Anna Grayson and The Order of Merlin

Family Feud

That night, Anna was back in her room getting ready for dinner with her family. She had never been so happy. It seemed everything around her was working to just her benefit. Even the things that would normally upset Anna seemed small compared to the joy she felt at this moment. This included Tencha conjuring a leg-iron curse on her when she was returning from the beach and walking through the kitchen, looking for a quick snack. There was a loud POP, and Anna’s ankles immediately sprang together in mid-stride. She abruptly fell flat on her front with a dull thud.

Tencha was standing over her laughing. “Hey little squib — whatcha’ doing on the floor? Forget how to walk?” she teased, with a mixed giggle. Her smile quickly turned to a frown as she looked down at the target of her curse lying on the floor in front of her. Anna’s body was shaking violently and twitching in random spasms side to side. Tencha reached down and pushed Anna over onto her back, and was shocked to find her sister laughing hysterically. Anna was guffawing so hard she had to roll back to her side to breathe. Tencha was stunned. Surely, this wasn’t the response she had been seeking. She stared at the end of her wand with a scowl, thinking it had somehow malfunctioned.

“What are you laughing about?” Tencha asked, sternly. “That was supposed to be a leg-iron curse, not a tickling spell.” But Anna continued to giggle unabated. Tencha scowled again, and then pulled out a small pocket-sized black book with yellow colored edges. She flipped through the pages still standing over Anna with her wand gripped between her front teeth. She stopped at one of the pages and began to read out loud.

Locomotor Mortis(lo-co-MO-tor MOR-tis)
"Leg-Locker Curse" , "loco" L. from a place + "motionem" L. motion + "mortis" L. death.

Locks a victim’s legs together, making him or her unable to walk.

Tencha looked down again at Anna who was still laughing. “Definitely the right one,” she said, in an exasperated tone. “Anna, what’s the matter with you?”

Anna rolled over again, still snickering. “Oh, Tencha — even you can’t screw up this wonderful day,” she said, peering up at her sister, her eyes wet with amusement.

“I think you’ve gone batty,” Tencha replied, as she waved her wand over Anna to release her legs.

Still in her room, Anna smiled as she continued brushing her hair in her mirror. It was ironic the best way she found to stop her sisters’ torments was to somehow make them think she enjoyed it. She wondered longingly when her brother Eric would be home. Anna really wanted to speak to him about the strange things that happened to her on the grounds and in the ocean earlier that evening.

And then, while still buried deep in her private thoughts, Anna looked up and noticed something very odd in the mirror before her. Her body looked strangely rigid, as if frozen in place. She could see her eyes moving, but she was still, her brush stopped in mid-stroke. And then, as if suddenly remembering something she had forgotten, Anna understood what was wrong. She could sense something strange creeping into her consciousness; it was as if her body had realized something was wrong even before her mind had picked up on it, and a cold chill began tapping at the smallest hairs on the back of Anna’s neck. She set the brush down, and slowly sat in the chair behind her. She placed her hands on the table and looked at her image now sitting before her in the mirror.

The feeling was eerie, cold, and now spreading from the back of her neck and up to the area behind her ears. Anna caught herself frowning in the mirror, and she closed her eyes to listen more guardedly. Something was definitely there — very near to her. She concentrated hard, which allowed the coldness of the strange sensation to penetrate deeper into her core. She instinctively tried to reach out, like she had done earlier that day in the woods, but for some reason it didn’t seem to work this time. The feeling was now increasing at an alarming rate when, all at once, Anna suddenly realized what it was. Her eyes suddenly opened, and she quickly stood and turned to face the room behind her.

“Who’s there?” she said, in a frightened voice. She had become conscious of the fact that something had been watching her. Anna stared into the room; there was something unseen somewhere very close. She leaned back and reached for the table behind her for balance, accidentally knocking over two glass bottles. She slowly rested her weight against the edge and tried to relax.

“Is somebody there?” Anna asked again, this time adding an intentional tone of forced goodwill, but still, there was no reply. The coldness she felt was getting worse and Anna began to shiver as she wrapped her arms in front of her. The room was quiet, except for a light rattling noise from her balcony window; she could hear the wind picking up outside. There was a feathery tinkling sound above her head, and Anna noticed the crystal adornments on her bedroom fixture beginning to tremble and shake.

BANG!

Anna jumped as her eyes shot to the right. Both of her balcony doors had flown open, slamming their stops with a violent crash. She ran to the doors and moved to push them closed, but a bone-chilling wave of pressure suddenly pushed its way past her. Anna quickly spun around and heaved the doors closed. The room was still again; nothing was out of place, but the coldness she felt earlier had left her body to make itself present in the room around her. Anna tilted her head down and peered into the space, trying to focus on something, anything attempting to make itself visible. The crystals above her were tinkling again, but then stopped abruptly as a small sound, a whispered hiss, broke the eerie silence.

“ssssssssssssssss,” it sizzled softly, and Anna froze. The room still looked empty, but she definitely heard something that sounded like raw meat thrown onto a hot pan. And then, just as suddenly, the room was quiet once more.

“Sshh,” came another sound, much shorter this time. Anna was barely breathing, her eyes darting all over the room in front of her. The sound seemed to come from somewhere immediately in front of her, and yet, perhaps, all around her. Anna thought to reach out to whatever it was, but chose to listen instead, watching for any movement that might come out of some unexpected place. She slowly reached down and grabbed the wooden handle of an umbrella propped against the wall next to her. There seemed to be an immediate reaction to her movements.

“ssssssssssssssss,” spit the sound again. This time it was louder, almost like a voiced warning; don’t be stupid, now.

“Who is it?” Anna demanded, now raising the umbrella high to show she was properly armed; nothing. Her eyes slowly scanned the room left to right.

“Vereorrrrr,” murmured something that sounded like a far off voice. Anna squinted, as if to hear the sound better. “Be afraid….ssssshhhh. You must prepare yourself… orbus,” said the misty waver, sounding a lot like steam working its way through old pipes. Anna couldn’t be sure, but it sounded as if the intruder might be threatening her.

“Prepare… for what?” Anna said sharply, holding the umbrella still higher. All was quiet again, but the temperature in the room now seemed to reach in to seize her by the throat. She waited for what seemed like an eternity for another sound, and when it finally came, Anna jumped in surprise despite herself.

“Darkness is coming,” the voice sighed, which was already beginning to weaken. “Beware,” it said wispily, sounding as if it were floating away from her. She could feel the warmth of the room suddenly returning, and Anna knew whatever was speaking to her was now quickly departing. She reached out impulsively.

“Hold on… I don’t understand,” she blurted out, realizing her confusion was suddenly much more important than her fear, but there was no reply. Whatever it was that Anna felt slipping away before, was now completely gone.

Anna stared across the room. “What the heck was that?” she said in frustration, throwing up her hands and looking around. “Are you a ghost? A phantom? What? And what was that ‘be afraid’ business,” she said, in a deep mocking voice. “What was that about?”

It had to be a joke, something Dowla or Tencha thought up to frighten her into running down the staircase again. Anna walked over to her door and quickly snapped it open halfway expecting to see one or both of her sisters listening and laughing outside. But nobody was there.

Closing the door slowly again, Anna looked back into the room and thought. No, what she heard couldn’t have been a joke. The way the presence made her feel before she heard the voice dispelled any notion of it being some kind of trick. But what did the voice mean when it said, ‘darkness was coming’. Over the last several days, Anna had the feeling something different was happening around her, but she never thought that it might be bad, or in anyway evil. On the contrary, she had the feeling what was happening was exciting and rather wonderful. Now, however, she wasn’t so sure. Anna had never encountered anything like this before, and the intruder didn’t seem very pleasant. But what was it? And what was it trying to tell her?

Anna shook her head and groaned to herself, “Where’s Eric when you need him?”

She walked over to the window to peek outside, ensured the balcony doors were locked, and then headed downstairs for dinner.

TWO

Anna entered the family room to find Dowla and Tencha squabbling.

“I don’t care what daddy says,” Dowla was saying, shaking her head stubbornly, “I hate it — and I shouldn’t to forced into doing something I don’t like.”

Anna’s sisters, although not identical twins, looked very much alike. They both had especially white skin and long ebony hair. They were unusually tall for their age, and very much like the image in their mother’s portrait. Their features were thin, long, and rather exaggerated around the nose and chin. But despite their passion for fun-filled vindictiveness, Anna knew that the girls were also very popular at school. They always seemed to be extremely knowledgeable of the social landscape surrounding them, and had the reputation of being in the center of most of the scandalous activity away from home. In fact, they were even accused of being at the root cause of most of the problems at Castlewood. They had caused so much trouble last year, in fact, that Anna’s father had to make a special trip to Pennsylvania just to save them from being suspended. Apparently, one of their many pranks had unwittingly gone awry, and had led another student into disaster in one of the many deep moats surrounding Castlewood. According to her brother Eric, it was only due to their father’s personal friendship with the school’s chancellor that saved the girls from being sent home in the middle of the school year.

“I agree,” Tencha said, understandingly to her sister, “but what are we going to do? You know the rules. Every student in Castlewood must participate. It doesn’t matter what sport you choose, we just need to pick one and stick with it.”

“But I’m not a jock… I hate sports. I’m not good at it and it’s a waste of my time,” Dowla retorted.

“Well, what about that European sport…Quitick?” Tencha asked, trying to sound sympathetic.

“That’s Quiddich, you idiot,” interrupted Damon. Their brother was standing near the fireplace popping small, green puffs of fire out of his wand and into the logs at his feet. Always brooding, Damon looked all the more menacing in the glow of the green flames. “Besides — could you see Dowla flying on a broom?” he added, rolling his eyes.

“Ooooooo, you’re not getting me on one of those silly things,” Dowla answered, scowling at the group. “They’re so fifth century. Why don’t those people come out of the Stone Age and fly a proper door like normal people?”

“You mean normal people like you?” Damon said with a smirk. “I’ve haven’t seen you flying a door since you last fell off yours eight years ago.”

“Well… it didn’t help with you throwing rocks at me at the time, Damon. Besides, I’m afraid of heights; everybody knows that. Oh… I can’t wait until I’m allowed to Apparate. Why do we have to wait until we’re eighteen to get a license? We should at least be allowed to practice,” Dowla said, leaning forward in her chair.

“You mean like a learner’s permit?” said Anna, finally stepping into the room.

“Exactly!” said Dowla, looking up in surprise and wondering why she hadn’t thought of the idea in the first place.

“Yes, and while you’re at it — you might as well get a permit to drive the family car,” Anna said smiling, sitting down in the empty chair next to the fire. “Think about it, Dowla. Feet planted firmly on the ground, no chance of falling out of the sky that way. It’s a very safe way to travel.”

“You mean it’s the Muggle way to travel,” said Damon, sardonically, looking at Anna with a curled lip. “But you might want to listen to the squib, Dowla. After all — you may end up housebound if your abilities to Apparate aren’t up to snuff.

“What about you, Tencha?” asked Anna, ignoring her brother. “What sport are you going out for this year at Castlewood?”

“Oh, I don’t know. So many of the sports involve flying, or a ball of some kind. Why is that? It’s so stupid — isn’t it? Do you think they would accept blazing gin as a sport?” she asked, looking around the room for support.

“Only if they allowed you to talk while you play; those flapping jaws of yours might be an acceptable form of exercise,” Damon replied with a smirk, blasting the fire at his feet again with his wand.

“Oh, shut up, Damon,” scolded Dowla. “At least we’re trying. Not all of us could get a note from daddy excusing us from playing sports last year. There’s nothing wrong with your knees — what nonsense. What are you going to tell them this year, huh? You gonna curse a blister onto your big toe or something?”

“Just because you can’t exercise your brains enough to get out of it, doesn’t mean I have to follow your lead. Make something up. Who cares what the school rules say? You’ll feel a lot better about it the next time we have to sit and watch a swift-slalom match. You can laugh with me when those idiots fall off their doors fifty feet off the ground doing eighty miles an hour,” Damon said, shaking his head.

“Swift-slalom? What’s that?” Anna asked, interestedly.

“Oh — it’s a really scary sport,” Dowla explained, with widening eyes. “The competitors have to race around these floating sticks on their doors. They’re supposed to complete three laps… but most of them never finish. They’re always banging into each other around the turns and pushing the other racers off of their doors. It’s really brutal.”

“It’s really stupid,” Damon added, sarcastically, “but at least it’s an American sport, and a lot better than watching that bunch of nuts giving themselves wedgies on those ridiculous brooms on the Quiddich field.”

“Dinner is prepared,” interrupted a boyish voice from across the room. Widwick was standing in the doorway to the dining room beaming with elfish pride.

“Great… I’m famished,” yelped Tencha, who stood to follow Dowla through the open doorway.

“It’s about time… get out of the way,” Damon growled as he walked by, nearly knocking the elf over as he passed.

“Thank you, Widwick,” said Anna, “and what are the W-ds for tonight?”

“Ohhh, Iz did a bang-bang job for you’s tonight, Miss Anna,” said Widwick, gesturing her elegantly toward the dining room. “Wez got quail, and maashy tatoes, and greeny-beany thingys fer yours eyes.”

“Ummmmm — sounds delicious. And? What about desert?” Anna asked, with a look of eager wanting growing on her face.

“Oh — plenties of pies, mum,” he answered, brightly. Then, whispering behind a cupped hand, “Gabby is picked the cherries herself — just for you, she did.”

Anna’s eyes sparkled as she took the elf by the hand and lead them through the door.

THREE

The Grayson dining room was very large. The always formal looking table was long, rectangular, and extensive enough to seat at least twenty people. Its flat top was made from thick dark oak, which sat on legs the size of tree-trunks carved into squatting ghouls holding the table upon their shoulders. At the head of the table sat a very tall chair clearly meant for Mister Grayson. There was another chair exactly like it at the opposite end that nobody ever used. The walls were covered in finely detailed tapestries, depicting a wooded scene with deer, wolves, a bear, and several beautiful birds delicately woven into the hangings. Several ornamental trees and colored shrubs surrounded an inviting dock portrayed in the cloth, which stretched out over a glassy lake. In another corner of the room, stood a tall pewter-colored suit of armor on a rock pedestal. It was leaning on an unsheathed sword resting point-down between its feet. The table was covered in an array of skillfully prepared dishes that Anna liked to call Widwick-dishes or W-ds.

As the family sat down, Widwick ran around the table seating the girls. Without waiting for the others, Damon started shoveling a spoonful of potatoes onto his plate, forked a serving of quail, and began to eat.

“Despite the fact you’ve given up joining the family in saying grace, Damon, you could at least wait for daddy,” Tencha complained to her brother.

“Ooooooo,” Widwick added, helping Tencha with her chair. “Master Grayson says he is working a little late. You is to start the meal without him, and he will join you’s as soon as he can.”

The elf glared at one of the place settings on the table. Two of the forks were apparently locked in a duel over which one should be seated to the inside of the other “Stop it, you’s!” Widwick yelped, and the utensils immediately dropped next to the plate. “You! Over there is where you’s belong.” One of the large forks quickly jumped up, and pronged its way across the table to sit next to one of the entrées.

“There — you see?” Damon said, with a very full mouth, gesturing toward the elf, “I’m eating!”

The first few minutes were rather typical with Widwick helping to ladle out the portions, and Damon constantly demanding that his cup be refilled. Looking around the table at her family, Anna decided to ask a question. “Has anybody heard… if we have a new ghost in the house? Besides Cookie, I mean?” she added tentatively, poking nervously at the vegetables on her plate.

“Isn’t one enough?” said Dowla, frowning. “Honestly… I wish he would go away,” she muttered, referring to the scruffy bearded phantom living in their newel post. “I accidentally knocked over a candle stick in the hallway yesterday, and he started screaming at me and calling me a frog — whatever that means. Why doesn’t daddy make him leave?”

“Why do you ask, Anna?” asked Tencha, ignoring Dowla’s rude comments

“Well… I heard a strange voice in my bedroom upstairs a few minutes ago, and I was just wondering if there was somebody new around,” Anna replied, looking closely for any snickers or glanced smiles between her two sisters. There weren’t any.

“A strange voice? Oooo, what did it say?” Dowla asked, excitedly.

“Well, it was kind of hard to hear it exactly — but I thought it said… I…” she stopped, and decided to make the perceived threat a little more general, “…we… should beware.”

“Beware? Beware of what?” asked Dowla, and Anna noticed everybody around the table had stopped eating, and was now looking directly at her.

“I don’t know,” Anna replied, frowning. “But it said something else too… it called me orbus.”

Damon started to laugh.

“What?” Anna said, scowling at him, “do you know what it means?”

Her brother wiped his mouth with the sleeve of his robe. “Well, my Latin might be a little rusty, but this new ghost might know you a lot better than you think,” Damon said, smiling, as he took another great gulp from his glass.

“What’s that supposed to mean?” Anna said, getting angry.

“Oh… don’t listen to him, Anna — he doesn’t know anything,” Tencha snapped, scowling at their brother across the table.

Damon finished his drink with a loud, “Ahh,” and then continued. “Well… if memory serves me correctly, ‘orbus’… means parentless,” he said, finishing with a smirk.

“Parentless? What do you mean?” said Anna.

Damon rolled his eyes. “One without parents, of course.” He could see Anna’s confused look so he stood and leaned across the table toward Anna, “What… are you dense? An orphan! Is that clear enough for you?” he said rudely, with an evil sparkle glinting in his eye.

“An orphan? But I’m not an orphan. I have the same father as you,” Anna answered, belligerently. She was beginning to regret saying anything about her strange visitor at all; she didn’t like seeing Damon enjoying himself at her expense.

Damon laughed. “Oh — I don’t know, Anna. What do you think, girls? The time may have finally come; we might have to break the news to the squib a little early, wouldn’t you agree? After all, she’ll be a teenager soon.” Damon looked over at Anna who looked completely confused. “Well… I think you’re probably old enough to handle the truth,” he said, glancing over at Dowla with a broadening smile.

“Oh…” said Dowla, grinning with wide eyes, “you mean… THAT truth. Oh, I don’t know… are you sure she can handle it?”

“Well… better the truth from those of us who…. uh…love her,” he said, with a funny little break in his voice, “than from some unknown ghoul coming in for an occasional visit, right?” Damon replied, now sitting back in his chair with a serious face.

“Either tell me what you’re on about, Damon… or shut up,” Anna barked, catching Dowla whispering something to Tencha to her other side.

“All right — all right, as long as you think you can handle it; the truth is… you’re not really our sister at all,” Damon said, with a smirk. “Somebody simply left you on our front step one day and we, with a gentle-caring heart, took you in and out of the cold.” Dowla and Tencha started to snicker as Damon leaned back. “Yep… hate to break it to you this way, little squib… but we found you wrapped in a blanket on our front stoop. Just another Muggle looking for a home and a family to mooch from,” her brother finished, an ugly sneer blooming ever so knowingly on his pale face.

“Wez have pies,” called Widwick, stepping into the dining room through a set of swinging double doors from the kitchen. He was rolling a metal pushcart with several pies stacked high. Wheeling the cart over to Anna’s side of the table, he stopped, “Pie, Miss Anna?” asked the elf, hopefully.

Anna said nothing. She was still glaring at Damon in disbelief. How could he say something so cruel — so cold? she thought in appalled astonishment.

“I don’t know elf… do Muggle orphans like pie?” Damon said, with that dreaded cold draw in his voice that Anna hated so much. He was staring at her, those malicious eyes burrowing into her head. Anna stared back — not saying a word. Widwick stood frozen, looking at the both of them, unsure of what to do. Damon finally grinned, and scooped up another fork of potatoes and pushed them into his mouth. He sat back again, smiling as he chewed.

Anna’s face was hot with rage, her clinched fists tightening like vices on the arms of her chair. She wanted nothing less than to smash Damon’s grinning face into his plate. She could feel her anger building steadily, made worse by her sister’s wicked and now fading giggles next to her. Anna’s hearing was suddenly leaving her as her thoughts retreated. Widwick’s muffled voice was buzzing somewhere next to her, asking her something about desert again, but she could barely comprehend what he was saying. All she could see was Damon, laughing and pointing at her, while the top of her skull approached a spewing level of rage.

And then, something completely unexpected happened; it moved. The plate sitting in front of Damon started to wobble and shake, and then slowly began to turn in its setting. Damon’s laughing face quickly changed into a look of surprise as his plate began to slowly rise off the table as it turned, levitating into the air in front of him. Anna didn’t know who was doing it, but she was grateful, because the plate was doing exactly what she wanted it to do. Her hearing returned just in time to hear Damon yelling at the twins.

“Tencha! Dowla! Put it down — now!” he demanded, but the girls seemed just as surprised as their brother as they began scanning over each another, looking to find a hidden wand.

“It’s not me!” they said together, looking back eagerly.

Damon’s plate was now rotating slowly at eye level, like a toy model of some alien spacecraft. He peered over the top of his piled potatoes in Anna’s direction, and could see her piercing stare glaring back at him beneath her dipped eyebrows. Anna’s mouth had formed a deadly smile that curled like evil’s promise as the floating plate began to spin ever faster.

“I mean it — stop playing around!” Damon yelled again at the twins, never taking his eyes off of Anna’s now concentrated expression.

“Shut your… big… fat… mouth,” Anna grumbled under her breath. Her gaze broke for an instant to the plate hovering under his chin. Damon followed her eyes to the plate and then quickly back again.

Do it now, Anna thought, with a look of great anticipation now moving across her face… DO IT!

Then, all of a sudden, the cooked quail on Damon’s platter began to make a very strange noise. It started to squawk like a chicken, softly at first, but it ramped up quickly. “Cluck — cluck — cluck,” sounded the bird on the plate as it began to twitch and jerk about. The quail suddenly stood upright and then, unbelievably, started to dance along the dish’s colored rim.

“Cluck — cluck — cluck,” the bird prattled on. “Cluck — cluck — cluck — cluck — cluck.”

Do it now… Anna repeated, barely noticing the amazing dancing bird high stepping around the edge of the plate. Its naked, brown and headless body began spinning in a series of elegant pirouettes, dipping and doffing some invisible hat toward Damon’s flared nose.

“Cluck — cluck — cluck — cluck — cluck — cluck — do — it — now,” sang the bird. “Cluck — cluck — cluck — cluck — cluck — cluck — cluck — cluck.” It was now standing on the edge of Damon’s plate closest to his face, hopping up and down on its outer edge, like some demonic high diver contemplating its next trick. Higher and higher it bounced, clucking and squawking rudely, getting louder between rebounds. “Cluck — cluck — cluck — cluck — cluck.”

Damon’s head started to lean back against his chair, as his meal continued to hop and skip before him, the plate inching ever closer to his absent chin.

“Do it now!” said Anna, this time loud enough for everyone at the table to hear her. The bird stopped, as if frozen in place, still standing on the plate’s flowered rim.

“Cluck — cluck — cluck — cluck — cluck — do — it — now!” screeched the bird, taking one last enormous leap. It somersaulted twice and landed hard on the bones of its ankles with a fierce, “BUCCAKK!” The force of the bird’s landing instantly flipped the plate over and smashed the potatoes piled behind it into Damon’s shocked face.

There was a scream of howling laughter as both Tencha and Dowla began clapping wildly. Anna couldn’t believe her eyes as she watched the plate slowly sliding off of Damon’s head and down into his lap, his face completely covered in the fluffy white mess of potatoes. Anna covered her mouth with both hands, screaming with delight and stomping her feet at the sight of Damon now scooping potatoes out of his brooding eyes. His mouth dropped opened and more potatoes fell off his chin and into his robes.

“So… you think that’s funny, do you?” he said, glaring angrily at the twins. “So you like to play games with food, do you?” He suddenly jerked his wand out of his now plastered robes and pointed it at them. His eyes were wide with fury as his head tilted back looking down his outstretched arm.

“No wands at the table, Damon!” Tencha yelled, still laughing. “Besides… I told you. It wasn’t me.”

“It wasn’t me either,” said Dowla, who was now trying to hide behind her sister’s back.

“Hey Damon — you want some gravy with those potatoes?” Tencha quipped while Dowla, still peeking over her sister’s shoulder, began to snort.

“No — thank you, dear sister, but here… allow me to serve you this time.” He pointed his wand at the small boat of gravy sitting in front of him. “Wingardium Leviosa,” he commanded, and the bowl lifted off of the table and started to float its way toward the twins. Their eyes followed it through the air as it levitated to a stop over their heads.

“Damon! Stop it! We told you it wasn’t us!”

“Ahhhh … your lying deserves better from me, doesn’t it? Engorgio!” he commanded, thrusting his wand out still further. The girls watched in horror as the small bowl of gravy began to grow. It swelled enormously until it was the size of a fifty-gallon drum. The twins screamed and tried to run.

“Not-ah-ahh,” Damon sang out, and with a wave of his wand the twins were instantly shoved back together under the gigantic tub of gravy floating above them. “Any final words?” he asked, tilting his head to the side with a look of compassion passing uncharacteristically across his face. But before they could answer, he turned an ugly sneer and, with another flick of his wrist, he flipped the bowl over above them. Thickened globs of glutinous stuff poured out like a muddy waterfall upon their heads.

SSSSLOOOOSHHHH!

The girls screamed, holding onto each other as the sticky brown goop covered them entirely. Damon finally started to laugh, and so did Anna. Even Widwick seemed to enjoy what was happening, despite the mess he would surely have to clean up later. Tencha and Dowla were howling like wounded animals, hopping up and down and looking at each other covered in the messy gravy.

“YOU… ARE SOOOO DEAD, DAMON!” yelled Tencha, running over to Widwick’s cart stacked high with pies.

“Now — now… don’t start something you can’t finish!” Damon called back, still waving his wand threateningly at them.

Tencha picked up a pie from the tray and took careful aim.

“Me pies!” screamed Widwick. “No — they’s not for throwing — they’s for eating!”

“Let him have it, Tencha!” Dowla roared, angrily.

“You’d better be careful…” Damon started to say, but he never finished his warning.

WHAM!

Damon was hit square in the chest with the heavy cherry pie, the force of the blow hitting him so hard it knocked him down into and then back over his chair.

“Hah!” Tencha scoffed, “Gotcha!”

Anna was now laughing so hard she thought she was going to burst.

PLOP!

Anna was hit in the side of the face with a yellow cream-filled pie. She froze and then slowly looked around to see Dowla smiling widely.

“What are you laughing about?” yelled Dowla, now reaching for another pie on Widwick’s cart.

Anna never hesitated. Reaching Dowla before she could turn to face her again, Anna shoved her sister’s face into the tray of pies. Pie innards of every kind exploded out from under her sister’s head. Laughing evilly, Anna turned just in time.

WHOP!

She was hit clean in the face with the rest of the mashed potatoes from the table. She flew backwards against the tapestries and crashed to the floor. She looked up to find Damon on his feet again, pointing his wand and smiling triumphantly at her.

“Ahhhhhhhhhheeeeeee!” came a high-pitched scream to Anna’s left, and she was amazed to see Dowla running across the top of the table with a pie in each of her outstretched hands. She slammed Damon on each side of the head, using the pies like a pair of symbols.

SPLAT!

Damon crumbled to the floor in a heap, and Dowla reached down to snatch his wand out of his limp hand. “You won’t be needing this, tough guy!” she added, standing over him menacingly.

PLOP!

Dowla was slammed in the side of the face with another large pie, this time thrown by Tencha.

Anna couldn’t breathe, she was laughing so hard, as the pies began flying in every direction.

SPLAT! WHOP! PLOP!

“Pleasssse stop… me pies, they is being ruined!” yelled Widwick, who was hiding behind one of the heavy dining room chairs.

“Widwick! I need more pies!” screamed Tencha, who was trying to protect her head with a large dinner plate.

“Yes mum…” cried Widwick, and with a loud POP, a stack of pies magically appeared on a chair next to her. She began throwing them across the room.

“Widwick!” yelled Anna.

“Yes, mum…” POP — POP — POP. More pies appeared on the table where Anna started throwing them two at a time.

“Elf!”

“Yes, Master Damon,” said Widwick, and more pies suddenly appeared.

Pies and food were flying everywhere — into the walls, the carpets, and onto the suit of armor standing in the corner. The birds woven into the silk of the tapestries started squawking angrily and taking flight. Some of the wolves and deer, and even the huge bear within the hangings were running for cover, as the pies started smashing into the trees around them. The subjects in the estate paintings had left their frames, and were now peaking around the trees deep in the tapestry, watching the war within the dining room rage on. They had to duck and dodge the foodstuffs crashing into the woods around them.

Widwick started screaming and running toward the kitchen doors looking to escape, only to be caught in the back with another pie.

WHAM! “Ooooooweeeee!”

The force of the blow knocked the elf through the swinging doors and straight into the kitchen. There was a loud crash of pans and dishes on the other side as the doors swung shut behind him.

Anna was hit every time she tried to rise above the tabletop, and then again in the back of the head from someone behind her. She quickly spun around just in time to see Uncle Sarasil ducking behind a tree in the tapestry, taking aim this time at Dowla.

WHOP! Dowla was knocked to the ground. “Hee-hee-hee,” came a hollow snicker from inside the tapestry.

Anna turned to see Damon, ruthless as ever, strategically maneuvering upon Tencha’s right with three pies stacked high in his left hand. Rounding the corner of the table, the carpet below his feet started to rise up. Apparently, feeling it had been punished enough with all the mess, the carpet’s tasseled corner suddenly lashed out, snapping Damon hard in the rump. Damon hollered in pain, and then fell to the floor into his own pies.

Anna was laughing so hard she couldn’t protect herself, and was besieged by a number of pies flying in at her from every direction. The force of the final blow sent her sliding backwards across the top of the dining room table and onto the floor on the other side. The carved ghouls holding the tabletop upright started squawking angrily to one another, tipping and rocking the table above them like a ship’s deck in a stormy sea. Foodstuffs and dishes where sliding back and forth, occasionally finding the edge and crashing to the floor on top of Anna.

Seeing Damon go down, Dowla decided to press her advantage and began to run toward him. She gleefully raised a stack of pies over his head, intending to drop them upon him, when suddenly, the suit of armor standing behind her swung back and swatted her hard on the rump with the broadside of his massive sword. Dowla flew across the room and into the tapestry, rolling over and over onto the deck next to the lake. Standing up again, she howled angrily in pain, gripping her very sore bottom with both hands. She was instantly struck in the face with another pie, which sent her reeling backwards over the edge of the dock and into the lake. With a loud sploosh, a large plume of water shot into dining room.

Damon was on his feet again. He grabbed a silver tray from the table to protect his head from the food flying at him, but Tencha was now waving her own wand. Immediately, the handles on the tray locked themselves tight around Damon’s wrists like manacles. Looking up in shock, the tray began batting him relentlessly on top of his head.

CLANG — CLANG — CLANG! Damon fell backwards to the floor once more, trying to fend off the attacking tray.

PLOP!

Tencha was hit, this time in the back of the head with a pie thrown by Anna, who collapsed into an empty chair snorting loudly, trying to catch her breath. She then rolled onto the floor in a fit of uncontrollable laughter when she saw the quail from Damon’s plate still dancing in the center of the table.

One of the doors to the dining room suddenly flew open and, standing there completely wet from head to toe, looking like a half-drown rat, was Dowla. She was scowling angrily.

Anna looked up at her sister. “Have a good swim?” she said, trying to hold a serious face, and then started howling as another fit of laughter seized her again. Screaming like a lunatic, Dowla jumped on Anna’s back and squashed her face into some of the food that had fallen on the floor.

Damon was up again as well. His wrists still clamped tight by the tray, he was running toward Tencha.

“STOOOOOOOOOPPPPPPP!” came a deep bellowing voice from the family room entryway. It was Mister Grayson. The children froze as they looked up in shock at their father. Even the squawking birds from the tapestries suddenly fell silent. “What in the wizarding world are you doing?” he yelled, angrily. “Get off of your sister,” he motioned to Dowla, who was still sitting on Anna. “And you! What do you think you’re doing?” he yelled at Damon, who had Tencha pinned down on top of the table, his manacled tray pressed against her back.

With the knuckles of his closed fists anchored firmly against his hips, Mister Grayson looked ominous standing amid the mess of toppled chairs and thrown food. “In all my days… I would have never believed any Grayson would stoop to the point of…” but before he could steam forward into a fuming lecture…

WHOP! A custard pie smashed directly into his chest.

Anna and Tencha gasped in shock as Damon and Dowla whirled around, looking for their father’s attacker. There, deep within the tapestry, was Uncle Sarasil, hiding behind one of the trees.

“Hee — hee — hee,” Sarasil snickered evilly, as he dashed away into the forest of the fabric. Damon gulped hard, looking up at their father. Tencha turned, pointing accusingly into the hangings.

Mister Grayson never moved; he didn’t even flinch when the pie had hit him. He stood there, as the remnants of the splattered pie fell to the floor and dripped from his fine velvet robes. Still scowling at them, the wizard calmly raised a single hand to brush away the crust from the top of one of his broad shoulders.

Suddenly, Widwick came bursting out of the kitchen, a handled pot sitting upon his head for added protection. “Ohhhhsss no…” he moaned, in a low timid voice, at seeing Master Grayson standing in the center of the bombed out dining room. The elf’s ears began to droop in obvious shame.

There was the slight sound of a muffled snicker, and Mister Grayson quickly looked up with a contorted glare. Anna was holding a hand over her mouth as tight as she could, struggling to remain in control, her eyes wet from the strain. She quickly turned away to hide her face behind Tencha’s shoulder.

“Very funny…” said Mister Grayson coldly, glaring at all of them. He gripped his hands behind his back and stepped fully into the room, his robes swaying oddly from the weighed remains of the pie smashed into his chest. He stopped, and then began to rock back and forth on his heels, looking around as if surveying the damage from an unexpected earthquake. “Yes, its all very funny, isn’t it?” Anna peeked out from around Tencha’s shoulder again. She wasn’t laughing anymore.

“But you see… I have a better idea of what’s funny,” said Mister Grayson, turning as if to leave the room. He stepped over Widwick’s fallen tray of pies and stopped, his back still facing the children. He slowly turned again, now facing them from his side. Dowla bravely stepped forward as if to explain what had happened, but quickly froze as her father shot a fast and angry look of dismay at her. He began rocking on his toes again.

“Very, very funny… indeed.” He quickly snapped around, brandishing a wand at them. He swiftly waved it over his head and sparks of green fire shot out in every direction. Pies suddenly materialized in mid-air in the center of the room and then shot forward, striking the Grayson children several times.

“Hah!” he roared, a huge smile suddenly blooming on his face, “Now — that’s funny!”

The girls screamed in panic, and Damon dove for cover once again. Anna picked up a pie and heaved it at her father, who stopped it in mid-air with his wand, turned it around, and sent it screaming back toward her.

WHOP! The pie slammed into Anna’s forehead, knocking her back to the floor.

Mister Grayson bellowed triumphantly, still smiling. “Oh come on — surely you can do better than…”

WHAM –– PLOP –– SPAT!

Mister Grayson was immediately encased in a barrage of pies. He stumbled backwards, slipped, and his feet were sent flying into the air as he crashed to the floor with a loud boom. There were screams of delighted laugher as the food began flying once again. The birds from the tapestries were shooting back and forth across the room looking for sanctuary from the war raging within the dining room below them.

“Widwick!”

“Yes, mum, Iz getting the pies,” screamed the elf, but as he ran forward to help, another pie banged into the pot upon his head, spinning him like a top. “They… is… not… for throwing,” he said, dizzily, and then toppling back to the floor with a thud.

Finally, after trying to stand three times only to be knocked to the floor time and pie again, Mister Grayson screamed out, “ENOUGH!!! Expelliarmus!” All of the pies the children were holding flew over Mister Grayson’s head, hitting the wall behind him with a loud SPLAT!Accio-Graysons!” he bellowed. The children were immediately lifted off of their feet and drawn forward toward their father’s outstretched hand. “Halt!” he barked, and they all jerked to a stop in midair before him.

As the children hovered there, Mister Grayson began whipping his wand over his head once more, and this time the dinning room table started to spin into a whirling blur. Changing in color and texture, the table looked like a small tornado hopping up and down there in the center of the room as it continued to gain momentum. It finally began to slow, and eventually stopped. It had been transformed into a massive chocolate frosted cake, which took up most of the dining room floor.

The children floating over the cake were quickly flipped around to confront the desert face down. Hovering and motionless, the Graysons were barely breathing as they glanced up at one another, and then down again at the massive sea of chocolate below them.

“Uh… daddy? I love you,” Anna said, in a higher than normal voice, but they all yelped as Mister Grayson jerked them up still higher in response. They looked down at their father, who was wearing a sizeable grin as he pinned their backs to the ceiling.

“I love you too, sweetie,” he said lovingly, and then he released them. Screaming like the devil’s own choir, they landed face down in the cake with a loud FLOOPPPP!

Sticky, brown, and gooey, Dowla and Tencha slowly rolled over. “Eeeeeeeewwwwwwww… this is disgusting,” the twins said together.

“Oh — YEAH!” yelled Mister Grayson, his fists raised in triumph. “Never mess with a Master Sorcerer! I’ll whack your wands!” he shouted proudly, dancing around the cake and pumping his chest in final victory.

Anna was giggling breathlessly as she rolled over and started sweeping her arms and legs to make an angel in the frosting under her back.

Still lying with his face down in the cake, they could hear Damon’s muffled voice complain, “I hate chocolate…”

FOUR

Thirty minutes later, the Graysons were seated at the dining room table, trying to finish what was left of their dinner. The family was still in their sticky clothes and the room around them was a complete mess, but nobody seemed to care. Nobody that is, except for Gabby, who was scolding poor Widwick as they cleaned the floor for what she called, “a disgraceful display of wastefulness.” There was a lot of laughter around the table, as each described his part in the previous battle.

Finally, Mister Grayson spoke. “Widwick… bring us the best wine in the house. I would like to make a toast.”

“Yes, Master Grayson — right away, sir,” said the house elf, who then turned and scampered off.

“I wish Eric was here tonight, because what I have to say applies to you all. The next few days are going to be very busy for us, but I wanted to tell you how much Anna and I have enjoyed this summer holiday together, and how much we’re going to miss you as you get ready to depart once again for Castlewood.”

Anna was watching her father, but she clearly did not share his sorrow at seeing Damon, Tencha and Dowla’s return to school. Except for Eric, Anna believed she was much happier without her siblings in the house.

Widwick returned with a dusty bottle of wine and, with a soft pop of the cork, he began to pour a little for each. Mister Grayson began swirling the contents in his glass by the stem and, after sniffing the bouquet, took the smallest sip.

“Ahhh — excellent choice, Widwick. Romanee-Conti, 1876?” he asked, looking over his shoulder at the elf.

“Iz 75, Master. You is very brilliant with wine, you is,” replied Widwick, with a high degree of respect and appreciation resonating in his voice.

“Ahhh… yes… excellent. Well!”

Mister Grayson quickly stood, pausing to look at each one of his children around the table. “I just wanted to say… as I get older, the day you leave for school is becoming more difficult for me. You’re growing up so fast… and I wanted you to know how very proud I am of all of you. I know your mother, God bless her soul, would have been personally fulfilled by your many accomplishments.” He paused graciously, and then, “This house is never the same when one of us is missing, and when you’re all away and working hard at school… I’m not ashamed to admit,” he stumbled slightly, looking sadly down into his glass, “that we’re all very lonely here without you.” Anna looked around the table and could see Dowla’s eyes beginning to redden with emotion. Tencha was listening to their father’s every word, while Damon, still slouching in his chair, was nervously scratching at the stem of his glass with his fingernail.

“You take with you my heart, and the knowledge that I live for the moment when you all return home… safe and sound.” He raised his glass. “I salute you all — good luck, work hard… but play harder. Remember… you carry forth the honor of the Grayson name wherever you go; I know you will make us all proud. I love you… very much!” And with these final words, he drank.

There was a quiet moment as the children watched their father finish his toast, and then Damon quickly got to his feet. Holding up his own glass, he said, “To our father — the strongest man in the wizarding world.” The boy drank deeply.

Then Tencha also stood, “To our father… I will miss you more than ever,” she said, and then she took a tiny sip of her wine.

“To daddy — I love you very much,” Dowla said, speaking through her falling tears, her sobs echoing in the bottom of her glass as she drank.

Finally, it was Anna’s turn. Picking up her glass, she stood and raised it toward her father. “To Boris Allison Grayson — the most wonderful and loving father a child could ever hope for — to our daddy,” she said with pride, and then she drank.

Mister Grayson walked around the table and placed his arm around Anna’s shoulder. “Thank you, sweetheart,” and then he quickly turned to face the rest. “Thank you, all!” Then he lifted his glass once more, “TO THE GRAYSONS!” he bellowed, his glass rising higher into the air.

Immediately, the knight in the corner raised his sword in salute.

“TO THE GRAYSONS!” the children repeated in unison, their glasses held high.

“TO THE GRAYSONS!” exclaimed the family portraits throughout the house and the tapestries around them.

“GOD BLESS YOU ALL!” Mister Grayson bellowed even louder.

“GOD BLESS US ALL!” repeated everybody and everything within the house in shouts of pride and joy. Their cry echoed loudly outside and throughout the hills surrounding the Grayson estate.


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