Chapter 1d14- Elfishness
As Anna burst through the thick clouds and into a bright blue sky, the sun stretched across a beautiful morning ocean hundreds of feet below her. The deep water shimmered beneath them while gusting winds blew each cap over onto itself, creating foamy white paint across an emerald surface. She could smell the late-summer flowers on the distant shore and recognized many of their wonderful fragrances. She was tempted to close her eyes and try to match each smell to the flower it belonged, but she didn't want to miss anything right now. She wanted to take it all in — to see all there was around her. She dare not close her eyes now, not even to blink.
"Let's turn toward the beach," she said, and her flying steed immediately banked right and plummeted straight down several hundred feet before Anna realized what was happening. The water was rushing toward them so fast she had to lean forward over the horse's huge back and grab a handful of his mane to remain saddled. She flattened herself against his spine and stretched her legs behind to grasp as much of his muscled midriff as she could manage.
Here he goes, she thought excitedly. He's doing it again, but this time I'm going to win.
She leaned to the side to see where he was looking and wasn't surprised to see his head turned slightly toward her, a single eye peering back, testing her resolve. The green of the water was reflected in that eye as he began to squint from the rush of the wind now hitting them hard. As the water's surface rushed toward them, the deep ocean smell was pushing into Anna's nose and her eyes could feel the salty spray. Panic was setting in.
"Okay…" she said, in a hopeful voice. But there was no change as they continued to plunge toward the water.
"I said — all right!" she yelled out, this time with more urgency. She moved her head to the right to look down and her eyes, still focused on the expected distant view of the ocean's surface, penetrated the water straight through to its rocky bottom. It was too late; they were going to crash.
"AHHHHHHH! YOU WIN! YOU WIN!" she screamed, burying her face into his black mane.
At the last possible moment, the mighty stallion pulled up, banked left, and slid the tops of his hooves across the surface of the water. Wet, salty, and warm, the ocean shot up behind them as he gouged a huge, arcing plume in their wake. Anna raised her head just as he flipped to his right and into a turn so tight she could feel her insides gathering in her legs and against the side of his ribs.
"I'M LOSING IT!" she screamed, feeling herself slowly slipping over his right shoulder as he leaned further and further toward the water. The ocean was just inches from her now, the white paint slapping at her knee. They flew in a large slowing circle, which must have ended where it started; she could feel the warm water they had disturbed falling like rain on their backs. The horse straightened and, with a purposeful flick, tossed Anna back to center on his wide back.
"You're so bad…." she told him condescendingly. His response was immediate. He jerked his head down and with a vulgar grunt started veering abruptly left and right, tossing her back and forth. Anna was slipping and sliding over his wet back and off center again.
"All right – I take it back," she screamed. "You're absolutely fabulous!" She leaned forward to grab him around his huge neck again to stabilize herself. "You really are beautiful," she said, this time in a soft whisper next to his ear.
With a sharp jerk, the mighty steed raised up over the water in standing jubilation. He bellowed in triumph, kicking his front feet wildly into the air around them.
"Showoff…" she said indignantly. "Can we go home now?"
With a gruff snort, the jet-black horse suddenly leapt forward and started running across the top of the water, and with every stride, he slowly began to rise again. Higher and higher, his splashing hooves lifted into the air.
Anna could see the white cliffs of the shore coming into view now; the water's edge and beach below were passing a mere ten feet under them as they headed straight toward the cliff's wall.
Here it comes, she thought with an eager smile curling on her face, my favorite part.
The horse started arcing up the cliff's face, finally touching his hooves and running against its rough and weathered surface. Rising vertically, only the gravity pulling at Anna's back reminded her they were now racing up the cliff's front. Anna looked up and smiled. She could see the edge coming into view above them, her sense of the speed heightened now by the boulders and outcroppings flying past them in a continuous blur.
"Faster!" she hollered, twisting herself expectantly into her saddle. They finally reached the edge of the cliff and the stallion gave a mighty heave. As if jumping across a great chasm, he leapt into the sun and Anna could feel them soaring into the morning blue, turning over and over as they somersaulted backwards. She could see the blue sky, the ocean below, the beach and cliffs, as they wheeled completely around - rising still higher. They shot over the tops of the trees anchored for centuries at the cliff's crowning summit and there, finally, rising before them was her manor home, Grayson.
Always inspiring, this vision forever confirmed Anna's feelings that her home, perched atop the cliffs overlooking the Pacific Ocean, was the most beautiful place in the entire world.
And then, as if coming from some far off point of land on a distant shore, a familiar and squeaky voice was heard.
"Miss Anna? You is going to be late for school…"
The horse looked back at Anna and she knew he would soon fade away. She was dreaming again. But she also knew if she could just kept her eyes shut, she could prolong her sense of flight, her sense of freedom… this bit of magic.
"Miss Anna is goin' to be in trouble, she is," said the voice invading her dream once more.
"Oh Gabby, leave me alone. I'm flying again!"
She shouldn't have replied. For the moment Anna began to speak, she saw the black stallion beginning to melt away, leaving only the blurred outline of her horse fading into oblivion. The picture in her mind went black, and Anna realized what she was seeing now was nothing more than the inside of her closed eyelids.
"You is not flying Miss. You is sleeping in a bed," squeaked the voice from across her room.
"Gabby… please… just a five more minutes. Will you please…just…?" But Anna's pained appeal faded away as the black stallion she was now struggling to retrieve disappeared entirely.
"Gabby 'as chores to do, works to be done. Miss Anna is to be getting up!"
"Ohhhhh…" Anna sighed painfully. "You know Gabby, sometimes you can be such a pain," she said with great indignation.
"I is a good house elf!" the voice chirped.
A bright light burst through her closed eyelids and Anna jerked the blankets up to shield her face from the morning sun now pouring into her four-poster bed. Gabby the Grayson house elf had ripped the curtains open to reveal a very large window overlooking the same beautiful ocean Anna had been flying over just a moment before.
"Up-up-up!" said Gabby, as she bounced about Anna's room opening all the drawers in her dresser and flicking on the lights in the adjoining bathroom.
It always amazed Anna that despite the elf's obvious age she was so nimble and quick. Gabby was tiny, no more than two and a half feet tall. Her skin was a greenish-brown color with blotches of black on her face and arms. Although she didn't know exactly how old Gabby was, Anna attributed the blotches to her advanced years more than to some unknown ailment. The elf's hair was very gray and clumped in short tufts just above her long, pointed, bat-like ears. Her flattened head was bald on top, and it seemed rather funny to Anna that Gabby looked more like a little old man than the female elf she claimed to be. Her skin was wrinkled and weathered, but her huge, oval eyes were clear and bright as she dashed from one end of the room to the other, scampering about like a monkey on all fours.
"What is you wearin, Miss?" asked the elf, now waist deep in the top drawer of Anna's dresser. She was tossing various pieces of clothing into the air and onto the floor around her.
"Oh I don't know… I'm still waking up," Anna said, as she flopped back down on her back and threw a pillow over her face. "I hate Mondays!" she screamed in a muffled voice.
There was a faint pop from across the room and then another loud pop right next to Anna's ear. She slowly lowered the pillow to find Gabby's large, oval eyes peering down at her. The elf had Disapparated from her dresser drawer and reappeared again next to her in the bed. Elves were highly magical creatures and were known throughout the entire wizarding world as very useful house servants. Gabby had been with the Grayson family for a very long time. Exactly how long, Anna wasn't sure, but she often heard the elf speaking of Anna's grandmother as a young child.
"Is you feelwin awright, Miss Anna?" the elf asked her, turning her head sideways with an animated look of practiced concern.
Anna quickly realized she had pushed her luck too far, and if she didn't start moving soon, Gabby was sure to raise an alarm throughout the entire house. In short order, she would find herself tied down to her bed, a thermometer in her mouth, and a hot water bottle under her rump.
Anna looked up at Gabby's large brown eyes and smiled. She placed a raised hand upon the elf's dull, grayish face and stroked it softly.
"I'm fine, Gabby," she whispered affectionately. "You know… I love you… very much. You are my dearest friend."
Gabby's eyes welled with tears. "You is too kind to this old house elf, Miss Anna," the elf replied. Then she leaned forward to whisper, "You is always been my favorite Grayson."
Anna smiled tenderly at the little creature and then leaned up to touch their noses together.
"You know, Gabby, I won't be able to make the bus if you don't get off my chest."
"Eeeeeekkkk!" Gabby yelped with a short chirp. She quickly jumped to the floor and scampered back to the drawers. "I is terrible holding up my mistress. What is you said you was wearin', Miss?"
Anna threw back the blanket, jumped to her feet, and noticed two pink bunny slippers starting to hop across the room toward her. She slid her left foot into the right slipper and then dashed into the bathroom as the left slipper hopped frantically behind to catch up.
"I dunno Gabs. Just pick something for me."
As soon as Anna let those words slip through her lips, she knew it was a mistake. For Gabby had already proven long ago she had absolutely no sense of style. Anna clearly remembered the last time Gabby set out her clothes. She had laid out a pair of bright green pants and a shockingly pink sweater that Anna had received from one of her sisters. Gabby topped off this ensemble with two different socks, one ankle-high red sock and one knee-high blue sock with black tassels. Anna was also expected to wear her bunny slippers with the socks.
No, Gabby's sense of style was definitely lacking. Maybe it was because she didn't have or wear much of anything herself. The elf was always dressed in an old dishtowel, wrapped around her like a toga. House elves, it would seem, show their servitude to a family by wearing a minimum of garments. Anna had once tried giving Gabby a nice dress with matching socks to wear, and although her efforts were met with tears of overwhelming joy, the little elf always refused these articles of generosity.
"Only the Master is able to give the house elves real clothes, Miss Anna," she said with a sad face, looking at the dress she longed to accept. "And only when he wishes to set us free."
When Anna's father found out about her gifts, he flew into a rage. "Don't you realize how such a mistake could unwittingly release an elf from our family's service? If you had been the mistress of this house, we could have lost Gabby for good," he stormed. "I want it understood — you are not to give clothing to the elves!"
Mister Grayson had made his point, but went a step further still. Despite the fact the incident didn't make any difference to the freedom of an elf, he let it be known to all his children they were never to give anything to the servants.
Anna opened the bathroom door and ran back into the bedroom.
"Wait — stop — I know what I want to wear!"
Gabby popped up out of the bottom drawer as a pair of Anna's underwear fell upon her head; one of her pointed ears was now sticking out of a leg hole. She had undoubtedly begun the process of choosing Anna's attire.
"Is you sure, Miss?" Gabby said in a slow, disappointed voice. "I… I is good at clothes," she said encouragingly.
"Of course you are, Gabs, but I have to wear something very specific today," Anna explained, as she searched the back of her mind for her best excuse. "Ahhh, yeah, I have to wear what I wore… on Friday. You see, a girl from school liked what I wore on Friday so much that, ahhhh," Anna began to stammer, "that she wanted me to wear it again today." She looked at Gabby with a hopeful gaze. "Okay?"
"Ohhhhhh, I's cleaned those wears on Friday! I is a good house elf," Gabby repeated, now hopping across the floor to Anna's bed.
"Sorry I's did not put the Miss's clothes back in the drawers. I is going to do that after I's cleaned your room," she said happily, disappearing under the bed.
"Hurry Gabs — I've got to go," Anna pleaded, looking down at her feet. The other bunny slipper had finally caught up with her and was hopping up and down on its twin. It was obviously upset about the other slipper being on the wrong foot. With each blow, the slipper was giving off little plastic squeaks, and little pink puffs of fuzz were jetting sideways as the left slipper squashed the other.
"Let off!" Anna said indignantly, tossing both slippers across the room with a flick.
Before she could regain her balance, a heavy lidded box slid out from under the bed and knocked her to the floor.
"Ouch!" she yelped, rubbing a banged ankle. She tossed open the lid, grabbed her freshly laundered clothes, and headed for the bathroom again.
Two minutes later she emerged looking for her shoes. She was surprised to see her bed made, clothes neatly folded and put back into the drawers, curtains tied back, and toast with jam sitting on the corner of her end table. Gabby was standing before her, holding up a shoe in each of her tiny hands.
"Gabby, have you seen…? Oh… thanks," she said, taking the shoes from the elf.
"Was Widwick here?" Anna asked, spying the toast and jam.
"Oh yes, mum," said the elf, her eyes bright. "He saws you is runnin' late, and wanted to help wif you's breakfast. He is a good old elf, he is," Gabby said, in a low voice, "but… uhh…"
"But what?" Anna sat to put on her shoes.
"Well…" Gabby stammered, coming closer to Anna as if hoping for a more private conversation. "Widwick is sad about losing his…" she paused briefly to look around again, "his elfishness," she said, in a whispered voice.
"His elfishness… his magicalness," Gabby repeated with wide eyes, hoping not to explain more.
"Ohhhhh… well… I think he's okay… isn't he?" said Anna, silently admitting to herself she hadn't noticed any real differences in Widwick's abilities.
"Oh yes, mum. Widwick is old — but very elfish. He is just sensitive, he is. It happens to us all, it does… eventually… but old Widwick is golden," she finished happily, and then scampered off to finish cleaning the room.
It seemed remarkable to Anna that Gabby would call Widwick old. Widwick was the other house elf in service in the Grayson mansion. He was shorter than Gabby, but just as agile. He didn't look nearly as old as Gabby, but Anna could tell by the things they said to each other, and especially when they were fighting, that Widwick was indeed quite a bit older than Gabby.
"Where is he?" asked Anna, trying her shoes.
"Is standing outside the door wif yer lunch 'n books," Gabby replied, sliding the now empty box back under the bed. "He knows you is late!"
"Thank you Widwick — the toast is wonderful!" Anna sang to the door through a mouth full of crust.
"You is very welcome, Miss," twittered a tiny, boyish voice from the other side of her bedroom door.
Anna grabbed up a brush and started combing her hair frantically. "I saw his eyes this time, Gabs," she said, looking at the little elf dashing about the room behind her in the mirror.
"Whose eyes?" said the elf, not stopping to listen.
"The black stallion's eyes, silly. I saw them this time in my dream — they were blue," Anna said, still brushing her long, red hair.
She saw movement all over her dressing table as various pins and hairclips dashed about, trying to gather her attention. Anna picked up a pretty red one, stopped suddenly, and then looked at it again. She raised the clip under a watchful eye.
"Once seated — no moving around this time, right?" The little-red clip popped open by itself as if agreeing to the deal. Anna had some difficulty with this little hairclip moving about her head in public. Apparently, it was trying to change her hairstyle on its own several times over the course of the day. This wouldn't necessarily be a bad thing most of the time, but there were Muggles around who might have seen what it was doing.
Anna slid the clip into her hair and snapped it closed. Then she leaned into the mirror, turning her head slightly to get a closer look at the adornment.
"I mean it," she said, with a pitch of warning in her voice. The clip didn't move. "Good — stay that way," she said, picking up her brush again.
"'Is eyes were blue?" repeated Gabby, this time standing motionless behind Anna.
"Huh? What? Oh… yeah… big blue eyes; beautiful — like sapphires. Ahhh, if only I could meet a boy with eyes like that," she said, pushing her red hair up next to her ears, contemplating a bun. She looked at Gabby standing behind her. She was very still now, a look of fright moving over her face.
"What's the matter, Gabs? No boy could ever replace you," Anna said, jokingly.
"Is not that, Miss," said the little elf in a lowered voice.
"What then?" Anna gave up on the bun and moved to the hanging necklaces beside her mirror.
"Is saying you is flying… on a black horse… wif blue eyes?" asked Gabby, now looking very serious, her ears beginning to droop.
"Yeah, that's right… so?" She turned around to look at Gabby while trying to work the clasp of her necklace behind her head.
"Is bad luck, it is. Dread anything so black," said the elf under her breath.
"What are you talking about?" Anna laughed as she began pulling the tiny pieces of lint off of her shirt before looking up to realize… Gabby was serious. She bent down on one knee to look into the elf's eyes.
"What's the matter Gabby? What's troubling my best friend?"
Gabby's ears began to rise again.
"Ohhhh — finkle-fackle. Is ancient legends from the old country," Gabby said, trying to shrug off her fears.
"What did you mean… 'Dread anything so black'?"
Gabby's ears started to lower again before looking around cautiously to ensure nobody else could hear them.
"Black with wings as bats, and eyes of bluish-white is bad, is unlucky, is dread," she said, fearfully. "Cannot be ridden…. nobody is knowing how. Take you's up and drops you's down. Dread the black ones that fly — they is killers," the elf warned, in a shrewd but experienced voice. "Best my mistress stay on the ground," she finished, hopefully.
"Well," Anna said in a sobered voice, "would it help to say my horse doesn't have wings?"
"But you's said it flies," Gabby replied, raising one of her hairless eyebrows.
"Oh Gabs… it's just a dream," Anna said smiling, straightening to stand again. "Tell you what; I promise — if I ever have a chance to fly on a black-winged horse, I'll say, 'No thank you — because my friend Gabby says it's not safe', all right?" Gabby smiled triumphantly. "Good. Well, I'd better get going. See you Gabs!"
Anna grabbed her book bag and ran for the bedroom door. She opened the door with a quick glance back at the smiling elf behind her, took two steps on the other side, and promptly tripped and fell with a heavy THUMP.
"Ooooooweeeee," hollered a tiny voice beneath her. Anna rolled over to find poor Widwick flattened in the hallway under her bag.
"Oh… I'm sorry, Widwick. I forgot you were standing there. Are you okay?"
"Of course he's okay; he's just a stupid house elf," said a malevolent voice above her. Anna looked up and saw her older half-brother Damon standing over them. "They bounce up and down around here all the time. What's the matter with you, Anna? Just give him a kick. They'll move quickly enough," he said, with a smirk. Then he reached out and kicked Widwick in the side.
"Oooooowwwweee," Widwick yelped, again.
"Stop that!" screamed Anna. "What's the matter with you?" She tried helping the elf to his feet.
"Pay me no mind, Miss Anna," said Widwick. "The young master is quite right. Is all Widwick's fault, mum. I is awlright. I is off to my chores now," he said, wobbling to stand straight, only to fall down on his backside with a bump.
"Oh look. There you go again, Anna. It's so embarrassing… you and your little creatures. Maybe you should adopt him to add to your little collection. But you might as well put this one out of his misery, or haven't you noticed… he's loosing his magical steam. We might as well hire a Muggle slave to replace this useless vermin," Damon finished with an ugly sneer.
Anna's eyes quickly glanced down at Widwick and she saw his head drooping in personal disgrace. Anna leapt to her feet. Although two years younger than Damon, she was every bit his physical match. Her brother was skinny, gaunt in the face, and sickly looking. His eyes and hair were as black as coal, and his chin nearly invisible. If he were any other person in the world, Anna would find compassion for somebody who looked like her brother, but Damon's cruelty and arrogance were almost legendary in Anna's mind.
"What the hell is wrong with you?" she yelled, getting face to face with her brother. "The only vermin I see in this house is you!" she said, touching noses with him.
She always enjoyed doing this to Damon, because it was standing here like this that made it most obvious Anna was a little bit bigger than her older brother. Anna could see Damon's eyes moving slightly upward to match her gaze.
"Careful there, little sister," he said slowly. "Remember… in the real world, size doesn't matter nearly as much as the gifts we possess." He broke their locked gaze with the wood of his wand. "Be very careful."
"How would you like that wand stuffed up your…"
"I think… I is off to my chores now," said the little elf at their feet.
"Then go!" Damon demanded curtly.
"Yes, Master Damon," said the elf, taking a step to move away.
"No, stay!" ordered Anna, defiantly.
"Yes, mum," said the elf, freezing where he stood.
There was another long pause as brother and sister stared at each other before Damon stepped back and turned to walk away. Hands in his robes and walking toward his bedroom, he sang out, "Take care in school today, little squib." He turned to look back at her with an evil grin as he slowly closed his bedroom door.
"Someday that arrogant little jerk is gonna find himself in a dark alley without that wand, and that'll be the day he learns the truest lessons in life," Anna said, smacking her closed fist into her other cupped hand. "Wham!" she snapped angrily, "right in that skinny, bony little nose. Says everything about him to see he has to carry that wand around his family — even in his pajamas.
"Are you okay, Widwick?" she asked, looking down at the elf again with a note of returning sympathy.
"Oh yes, mum, I is fine," said the elf with a gaped smile
"Oh… yes… mum… I…. is…. fine," said a high mocking voice from behind Damon's door.
"Shut up, stick boy!" Anna retorted.
"Poor Widwick… you work so hard. You and Gabby deserve better than what you get from SOME OF THE GRAYSONS," she yelled at Damon's door. There was no reply.
"Don't worry about that lout… he just didn't get his dog biscuit today."
"Hee-hee… yes, mum. If you's say so."
"Here is your books, mum, and yer lunch. I is putting extra jam on you's samich this time," Widwick said with a loving smile, "just as I knows you's likes it," he whispered behind a cupped hand.
Anna smiled, straightened to pick up her bag, and then stopped. "Tell you what… you keep it." Then, looking at the huge staircase to her left, she smiled. "Or at least, you can carry it down the stairs for me, right?"
Widwick looked at her with a puzzled gaze, and then to the staircase. His eyes widened.
"Oh — no, mum. I…. I…I don't think…" But it was too late. Anna had grabbed up the little elf around the middle and was dashing for the stairs.
"No… no, mum. Please… I is not," but he never finished the sentence before Anna flew herself onto the banister nearest the forth spindle. Their forward momentum was so strong Anna could feel them reaching top speed by the tenth footstep.
"Yeeehaaaaa… it's just like flying on ol' blue eyes!" Anna screamed in exhilaration.
"Ohh…oohhhhh…mummmm… please…we is goin' to break our heads!" yelled the elf on her lap as they raced their way around the banister. Widwick was now clutching Anna's shirt to hide his face. "We is going belly up!" said the elf, now peering over his arm and down the banister. Anna couldn't help closing her eyes, looking for the blue sky in her morning dream.
"Oh… is coming, Miss Anna. Is coming!" screamed the elf
Anna opened her eyes and looked down. The end of the banister was now in sight, and so was the massive sphere on the newel post at the bottom. The size of a bowling ball, the sphere was polished to a bright shine, black, and unmovable.
"You're right, Widwick. You'd better do something…" Anna yelled back, holding the elf tight in her arms.
"Ohh, I's can't. I is not knowing how," screamed the elf.
"Yes you can, Widwick. Come on — we're going to crash!"
"I is not knowing…!"
"Widwick!" Anna screamed, still smiling.
"AAAAAHHHHHHH!" they both screamed at the sphere now looming before them.
Anna and Widwick suddenly sprang off the railing and sailed over the sphere. They tumbled end-over-end through the air and across the extensive entranceway toward a number of pillows that suddenly appeared piled high on the floor waiting for them.
POOF! They both landed with a squashy thud as hundreds of feathers burst into the air around them. Anna was laughing hysterically.
"I knew you could do it, Widwick. I knew it!" she laughed, lying on her back as the feathers scattered throughout the hall. "I knew it."
Widwick sat up and shook his head, his pointed ears flapping madly. "You! You is… a nutter!" he yelled, looking around them in disbelief, astounded they were still alive. "My mistress Anna is a nutter. Is for sure!"
Anna was still howling. "You still have a lot of magic in you, little elf," she said, with confidence. "Don't let them tell you any differently."
Widwick smiled. "I… is a good house elf?" he asked her, a look of hopeful pride building on his face.
"Yes you are, Widwick. But it's not the magic that makes you special… it's what's inside your heart." She smiled at the little creature. "My daddy told me that; and I should know." She then leaned forward to place her forehead on his and then whispered, "All squibs know this."
"The Muggle bus! The Muggle bus! The Muggle bus!" squawked a blue parrot from its cage. Anna's father had recently placed the enchanted bird by the door at the beginning of the school year as a warning her school bus was approaching.
"Gotta go!" Anna snapped. She stuffed her scattered books back into her bag, grabbed her lunch, and kissed Widwick on the top of the head. She dashed out the door, down the stone steps, and into the driveway below. "See you tonight, okay?"
Widwick sat up to look around and smiled. "I is still magic inside," he said, folding his arms in satisfaction. "I is still a good house elf," he said, and then he flopped back down into the pillows, releasing another plume of feathers into the air around him.