was seen attacking my daughter Veronica on the trip to school this morning. I have to say I’m shocked that such a thing could even happen on a public school bus, but I’m absolutely livid that a member of your family could stoop to such violence.”
Anna could feel her face heating up again. She started to say something to explain what really happened, but her father quickly turned to glare at her. Anna closed her mouth, crossed her arms, and slumped angrily back into her chair. Mister Grayson turned his attention back to the screen.
The woman’s head was still turned away as she continued to speak. “I demand that you take immediate action to place your daughter into the care of a professional who can work with her anger management skills. If these steps are taken immediately, I will reconsider pressing charges for this malicious attack.”
“Charges?” Anna roared, “Attack? But…Daddy, I didn’t…” but this time her father jerked up with a single hand.
“Wait for it…” he said, still watching the monitor. Mrs. Drummond’s head finally turned to face the room, and Anna was stunned by what she saw. The top of the woman’s hair was stuffed full of pink sponge rollers, which was encased in a very tight net-like bonnet. Her face was covered in a lime green colored goop that made her face look more like a fancy doughnut than a person. Her eyes were bulging out of her head with rage, looking like two very large mushrooms rooted near an open hole that was her roaring mouth.
“I will be visiting your home this morning to see to it that your daughter is properly disciplined for her actions today. Good bye!” Mrs. Drummond finished with a slam and then the picture went black. Suddenly, Anna’s father began roaring with laughter, pounding his knee with his hand and stomping his feet in uncontrolled fits of delight. Anna couldn’t help smiling, seeing her father expressing a level of amusement rarely witnessed by anybody.
“Can you imagine — waking up next to that?” he said, shaking his head and laughing still harder.
“Mister Grayson — please!” came a voice from the other side of the room. Meredith had walked back into the conference room unnoticed. “Don’t tell me you’ve been watching that ghastly recording again?” she said, as she began picking up the scrolls on the conference table.
“Uh-oh,” said Mister Grayson, with a sudden straight face. His eyes darted over to Anna with a slight smile curling in the corners of his lips. “Oh, Meredith, look at the woman…Do you really think she’s sane enough to judge Anna’s behavior?”
“I don’t know…Did ya bother to ask your daughter what actually happened on that bus?” said Mrs. McConnell. Mister Grayson was silent.
“I thought not. And I don’t think the Muggles would appreciate knowing yer recording their image when they call in on the telephone,” Mrs. McConnell said, indignantly. “There is a matter of privacy to consider.” Her eyes moved from Mister Grayson to Anna. “Yer father has been showing that horrible recording to the entire wizarding world today,” she said, lifting her chin and glaring at Mister Grayson again in an aggravated you-should-know-better way.
“It’s just a simple spell,” said Mister Grayson, “I find it easier to understand what the Muggles are trying to say if I can see their face,” he finished. Then, leaning over to Anna, he whispered, “It’s amazing what the Muggles will do when speaking to one another on the telephone. You can’t imagine the things I’ve seen...”
“Still!” Mrs. McConnell interrupted, still glaring at him.
“Yes — yes — that will do, Meredith. You’ve made your point,” said Anna’s father.
“Well, I should hope so,” she said, straightening with a number of scrolls in her arms. She turned and headed for the door to the study once again.
Mister Grayson looked over at Anna. He waved his wand over his cup again, which filled instantly. He picked up his saucer and cup and took another sip. “So — what did happen on that bus this morning?” he said, peering over his cup at her.
Anna thought. What did happen? She surely didn’t do the things the Drummond woman was accusing her of, but she did have a part. Anna knew that if she hadn’t been there, Veronica wouldn’t have been hurt. Looking up into her father’s eyes, Anna said the only thing that seemed to make sense.
“I was mad,” she said, curtly. “I just got so… so…” she hesitated, trying to find the right word to describe how she felt when she saw Damon kicking Widwick, when the Drummond girl was teasing her, when Mrs. Drummond was accusing her. “I just got… so… mad,” she repeated, feeling her blood starting to simmer once more. She crossed her arms in a way that told her father this explanation was the best she could offer.
Her father lowered his cup, and his face seemed to show a surprising look of concern more than anger. He set the saucer down on the silver tray, and then sat back in his chair staring blankly across the room. He seemed deep in troubled thought; his finger on one hand tapping the arm of his chair, while his other hand pressed his lips. He slowly turned to face Anna again.
“You know… you remind me so much of your mother,” he said, in a soft whisper.
Anna was shocked. It was the first time she could ever remember her father saying something about her mother without her pressing the conversation. Anna stared at her father for what seemed to be an eternity before she realized, unless she intervened, he might say nothing more. She wouldn’t let the opportunity pass.
“How do I remind you of her?” she asked him tentatively, trying not to scare him off the subject.
He looked at her slightly surprised by the question. “Oh — in so many ways, Anna,” he answered, sinking his head into the chair and looking back into the open room again. “You look so much like her. You may have inherited your grandfather’s eyes, but you have your mother’s beauty.” He rolled his head on the chair and looked at her again. “She was so very beautiful,” he said, mournfully.
“Why can’t you talk about her?” she asked him, trying to hold off the burning in her eyes.
Mister Grayson raised his head and frowned. Then his eyes sank to the floor, staring blankly into the darkness near his feet. He slowly raised his head again to look at her. He could see the longing in Anna’s eyes, the desperate need for understanding, for indulgence, for any information he might now be willing to offer her. At that moment Mister Grayson realized how unfair he had been to his daughter, and, like a man standing before the sentencing judge, he spoke with deep and open remorse.
“I’m sorry, Anna,” he said, softly. “I should have told you about your mother. I should have told you more about who she was before…” but he stopped again, and his eyes suddenly widened, “before… now,” he finished, in an almost awkward change of tone. Anna got the feeling her father had almost said something completely unguarded, and had stopped himself just in time.
“You loved her, then?” she asked, looking for anything to keep the discussion going. Her father looked at her in surprise.
“Loved her? I more than loved your mother, Anna. I adored Victoria. She was gracious, and delightful, and yes… she was very, very beautiful. I remember how she could bedazzle any man near her — totally disarm even the goblins with her charm.” His eyes looked longingly into the room in front of him again, as if remembering something a dying man would summon on his last day.
“Why don’t you ever talk about her? I’ve never heard you speak of her this way before.” Her father looked back at her, and Anna could see he was a man obviously struggling with his emotions.
“It still hurts, Anna. You can’t possibly know. There isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t think of your mother. In the ways most important, I’m still married to Victoria, and… I do miss her… so very much. We lost so many things when your mother left us. I lost a wife and my dearest friend, but my greatest sadness is knowing she would have made a wonderful mother to you. She was really looking forward…” his voice stumbled, “to… being a mother… to being your mother.” He looked away and Anna could see him fighting to regain his control. Anna looked down in her lap and could see where her own tears had fallen into her hands. Her father looked at Anna again and, recognizing her struggle, he reached out to her. Anna stood, walked over to his chair, and sat in his lap. She buried her face in his chest and began to weep.
“I’m so sorry, Anna; we should have talked about her long before now. Forgive me. I only now realize how you could miss your mother, even if you didn’t know her,” he said, stroking her head softly. “Forgive me.”
Anna rose up and looked into her father’s eyes. “I don’t even know what she looks like,” she said, through her very wet face. “I’ve never even seen a picture of her.”
Her father smiled. “Well… despite her enormous beauty, your mother was never one for allowing a camera around her. I remember one time I even tried to get her to sit for a portrait, but she wouldn’t have any part of it.” He smiled again and cupped Anna’s chin in his hand. “But I think I was able to sneak a few pictures, despite her threats to turn me into a toad.” Anna grinned. “Give me some time; let me see if I can find them for you.” Anna nodded, and then hugged her father again.
They sat there together, holding each other close in the warmth of the cozy chair for a very long time. Anna was feeling sad, but immensely grateful. She had learned more about her mother in the last few minutes than in all the time before now, but what was most gratifying was knowing her father loved her mother; more than that, he still loved her. It was all too much to take in. Anna never knew how much the death of Victoria Grayson had hurt her father. She held him close, wanting to help him through his lingering pain. After another length of time, Anna felt her father tickling her ribs.
“You know, my dear, there’s still the issue of your ‘anger management’,” he said, in a high mocking voice, trying to mimic the angry Mrs. Drummond. They both laughed. “Despite the good things I’ve told you about your mother, there was the matter of her temper, and I’m afraid, my dear, you have inherited that as well,” he said, smiling, but his face then drifted into a serious calm. “Anna, we all get upset, and sometimes we get angry… but never allow your anger go as far as… as madness.” At this, Anna father seemed to stare through her as he continued to speak. “You must maintain your balance,” he said, staring into the distance. “You must… stay your control, because… even the briefest moments of madness can lead… to the loss of one’s sanity. Never allow your anger to go that far, Anna. For even touching the edge of madness… is like summoning the abyss,” he explained, almost as if in a trance, “a place from which it may be difficult to ever return.” There was a very long pause, as his eyes seemed to float away from her again. Then, sensing he had lost his thread, he snapped back to her and smiled. “I hope you understand what I’m trying to say, sweetheart, because it’s very important. You must maintain your control,” he said, combing his fingers through her hair. “Will you do that for me? Can I count on you to try?”
Anna frowned “I think so,” she said, desperately trying to understand the meaning her father’s advice.
“That’s my girl. You know, I’m really happy we got to talk about your mother. I think we should do this more often — what do you say?” he said, with a happy grin.
“I’d like that.”
“Good — well — are we done, then?” he asked, as if ending a friendly business meeting.
“Yes, sir,” Anna replied. She hugged her father again, stood, and headed for the door. “Oh,” she said, turning again, “I almost forgot. Something else happened today. I noticed I was able to see the gates from the outside of the property. Did you change the spells on the grounds?”
This time her father frowned, “No, I haven’t changed anything…” he stopped, suddenly. “Wait a minute — Eric!” he barked, and his face slowly broke into a smile.
“What about him?”
“I recently asked your brother to take over for me in that department. After all, Eric’s going to be starting his last year at Castlewood, isn’t he? I figured it was about time he took a little more responsibility around the estate.” Mister Grayson shook his head, still smiling, “You know your brother, Anna; always thinking he can improve everything he touches. I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s wiped out all of the old spells on the grounds and started from scratch. He’s out and about at the moment collecting school supplies; won’t be back until very late tonight. Best to check with him about this in the morning.”
“Yes, sir,” Anna nodded.
Anna had the sudden urge to tell her father about the odd things that had happened to her over the last several days, and especially the strange way she found Mrs. Drummond in the woods, but she could see her father looked very tired. Besides, she had already decided to talk to Eric about her heightened senses, and now she was expected to discuss the charms surrounding the estate with him as well. She decided to wait for her brother’s return.
As Anna walked back up the stairs, a startling truth suddenly came over her. Despite her father’s importance to his family, to the ministry, to the Muggles, and to everybody else with whom he came into contact; despite his openness and his charm, which gathered so many friends and business acquaintances; despite all of these things — Anna unexpectedly realized her father was a very lonely man. But she also realized the reason for his solitude was because he was still in love with her mother, Victoria, even after all these years without her, and the thought of it made Anna smile.
Anna raced up the stairs to her bedroom. Throwing her book bag on the bed, she opened the large doors of her window balcony and walked out onto the terrace. The early evening sun painted a reddening light on the ocean below. A wonderful breeze was blowing through her hair as she lifted her head and closed her eyes to smell the wonderful ocean breeze and flowers. The dried tears on her face made her skin feel tight in the warm gusting wind. She looked down over the railing overhanging the cliff’s edge, and Anna could see the waves crashing down on the beach hundreds of feet below her. Several people were lazily walking along the water’s edge on the wettest parts of the sand, leaving darkened stains in the flats behind their feet. She loved this part of the day. Overlooking the water, taking in the last hours of softening sunshine around her, Anna felt wonderful; her senses felt as if they were alive and on fire. The talk with her father was making her smile uncontrollably.
Looking down, she could see a number of swimmers paddling out on top of their surfboards. Anna’s eyes flashed as she watched them riding up and down over the waves and heading toward the setting sun. She turned and dashed back into the room.
Within minutes, Anna had changed into her favorite swimsuit and was dashing down the stairs again. She burst out of the rear entryway, dancing through the courtyard behind the house and through the very large stone archway guarded by two moss-covered marble ghouls. Anna stopped in front of one of the statues and lightheartedly placed her head upon the forehead of the cold stone. “Hello, Henry…you need a bath,” she laughed, skipping off down the path through the trees.
She stopped at a small stone hut at the edge of the woods, grabbed her surfboard from inside the door, and headed for the long wooden stairs, which wound their way around and down the cliff wall behind the estate. Where it might have taken somebody else fifteen minutes to negotiate the steps, Anna was on the beach and running toward the water in less than five. With her surfboard tucked tight under her arm and her feet splashing into the warm surf, Anna finally leaped forward onto her board and began paddling out to sea. It felt as though she was leaving her remaining troubles behind as she propelled herself forward.
Finally, she stopped and rested on top of her board. Breathless from the effort, Anna rolled over onto her back and stared up at the blue-bruising sky above her. She felt wonderful, as if a huge weight had been lifted off of her chest. She didn’t understand why, but the very idea that her mother’s memory was still important to her father brought a sense of exhilaration unlike anything she had ever felt before. She stretched out her arms as if pressing the heavens off of her chest toward the open sky.
“I am Anna Grayson!” she screamed in delight. “My mother is Victoria Grayson — and my father loved her — he LOVED her!” She laughed hysterically as she pointed a threatening finger at the sky, “DO YOU HEAR ME??” she screamed at the top of her lungs, still laughing. She dropped her arms, panting. “He… loved her,” she whispered to herself, exhaustedly.
All at once, a thunderous mountain of water crashed over Anna, flipping and rolling her over, and over below the ocean’s surface. She was still laughing underwater as she swam up toward her floating board above her. As her head broke the surface, she immediately pulled herself upon her board and turned its nose toward the sandy beach. She smiled as she looked back with hopeful anticipation, and there, as expected, was another large wave bearing down upon her. Anna started paddling with all her strength as the wave caught up to her, lifted her into the air, and tried to throw her over an eight-foot wall of water now falling below her.
With a final heave to ensure she would drop into the chasm below, she quickly pushed herself up and onto her feet. Anna screamed with delight as she plummeted straight down into the rising bowl of water at the bottom of the wave. Just before crashing into its base, she leaned hard into the wave in front of her, which instantly transformed her falling energy into a launched rocket across the top of the water. She was riding down a huge wall of water now, somewhere between its rising base and the monstrous foamy top six feet over her head. Anna loved this; it was the closest thing to flying she felt other than in her dreams. She knew she would never be able to fly in the way her family could, but this to her, had to be what it was like - with the rushing wind, the speed, the pinpoint turns. It was glorious.
Glancing up, she could see the roaring wall of water streaking by her, just inches away from her face. She reached out and let her hand make contact with the surface of the lifting wave, and a great spray of water, like jets of steam, shot out from behind her fingertips.
Then, from out of the depths of the green wall, two large eyes suddenly appeared by her fingers. Anna looked up in shock to see two very large fish traveling inside the wave in front of her. Matching her speed, their torpedo-like bodies came into full view of her surprised gaze. A second later, several more eyes appeared within the giant mountain of water, as dozens of the large fish now joined the race. Anna wanted to reach through the wall of water separating their two worlds and touch them, but all at once, they were gone, darting deep into the thickening wave as the light around her began to darken.
Anna looked up and saw the top of the wave rolling over her head to enclose her. Her eyes shot forward, and she could see the wave’s tunnel in front beginning to close. Smiling, Anna crouched low and pushed the nose of her board down, leaning into the bottom of the wave again. Her speed increased dramatically as she headed for the now completely closed exit disappearing in front of her. Anna smashed into the closed door of water and burst out the other side into the warm sunshine again. She clinched her fist and screamed in fierce triumph as she sped along the wave’s front.
A few minutes later, Anna was lying on her back again, looking up at the sky as the sea lapped at the edges of her board. Her legs dangled over the sides and swept gently back and forth in the warm water around her. She couldn’t remember ever being so happy. She closed her eyes and found the image her father’s smiling face talking about her mother again. Anna giggled to herself as she relived that blissful moment.
The deep water around her was calm and quiet, but then she suddenly felt a tickle. It started on the bottom of her feet, and then began to move up her legs like so many tiny fingers touching and probing her skin. Anna quickly sat upright, looking around at the smooth water around her. Her feet were being nipped and nibbled time and again below the green surface.
“Hey, that tickles,” she said, laughing, and lifting her legs. She placed her feet on top of the board, and wrapped her arms around her knees before looking down again. She could see small silvery darts moving like streaks of light just below the surface and under her board. Anna stretched her hand out over the water and the surface immediately began to shake and ripple violently. She snapped back, surprised by the intense reaction to her movements. She cautiously reached out again, and as her fingers touched the water, its surface suddenly exploded with life. Thousands of tiny silver fish began leaping out of the water in an ever-widening circle around her. The ocean’s surface seemed to boil as the little fish raced about on all sides, looking to close in. Anna was confused and enthralled at the same time; she had never seen anything like this before. She extended her hand over the water once more, and hundreds of the tiny fish began leaping out of the sea over her outstretched limb. Anna’s eyes widened in disbelief at the astonishing sight, as more of the little fish began shooting and jumping in both directions over her hand.
She slowly extended her other arm on the opposite side, and the fish immediately raced over in response. They were now blasting over both of her outstretched arms and, looking up, Anna saw them slicing through the air over the front of her board like a chromed wheel growing ever larger. Anna couldn’t believe what was happening as she slowly began to stand, her arms still extended out to her sides. As she straightened her knees, her arms rose higher off the surface of the water, and the small fish seemed desperate to stay close, continuing to jump a full five feet out of the water in a massive circle around her. The water surrounding Anna looked like it was in the middle of a tumultuous hailstorm as the fish flew wildly through the air and splashed back down.
Then Anna noticed a darkening shadow over them and she looked up. There were now hundreds of small birds of every shape and size circling in a tight pattern just twenty feet above her head. The flock seemed to be dropping over her like a huge cupped hand pressing down. Anna couldn’t believe her eyes. She didn’t understand what was happening, as she stood there motionless on top of her board with the life swirling all around her. She reached up toward the birds and they reacted instantly, swooping down in mass to encircle her. Never coming close enough to make physical contact, they flew in an ever-shrinking column of beating wind just out of her reach. Anna was numb with shock as she reached out to the multicolored wall of feathers in front of her, and watched in disbelief as the column expanded as if to give her space. Anna screamed in uncontrollable delight at the astonishing spectacle of devotion before her. She didn’t understand what was happening, but she could sense a powerful emotion reaching in to touch her. “I love you too,” Anna called to them, through the torrent of flapping wings.
Their speed increased dramatically, and the wind around her swirled into an almost deafening roar. Anna threw her arms wide, hoping to embrace them all. She felt as if they shared a connection to each other, a bond of love and admiration. She could count every heartbeat, every breath they took as she opened her arms still wider to take them all in. And all at once, as if commanded to go, the birds burst away like the sudden shock wave after an explosion.
Anna stood there, panting as she watched the birds moving away in every direction. She was almost hyperventilating with excitement, and tears of joy poured down her face as she looked around. The fish and the birds were gone now; everything was calm.
But then, before she could put reason to what had just happened, there was a huge blast behind her. Anna ducked without looking and closed her eyes in anticipation of something huge crashing into her. There was another blast, and then what seemed like cold rain falling down around her. Anna slowly turned to see two enormous whales entering the waters around her board, their massive black bodies rolling up and over as they approached. Anna watched in amazement as they passed on either side of her. Like moving mountains, they crossed in the front and then began passing her again as the two of them completed their circle. Anna stooped to reach out and let her hand touch one of the creatures as it slowly passed by. She closed her eyes, and could hear his huge heart thumping like a drum in her head as he dove down and out of sight. Anna straightened to stand as a massive tail lifted up out of the ocean, turned toward the depths, and then slowly sank into the murky blackness again. And as quickly as they had appeared, they too were gone.
Anna’s mind was left buzzing with disbelief. She couldn’t comprehend any reason behind what she was feeling deep within her soul. There was life everywhere around her, she could feel it, she could sense it; she could almost touch it.Anna turned toward what was left of the sinking sun across the distant ocean. “It’s so magical,” she said, in a soft whisper through her tears, and somehow she knew her life would never be the same.