Anna Grayson and The Dragon's Lair

The Disappearance of Wictred Meliflua

ONE

The smell in the air only hinted at the damage done around him; it was thick with smoke and malevolence for its cause. Although he understood the truest responsibility sat with one of his own, he grumbled his blame at those he believed were at the core of the ruin before him.

“Humans.”

His eyes are closed tight, but couldn’t hold back the angry tears that spilled down the silver-touched fur of his face.

“Such treachery!”

The Great Ape of the Verosapt sat alone in the center of several ancient trees near what was once his home. Their bark smoldered in a twisting, rising circle of smoke that seemed to laugh at him for caring. The remaining glint of orange singe looked like demons peering through the smoke as they licked at the cracks and splintered crevices. For thousands of years these trees had stood there, his cousins in life, and remained untouched by those who would cut them down and drag them off; to turn them into things in which to sit themselves, to warm their stoves and baths, or worst of all… to make the wands that hide their hideous cores made from the hair, teeth and hearts of the hoard that see.

“Hideous treachery…” the ape moaned.

If not for the knowledge he only now understood, he surely would have flown into a rage. And if not for this same knowledge, he would have sought the destruction of those who’s actions betray and great creator his finest works. His upper lip curled in a wave of malice across his fangs, repeating the message locked deep within his soul since before his cousins, now crying their horrible tears of ash, stood as seedlings to his knees.

“They are absent of care.”

His loathing of man was strong, but he knew his own destruction would surely come by their hands if he were to act on his unkempt impulse for revenge… but what a pleasure it would be to kill so many before they brought forth the means in which to end his long life and perhaps… put his soul to ruin. But before his last breath was surrendered, it would please him to know he had bathed in the blood of revenge, sweet retribution for the terrible stench now burning its way into his brain.

But the truth just revealed held him back. It is there for all to see… even only if he alone could see it. His heart understood its significance, and it was the certainly of this newfound knowledge that kept him from acting out his own rendering of justice. Yes… a great certainty now gave his mind and actions pause. It was so astonishing to him that it moved to sweep away his own need for blood. The weight of two immense beings had merged into one, creating a power that could only exist but for one purpose: To match something equally powerful and opposite to it. Balance was always present in the world, even if the enemies of oppression were as scattered as the leaves of his fallen cousins surrounding him, gone to dust in those smoking, rising currents to heaven. Yes — two beings had merged to counter the weight of wickedness, surely.

His lips opened to reveal the truth to his family, standing like smoldering skeletons around him; silhouettes only to their past greatness.

“The Keeper of the Verosapt and the Bringer of Peace… are now one.”

This unbelievable truth made to give him pause; for he understood its meaning clearly: It fated the entire hoard to a greater battle yet to come. Oh the sweet and ruthless ecstasy of it made him breathe deep the foul smell of restraint.

As far back as he could remember, and that was a very, very long time, it had never happened in the history of wizards or within the hoard that see. So why had it happened now? Only one answer came into his mind and it would immediately bleed his soul of strength; it terrified even he who had feared nothing brought into this time of men and magic.

“The zeal of evil is very strong now. It is thus now the sea set against the storm. But the Keeper is blinded and absent from the hoard’s sight due its high stature. But what wilt the Keeper seeketh if it were to retrieve the blood-stone? I seeth several shadowed roads ahead: Wilt she seeketh love and call for its mother? Wilt she seeketh revenge and fight the Dark Wizard who setith the sea against the storm? Wilt she seeketh the Lair of the great nesting ones and set their pain upon the path to justice? Or wilt she seeketh her ally and release it from its prison set by evil? What wilt the Keeper ask of us?

Pray for wisdom in what thee seeketh as we claim thy caution, Keeper-Sithmaith. Truth is the illumination within the darkness of one’s soul, and hath the power to displace all thou art or ever hopeth to be. I knoweth in my bones you wilt come to us soon….”

The great ape opened his eyes to see the smoldering ruminants of what was once a beautiful forest surrounding him. The trees where toppled and black, the grasses gone, and the rocks sizzled in the rain now falling gently upon them. For as far as his old eyes could see there was only darkness and the smoking carcasses of animals now lifeless and blind to the hoard to which they once belonged.

“…and put this evil to right.”

TWO

In another forest, two eyes peered out from the darkness hiding a spy, and the beast growled when it could hear them coming. Three thieves were on their way once more, and the spy watching them snarled under its breath and at the thought of their greed. This time they would not reach their destination; she would see to it, she would. The creature would see them die for their insolence before allowing them any closer to their objective, to see them feeding on their human ambitions. No… not this time.

The beast was angry and somewhat surprised. Surprised by the fact the three wizards now coming her way were so careless, so unaware, and so indifferent to the place in which they were trespassing. Her great horns slashed angrily at the branches hiding her as she watched them enter the clearing. She crouched low and finally smiled. It was a rare thing to know vengeance was so ready to sink its fangs into the meaty flesh of justice. The beast watched them carefully as they left the safety of the trees. Yes… vengeance was her eager collaborator. The beast raised a cupped hand to her mouth and called out to the sky above them.

“Howhooooooowaaaa…” she bellowed loudly, before ducking away to hide herself again.

The leader of the group stopped his two companions with a halting sign and the others immediately pulled out their wands. They were staring at the place where they thought the howl had come, in the forest straight ahead of them. Three seconds later and a quarter mile to the wizard’s left the beast bellowed again.

“Howhooooooowaaaa!”

The leader pulled his wand as the group turned to look left. It was obvious they didn’t like this loud noise, now drawing unwanted attention to their presence in the clearing. Five seconds later, they heard another howl, this time it was behind them. Of course, they couldn’t know it was the same beast moving with magical speed another quarter mile to bellow at their rear. The men turned again when something huge and invisibly fast rushed forward to hit one of the men with the broad side of its horns and sent him flying thirty feet through the air. He crashed in the open field and rolled end over end until he came to a stop in the tall grass. His companions, astonished by the suddenness of the attack, sent several hexes after the blur of bending light now disappearing into the forest several hundred yards ahead of them. One of the hexes actually hit the beast, but it went unnoticed as she turned and vanished again.

“Howhooooooowaaaa!” she howled, and the two remaining men wiped their wands about to shoot their spells again. The third man was on his feet once more, shaking his head and staring disbelievingly at his now broken wand in his clinched fist. He yelled something to his fellows and began to run toward them. Waving frantically, he was pointing at the sky above them as the howl bellowed once more.

One of the wizards looked up. He screamed and ducked just as the other standing next to him looked around. The second man only saw a flash of cooper color before being snatched off his feet by two enormous, scaled claws. The man screamed in surprise and pain as he was tossed from one dragon into the jaws of a second flying in formation at its side. There were several red streaks of light shooting wildly over the field and the two remaining wizards watched in horror as parts of their friend’s body began falling to the ground.

Another howl bellowed from the woods to their right again, and they looked up to see one of the two dragons turning to head back in response. The wizards started to run toward the closest part of the forest, barely making into the trees as the second Vipertooth swooped over the top of them. They peered out again to listen to their companion’s fading screams in the distance toward the cliffs to the east. The men looked at each other, shook their heads sorrowfully, and then turned to go home. Their day was done.

As the sounds of the battle died away, the spy stepped out from her hiding place and headed for the spot in the field where several skunk-like tails could be seen converging. She followed the snarling sounds and arrived in time to see two of the horned, cat-like creatures running off with what remained of the wizard’s arm. She looked down at the dent in the glass where the limb once lay and saw a smoking wand laying in a pool of flesh blood. The ogre snarled as she raised an enormous foot and, with a thunderous thud of finality, she crushed the wand to splinters under her heal.

She raised her weathered face to the heavens and allowed the sun a rare moment to warm her face. Vengeance was smiling with her.

THREE

Several sightings have been reported both in Reginald Carter’s home town of Larney Massachusetts and in the Yukon Territory of Canada last week. The escaped murderer from Drogo prison continues to elude the Ministry Authority and the Minister of Magic has stepped up her office’s efforts to catch the man who until now has remained nearly invisible to all.

“I personally cannot give a lot of credence to these sightings,” said Minister Barkelnap from her Washington office. “The Authority is quite certain Mr. Carter is still hiding somewhere near or around Drogo’s secret location.”

Asked why the Ministry still had not recaptured Mr. Carter if they are so sure of his whereabouts, the Minister would not explain.

Mrs. Porchdow looked up from the newspaper and watched Anna drop another piece of driftwood into a garbage can outside her tool shed.

“Nope — that’s not it either,” Anna said confidently. She sounded frustrated. “It doesn’t look like any of this stuff has the tiniest bit of resident magic.

“I told you I didn’t think these things mattered,” Mrs. Porchdow reminded her. “How about that odd looking rock by the rake? Did you see that? I thought that one looked somewhat interesting.”

Anna looked around at the stone sitting under the bench. Somehow she knew even before she picked it up it was useless to them.

“Wingardium Leviosa!” Anna said, pointing her wand at the stone. She guided it over to the bin and dropped inside with a loud clatter.

Mrs. Porchdow sighed as she looked around them. “Well, you’ve been through most of it now. What do you think?”

Anna sat down next to her. “It’s about as useful as the Minister of Magic is at finding that maniac Carter,” she said, thumping an angry finger at the newspaper the woman was holding.

“I beg your pardon?” complained the Minister’s photograph with a frown.

Mrs. Porchdow sneered as she looked down to point at the photo. “Too close to the dark arts, that one,” she muttered.

Anna was surprised. “What do you say?”

Mrs. Porchdow’s glower immediately faded as her expression lifted. “I’m sorry. That was rude; I shouldn’t have said that.”

Anna turned to face her squarely. “The Minister uses the dark arts?”

“Really, child, it’s not my place to say such things about your family. I was out of line, truly. I’m sorry.”

Anna stared at her for the longest time before replying. “Listen, I’ve only ever told daddy about this, but when we went to visit the Minster of Magic in her officer last summer… she threatened me.”

Mrs. Porchdow jerked back. “Threatened you? In what way did she threaten you?”

Anna told her about her argument with the Minister concerning Voldemort’s possible return, Helen Barkelnap’s angry response, and then her plan to monitor all of the Guardians. When she told her the Minister had threatened her father’s position in the Ministry if he was caught supporting Dumbledore or Thordarson, Mrs. Porchdow was incensed.

“Helen Meliflua said that?”

Anna nodded. “So… as you can see, my problems with the Minister of Magic go far beyond anything you might have to say. There’s no love lost there — trust me. Tell me what you meant when you said she was too close to the dark arts.”

The woman leaned back to think and then nodded. “All right, but again… I didn’t mean to say Helen was a practitioner the dark arts; I was mainly referring to her family. I don’t believe the Minister herself would have anything to do with You-Know-Who or his Death Eaters. No… the Minister has proven herself completely devoid of compassion for the Dark Lord and his followers.”

Anna agreed. It was obvious her father’s grounds keeper knew her Aunt well enough to come to the same conclusion. Although Mrs. Porchdow didn’t know her mother was still alive and roaming the earth as a vampire, it was clear when Anna was in the Minister’s office: Her aunt hated Voldemort for what he had done to Victoria Grayson.

Mrs. Porchdow looked at Anna again. “But there were rumors, long ago, about the Meliflua family agreeing with most of the anti-Muggle laws being pressed for passage within the Ministry. The Minister’s sister-in-law, Araminta Meliflua, even tried to get the Ministry of Magic to pass a law that would make Muggle-hunting legal.”

Anna looked appalled.

“Yes… and Araminta’s husband, your great uncle Allison Meliflua, was a right-old Muggle bigot himself. He was Helen and Mary’s older brother. But the worst one of all was Helen’s father, Wictred Meliflua. Now there was a real peach of a man. It was said he arranged for his son and Araminta to be married because he loved her stand on the immanent domain over Muggle lands. Not that Allison minded, of course; two peas in a pod, him and that wife of his. Did you know Allison was sent to Azkaban for supporting You-Know-Who?”

“What? You’re kidding!” Anna shot back. “One of my uncles was sent to Azkaban?”

Mrs. Porchdow smirked. “Yeah… he was caught passing information about Ministry half-bloods on to his Death-Eater buddies. After three years in Azkaban, he was shipped off to Drogo Prison because the Dementors drove him insane. He died a short time after that. His father Wictred disappeared a few days after Allison died, and was never heard from again. It was rumored that he was killed by You-Know-Who, but I doubt that. I heard him praising the Dark Lord’s name far too many times to believe they would have actually killed him. Nobody really knows what ever happened to him.

Anna was both astonished and disgusted, but longed for more.

“And what about my grandmother, Mary Jennings? I know she was Helawena’s older sister.”

Mrs. Porchdow nodded. “Mary Meliflua was all right, far as I know. After her brother died and her father disappeared, Mary took control of the family estate on Grayson Hill after she married Edgar Jennings. Helen was too busy with her career at the Ministry to really care about the property, so everybody seemed happy again. Still, every time Helen’s name came up for a Ministry promotion, the local newspapers around here never failed to mention her family’s support for You-Know-Who. How much Helen agreed with her father’s rubbish is only speculative.” The woman looked down at the newspaper again. “I’m not ashamed to say it… but I never really liked the woman.”

“I can understand why,” Anna huffed irritably.

Mrs. Porchdow looked at her and shook her head. “As far as I know, Mary Jennings never had anything good to say about You-Know-Who. In fact, she was the one who always said she suspected the Dark Lord was behind her father’s disappearance. I always thought Mary was a kind and gentle woman. I know she loved Helen very much, and perhaps that’s the best proof we have that Helen never had any love for the dark arts.

The two sat quietly in the shed until Anna used her wand to drop the rest of the collection into the bin.

“Well… that’s the last of it. I’d like to visit the voices in the chapel again, but I suppose we won’t be allowed in there until Christmas Eve. I’m hoping they can tell us more about what we’re looking for out here.”

A shrill above made them look up and Anna could see a large bird growing bigger as it circled down. Finally, a beautiful horned owl silently flapped down upon the top of the shed’s door. It ruffled its wet plumage and clicked its beak as he surveyed the unknown landscape around them. Anna smiled as she stood to untie the scroll attached to his ankle.

“Yes,” she said to the owl knowingly, “the hunting here is very good. Did you have a long trip?” The owl hooted majestically and ruffled his feathers again as Anna removed the scroll. She recognized the handwriting immediately.

“Oh, it’s from Hogwarts, from Professor McGonagall,” Anna said unthinkingly.

“Minerva McGonagall?” replied a surprised Mrs. Porchdow.

Anna looked at her. “Yes… do you know her?”

The woman frowned suspiciously. “Yes… we’ve met a few times. Why is she writing to you?”

Anna hesitated. “Ah… well, daddy has arranged our correspondence to discuss… some of this Guardian stuff.”

Anna could tell the woman was suspicious of her explanation, but she also knew Professor McGonagall wouldn’t be happy if she told anybody else about the Lethifold.”

Fortunately, another owl landed beside the first and squawked loudly enough to distract their conversation.

“Hobbs?”

Anna’s owl leapt onto her forearm with a sharp screech. He immediately lifted a saluting foot, which had a small scroll clutched in his fisted talon. He placed the scroll into Anna’s hand before twisting his head around to glare reproachfully up at the horned owl above them.

“A quick trip down from the house?” chuckled Mrs. Porchdow.

“It’s from daddy; he wants to see me in his office right away.” She kissed Hobbs on the nose. “Thank you, Hobbs. Can you show our guest to the owlry for me?” Hobbs looked surprised and then disdainfully up at the other bird again. He screeched and then clutched Anna’s arm tight to take off.

“Ouch!” The horned owl raised his massive wings and flapped off after Hobbs. Anna rubbed her arm. “That owl of mine hates it when another owl delivers a letter to me.” She looked back at a smiling Mrs. Porchdow. “Well, I’d better get back to the house and see what’s going on. We’ll continue the search later.” She kissed the woman on the cheek and headed up Grayson hill.

Along the way, Anna read Professor McGonagall’s letter aloud. It was dated the twentieth of December.

Miss Grayson, I was quite concerned by your last owl to me recounting your being transfigured into a rat by one of the crimson lieutenants of Castlewood. Apart from the fact this punishment was long since been banned here at Hogwarts, and in most other Wizarding schools, I am most troubled about your part leading up to this confrontation and your subsequent reactions in response.

“MY PART?” Anna yelped reproachfully.

“Reversing a transfiguration hex without the use of a wand is very difficult magic, even for the most talented of witches and wizards. You should strive to be more diligent in not parading your gifts so freely to those around you. I beg you heed my warnings on this subject.

“Parading my gifts?” Anna bellowed again in anger. “What does she think, that Iwanted to remain a half drown rat to Captain Dunning’s amusement?” She read on.

That being said, your descriptions of these events seem to confirm my initial view — that your given skills far exceed those of most Animagi. I dare not elaborate here, because our owls could be…” Anna continued scanning the beautifully scrolled writing that did nothing to hide its harsh message, “ you must try harder to control yourself while in public, and especially since You-Know-Who’s return. His followers are everywhere, watching…” Anna finished reading the text and then angrily crumpled the scroll into a ball.

“Deputy Head Mistress, Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry,” shebreathed scathingly. “I don’t believe it. She thinks what happened was my fault. Why do I bother writing to this woman?”

FOUR

Twenty minutes later Anna stepped into her father’s Ministry office.

“Hello, daddy, you wanted to see me?”

“Yes, sweetheart. Come in and have a seat.”

Anna looked around and was surprised to see John Dell and Ines Valeria, standing in the room along with her brother Eric.

“Hey! What are you guys doing here?” she said, happily. Anna walked over quickly to hug Ines and accepted an enormous pat on the back by John Dell.

“Have a seat Anna and I’ll explain everything.”

Anna surveyed them all curiously before walking over to the chair opposite her father’s desk.

“Anna… John and Ines have agreed to return with you to Castlewood after Christmas. John will be working closely with Captain Hayman on your personal security in and outside the castle and Ines will be doing some research on each member of the Order of Merlin.”

Anna frowned. She was so surprised by her father’s statement that she stopped in the middle of sitting down. She looked over at Ines. “I don’t understand, daddy. Why are you researching the Guardians?”

“It isn’t going to be enough to protect just you going forward, Anna. What happened to Sarah Bell was an atrocity that shouldn’t be allowed to repeat itself. While Hayman understands his duties well, I’ve made these arrangements with the Captain’s permission to enhance the security for all the Guardians. John will be working with Hayman and using Ines’s research to improve their protection.”

“But Trog already protects me.” She looked over at John Dell and tried to smile. “No offense, JD, but Trog is even more formidable than you.”

“John is not going back to Spellsburg to replace Trog. The ogre will continue to act as your personal bodyguard outside the castle and on the plateau. John can oversee the security of all the Guardians and utilize Ines’s research to help them with any problems away from the school. Eric will be coordinating their efforts and communicating with me, and I have personally put our family treasury to their expenses.” Mister Grayson’s expression darkened. “Whatever it takes, Anna. We are going to warrant the Guardians’ safety at all times going forward.”

Anna looked back at Ines suspiciously. “If it were anybody else but another Guardian looking into the background of the people living in our Hall…”

Ines smiled. “Don’t worry… it’ll be subtle. They won’t even know what I’m doing unless I find something that puts them or their family at risk.”

Anna finally smiled before looking back at her father. “Thank you, daddy.”

Mister Grayson stood. “Excellent. Well then, I think we should let our guests return to their families and holiday.” He came around desk to shake John Dell and Ines’s hand.

“Thank you both for helping our family in this. I cannot tell you what it means to me personally to have your advantage.”

John Dell smiled. “I was starting to miss Spellsburg anyway. It’ll be nice to go back.”

Ines agreed. “I will be returning to Spellsburg the second week of January, sir, after I’ve made that stop in Texas you suggested to meet with Tanya Joe’s family.”

Mister Grayson smiled. “I already spoke to Mr. Wangstaff personally to set your appointment.” He looked at Anna and grinned. “I think you’ll find him a rather… ummm… colorful man.”

Anna smiled back at him. If Mr. Wangstaff was anything like TJ, she thought Ines would have a lot to share when she returned to Castlewood.

As Mister Grayson escorted John and Ines back into his conference room and to one of the many large fireplaces, they found Greechins waiting for them with their hats and cloaks.

“A good day to you, sir,” the goblin growled before tossing a pinch of Floo Power into the already crackling flames. Emerald green fire blazed high as John dipped low to enter.

“Hovel-Hollow, Ontario.”

There was a rocket of brightened flame as John Dell began to slowly spin faster and faster before disappearing completely.

Greechins threw in another pinch of power into the flames, which burned bright green again. “Madam?” the goblin said courteously, motion Ines into the flames.

“Thank you, Greechins,” the woman replied, taking her cloak from him.

“Daddy?” Anna said, tugging at her father’s arm. She looked concerned.

“What is it sweetheart?”

Anna thought for a moment and then, “There’s a new first year Guardian at the school. Her name is Nox… I mean… Unity Yolland. Apparently, she’s the only remaining witch in her hometown.”

Her father frowned. “She’s Muggle born then?”

“Well, yes… but that’s not the problem. She lives in a town full of squibs. She calls it… a scrub village?

“What?” Eric replied in surprise. “Are you sure that’s what she said, Anna?” His sister nodded and Eric looked at their father. “I’ve heard of such places before, but I didn’t think they still existed.”

“Nor did I,” Mister Grayson replied.

“Nox is upset because she knows if she ever leaves her town after she graduates from Castlewood, the Ministry will wipe away everybody’s memory of the Wizarding world.”

“They’re still doing that?” Eric blurted out. “Why that’s… that’s barbaric.”

Mister Grayson looked down and shook his head. “I… had no idea.” He looked up again quickly, his resolve hardening. “I’ll check with the Ministry to confirm this practice is still in effect, but I’ll have to be careful. I don’t want to bring it to the Minister’s attention that one of the Guardians is from a village of squibs. I am sure that would work to this girl’s worst fears.” He looked at Ines meaningfully and the Guardian smiled.

“I’ll check into the girl’s story to confirm its validity before my trip to Texas. I’ll let you know what I find.”

Mister Grayson nodded as Ines stepped into the flames under the marble mantel and called out, “Colina de Ánima, México!” The flames whooshed again and through the echoing wind they could hear the woman wish them all, “Merry Christmas!”

FIVE

Anna smiled. “Well… I was having a very nice visit with Mrs. Porchdow down at the garden house, so I’m heading back down.” She turned to leave.

“Before you go, Anna, there’s something else I’d like to talk to you about.” He motioned to the chair on the other side of his desk. “Have a seat.”

Anna frowned and then looked over to Eric suspiciously. “Am I in trouble again?”

“Guilty conscious?” Eric asked her.

Her father slowly lowered himself into his own chair as he looked at his son. “A clear conscience is the sure sign of a bad memory.”

Eric smiled back. “Mark Twain.”

Anna shook her head at her brother. “How do you keep all of that stuff in that big brain of yours?”

Eric shrugged. “Biology gives you a brain. Life turns it into a mind.”

His father laughed. “Jeffrey Eugenides.”

Anna looked at her father and sighed. “Obviously… he gets it from his daddy.” She stared at him and then, “What did you want to talk to me about?”

Anna immediately noticed her father started to look nervous, which made her think perhaps she was in some kind of trouble.

“Anna… I wanted to make sure that we’re clear here on what you should do if there ever came a time…” he hesitated and Anna frowned.

“Yes, daddy? If ever there came a time… for what?”

“If you were to see your mother again.”

Anna was surprised. She frowned as if her father was suddenly speaking in some foreign language she didn’t understand. She stared at him until it became clear we wouldn’t say anything more to elaborate. She thought about the creature her mother had become, the thing that had attacked her in Drogo. Then she remembered the woman sobbing in the corner of her dungeon cell and telling her the story about how Voldemort had tortured her. Anna peered up into her father’s eyes and suddenly felt that same spark of anger she had felt when her father tried to explain why he hadn’t told her that Victoria Grayson was still alive.

“She’s still… my mother,” Anna slowly growled.

“Annnnnaaa…” Eric moaned behind her, “… you still can’t believe that, and it doesn’t help to think…”

Mister Grayson immediately raised a hand to stop his son, but he never took his eyes off of his daughter. He could see her anger blooming forth in her eyes as they turned black. Eric instantly fell silent.

“Anna… we’re not going to have this argument again, sweetheart. I’ve heard what you’ve had to say and you’ve heard me, so resuming the same old debates would be futile. All I’m asking is that if there should come a time where your mother reveals herself to you again…” he slowly stood and leaned over his desk at her, “don’t assume anything and always think to protect yourself first. Make your first response one of defense.” Anna was still staring at him, but he could see the color returning to her eyes once more.

“I’m not asking you to attack her, or to assume she’ll always be looking to harm you… but I’m warning you not to embrace her either. You should be ready to defend yourself always.” He tilted his head to the side in the manner she had come to understand meant he was seeking her accord. “I want you to practice this response in your mind each and every night before you go to bed, Anna. I want you to think about your mother and then imagine your first and necessary defensive reply. If Victoria wants to talk to you, then talk, but make sure to keep your wand in your hand.”

Her father came around the desk and then lowered himself to stare into her eyes directly. “Please, Anna, promise me that you will do this for me.” His daughter look into his caring eyes… and her heart pushed whatever anger she was feeling aside. She nodded.

Mister Grayson smiled and then leaned in to hug her. “Thank you, sweetheart. Thank you for doing this for me.”

Anna hugged him back and then stood. “Can I go now?” she said simply.

Her father was looking for an expression that might reveal her feelings, but Anna’s face remained detached. “Of course; please give my love to Mrs. Porchdow.”

Anna turned and then left the room and as she closed the door behind her, she leaned back against the wood to think. How would she respond if her mother were to suddenly appear in front of her? She thought about it and then decided it would depend if the woman was her mother or Voldemort’s servant. But how could she possibly tell in the first few seconds? She looked to her right and then up into the portrait of Leola Grayson standing next to a lit fireplace and she remembered thinking how the woman’s presence radiated a sense of dislike toward her. Anna frowned as she looked at the portrait again. How could she have ever seen that in her when she couldn’t see it now? She was wrong about her Ally and what’s more, she now understood that Leola Grayson was a wonderful and loving woman to her children and her friends… she looked up into the portrait again… and a good wife to her husband.

She heard Eric’s voice through the door. “Do you really think she heard you, father?”

There was a delay as Anna waited to hear her father’s response. “I pray she does, son, and I hope she understands that I’m trying to keep her safe.”

Anna began walking down the long corridor toward the staircase at the other end. She heard a giggle from one of the portraits to her left and looked up to see Senseless Sarasil Grayson enjoying another private joke. He finally stopped his giggling to look down at her. His smile dropped and an uncharacteristic look of seriousness fell upon him.

“Your father loves you very much, you know.”

Anna stopped, surprised by the man’s sudden lucidity.

“I know that,” Anna whispered back.

Sarasil stared down at her. “Do you?” He leaned down at her in the painting. “But do you know how to kill a vegetarian vampire?”

Anna’s eyes widened.

“Hee, hee, hee,” the odd-looking man snickered, “With a steak to the heart.”

“That’s not funny,” Anna fumed.

Sarasil’s face fell. “Sure it is. That one’s gold… why wouldn’t you think so.”

Anna stepped up to him. “Because I think it’s offensive to make jokes about something so personal.”

The man frowned. “Really… why would you assume it was personal? I was just making a funny.”

Anna turned away and continued down the hallway. “I don’t think so.”

“Hey Anna…” the man called out again. “Why can’t you ever see a hippopotamus hiding in the woods?”

“I don’t care…” she said, not bothering to look back.

“Because they’re really good at it!”

The man snickered again and Anna stopped. She thought for a moment and then returned to the portrait.

“You know, Uncle Sarasil… I don’t think you’re as crazy as everybody around here thinks.”

The man in the portrait suddenly looked hurt. “Really?”

Anna stepped in closer and whispered, “Yeah… really.”

“But if you want to catch a squirrel… just climb a tree and act like a nut,” the man replied jokingly.

Anna smiled back. “And a lot smarter too.”

Sarasil tilted his head sideways ridiculously. “You know… if you’re not going to listen to good advice… then try learning sign language.”

“Sign language?”

“Yeah… it’s very… handy!” The man laughed again.

“I do hear what my father is trying to say. I really do!” Anna shot back.

The man in the portrait straightened. “What’s the difference between ignorance and apathy?” He paused and then, “I don’t know and I don’t care! Hee, hee, hee…”

“I care about what my father says!” Anna retorted.

Sarasil’s head almost flew out of his portrait as he came down at her. “THEN LISTEN TO HIM YOU IGNORANT LITTLE GIT!”

Anna stumbled backward and fell to the floor. Her head jerked up again and found the man in the portrait frozen in his upright and normal pose. She got up and sneered up at him but he didn’t move. She thought for a moment and then looked up again.

“It just so happens… that I think my father is right,” she said matter-of-factly. The portrait didn’t respond. Anna huffed loudly and then turned toward the staircase once again. She took the first step and heard Uncle Sarasil again.

“You know… elves and goblins have very little in common.” He snickered again and Anna tried not to laugh out loud.

“I think dry erase boards are remarkable. Don’t you?”

Anna covered her mouth and ran up the stairs.


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