The Order of Merlin
Captain Dunning and the rest of the Graysons were escorting Anna to the fourth floor hospital. Although Eric was very concerned about what had happened to her, Anna was almost giddy about finally being out of the mirror.
“Heck of a first day there, Anna,” Dowla said, nosily trying to start a conversation as they walked.
“Yeah, I suppose. Oh… it feels so good to be out of there!” Anna replied, doing a happy little twirl in the hallway.
“You said you were asked a lot of questions inside the mirror. What did it ask you?”
“You mean, ‘What did they ask me?’”
“They asked me,” Anna repeated. “There was more than one voice. Most of what they asked I couldn’t tell you, because there were so many different languages. But the weirdest questions were things like: Where have you been? And… where have you been hiding?” she said, in a deep mocking voice. “And, what changed you?”
“What changed you? I don’t understand. What does that mean?”
“STOP!” hollered Captain Dunning, who halted in front of them. “The Chancellor said no questions tonight.”
“We can certainly talk to our own sister,” Dowla replied angrily.
“Talk, yes… question, no.”
“Now wait just a minute, Captain,” Eric began, but Dunning immediately pointed a warning finger directly at him.
“Would you like to be sent back the way you came?” the Captain sneered. There was an angry, long pause as the two stared at each other.
“I would escort my sister to the hospital floor — if you don’t mind,” Eric snapped back.
“Then you’ll do it — quietly!” Eric fell silent. Dunning gave a half grin of satisfaction, looked at Anna, and then turned to lead them onward.
“Something between you two I should know about?” Anna whispered to Eric.
“It’s a long story. I’ll tell you later.” They eventually arrived at the fourth floor where Doctor Pearl, the academy healer, was waiting for them.
“Well… hello again, dearie. I heard what happened in the Rotunda. Please… come in,” she said, motioning Anna through the door and onto the hospital floor. Dunning and the rest of Anna’s family followed her in.
The doctor asked Anna to change into a hospital gown before proceeding with her examination behind a closed curtain. Anna was relieved to see Doctor Pearl once again after spending the whole day together during her magical tests at the estate. After about thirty minutes, Doctor Pearl ripped the curtain back and the Graysons saw Anna sitting up in a bed. The doctor had finished her examination, but still looked very concerned.
“Well, there do not seem to be any physical injuries at all. Still, I’d like to keep her here on the hospital floor for the night, just to be safe,” she suggested worriedly.
“Is that really necessary, Doctor?” asked Tencha. “I mean… she looks all right to me.”
“Looks can be deceiving, my dear. Your sister has gone through quite a shock, and while I don’t see any injuries…”
“It seems a reasonable precaution, Doctor,” Eric agreed, staring at Anna who was now looking very comfortable in the bed. “How about it, Anna? Would you mind staying with Doctor Pearl just for tonight?”
“Are you kidding me?” Anna said, smiling. “I’m so tired, I’d like to see any of you tear me out of this nice comfy bed,” she cooed, patting and smoothing the blankets around her. Although everybody laughed, Anna was quite serious. She was overwhelmed by the color and texture of everything around her. After nearly a week of living within the blankness of the Mirror of Enlightenment, Anna was happy to be anywhere other than where she had been.
“I must return to my duties,” said Dunning in a rather disinterested tone, “but I have informed Doctor Pearl of the Chancellor’s order not to question this student tonight,” he added, suspiciously.
“Quite right,” agreed Pearl. Her blue eyes looked entirely black, magnified to the size of dish plates through her thick glasses. “This girl needs rest and not an interrogation. Any questions can wait for the morning.”
Dunning turned to Eric. “I suppose it isn’t too early to offer my congratulations,” he said in a very stiff manner.
“Oh… I guess not… thank you,” Eric replied, looking a little surprised.
“I realize the announcement has been put off until tomorrow,” the captain said, “but I’d like to get an early start and meet with you the following morning if you don’t have any objections.”
“No… none at all. I… ah… look forward to it.”
“Excellent.” Dunning started to head for the door. As he passed the twins, he slowed and then turned to face Eric again. “Mr. Grayson, you have been entrusted with a great deal of responsibility this year. That being the case, I expect the rest of your family to carry themselves properly,” he paused to glare at Tencha and Dowla, “and stay out of any trouble that might lead to difficulties with our working together.”
Tencha, looking very affronted, crossed her arms indignantly. Dowla, however, was much more vocal in her response.
“Oh, please… when are you going to let it go, Dunning? It was an accident. She just got a little wet, that’s all.”
“That’s Captain Dunning to you, Miss Grayson. And I do not share your summation of the events from last year at all. In my mind, you were both involved in a purposeful and malicious attack on another student. If I had had my way, you both would have been expelled.”
“Oh… no doubt,” Tencha snapped back, angrily.
“Captain, I can assure you, my family won’t be causing you any trouble,” Eric said, interjecting himself into the argument. “My father has personally given his word to the Chancellor.”
“Yes…so I’ve heard,” replied Dunning skeptically. He turned to glare at the twins again. “Well… on your father’s word, then; let us hope that will be enough. We shall see.” He stepped aside and headed toward the exit.
“Oh, and… Captain,” Eric called, and Dunning turned again. “Only my father is to be called Mister Grayson. Despite the troubles of last year, I was hoping you and I could form a friendlier relationship… for the benefit of all the students this year. In light of this common goal, I’d favor you call me familiar and use my given name. I would prefer Eric, if you don’t mind.”
Captain Dunning tried to force a polite smile. “In fact, I do mind. I would prefer a more business-like relationship. I find this method easier to manage…” he paused to look at the twins again, “when complications arise.” Tencha stepped forward, clearly looking to tell Dunning off.
“Tencha! Stop!” bellowed Eric before looking sorrowfully back to Dunning once more. “You’re making this more difficult than it has to be, sir.”
Dunning turned serious. “I’m sorry you feel that way, but you must understand… that I have more experience in these matters than you, and I think I value the ways that work best. Just Grayson then? Will that suffice?”
Eric glanced downward at his feet, looking somewhat frustrated. “That will do. Thank you, Captain.”
“Good, I look forward to our first meeting, then. Goodnight, Grayson.” And with that, Captain Dunning left the room.
Dowla immediately moved forward, looking very angry. “I’m not going to put up with that man’s crap this year, Eric, with his stupid smirks and implied remarks. I’m warning you, dear brother, you’d better keep that dog on a short leash or I’m gonna…”
“And what did you expect?” Eric interrupted. “After all… in his mind, you attacked the girl.”
“Oh… that’s hogwash, you know better than that!” Dowla snapped back, getting angrier by the second.
“Will somebody please tell me what’s going on?” Anna broke in from her bed. “Eric, from the top, why was Captain Dunning congratulating you?” Eric glanced over to Anna, his expression changing to a form of subdued embarrassment.
“Eric has been named the new Castlewood Student President,” Damon said, enviously.
“Eric! Really?” said Anna, in complete surprise. “That’s fantastic! Congratulations!”
“Yep,” said Tencha, her tone quickly becoming light, “that’s our brother! The Big Kahoona, the Grand Pooba, the big and beefy enchilada!” Everybody laughed.
“Show her, Eric!” said Dowla, shoving their brother toward Anna’s bed.
Eric slowly reached into his robes and pulled out a heavy silver chain with a round amulet encircling one very large ruby in its center. There were words engraved around the outer edge that said: ‘Castlewood Student President, Leader of the Union Knights’.
“Wow! Now that’s an awesome bangle there,” said Anna, taking the amulet in her hand. “And heavy too; that’s sure to get you a date for the prom!”
“The what?” Eric said, unknowingly.
“Never mind,” Anna giggled. “Eric, this is great — you are the man! But I thought they were going to hold off the announcement of Student President until tomorrow night?”
“Well… that’s true. So we have to keep quiet about this until the start of term banquet tomorrow. I guess Professor Thordarson went ahead and told father about it after they finished discussing your test results last week. Professor Titan gave me the amulet tonight after the Joining Ceremony ended. I guess they felt I had lost my moment in the sun for some reason.”
“Daddy must be very proud,” Anna said, smiling broadly.
“And why not? Eric’s been a Knight in the Sever Union for the last two years. He’s the top student, and even plays a mean game of Quitick when he has to,” Dowla said proudly.
“Quidditch!” said Eric and Damon together.
“Whatever!” Dowla quipped, rolling her eyes. “The point is — Eric deserves it!”
“Nobody deserves anything,” Damon retorted. “He’s earned it!”
“It doesn’t work that way,” Eric said, looking uncharacteristically embarrassed and awkward again. “While it’s true good grades and strong leadership skills can help… it’s ultimately up to the faculty to decide who the Student President will be. I just hope I’m up for the job. It’s a lot of responsibility, and I’ll still need to keep my grades up if I’m going to be allowed to continue my studies to be an MBC healer next year.”
“No problem,” Tencha said insipidly. “If you need any help putting people in line, just give us a call. I’m sure Damon wouldn’t mind stepping into your robes when needed.” Damon smiled, the expected sparkle of hungrily enthusiasm dancing merrily in his eyes.
“That’s especially true with Dunning,” Damon added, with a sneer. “That pompous ass has been asking for it since last year. I don’t know how you expect to work with him.”
“What exactly do the two of you have to do?” asked Anna.
“Well… the Student President and the Captain of the Guard are joined at the hip for most of the year,” Eric explained. “They work together to ensure the student events are scheduled properly, and the necessary security measures are constantly monitored. They also work with the faculty to make certain the Union Knights get everything they need for the rest the students.”
“So you’re, like… the head Knight?” asked Anna.
“Yes… you could say that, but security is the big thing, and that’s why I have to find a way to get along with Dunning…” Eric looked at the twins, “despite the problems of last year. It’s a good thing the Captain of the Guard doesn’t have veto power over who gets to be Student President. I honestly think he despises our family after what you two did last year.”
“What happened?” asked Anna. “The only thing daddy would say was that the two of you threw somebody into the moat.”
“That’s not what happened!” blurted Tencha. “It was an accident… plain and simple. Was it our fault Debbie-D’s a clumsy oaf?”
“Oh yeah… sure, it was an accident,” Damon chuckled, sarcastically. The twins scowled at him. “Look, if you couldn’t convince me at the time, you never had a chance with Dunning.” Damon looked at Anna and could see she still looked confused. “These two pranksters,” he said, pointing at the twins “got tired of Debbie Dunning following them around all the time.”
“Debbie Dunning?” asked Anna in surprise. “Any relation to…”
“His sister!” Tencha finished. “Yeah, Debbie Dunning is Captain Dunning’s younger sister. She’s a fourth-year; and ever since her brother was named Captain of the Guard two years ago, little Miss Debbie-do-right has taken it upon herself to become the new Castlewood sheriff around here.”
“She was always lurking about, looking for rule-breakers, and then turning them in to her crimson jack-boot Nazi of a brother,” added Dowla. “I can’t tell you how many times we caught her following us around the castle, trying to catch us doing something wrong.”
“With good reason, most of the time,” Damon added with a smirk.
“Oh — shut-up, Damon,” retorted Dowla.
“Anyway, that’s when these two decided to chuck her into the moat,” Damon continued.
“Mouth closed, Damon. That’s what shut-up means,” Tencha said, angrily. “Besides, the little monster deserved what she got. We were just on our way to Spellsburg to get something to eat, when we saw the little murt spying on us, lurking around the corners like the stupid little rat she is.”
“So?” Anna said, excitedly. “What did you do?” Tencha smiled, and then sat down at the corner of Anna’s bed, leaning in eagerly to tell.
“Well, we turned the tables on the little snoop,” she giggled in a way that Anna had become very accustom to when the twins were up to no good. Tencha continued. “We hid in the bushes on the other side of the drawbridge and waited for her to follow us out.”
“And… did she follow you?”
“Of course; the little hound-dog had the scent and was fast on our trail. So, Dowla cast a brilliant little spell to… ah… well… to take care of the problem.” Anna looked at Dowla, who was smiling broadly, a vicious glint of satisfaction forming in her eyes.
“It was nothing, really. I just… shrunk the drawbridge.”
Anna looked up in surprise. “You did… what?”
“I shrunk it! Took it down from its normal width to… oh… I don’t know,” she looked at Tencha, “what would you say? About six inches?”
“Oh, no!” Anna said, moving her hands over her mouth in shock.
“Oh, yeah! It was great,” Tencha said evilly. “You should have seen the pudgy, stupid thing dancing around on that skinny little board of a crossing, screaming her big, fat curly head off. She was a sight!” Anna started bursting out laughing.
“Yes, and… what they didn’t tell you was they also removed the railings on the bridge as well,” Eric added with a frown. “The poor girl toppled headlong into the drink.” He looked at the twins disapprovingly. “She could have drowned.”
“Oh, my God!” Anna squealed, still smiling.
“No big deal,” said Dowla. “She was never in any real danger. Besides… nobody gave us any credit for taking the time to fish her out before the grindylows had a chance to grab her. No one said, ‘Hey, thanks for doing that!’”
“Gee… I wonder why?” said Damon, smirking again.
“Anyway… that’s why Dunnings has it in for us. Last year’s Student President handed down a month’s detention for our sentence, but Dunning insisted that we be expelled. So when the President and Dunning got together to work out their differences, they mutually agreed to suspend us for the rest of the term. That’s when Daddy stepped in and spoke with the Chancellor. He wanted to have the President’s original sentence reinstated. He said Dunning was biased in this case because his sister was involved. The Chancellor eventually agreed, and so we got detention,” explained Tencha.
“I’ll bet that didn’t sit well with the good Captain, did it?” asked Anna.
“Oh, no — he was hacked. It was the only sentence he’s ever had reversed by the Chancellor. He believes the Graysons have far too much influence at the school, and we got off easy,” Tencha said, rolling her eyes.
“Easy? We had detention for a month. Every night, we were scrubbing and buffing everything in the castle. And who do you think was in charge of those duty assignments? The good, unbiased, Captain Dunning — that’s who. We were relegated down to house elves around here,” Dowla said angrily.
“Still, if you ask me, you got off easy,” said Eric. “If I had been President, you might have been suspended. The girl could have been killed.”
“Doxy-doo… she was never in any danger. A garden gnome could almost stand in that part of the moat where she fell in.”
“Yes, but you didn’t know that when you decided to shrink the bridge, did you?” Dowla and Tencha looked at each other and then shrugged. “I didn’t think so,” Eric finished.
“Well… we need to get out of here. I still have my duties as a Server Union Knight until tomorrow, and Thordarson wants us looking after the new first-years joined to our halls. I promised that little Sarah Bell I’d get her settled in.”
“Oh — thanks, Eric. I know she’s met the age of entry and everything, but she’s really scared. She only turned eleven three weeks ago, and after what happened tonight… could somebody just watch out for her? Lord only knows where I’m going to end up after all of this Guardian stuff,” she added in a worried tone.
“No problem; I’ll see to it. We’ll keep her in sight until she gets comfortable,” Eric reassured her.
Anna slid down into her blankets as the rest of the Graysons filed out. Eric was almost out the door when Anna called to him.
“Eric — it’s really great, you being selected as Student President. Congratulations, big brother. I’m really proud of you.”
Eric grinned. He peeked out the door to make sure the other Graysons were well on their way back to their Union halls, and then closed the door and returned to Anna’s bedside.
“What’s up?” Anna said, somewhat surprised.
Eric sat on the edge of her bed with a strange and worried look on his face. “Anna, I have to tell you the truth. I haven’t decided if I’m going to accept the President’s post yet.”
“What? What are you talking about? Of course, you’ll accept. Why wouldn’t you?”
“Anna, I don’t think you fully understand what’s happened here tonight. You are the first member of a new Union at Castlewood. When word about this gets out, the whole wizarding world is going to wonder what’s going on here. They’re going to want to know why this has happened. Already, as we speak, all the school Chancellors and Headmasters in Europe are being informed.” Eric could see his sister looked confused.
“The point is, what’s happened to you tonight, and to this school, is really a big deal. There are going to be a lot of questions from people wanting to understand all of this. You might find yourself being interrogated about what happened in the mirror, and I don’t think we’re ready for that yet. Do you understand?”
“I… I… think so,” Anna said. “But I still don’t see why that should affect you.” Eric shook his head, looking down at his hands. “Why would it, Eric? What are you worried about?”
“Anna… the beginning of a new union; think about that for a minute. It hasn’t happened here in nearly two hundred years. Why has this happened? Why now… and why you? Of all the people — my very own sister is being asked to sustain a new union on her own. Do you have any idea what that means?”
“Well… no… not really.”
“Listen, this is a school of magical instruction. The curriculum for each Union at the academy has been set for hundreds of years, going all the way back to the old country. The faculty will have to put together an entirely new schedule of classes for you and for those who might follow you. And what will those classes be? What does it mean to be a Guardian? Do you know? Does anybody know?”
Anna shrugged. “So what’s the school going to do with me until they figure this out?” she asked. Anna found herself suddenly worried.
“I expect they’re going to put you in the normal first-year classes that all the students have to take, including Tranfiguration, Potions, Care of Magical Creatures, and Charms — the standard first-year stuff. I don’t think they’ll have a problem filling your first term or even your first year, but eventually, they’re going to have to figure out what a Guardian is and what magical teachings apply.
“There are the basics, as I said, and probably a handful of other classes only given within specific Unions. For example, The Care of Magical Creatures have some very advanced classes offered here at Castlewood, but only the Servers, Defenders, and Searchers are allowed to take them. Some of these courses might be offered to the Guardians as well. Then there are classes only offered by specific Union Dynasties. What will those classes be for the Guardians? To answer that, we need to know why the Guardians were brought to us; and that brings me back to my dilemma about accepting the position of President. Anna — I’m worried about you.”
“About me? Why? What do you mean?”
“Anna, don’t you see? For thousands of years, sorcerers have founded the various schools of magic for a variety of different reasons. Some of these schools, like Castlewood, continue today. But as far as I know, no school has ever been founded by a magical object like the Mirror of Enlightenment. Our studies have taught us that magic is like a living presence that exists everywhere around us, but most of the life on this planet knows almost nothing about it. A few species have evolved to take advantage of magic’s existence, like the magical beasts and creatures we know today. Humans, those that are witches and wizards, are among those fortunate enough to understand magic, and have found a way to use it to suit their purposes. But… from what you’ve described to us of the things that happened in the mirror, it sounds like magic has something to say about how we’re living our lives. If that’s true, it could shake the very foundation that defines who we are, and may require us to change what it is we’re doing.” Eric looked away and sighed. “And change has been historically dangerous for those trying to implement it.”
“So you believe magic is sending us a message?”
“I don’t know; but if I had to guess… I would say yes. And, for whatever reason, it’s decided to make you its messenger.” Anna sat quietly in her bed for a moment. She didn’t know what to say; it was too much to absorb.
“Anna, you’re going to need help dealing with all of this, and it’s not right to have your family carry on like nothing important has happened tonight. The Graysons have never left one of our own in a time of need. The whole family has to come together on this thing and help you figure it out. My duties as a union Knight might get in the way of helping you through this difficult time, and any future responsibilities as Student President would only increase those difficulties. My priorities here are clear; the family should come first.”
“But Eric, you’ve worked so hard for this. You’ve earned this honor. You shouldn’t have to give it up for me. I can figure this out.” Eric smiled and reached in to push Anna’s hair out of her face.
“That’s my point exactly. We will figure this out. We will work together to understand what’s happening. You’re not doing this alone; it’s too important. It’s important to you, to our family, and to the school.”
“But what if I just quit and went home? Then nobody would have to worry about any of this.”
“I don’t think it’s that simple, Anna. What if one-sixth of the new students next year are joined to the Guardian Union? We have to figure this out now; we can’t just run and hide from it. Besides… I get the feeling you couldn’t walk away from this even if you tried. When you consider everything that’s happened to you over the last week, I think it’s clear this is about something bigger than all of us. And, for whatever reason, you are an important part of what’s to come.”
Anna started to sob. She couldn’t accept seeing her brother giving up the honor offered to him just to solve her problems, especially when she didn’t understand what she was expected to do as a Guardian.
“Please, Eric, don’t do this… you can’t, not for me. I won’t let you.”
Eric smiled, and then gently reached over to hug his sister. “It’s not just for you, Anna. It’s for us. What happened to you was a call to the whole family. We have to assume more Guardians are on the way, and your family has to stand by you to figure out what to tell them when they get here.”
Anna began to cry. “Pleeeese, Eric… noooo.” Eric pushed her back and lifted his sister’s very wet chin. He tilted his head over to peer into her eyes.
“Hey… I didn’t say it was a done-deal yet. I’m going to speak to father about this tonight and then go to the Chancellor. As of right now, I’m still the Student President, which gives me an audience with Professor Thordarson whenever I need it. I’ll let you know tomorrow what he says.
Her brother paused a moment to think. “In the meantime, I want you to hold this for me.” He reached into his robes and pulled out the President’s amulet again, and then placed the heavy chain around Anna’s neck. “I’ll be back for this tomorrow after I decide.” Her brother stood. “I’d better be going. I still need to find Sarah and make sure she gets a room. I’ll see you tomorrow, okay?” Anna nodded, not looking at him. She could see her own tears falling into her lap. Eric kissed her on the forehead.
“Try and get some sleep; I’ll come by again early tomorrow.” He turned and walked toward the door.
“Goodnight, Mr. President,” Anna called out to him.
Eric turned around and smiled; he winked at her. “Get some sleep,” he said caringly, and then he left.
Anna sat there, disbelieving what had just happened. It was bad enough that she had to go through this herself, but now it was affecting her family too. Anna was torn between the heartbreak of Eric’s sacrifice, verses knowing he was right in everything he was trying to do to help her; she knew she was going to need all the help she could get.
The hospital floor was empty now, and Anna was very tired. But she couldn’t help trying to remember everything the voices in the mirror had said to her. They said she had been altered at birth. What did that mean? Was that why I grew up as a squib? More than that, the voices said the beast that altered her was near by, in some kind of a prison, and would try to kill her if it escaped. What was it? Where was it? Anna thought about her mother. Victoria had died during her birth; her father was there at the time. When would such a thing have gotten a chance to get to her? And why would it do so? For what purpose would something work to alter her? And if it wanted to kill her, why didn’t it do it then? Too many questions remained unanswered, and they continued to revolve around Anna’s mother and her birth.
She lay back, looking up at the ceiling. As tired as she was, one frightening thought came into her mind. The voices had said the beast that altered her was evil and worked for its master — the Dark Lord. “Voldemort,” Anna said out loud. They said Voldemort was gathering strength. But how could that be? Wasn’t he dead? Were the legends about Harry Potter defeating him all wrong?
As Anna went over these thoughts again and again, the hours slowly ticked by. Who was the ally, and how did she die? The ally had told Anna she was a member of the family. But if she was murdered, why didn’t Anna know about her? She had never heard any stories about a Grayson being murdered. Who was she?
As Anna continued searching her memory for every scrap of information she could recall, she suddenly realized that she wasn’t alone. She sat upright and looked around. Although she couldn’t see anybody, she knew something was definitely there. It was a strange feeling. One moment she knew she was alone and then the next… she wasn’t.
“Who’s there?” Anna said, scanning the room around her. “Show yourself!” Nobody came forward. Anna closed her eyes and concentrated hard, listening and focusing with all her remaining strength. Her head was throbbing painfully from a lack of sleep, but she began to hear a faint thumping sound coming from her right. She turned her head without opening her eyes, and she could hear the heartbeat of somebody standing in the room. Her mind triangulated quickly into the darkness, and then she opened her eyes.
“Come out of the corner — I know you’re there. Who are you?” For a moment, there was nothing, and then, a second later, a lone figure suddenly appeared and stepped forward. “Stay back!” Anna yelped, scrunching down into her blankets. “I’m not alone; Doctor Pearl is in the next room!”
“Remarkable,” said the figure, now standing in the aisle between the beds. A man stepped into the dim light from the window behind Anna’s bed.
“Chancellor Thordarson?” Anna whispered in amazement. “I’m… I’m sorry, sir. I … didn’t hear you come in.” The Professor smiled thoughtfully as he walked over to Anna’s bed.
“I am the one who should apologize, my dear,” he said kindly. “I was just doing my evening rounds and decided to check in on you. I like to keep a low profile as I walk, so as to keep from interrupting those around me in the castle. I must say, however, I have never been detected by any of my students before. That is an amazing talent you have, young lady.” Anna smiled shyly as Thordarson stepped closer. His colorless face almost glowed an iridescent white in the moonlight, but Anna could see his eyes where bright and alert even through his dark glasses. “I’m sorry I woke you.”
“Oh, that’s all right, sir. I wasn’t sleeping.”
“Oh… and why is that? After an evening like you’ve just had, I would have thought you would have been asleep long ago.”
“Yes, in fact I’m exhausted. But the mirror told me things, things that I don’t understand… and… it’s keeping me awake.”
Professor Thordarson smiled again. “Well… since neither one of us seems to be sleeping tonight, maybe you can tell me what the mirror said to you, and then, perhaps, we can make sense of it together.” Anna felt relieved, and she immediately understood why so many people, including her father, liked this man so much. His manner was warm and disarming, and one got the feeling you could tell him anything without the worry of being lectured or criticized.
“I had hoped to spare you the extra stress of having to answer a lot of questions tonight, but if you believe talking about it will ease your mind, then, of course, I am at your disposal.” Anna smiled appreciably.
And so she began. Anna started with the things that happened at the Grayson estate the week before, and then she told him about the ghostly visitor in her bedroom. Finally, she explained her experience within the mirror.
After thirty minutes, Anna finished, “And then the voices in the mirror said that I should be vigilant and they pushed me out.” Professor Thordarson smiled, and then used his staff to help himself slowly to his feet again. He seemed to be in deep thought.
“But, you haven’t told me everything — have you?” he said, as if already knowing some unrevealed secret.
“Um… I don’t know what you mean, sir.”
“You’ve told me about the attack of the Lethifold, but you put it in such a way as to make me believe the beast was an intruder and… not something from within?”
Anna was stunned. “Did my father tell you…?”
“Yes, he did. He told me you believe you turned into this rare creature before…” he paused cautiously, “before you attacked your brother.” An overwhelming feeling of shame swept over Anna like a cold sheet of ice. She dropped her head in despair.
“I wish he hadn’t told you that,” she said softly.
Professor Thordarson smiled, and then stepped in to place a hand softly on Anna’s shoulder. “My dear… your father loves you very much. It took all of my powers of persuasion to keep him from catching the next boat out to Castlewood after what happened tonight. He confided what happened to me because I am his friend, and because he wants to make sure you get the best care and consideration in this time of uncertainty,” he explained gently. “He is your father, and he felt I could help him understand what was happening to his daughter. I am one of the privileged few Boris Grayson knows he can trust in the most desperate of times, Anna. And… I hope to someday earn that trust in you as well. In the meantime, you must believe me when I say your secret is safe with me.” Anna looked up and could see an almost angelic twinkle in the old wizard’s eyes through his dark glasses.
“Thank you. It was probably something I just imagined anyway,” Anna said in relief.
“Oh…I doubt that,” Thordarson replied, and Anna looked at him in surprise. He was the first person who believed she wasn’t attacked by the creature.
“From what you have told me, it sounds like the magic within the mirror has confirmed your original belief. You did change,” he said, slowly sitting down on the corner of her bed to lean on his staff.
“It is an astounding thing. To my knowledge, you would be the first witch or wizard ever known to have changed into a magical creature. But what is most interesting to me — is how this was done. The events leading up to your coming to Castlewood this year do not entirely account for this ability.” He could see Anna didn’t understand, so he inched himself forward on the bed to explain.
“The mirror, you said, referenced an evil one who had somehow altered you at birth. That, I believe, is the other part of the explanation; the true reason you were able to accomplish this remarkable feat. Anna, I believe you are something extraordinarily rare among our kind. Do you remember what the mirror said tonight as you exited?”
Anna shook her head. “No, sir. I couldn’t hear much of anything when I first came out.”
The Chancellor nodded understandingly. “It called you, Sithmaith.” He leaned back with widened eyes. “A very interesting title, to be sure. It means: One who brings peace.”
Anna stared off into the room over his shoulder. “I don’t understand any of this,” she said, bewildered. Thordarson looked at her sympathetically.
“Can I show you something?” he asked, and then, without waiting for a reply, he stood and stretched out his hand to help her out of bed.
“Sure… I guess so,” Anna replied, reaching up to take his arm. She followed the Chancellor down to the end of the hospital floor and to a wall at the end of the row of beds. He waved the end of his staff in front of a pair candles on either side of a dark painting. The orb on top of the pole blushed for a brief instant, and the wicks on the candles popped alive, splashing their glow across the surface of the canvas.
It was a picture of a very old wizard in a tall hat. He looked tired and gray, seated with his hands in his lap. There were a number of witches and wizards proudly standing behind him in the shadows, all with their wands out seemingly at the ready. Below the painting was a small golden placard that read: The Order of Merlin — Serve and Protect that which is Magical. It was the first time Anna had actually seen a picture of the greatest wizard ever known.
“So that’s the great man himself,” Anna said glibly, looking up again at the old wizard’s face in the painting.
“Yes,” Thordarson said smiling. “What do you think? See anything of interest here?” Anna stepped up to the portrait to have a closer look. She noticed an amulet around the seated wizard’s neck. She could see it contained two dragons facing each other.
“Hey… wait a minute. That amulet; it looks just like…”
“Just like the new crest placed upon your robes tonight,” Thordarson said cautiously. “Yes, it’s an interesting thing, wouldn’t you say?”
“But, I don’t get it,” Anna said, stepping back from the painting again to scan the entire frame more fully. “So… are the Guardians something new, or are they just something the mirror decided to bring back?”
“Your question begs another,” Thordarson replied. “Who would you say are the Guardians in this picture?”
“Well… Merlin is Merlin,” Anna concluded quickly. “We all know who he is; and he’s obviously the leader in this portrait. So I guess those in the background… would be the Guardians?”
“Good. That would be correct. Let me show you something else.” He reached into his pocket and pulled out what looked like a new photograph. “Young Billy Anderson fancies himself a fine photographer among his peers. You will find he’s always running around the castle with a camera taking photos.” Thordarson leaned in to whisper, “Making quite a pest of himself at times too, I believe,” he said with a chuckle. “Still… I think he shows a strong talent, and an excellent ambition to be in the right place at the right time. Tonight, Mr. Anderson took this.” He handed the photo to her. It was a picture, showing the misty image of an adult Anna, standing to the side of the mirror. Anna looked in surprise at the giant leopard standing by her side.
“Oh my… this is what everybody saw when I came out of the mirror?”
“Yes… that is correct, my dear. Notice the hat on your future self.” Anna looked closely at the blurry image of the hat in the photo. Her eyes widened, and darted back to the painting of Merlin sitting in his chair. The constellations wrapped around his hat were remarkably similar to the ones on the hat in the picture.
“They look the same,” Anna said in amazement, pointing at the hat in the photo. Professor Thordarson took the picture from Anna’s hand and placed it back into his pocket.
“Yes, I would agree,” he said, turning to look at the portrait once more. “So, what are we to make of this? There is no doubt in my mind more Guardians are on the way. In fact, I believe there are Guardians here at the school with us already; they just don’t know it yet. And, if I had to place them into the portrait we see here before us, I would say they represent those individuals standing behind the one we know sitting in the chair.” He paused slightly. “What remains to be seen, Anna, is where you are in this painting.” He stepped forward and lifted his staff, touching the orb on the shadowy figures in the background. “Are you here?” He slowly slid the orb down the canvas, stopping directly on the face of Merlin. “Or are you something more?” Anna looked at Thordarson in alarm as he turned to face her.
“No,” she said, in a whisper. She took a step backwards, unwilling to grasp the thoughts now racing through her mind purposefully put there by the Chancellor. “I… I don’t know… what…? You don’t believe? You can’t be saying…?” A sharp stab of pain seemed to tear into her forehead. Anna turned, and started walking back down the long row of beds as the many voices from the mirror began to race through her mind.
‘Fear not; we will serve you now in ways like no other since the falcon flew among your kind, and you will serve us with your strength and courage.’ The falcon! Merlin was the falcon the voices were referring to. Doctor Nelland had said Merlin was an Animagus, a shape shifter. He said he was able to spontaneously turn himself into a falcon, with no training. Anna was able to change as well; it couldn’t be the same thing. It couldn’t be… it just can’t be. Anna started running down the row, trying to escape the many voices of the mirror screaming from within her memory.
“Do you know what his followers in this painting called their mentor, Anna?” asked Professor Thordarson, still standing next to the portrait behind her. “Do you know what they use to call Merlin?” Anna stopped next to her bed and slowly turned to face Thordarson at the end of the row. “They called him… Sithmaith: ‘The Bringer of Peace’.”
Anna started at him, and then turned without saying a word. She crawled into her bed and pulled the covers over her head. Her skull was pounding painfully. The lack of sleep, the excitement of her trip to school, her experiences in the mirror, her brother’s decision, and now all of this was far too much. She didn’t want to think anymore. She wanted to quietly slip away to a place were she didn’t have to think about anything.
A moment later, she felt the weight of somebody sitting on her bedside again. Anna could hear Thordarson speak. “I am sorry, my dear. I should have waited until you had a chance to recuperate from your experiences of the evening. I hope you will forgive me. When you get older, you will find old men have a tendency to do everything in the shortest amount of time left to them. I should have been more considerate of your state.”
Annoyed, Anna flipped the blankets down to look at the wizard sitting on her bed. “I can’t believe you think I’m Merlin,” she said, angrily.
“You misunderstand me; of course I don’t believe that. We can talk more about this when you’ve gained your strength. Give it a little more time to settle in before…”
“No… please, I have to know. What does it all mean? Please, Professor. Tell me honestly, what you think?” Thordarson considered her for a moment and then grinned.
“You are your father’s daughter, Anna; always performing at your best even under the most extraordinary of circumstances. He would be proud of you,” he paused again. “Very well, honestly then?”
“Yes, sir… please. What’s happening to me?”
He considered her again and then leaned forward. “I believe the coming of the Guardians is a very ominous sign of things to come. The Dark Lord and his followers are not entirely gone, Anna. There have been reports from overseas confirming this fact. If Voldemort returns in full strength and body, with his followers whole and unbroken, then I am afraid the world could fall into a battle of terrible proportions. All could be at risk, including, perhaps, the existence of magic itself.
“But from what you’ve told me, it would seem that magic is not entirely without the means to protect itself. It did so in the past when it helped to bring about another powerful wizard in Merlin. Those too, were terribly dark times. When Voldemort was at his full strength thirteen years ago, I believe the magic of our world meant to bring forth another Guardian, somebody who could protect it from the destruction both sides would bring in their battle to defeat each other. I believe you were to be their protector Anna, the next Sithmaith.
“But two unexpected things happened in the process. First, Voldemort was defeated on the eve of his success, and with that defeat, came the question of your existence. Perhaps that was why you were born a squib, because magic’s champion was no longer needed. Then, with the possible rise of Voldemort again, it would seem you have been brought out of storage, as it were, and your powers awakened. But something unexpected happened during your birth.” He hesitated slightly, “What was it you told me the mirror said to you? Something changed you from what was intended? Perhaps it was the way your mother died during your birth; it’s hard to say.”
“The mirror said something evil did it. Something that was very close by,” Anna said, worriedly.
Thordarson frowned; for the first time that evening, he seemed truly concerned. “I wouldn’t put a lot of trust into that statement. While it’s true something did happen, I wouldn’t necessarily call it evil,” he said, shaking his head. “That might be too simplistic.” His words were troubling to Anna, and she thought they seemed rather evasive in tone, like he knew more about the subject than he was willing to say.
“But, whatever it was, it changed you enough to become something different, something very unique, never before seen in the Wizarding world. That, I believe, best explains your ability to change into the creature you fear.”
“Is that why you didn’t want anybody asking a lot of questions about all of this?”
The Chancellor nodded. “Throughout our wizarding history, we believe there have only ever been four Sithmaiths; one about every one thousand years. That’s not what they were called at the time, of course; that title was only recently given to Merlin by his followers. But others, lesser in stature, have been among us in the past previous to him. Historically, they have only come during the most terrible times of strife, offering their wisdom, courage, and powerful magic to protect the innocent.
“I believe the coming of another Sithmaith would confirm the Dark Lord is gaining strength and momentum to a degree never believed before now. But the world has had thirteen years to prepare itself for this eventual possibility. If a battle between these forces were to come, I’m afraid it would commence at a level never seen in our history. For now, I think it best we keep these ponderings to ourselves until we understand the true meaning of these events. We need more time to grasp the magnitude of these things and how they might affect all of us. Wouldn’t you agree?”
Anna nodded, but it was difficult for her to believe this had anything to do with her. She reached into her pajamas and pulled out the amulet her brother had given her to hold for him. She ran her finger around its silver edge.
“That’s what Eric said too,” she said, longingly.
“Oh… I see your brother has given you the good news.”
“Yes,” Anna replied, thinking sadly about the conversation she had with Eric. Her head snapped up. “But he says he’s going to speak to you about not accepting the President’s position,” she blurted out.
“Yes… I know,” the Chancellor answered calmly. “In fact, he’s already discussed the subject with your father, and then came to my office this evening before I set off on my rounds.”
Anna looked at Professor Thordarson with a pleading expression. “You can’t let him do this, Professor. He can’t be allowed!”
The Chancellor smiled supportively. “My dear, this is an honor given, and a responsibility entrusted to only the best and brightest of our students. Alas… it is not something we impose upon them under any circumstances.”
“But…” Anna started to argue, but Thordarson put up a hand to stop her.
“The decision is his, Anna… and his alone.” There was a long silence as Anna looked down at the amulet once again. She loved her brother so much; she didn’t want to see him giving up something he had worked so hard to earn.
Thordarson leaned in again. “Eric is very much like his father. He is a young man of great integrity and a strong sense of family responsibility. I think it would say something vastly more important about him if he turned the position down than if he accepted it, don’t you?”
“No!” Anna said quickly. Then, looking into Thordarson’s rigid gaze, she answered more honestly. “Yeah… I guess so,” she said, looking somber again. Thordarson grinned.
“Well, Miss Grayson, I must finish my rounds and you need your rest. I will summon the good doctor and ask her to give you a sleeping draft to help you rest. We will speak of these matters again soon enough. I hope you will allow me the privilege to call upon you again and under more pleasurable surroundings,” said the old wizard as he groaned to stand. He thought for a moment and then turned to Anna once more.
“Sometimes it is difficult on the mind to contemplate the state of the world when there is so much to be done at home. Let us take this one day at a time, Anna. If you’re going to be a proper Guardian, you must concentrate on your studies. I should think a good night’s sleep and a fresh start in the morning is what we need to begin.”
“Yes, sir. Thank you for stopping and taking the time to speak with me.”
The Chancellor smiled. “Goodnight, my dear. Sleep well.” He finally turned, and headed back to the far corner of the room, his staff tapping the stone floor as he walked. “I hear we are in for clearer weather tomorrow; we shall see.” Anna saw the wizard reach out, she blinked, and he was gone.