Eric was stunned, totally speechless. Anna, listening from her bed, immediately bolted upright. She couldn’t believe what she had just heard.
Mister Grayson continued. “I never told you children because I didn’t want you worried about my safety. There were several attempts to assassinate me sixteen years ago, right after I took my post at the bank, and they continued over the next five years. You might recall I took the family to Indonesia that summer for a vacation. The real reason we left was because somebody tired to kill me outside the ministry offices in Sacramento. Apparently, they wanted to send a clear message that my position encouraging more contact with Muggles in the Wizarding world was unacceptable to them. Eventually, one of the men planning my death was caught. He was a remnant supporter of the nameless-one… Lord Voldemort.”
Hobbs squinted at the sound of the name. Nobody in the wizarding world ever repeated Voldemort’s name out loud for fear of his lingering power. Anna had heard the story of Voldemort many times. He had once been the most powerful dark wizard in more than a hundred years. At one time, Voldemort’s forces where strong and gaining momentum as they began a terrible campaign of murder and destruction. Their final ambition was to take control of the entire Wizarding world. Voldemort’s hate for the Muggles was especially wicked, and they unknowingly were at the greatest risk from his evil reach.
And then, almost thirteen years ago, and just a few weeks before Anna was born, something strange happened. Lord Voldemort suddenly disappeared and was never heard from again. There were stories, of course; almost legendary tales about a young boy, barely a year old, who defeated Voldemort after the Dark Lord had killed the boy’s parents. That boy’s name was Harry Potter. Nobody really understood how young Harry had defeated Voldemort, but he was famous for it. And then, just three years ago, Harry Potter surfaced again to begin his wizard training at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry in England. Anna had often heard her father speaking of Harry and Voldemort in a manner that suggested the unbelievable possibility that their battles were still on-going.
Mister Grayson continued, “There have been a few more rather aggressive attempts on my life since then, but they have become somewhat feeble over the years since Voldemort’s demise.” Mister Grayson turned to Doyle again. “If what you’re suggesting is true, then this attempt on my family would represent a dramatic departure from what we’ve seen in the past. I’m not convinced using a creature like this to bring me harm fits the mold of an assassination. Something like this would have taken years to plan. Think of it… just the effort to capture the creature would have been challenging enough, and then to find a way to bring it here and place it on the grounds without my knowledge? To what advantage? From what you’ve said yourself, the creature would have only had a few hours at most to attack us before dying in the hot climate.”
“Yes,” Eric added, still staring at his father in disbelief, “and there are plenty of other animals on the grounds to hunt. It would have been far easier, and a lot less risky, to attack one of them rather than entering the house looking for us. In fact the creature killed a deer either before or just after it took Anna. It doesn’t make sense that this could have been something planned.”
Hobbs nodded. “I have to admit… what you say is true. But these beasts are drawn to heat and to the breathing of their prey when hunting after sunset. We really know so little about these creatures; it’s hard to say what part of their behavior is normal.”
“Just think for a moment about what happened here,” added Doyle. “If someone did try to kill you last night, they might have found the perfect way to do it. They release the beast on the grounds close or actually in the house, it kills its victims, and then it dies. If given enough time, there might have been nothing left to understand what happened here. And who would assume Mister Grayson’s post if something like this had succeeded? Putting aside the skill and knowledge necessary for the job… I doubt there would be any takers for the vacant position if word got out he’d been murdered. Fear is known to be a very effective tool in extending the wishes of those who…”
“Fear? Fear of what? Of Voldemort?” asked Eric, who now seemed angry at the very idea somebody might be trying to attack his family. Hobbs flinched again at hearing the Dark Lord’s name.
“If you please, Eric, don’t say that name,” Hobbs begged, looking warily around the room.
Mister Grayson smiled slightly. “Mr. Hobbs… nearly everybody in the Wizarding world is afraid of the nameless-one, even though he’s been gone for more than ten years. I believe, by refusing to say his name, we actually empower his followers with our fear. There are no such restrictions under this roof. The Graysons speak Voldemort’s name openly and without fear.”
Hobbs seemed shyly astonished by Mister Grayson’s words. He had never met anybody who openly said they didn’t fear Voldemort. Doyle looked impressed as well. Hobbs spoke in a hesitant tone. “Well… as I said sir, my expertise is rather limited to that of beasts and creatures, and not the ambitions of evil wizards. I’ll leave that to Lieutenant Doyle here. There will be guards from the CDDC stationed around the property over the next week as we continue our search on the grounds. I will leave the higher matters of your personal security, and that of your family, to the offices of the Wizard Authority.”
“Is you feelwing awright, Miss Anna?” said a squeaky voice to Anna’s left. Anna turned and saw Gabby sitting next to her. The elf’s ears were drooped down displaying her obvious concern.
“Yes, Gabby,” Anna lied, “I’m… fine.”
The little elf burst into crying sobs. “Oh we is so worried about you’s,” she wailed, throwing her arms around Anna’s waist. Very wet tears were pouring out of her huge oval eyes.
“Anna!” sang Mister Grayson, who swept back into the room and over to Anna’s bed. He hugged his daughter and the elf tightly together, choking back his own tears. “I thought I had lost you… I thought…” but he couldn’t finish. Anna reached up and held her father close, sobbing as Mister Grayson kissed her forehead and cheeks and hugged her again.
“Ahhh… now that’s a wonderful sight,” said Lieutenant Doyle, still standing and smiling at the door. “Well, we’ll leave you to your family, Eric, and my office will be in touch with your father later with an update on our investigation into these matters. I bid you goodnight,” said the detective smartly, as he turned to walk back down the hallway.
Hobbs was shaking Eric’s hand. He leaned forward to whisper, “If you can arrange it later, I would really like to interview Anna and Damon about their experience with the creature. I mean, having one living survivor of a Lethifold attack is unbelievable… but two? Wow… this is very exciting for us,” he said, smiling broadly. Eric pulled his hand away in anger before moving to close the door. Hobbs was taken aback, “Oh… well if you need anything… I’ll be just outside,” he said concernedly, his eyes following the ever-narrowing gap in the door before Eric closed it in his face.
Eric walked over to the bed and tried to get through the many arms surrounding his sister. “Hey let me in on some of this good stuff,” he said, smiling.
Anna released her father and reached up into Eric’s waiting arms, Gabby still clutched tightly around her middle. “Oh Eric…you found me… You saved me. I was so cold,” Anna said, still crying weakly.
Eric smiled. “Yes… and hungry too, you said,” he chuckled, wiping her wet face.
“Eeeeekkk,” Gabby squealed, “I is a bad elf. I is to find Widwick and get some foods for you’s, Miss Anna.” And with that, she Disapparated with a soft pop!
“Ah… more room for me,” Eric said, as he moved in closer to Anna and hugged her again. He peered over her shoulder and into his father’s smiling face. After the last terrifying twelve hours, the man finally looked relieved.
“Thank God,” Mister Grayson said in a whisper.
“The Muggle bus!” “The Muggle bus!” “The Muggle bus!” squawked the parrot in the entryway downstairs.
“No school for you, young lady; not until the healers get a chance to check you out,” her father said sternly.
“Yes, sir,” Anna sobbed, smiling up at him.
A few hours later, a number of wizard healers were talking to Anna’s father at the foot of her bed. They had spent the entire afternoon poking and stabbing, and waving their wands over every inch of her body, turning Anna’s bedroom into a small laboratory with their many whirring instruments and gyrating gadgets. Anna was starving when Widwick arrived with a very large plate of sandwiches and some soup. Anna broke down into tears again at seeing Widwick, happy and safe, handing her a small plate of crustless triangles. It was the first time she had seen him since the terrible dream the night before, and she hugged the elf tightly, nearly knocking over the plate in his outstretched hands. When Anna was finally satisfied Widwick was undamaged, she turned her attention to the food and started stuffing as many of the small sandwiches into her mouth as she could manage.
“Vell, despite all of the tests ve could do, seeing her eat like dis is still the best sign everything is going to be fine,” said one of the burly and beaded healers to her father.
Anna frowned; they were wrong; she was not fine. She wanted to tell them her awful secret. The creature everybody was searching for outside was still here, watching and waiting to come out again; waiting to attack them once more at the first opportunity while they were sleeping. She started to feel a burning flow of tears welling up in her eyes again as she reached out to grab another sandwich. She remained quiet while she ate.
“Mister Grayson, I vood’ like to be here ven you talk to Anna,” said the bearded healer in a heavy Eastern accent. “I vood like to hear vot she has to say of her experience las’ night. Although she seems physically fine… I am vorried about her mental state. The things she’s had to endure are… how you say… unimaginable, and it vood be normal for trauma of this magnitude to have lasting effects. I vood like your permission to stay long enough to hear vot she has to say.” Mister Grayson agreed. He too was worried about Anna’s ability to cope with what had happened to her.
After Anna finished her lunch and Gabby had left with the empty tray, Mister Grayson walked over to her bed and pushed in a chair to sit down. Eric took a seat in the corner of the room opposite. The doctors and healers packed up their equipment and exited to the hallway and down the long staircase, their many boxes and bags bumped along the railing as they pounded down the steps. The healer who had asked to stay stood leaning against the wall next to Eric with a small notebook and quill at the ready.
“Anna,” Mister Grayson said, leaning forward. “Sweetheart, we need to talk about what happened last night. Do you think you’re up for that?”
The time had finally come, and Anna knew what she had to do. She spent the next fifteen minutes telling them everything that had happened to her, and then she completely broke down. She told her father about her dream of Damon and Widwick, and how, when she awoke, she found herself within the cold blackness of the creature they called the Lethifold. She told them how she left her bedroom to enter Damon’s room, and began to cry as she described the terrible hunger that forced her to attack her brother.
“But daddy — I swear, I didn’t realize it was him. I really didn’t know what I was doing,” Anna said through her falling tears.
Mister Grayson placed his arms around Anna and hugged her again. He then looked over at the healer, who wordlessly motioned for him to keep talking to his daughter. “Anna, it’s all right, honey — it wasn’t your fault. The creature had obviously attacked you before you woke up. It had already taken you…”
“No, daddy…You don’t understand… I wasn’t attacked. It was me all along,” Anna said, crying even louder.
“I don’t know what you mean, Anna… What are you saying?” asked her father, his face a study of rare confusion.
Anna looked at her father and then to Eric sitting in the corner. “I’m saying… I am the creature. The thing didn’t attack me… I turned into it. It’s still here — inside me! I can feel it.” Anna fell back against her pillow crying harder than ever, pulling the blanket up to cover her face. “I can still feel it… It’s still here!”
Mister Grayson looked stunned. Seeing Anna’s father struggling with his response, the healer walked over to Anna and lifted her wrist to take her pulse. “You say… Anna has no known magical capabilities?”
“That’s right,” replied Mister Grayson, solemnly.
The healer leaned over Anna, who was still sobbing into her blankets. “Anna… can I ask you a question?” Anna looked up and cautiously nodded. “Now… I am not here to say ve don’t believe you, but vot you are describing is magic far beyond anything ve currently know. Ve realize the ability to transform into various animals is indeed possible. Ve call them… Animagi. But these individuals spend years in guarded training before attempting such magic, and most never truly succeed. This has alvays been considered very advanced magic, and only a tiny handful of individuals have been known to accomplish such a miraculous feat. In fact, I could give you the names of the few successful vitches and vizards who have done this on one hand, covering the last hundred years. And even if they do succeed, it is alvays the most basic of animals — adherent to their personal nature, and never a magical creature like the one you have described. For somebody such as yourself, vith no magical capabilities or training…” the healer shook his head, “vhat you think happened is impossible.”
Mister Grayson looked at Anna with an expression that told her he agreed with the healer’s explanation.
“So… my qvestion is,” the healer continued, “have you experienced anything strange or different in your personal abilities recently?”
“Yes, I have,” Anna answered, and she told them about how she had found Mrs. Drummond in the woods, and her experiences in the ocean.
“Vell… although vhat you describe is indeed strange… they do not necessarily sound magical in the traditional sense. It sounds more like the abilities of some of the magical creatures ve know. I do not know of any case describing a vitch or a vizard that can do the things you’ve described.”
“What about the gates?” Anna said in frustration, looking at her father.
“Gates? Vhat gates?” asked the healer, looking around and somewhat confused.
Mister Grayson sighed. “Anna told me yesterday she could see the gates beyond the barrier at the end of the road. I’ve placed several charms on the property to keep the Muggles away. Anna should not have been able to see the gates from that distance outside the grounds.
Anna looked at Eric sitting in the corner. “Did you change any of the spells on the grounds for daddy?”
“Me? No — why would I do that?” Eric said in surprise.
Anna looked at her father, who was now frowning. “Anna I don’t understand what’s going on here, but we’ll figure it out together — all right?” he said, trying to sound reassuring.
Anna nodded skeptically. She didn’t feel a whole lot better, but just talking about her recent experiences seemed to ease some of her concerns. Maybe the healer was right. Maybe what she thought had happened was wrong. She wasn’t sure of anything anymore.
“Vell, I think it’s best ve let her sleep,” said the healer. “But I’d like permission to see you again tomorrow, Anna, so ve can talk about some of these other strange coincidences. Vould that be all right?” Anna nodded and the healer turned to Mister Grayson.
“I’ll be checking on Damon one more time before I go, but I see no long-term effects in him resulting from this attack. In fact he’s still very angry about vot’s happened, and I think that’s also a healthy sign. I’ll be in contact vith you again tomorrow.” He shook Mister Grayson’s hand and headed for the door. Eric was following him.
“I’ll walk you down, healer,” Eric said kindly. “My father wants me to check on the ministry representatives searching the grounds anyway.”
The man nodded. “It is very busy out there, is it not? I mean — a lot of people valking and poking around.” He turned one last time to look back at Anna in her bed. “Yes — it vill be quite a vile, I’m afraid, until things are back to normal,” he whispered solemnly, as he turned to leave.
“Are you tired?” Mister Grayson asked Anna.
She was thinking about the conversation her father had with Eric when she first woke up. “A little, but I’m okay,” she replied. Then, without thinking, she asked, “Daddy, what did you mean when you told Eric you thought I had some kind of protection from this creature?”
Mister Grayson stared at Anna with a somewhat surprised expression. “Hmm — I suppose you heard everything, then?” he asked, looking disgruntled
“Yes, sir… I’m sorry, but I couldn’t help it.”
Her father paused, as if thinking of a way to explain something rather difficult. “What I’m about to tell you, Anna, should be kept between the two of us — all right? I don’t want a lot of people prying into our family’s personal affairs.” Anna cautiously nodded. “I say this because…” he hesitated, and then, “this was not the first time you’ve been in contact with a Lethifold.”
“What? Really? When? How?” Anna asked in stumbled shock.
“It was during that trip we took to Indonesia after one of the more deadly assassination attempts. I must say, at the time, it really shook me up; and to make matters worse, the attempts on my life were not happening because of something I was doing. They were trying to murder me for something they thought I was going to do. Something… I eventually succeeded in doing well.”
“You mean… bringing us closer to the Muggles?” asked Anna.
“That’s right. The forces of the nameless-one were really very strong in those days. Even after he disappeared they would have done anything to reduce the influence Muggles had in our world. The Muggles didn’t know it, of course, but their investments in the Wizarding world were certainly opening the lines of communication unlike any time before in our history. After these assassins failed to kill me, I took the family to the Pacific Rim to think about my personal goals, and how they might affect my family. It was there, in a fairly remote area of the jungle, where you were attacked.”
“Well… perhaps attacked to too strong a word. It was very late in the evening, and we were all sleeping in a small bungalow when I awoke to hear you laughing somewhere outside. You were about three-years old at the time. Well… I couldn’t believe it. All of the other children were sleeping, and I had already put you to bed hours before them. I ran outside and followed the sounds of your laughter into the woods.” Anna was mesmerized by her father’s story as he continued his amazing account.
“When I finally found you, I couldn’t believe my eyes. You were standing in the middle of the forest in your pajamas, playing with something wrapped around your legs. At first, I didn’t realize what it was, because it looked like you were wearing some kind of shirt you had taken from one of your sister’s bags. But when the creature began to move around you, I understood what it was immediately. I remember you were laughing and dancing with this thing clinging to your legs without a care in the world. My initial reaction, of course, was to pull out my wand, but what could I do? I couldn’t hex the thing while it was attached to you.
“Then I noticed the animal was acting very strange, not at all like I had read in my studies of magical creatures. It didn’t seem to hurt you or go near your face; so I waited, and watched for an opportunity to draw it away from you. As the minutes passed and I continued to watch from my hiding place, I realized it looked as though it was trying to protect you, or at least remain close to you. At one point, a wild pig walked out of the woods and was curious enough to approach you. To my surprise, the Lethifold’s reaction to this intruder seemed rather violent. It left you to strike at the pig, rising up between the two of you and lashing out wildly, while, at the same time, trying to hold on to one of your legs. To my astonishment, the pig wouldn’t leave; it was also trying to get close to you, even though its life was clearly in danger. Eventually, the Lethifold released you to attack the animal, and you hid behind a tree during the fight. It was then I saw my chance and grabbed you.”
Mister Grayson seemed to finish, and Anna was surprised when he continued. “Then, the most amazing thing happened,” he said, looking back up at her again. “As I was running back along the path to the house, we saw the creature again. It was ahead of us, crossing the path as if to cut off our escape. At first, I thought the thing had somehow moved around to block our way, and I recall thinking the creature was a lot faster than it looked. I stopped, and with you still in my arms, I slowly started to retreat. Then I heard you laughing and pointing at something in the path behind us. I spun around, and there, coming out of the woods, was a second Lethifold. I think it must have been the original creature you had been playing with earlier. I have to say, for such a rare creature, we certainly did draw a crowd that night. The two of them never touched us, but continually circled us on the path.”
Mister Grayson seemed to break from his story long enough to give Anna a slight smile. “You, of course, thought all of this was quite marvelous, but after a time you started to get tired, and yelled at them to ‘go home!’”
Anna smiled a little as she continued to listen — not wanting to miss a word.
“To my surprise… the creatures stopped moving. They just… hovered there in front of us. I tried to step around them, but they always moved to block my way. They seemed to be listening to you, but they weren’t too keen on letting me take you away. On a hunch, I whispered in your ear and asked you to tell them to leave us alone. You pointed down at them… and shouted — ‘GO AWAY!’” Anna was somewhat surprised by her own courage at the time. Her father leaned back in his chair and smiled.
“And, believe it or not, that’s exactly what they did. The two of them started heading off in different directions back into the woods. I think it delighted you to see their eagerness to obey, because they left you clapping after them. For my part, I counted my blessings and dashed the rest of the way back to our camp. I put you to bed and stood careful guard until the next morning, and then we packed up and left for home.”
Her father ended his story, but then he looked up at Anna again. “You know… it’s one thing to see a rare creature like this once in a lifetime, but now we’ve seen three of them and you’ve come into direct contact with two. Anna, I’ve had too much experience in my life to believe in this many coincidences. I am convinced that whatever saved you from these creatures the first time is what saved you again last night.” But then, looking as if he had caught himself saying something embarrassing, he stopped as if to apologize. “That is, assuming of course, you were wrong about somehow transforming yourself into this creature.”
“You don’t believe me… do you, daddy?” she asked in a disappointed tone.
He leaned forward toward her. “It doesn’t matter what I believe, Anna. What matters is finding the truth.” He recognized his effort to make Anna feel better had failed so he stood and sat next to his daughter on the bed. “I believe you, honey. I believe you think your experience was real, and that’s why we need to bring the healer back tomorrow. We’ll get to the bottom of this — I swear we will. I’m going to stay here with you throughout the evening and tonight. I’ll be here watching over you while you sleep.” Then he smiled and reached up to gently smooth Anna’s hair. “And if in your dreams the creature does come back… just tell him to ‘go away!’ They always seem to listen to you for some reason.”
Anna smiled and hugged her father, and in her ear she heard him whisper, “There has always been something special about you, Anna, when it comes to the creatures and animals around us. It doesn’t matter where this creature came from, whether it came from outside or within, I should have known it would never have hurt you. It’s what makes you special; it’s your gift; it’s probably not the kind of magic you were looking for, but in a lot of ways, it’s much more important. Cherish what you’ve been given, sweetheart. It’s what makes you unique and one of the many reasons I love you so much.”
Anna began to sob, still holding her father close in her arms. Their closeness, however, was broken by a yell from downstairs. Loud thumping sounds could be heard thundering up the steps in the hallway. There was a quick knock at the door and then it opened suddenly. It was Eric. He was panting, flush from exertion, and there was a sharp expression of surprised shock resident on his face.
Mister Grayson quickly stood. “What is it? What’s happened?”
Eric tried to catch his breath. “It’s all right… something… just came in… from… the owlry,” he said, panting heavily.
“Well what is it? Speak up, boy. What’s happened?” Anna was lying in her bed again, the blankets clinched up over her nose as she peered out. She didn’t want to imagine what could happen next.
“It’s… a letter! A letter addressed to Anna,” Eric said, now straightening to take a deep breath as he handed an envelope to their father.
Mister Grayson took the envelope and looked at the person to whom it was addressed.
Miss Anna Grayson of the Grayson Estate,
Anna quickly sat upright. Who would be writing to her now? And why was Eric so excited?
Eric looked at his sister and beamed. “Anna — it’s a letter from Castlewood!”
Anna frowned and looked at her father. “Why would Castlewood be writing to me, daddy?” she said in astonishment.
“I… I don’t know,” said Mister Grayson in a confused tone as he tore open the flap and pulled out the piece of parchment from within. Mister Grayson read through the note and, scratching his head, he slowly reached back to sit down in his chair again. Anna could tell he was re-reading the letter a second time, a look of disbelief beginning to appear on his face.
“What is it, father?” asked Anna and Eric together.
“It’s… an invitation; an invitation to Anna… to come to Castlewood Academy for the Magical Arts.”