The Keeper of Verosapt
It was late, and Anna and Sarah had only just entered their dorm room after leaving Gwen in the tower, when there came a quick knock at their door. Sarah gave Anna a weary what-now look before opening the door. It was the Knight Karen Scott. She was escorting Eric, who was standing in the hallway behind her.
“I found this guy lurking around the girl’s stairway. Says he knows you,” Karen joked. “Should we trust him to behave himself?” Eric didn’t wait for an answer and stepped into the room without a hint of emotion on his face. He was looking at Anna, but spoke to Sarah.
“Sarah, I know it’s late, but do you think I could have a private moment with my sister?”
“Ah…” Sarah looked at her roommate. Anna looked like a person who, if she could speak freely, would beg her to stay. “Of course. I… ah… still have some homework I need to finish anyway,” the girl fibbed. “Let me get my books and I’ll get out of your way.” After another minute, Sarah was heading out the door. “Take all the time you need,” she said, glancing back at Anna who looked resigned to finally facing her brother.
For the first time she could ever remember, Anna was not happy to see Eric. She still didn’t have a reason ready, nothing to explain why she was taken early that morning to Dunning’s office. Eric thanked Karen and Sarah and slowly closed the door before turning to face his sister.
“You okay?” he said concernedly. Anna nodded, not bothering to reply. “You sure?” She nodded again. “Where have you been? You weren’t in class today.”
“I… I was over at the stadium,” she said, walking over to the stove. “I’m going to make some tea; would you like some?” Eric nodded, and Anna put the kettle on to boil.
“You going to tell me what happened in Dunning’s office?”
“Nothing-happened.” Anna answered, much too quickly than she had intended. Eric frowned as he reached up to pull two cups down from the cupboard.
“You sure?” His manner was casual, but his voice had a strong prying quality about it.
“How is Hobbs?” Anna asked, suddenly remembering her owl.
“Out of danger, but it’ll be a while before he’s flying for you again. He’s in my room sleeping. You can see him tomorrow.”
“But I should make sure he gets…”
“He’s fine; tomorrow would be better.” Anna reluctantly nodded. Obviously, her brother wasn’t going to let her escape so easily.
“What’s the matter, Anna? You say you’re okay, but I can see you’re not. Is there anything you want to tell me?” Anna stared at him. She wanted to tell him everything, but Dunning’s threatening face loomed in her mind, replaced only by the image of her father’s disappointment as she saw herself trying to explain how she was expelled from Castlewood in her first month. Eric was getting some spoons from the drawer. “You understand that what happened wasn’t your fault? I presume the Captain made that clear to you?” Eric asked her, suspiciously. Anna didn’t say anything. She was too afraid to speak. There were words on the tip of her tongue trying to come out, and the thought occurred to her that if she were to utter them without care, her whole world could come crashing down upon her head. She could hear herself repeating them over and over, screaming them out - Dunning is hiding something from our father in the Shadowed Forest. But then she saw herself standing on the deck of the Allegheny Pride, sailing off the edge of the world and into the black void beyond. Thankfully, Eric spoke first.
“He didn’t tell you, did he?” he asked, his voice rising contemptuously.
Anna looked up in surprise. “Tell me? Tell me what?”
“That son of a…” he scoffed angrily, slamming his fist down on the kitchen counter, making Anna jump. Her brother looked like a coiled spring ready to snap. “He drags you out of your room, embarrasses you in front of the entire Hall, and he doesn’t have the decency to say — I’m sorry?” Anna stared at him blankly, which only seemed to enrage her brother more.
“It was a mistake –– Anna.” And he sat next to her on the couch to tell her the story Lieutenant Hayman had given to him about the smuggling ring in the forest. Anna listened carefully and was astonished at the length Dunning had gone to cover his tracks. She knew the story the Captain had given his lieutenant was concocted fiction and, once again, Anna was left with an ill feeling about Dunning’s real motives.
“So,” Eric finished, “as you can see, it was all about nothing, just a huge mistake. Dunning sent his apologies to our family through Hayman’s office, but I’m shocked he didn’t tell you this directly,” her brother fumed.
“It’s okay, Eric,” Anna said, feeling somewhat relieved she didn’t have to explain what had really happened.
“It’s not okay!” he yelled, rising to his feet again. “Tomorrow, I’m going have a talk with Dunning,” he blistered, his rage increasing by the second. “His attitude toward our family is becoming intolerable. I don’t know what his problem is, but I’m sick and tired of dealing with him. I’ll schedule a meeting with the Chancellor if that’s what it takes and, if I have to, I’ll go to father and…”
“Please, Eric,” Anna said, “I’d just like to forget about it, okay? Just… can you please… just let it go?”
Eric glared at her. “NO! Damn-it, Anna, NO! I won’t let it go. I’ve had it! Who the hell does he think he is?”
“Please,” Anna pleaded, placing her forehead into her hands. Her head felt like it was being squeezed in an iron vise.
“HE TOOK YOU!! HE TOOK YOU OUT OF YOUR ROOM,” Eric screamed, his fists clinched in fury. “OUT OF THE HALL, AND AWAY FROM ME!!” His face was hot with rage as he heaved one of the teacups against the wall, smashing it to bits. “HOW… DARE HE! How dare he presume to treat a member of our family like this without regard to…?”
“After everything our family has done for this school…”
“I WON’T PUT UP WITH IT! I WON’T — DO YOU HEAR ME!!!” he said, shouting at the top of his lungs.
“ERIC!!” screamed Anna back; her head felt like it was going to explode. Her brother spun around to glare at her. “PLEASE, listen to me… I need to put this behind me. Can’t you understand that? I need you to let it go. Please, I’m begging you. Just… for me… don’t push this, okay?”
Eric stared in horror at his sister, and then frowned suspiciously. “What exactly happened in the dungeons this morning?” he yelled.
Anna thought quickly about what Sarah and Gwen had told her. “Nothing… HAPPENED! OKAY? He just asked me some stupid questions about sending owls in the forest. I… I told him I didn’t know anything about that,” she lied, waving her hand at him in open irritation.
“And that’s all? Nothing more?”
“Nothing...” she said, rubbing the back of her throbbing head.
Eric wasn’t sure. “So why didn’t you return to class today, and why didn’t you come back to check on Hobbs?”
“I… it’s… well, I was upset. I thought Hobbs was …maybe dead… and… I was too afraid to see for myself.”
Eric looked fixedly at her, still unconvinced he was hearing everything he should. Gripping his hands behind his back, he started to pace worriedly across the room, all the time glaring at his sister. His eyes were probing her for any subtleties in her manner, anything that would tell him she was hiding something more. Anna tried not to look at him and, after what seemed an eternity Eric took a deep clearing breath.
“I’m sorry. I… I shouldn’t have yelled at you like that. This wasn’t your fault. Forgive me,” he bristled. Anna nodded, still not meeting his stare. She was suddenly amazed at how much her brother reminded her of her father.
“You… would tell me, of course, if something did happen to you?” he said, trying to compose himself. “If Dunning ever…” he suddenly broke off, his obsessive pacing unexpectedly halted in mid-step. For a moment, it seemed as if someone had cast a spell on her brother, freezing him to the spot where he stood. He looked transfixed, unable to move. Anna looked around the room; maybe they won’t alone, perhaps Dunning… but… no. She was about to say something when Eric finally spoke.
“Anna… what is that?” he asked, looking over her shoulder at something behind her. Anna leaned over the couch to look into her half-lit bedroom; the only thing visible was her dresser sitting in the shadows beyond. She looked back at her brother.
“What do you mean?” she said, somewhat relieved to hear her brother speaking again. Eric’s face was slack, his eyes wide as he stared into the space behind her. He slowly raised his hand to point at her dresser.
“That!” he whispered, and he walked past her to the open door. Anna stood to follow, trying to see where he was pointing. She looked again and realized he was directing her toward something sitting upon the dresser.
“Oh, you mean my kaleidoscope?” Anna had unpacked her favorite treasure given to her by their father the day before. Eric quickly turned to look back at her.
“Kaleidoscope? Where did it come from?” He took another step toward the doorway, but stopped at the threshold.
“Daddy gave it to me before we left for school. Meredith said it belonged to our Grandmother.” Eric shot her an incredulous look.
Anna thought he was being silly. “Our grandmother!” she said smiling, as if Eric was being dim on purpose. Suddenly, Anna’s face fell as a wave of unexpected comprehension dawned on her. “Oh… you mean… your Grandmother or mine?” she surmised, quickly remembering they had different mothers. “Uh,” Anna hesitated as she looked back at the scope, “now that I think about it, I’m not sure. Meredith told me she used to play with my Grandmother Mary when they were children. She showed me how the scope works. Here… let me show you,” and Anna stepped into the bedroom and moved to turn up the lamps.
“No… stop!” Eric called to her. Anna turned.
“What? Eric, what’s the matter?”
Her brother stood rooted at the doorway unwilling to move, and Anna recognized the look now stealing across his face. It was fear. With some uncertainty, he finally stepped forward in front of the scope. He began to tilt his head left and then right, looking carefully around at the jeweled encrusted kaleidoscope as if inspecting a rare museum piece. He straightened and then stepped back.
“Your grandmother’s name was Mary Jennings. She was Victoria’s mother,” he said, not taking his eyes off the scope. He hesitated and then took another step back, then another, his arms folded in front of his chest as he stood gazing at the scope. Anna could see his eyes struggling to make out the details of the object in the dark even as he continued to step further away from it. He took another step back and stopped to stare at the scope again, titling his head to the side as he struggled to see through the gloom.
“What – are – you – doing?” Anna chanted, smiling in amusement. Eric turned to look at her for a moment and then walked past her to the beds on the other side of the bedroom. His eyes moved to the bed against the wall before turning to sit. He closed his eyes and tilted his head back, as if trying to excavate some far off memory. He slowly opened his eyes and then turned again to stare at the scope.
“It can’t be,” he whispered. He looked up at Anna, his voice faltering somewhat as he spoke. “Anna –– you were about to show me something. How it worked, you said?” Anna stared back at her brother totally bewildered at the very odd way he was acting.
“Yeah, okay. It’s simple really,” and she turned to walk toward the dresser. Then she looked back. “You want to see?” Eric didn’t move. He seemed somewhat frightened at what Anna was about to do.
“No,” he said quickly, almost to himself. “Go ahead, do what you need to do.”
Anna frowned, and turned to the scope. She ran her finger down the length of one of its legs and then tapped it twice. The soft, blue light began to glow forth from the scope’s lens, bringing with it the familiar array of colored shapes. The shapes moved in and out of focus, and then started to change into the flattened animal cutouts Anna had come to love. She turned to smile at her brother through the multi-colored shapes now floating in the air between them.
“Aren’t they beautiful?” she said, staring off into the distant spaces of the room. “I think it’s one of the most wonderful…” she suddenly halted. She could see Eric’s head was tilted back again, as if listening to some mysterious song playing in the air around them. Anna stepped over to her brother and watched as the flashing lights of the scope danced across his closed eyelids. “Eric… what’s the matter?”
His eyes suddenly popped open. “That’s it!” He quickly stood. “That’s what I saw!”
“What? What are you…?”
“Anna, remember when I told you about the night of my fourth birthday, when Victoria came into my room with that strange woman I heard?”
“Yes…” Anna replied slowly.
“Remember when I said I saw those strange lights in the room, and then something sitting on my dresser in the dark after they left?”
“Well that’s it! That’s what I saw,” he said, pointing at the scope. Anna was stunned.
“Are you sure?” she said, disbelievingly.
“Yes, I’m positive. That was the device. What else does it do?” he asked her, excitedly. Anna walked over to the dresser once more and Eric could see her fidgeting at the base of the scope again. Instantly, the flattened shapes were transformed into detailed replicas of animals dancing, flying and swimming through the air around them.
“Astounding!” he said, turning in a circle to watch them move about. He looked again at Anna. “Okay… what else?” His eyes were wide with sharp anticipation.
“What do you mean?”
“You know — make it talk, now.”
“Make it… make it talk? But it doesn’t talk…”
Eric frowned. “But it does. I heard it speaking that night. Your mother and that woman got it to speak. They were asking it questions. You know… about that person lost in the forest.”
“But, I’ve never heard it speak before; Meredith didn’t show me that.” Anna replied, uncertainly. Eric stepped up to the dresser to look at the kaleidoscope more closely.
“It does speak, I assure you. Meredith probably just didn’t know it could. Show me what you did,” he said, motioning her back to the scope. Anna reached over and tapped the scope, which stopped the display. Eric reached over to turn up the lamp on the wall while Anna showed him where to touch the scope’s legs. Soon, the splendid colored animals were floating and galloping through the air once more. Eric looked down to inspect the device again.
“There must be a way…” he said, tapping the third leg, and then other parts of the scope. Nothing happened. Eric put a hand on his chin to think. Then his attention was drawn to a large red ruby prominently displayed on top of the scope’s barrel. He smiled, and then reached up to tap the gem, still nothing. He tapped it again, tried to turn it, and then looked carefully around at the ruby’s edges. He peered under its mounting and then stood straight to stare at it once more. “You try,” he said to Anna, without looking at her.
“Right here?” she said, putting her hand on top of the gem. He nodded. Anna pushed on it and rubbed it as her brother did before. Still, nothing happened. And then, in the far-back regions of her mind, Anna heard what sounded like a gust of wind blowing through her head, and then a soft, growing voice began to speak to her.
“You must say the words…” Anna snatched her hand back in surprise and the voice immediately faded off.
“What’s the matter?” Eric snapped, looking apprehensively at her.
Anna stared at her brother for a moment, listening for the voices in her mind again. “Wait-a-minute,” she said, frowning. She cautiously placed both of her hands on the scope and closed her eyes. Running her fingers almost lovingly across its rough surface, Anna concentrated hard on the object as she had done before with the stones in her History of Magic class. Anna began to hear it again, a wispy almost singing voice in the back of her mind speaking to her.
“You must say the words,” the voice repeated, more clearly this time.
“What are the words?” Anna asked under her breath.
“What?” Eric replied.
“Ssshh!” Anna hissed, keeping her eyes closed and continuing to move her hands over the scope, as if hoping to find the exact spot in which she might best tune in the voice that was trying to speak to her. She listened intently to the whispers, floating like a gentle breeze through her mind. She finally opened her eyes and released the scope. She placed the palm of her hand on top of the large ruby and said, “The Keeper commands you to speak.” Instantly, a beam of red light burst forth through her hand toward the ceiling. Anna yanked back in shock, and Eric grabbed her by the shoulders to pull her away from the dresser.
The beam spread itself wide like a fan opening before them and then began to glow in its center with billowing clouds of gray smoke. It looked like a swelling explosion coming at them but never really entering the room. They could hear the echo of birds and insects, chirping and squawking in the room around them, like the sounds one would hear in some far-off jungle. An object could be seen coming into view through the smoke; something very large was hunched over and loping forward on its knuckles to greet them. Eric and Anna stared blankly in amazement at the face of a very old gorilla, glaring at them from amidst the red glow.
“Where is the Keeper?” the thing said, in a deep, bad-tempered voice. Eric and Anna were half startled and amazed at the sight before them. “Who hath called me from my forest?”
“I suppose –– I did?” Anna replied, meekly. The gorilla glowered down at her.
“Art thou the proper Keeper of the Scope of Verosapt?”he asked, in a tone of irritated doubt. The great ape was massively muscular, but very old. Anna could see the fur of his beard sticking out from the sides of his face. Once ebony black, it was now silver-gray with age, but his deep penetrating eyes were bright and alert.
“The… Keeper of what?” Anna asked it, sounding confused.
The grayed head bared his teeth. “Simple human. How didst it come into possession of the gem-encrusted scope?”
“My father gave it to me. It belonged to my mother and my Grandmother Mary, before her,” Anna explained.
“Hmmm,” the head grumbled skeptically. “Place thy hand upon the ruby of YU.”
“Anna, this is the same voice that I heard speaking that night to your mother,” Eric whispered. “Be very careful.”
“On the blood-stone, human!” the gorilla growled. Anna cautiously raised her hand and then watched the image above her wobble momentarily as she pressed down upon the ruby. The creature looked down under his chin, staring almost distrustfully at her fingers. A green light shot up through the back of Anna’s hand. It turned yellow and then swiftly to blue, back to green, orange, green again, white, purple, and then to red. The light changed again and again, blazing through Anna’s hand like a beacon through a dense fog. Finally, the light seemed to settle on purple, and the gorilla groaned in a tone of impending foreboding. The stone turned cold as the light went out and Anna lowered her hand. The interrogation was over.
“Thou art, indeed, the proper owner of the scope,” the beast said, glumly. He then peered out at her. “Where is thy mother?”
“My… mother? My mother is dead, “ Anna replied somberly.
The gorilla scoffed. “We shall see,” he said, in a distrustful manner. He then closed his eyes and raised his head as if checking the cosmos around them for the truth. Eric leaned in to his sister while they waited.
“Anna, I want you to ask him who was with Victoria the night they were in my room.” Anna looked hesitant, her eyes darting back and forth into her brother’s stare. He nodded her on.
“It… is true,” interrupted the image in a low grumble, his eyes still closed as he looked suspiciously into the past. He tilted down to stare at Anna. “Victoria Grayson is dead. Nearest thirteen years dead and dying.”
Anna frowned. “Yes,” she replied, mournfully.
“Then… thou art the proper Keeper of the Verosapt,” the ape concluded reluctantly. Anna felt Eric give her a nudge.
She swallowed hard and then, summoning her courage forward, she said, “I’d like to ask you a question about the last time you spoke with my mother.” The gorilla looked down at her, his lip curling like a wave across his fanged teeth.
“I am the representative of creature truth and knowledge,” he said, his voice filled with meaningful pride. “Passed to me through the eyes of my brother creatures, thou hast but to ask the question of choice, but only once on or after the date of entry.”
Anna looked at Eric. “What does that mean, the date of entry?”
“I think… he means your birthday.”
“Oh!” She looked up at the gorilla again. “So… I can ask you any question I like on my birthday?”
“One question on or after the date of its entry, and, so be it, one question every year following the first.”
“Oh, so I get one question every year,” Anna said, more gratifyingly.
“And who is this human with thee, daughter of Victoria?”
“This is my brother, Eric,” Anna said, as if introducing a member of her family to someone she had just met at a party.
The ape grumbled ominously. “Place thy hand on the stone,” he said.
Eric stepped forward, placed his palm upon the ruby, and watched as the lights flashed through the flesh of his skin. The beams rotated through a spectrum of dazzling color, finally stopping on green. Eric quickly snatched his hand away as the ape roared.
“Thou art not of Jennings’ blood. This human willst be ignored.”
“Anna and I share the same father,” Eric explained.
“I ignore the human who is speaking,” the ape replied, maliciously.
“Well that’s not very nice,” Anna complained. “So… you can’t tell me anything until my birthday, and then I can ask you anything I wish?’
“On or after the day of my entry,” Anna repeated in a funny singsong voice. “Yeah, I heard that,” she said, boringly. The ape growled at her. “Okay then,” she said, looking nervously at the head floating over her dresser, “how do I… ah… shut you off then?”
The ape sneered. “Shut me off?”
“Yeah, you know… power you down? Pull the plug? Put you back in your bottle? Hocus-Pocus and close sesame?” The ape grumbled something under his breath that sounded a lot like, insane human. Anna rolled her eyes. “How do I make you go away?” The ape jerked back in a manner redolent of being highly affronted.
“Touch the gem of YU thrice,” he snarled back. Anna reached up and tapped the ruby three times. The array of color floating in the room started to withdraw into the barrel of the kaleidoscope as the ape grumbled his final words of instruction.
“The creatures of Verosapt await thy question, Keeper Jennings. Thou art welcome in our forest. Return to us on the date of thine entry…” he said, in a deep fading voice as his face began to disappear into the swirling haze behind him. The fan of light closed into a fine red beam, which then dropped down into the ruby and disappeared with a soft click. The lights in the room began to brighten on their own.
“Amazing,” Eric said, squinting as the lights came up.
“Yeah, that’s pretty cool. So I can ask it anything I want after my birthday in November.” Anna smiled. “Maybe I should ask what Daddy’s getting me for Christmas.”
Eric seemed deep in troubled thought. “So, that’s why Victoria was using this device. They were looking for somebody, and were using the scope to help them find him.” Anna’s mood changed abruptly. She had been excited about using the scope to her advantage, but then something ominous slipped into her mind.
“Eric, do you think this device is… well… do think it might be… evil?” Her brother looked somewhat surprised by the question.
“Evil? What makes you say that?”
“Because… from what you told me, my mother died about a week after talking to this thing. Is it possible the scope had something to do with her death?”
“I don’t see how. I never really knew that much about Victoria’s death, but Father always said it was an accident. I would be more concerned about that woman who was with Victoria at the time. It was almost like she had a power over your mother. She was the one who was demanding that Victoria use the scope.”
The room seemed suddenly very cold to Anna. The thought of something sitting here, in her room, that had taken a part in the events leading up to her mother’s death instantly seemed to change her opinion of it. She had a sudden urge to open the window and heave the scope into the night.
“Anna, can I ask you a question?” Eric’s voice yanked Anna’s thoughts back to the present.
“What? Oh… of course.”
“What exactly happened to you when you placed your hands on the scope? You seemed to enter into a deep level of concentration, and then you came up with the words necessary to make the device work for us. How did that happen?” Anna was taken aback. It felt like her brother was peering into a window of her soul as she undressed. She was embarrassed.
“I… don’t know how I do it,” she said, hesitantly, “but I could hear it speaking to me,” and she told Eric about the voices she had heard both from the scope and from the walls of Castlewood during her first week at school. Eric listened intently without interruption until Anna had finished. He then walked back into the living room and started to pace again.
“This ability you have is simply amazing, Anna. You seem to have a connection to magical objects and places of great interest to the Wizarding world. It’s remarkable because… well… the possibilities are really endless. You could tell us so much about the magic around us.”
Anna frowned. “What do you mean?”
Eric turned to stare at his sister, somewhat surprised by her lack of understanding. He motioned for her to sit on the couch and then sat next to her. “Listen… a long time ago, Father took me to the Ministry offices in Los Angeles. He wanted to show me some of the things he did there for the Ministry there. He gave me a tour of the entire building and I saw some of the most incredible things during our visit. One of the places I’ll always remember was the Department of Unknown Magical Devices. There were objects kept in there that would blow your mind, and dozens of witches and wizards who dedicate their lives to the study of them.
“There was this one area they called The Hall of Wonders. This place has some of the most amazing and powerful devices under study at the Ministry, but they can’t figure out exactly what they do because they’re hundreds of years old. My God, Anna, you could probably go in there and solve all of these mysteries for them in a single day. Why, you could probably…” but Eric suddenly stopped. His mind began to slide some of the pieces of information he had gathered together, and then the obvious finally dawned on him. “There’s still more… isn’t there?” he said, staring at his sister. “You haven’t told me everything yet, have you?”
Anna was quietly listening to Eric speak, but then realized she wasn’t really hearing what he was saying at all. Lost in her own thoughts, she finally looked at him. “What?”
“What other abilities do you have, Anna? This isn’t all it, is it?”
Anna sat there for a moment contemplating what she should say. She stood and began wringing her hands nervously. There was more, so much more she could tell her brother. She could tell him about the evil one, the castle in the forest, and how they were somehow connected to her birth. But Dunning’s face loomed in her mind once more.
No, I can’t. That devil would throw me out! Anna thought, worriedly.But there was something else she wanted to tell Eric, something just as important. She stared at her brother, wondering if what she had to tell him would drive him away from her.
“What is it, Anna? What’s the matter?”
Anna sat down again. She was finally ready to tell him more. “This connection, you called it,” she began, “is with more than just the magical objects and places. It’s also with the animals and a lot of magical creatures as well.” Anna told Eric about the extraordinary events in the ocean the day before receiving her letter from Castlewood. She also told him about her time with Swooper, and about her ability to sense and understand what the owls and creatures were feeling when they were close to her. Eric listened without interruption again until Anna had completely finished. He finally shook his head.
“It is amazing, but… more importantly, I think it explains a lot,” he said satisfactorily.
“What do you mean?”
“Well… up to this year we’ve all just assumed you were a squib, but now I’m starting to believe that’s never been true. You’ve always had a strong connection with the animals and creatures, going all the way back to when you were a baby. I remember seeing you playing on the lawns of the estate as a small child, but you were never alone. Meredith would constantly complain about not being able to leave you, because she would always find you surrounded by the things living in the forest… rabbits, birds, squirrels, owls.” Eric began to chuckle. “I remember one day Gabby was supposed to be watching you. She started screaming at the top of her lungs because she found you playing with a large mountain lion that you liked to call your kitty.” Anna smiled. “The animals would never hurt you. They just always seemed to… want to be near you.” Eric nodded. “This also explains why you’re so close to Gabby and Widwick.”
Anna’s smile suddenly dropped. “Gabby and Widwick are my friends. They’re not animals.”
Eric grinned. “No, of course not. The house elves are very magical creatures, but you can’t deny they’ve always been very loving and protective of you; much more than what they’ve shown to the rest of the Grayson children.” Anna thought for a moment, and then decided to plunge forward.
“There’s something else I have to tell you, Eric, and I don’t know if I want to,” she said, looking at her brother mournfully. He could tell she wasn’t sure she wanted to continue.
“All right. So? What is it?”
Anna took a deep breath. “Remember when I told Daddy that I thought I had turned into that creature? Daddy called it the Lethifold?” Eric looked surprised.
“Well, I wasn’t imagining that. It was me you saw attacking Damon that night. The creature wasn’t something that came in from the outside, it was me all along.” Eric looked shocked, and then highly skeptical.
“How do you know this? I mean… if you were attacked…”
“I wasn’t attacked, Eric,” Anna argued. “It’s happened again since arriving here at the school. And… well, it happened this morning after Hobbs was injured. Sarah Bell saw it happen; I mean, she saw me change.”
“What? You mean… you actually became that… that… thing again?” Anna nodded, and then started to tell Eric about her experiences. She explained the dream she had at home that lead to her attacking Damon, and what their father had told her about her coming into contact with the Lethifold in Indonesia when she was a child, and how she purposefully made the transformation occur after her fight with Debbie Dunning. When she had finished, Anna waited anxiously for her brother’s reaction. He seemed too shocked to speak, completely taken back by her confessions.
After a length of time that seemed to pass like hours, Anna spoke again. “Chancellor Thordarson knows as well.” Eric bolted up suddenly.
“WHAT? But… but how…?”
“Daddy told him what I said after the attack on Damon, and then I talked about it with him after the Joining Ceremony when I was in the hospital. I know Daddy doesn’t believe me yet, but the Chancellor does.”
“But why? Thordarson hasn’t seen you change, has he?”
“No. He believes me because of what he saw happen to me at the Joining,” and Anna explained what Thordarson had said about Merlin, the Sithmaith, and how it all connected to her becoming the first Guardian in centuries. After she had finished, silence took hold of the room once again. Eric’s mind had lost its thread of reason. He dropped his head into his hands, trying desperately to reel in his emotions and piece together the remnants that were his jumbled thoughts. He stared at Anna with a look of utter disbelief, which over time slowly changed into forced acknowledgment. He lay back against his seat to stare up at the ceiling.
“What was it Doctor Nelland told us?” Eric whispered to himself.
He looked over at her. “Doctor Nelland. You know… the family healer who assisted Doctor Pearl with your sorcerer’s tests? That night, at dinner, Nelland told us about the strong similarities between you and what happened to Merlin. The fact that your abilities showed up so late in life, and that Merlin was a spontaneous Animogus. And now we learn that the two of you have been given the same name… this title they called Sithmaith. Sithmaith…” he said, frowning, “I wonder what that means, exactly?”
“Bringer of Peace,” Anna replied. Then she glanced up at Eric and shrugged. “Professor Thordarson told me.”
Eric nodded. “From what you say the Chancellor told you, Merlin was the leader of the Guardians of old. And now, it’s happened again here at Castlewood. That would make you…” he paused slightly, “the leader of the Guardians now.”
“The leader?” Anna smirked. “No… I’m just a first-year. I’m a Guardian… just like you. I’m not the leader of anything!”
“But… that’s not true, Anna,” Eric said, realizing the certainty of what he was saying as he spoke. “When I walked through the Mirror of Enlightenment the second time, the voices told me I would be joining an army under the leadership of the Sithmaith. They also said they would bring others to join us. We’re all here to help you, Anna. You are the Sithmaith they were talking about. Only you have been given these extraordinary abilities. Like it or not, you are our leader; you are what magic has brought about to protect itself from this future battle to come that you yourself told us about in Thordarson’s office after Father was attacked. I am convinced, more than ever, that what we have to do here at the school is even more important than anybody understands. We must find a way to sustain the new Union. Others must be convinced to join us.”
“But how will we do that?”
Eric suddenly stood. “Let me worry about that for now. I think it’s time we called it a night.” He kissed Anna on the cheek. “I’m glad you told me about this, Anna. Things make much more sense to me now. I’ll see you tomorrow, okay? I want to get back to my room and send an urgent owl to our father.”
Anna looked up. “What? You’re going to write to Daddy tonight?”
“Yes, Anna. I want to tell him what you’ve told me. No secrets from the family, remember?”
“But –– you’re not going to tell him about my arrest are you?”
Eric hesitated. “Well, no. I wasn’t going to mention that because I’ve received a strong commitment from Lieutenant Hayman to keep me informed on the investigation that lead to your being improperly detained. But I feel we have to tell Father about the Lethifold and these other abilities. Wouldn’t you agree?”
Anna wasn’t sure she wanted Eric to do that. What would her father say? What will he think? She reluctantly decided to trust her brother’s judgment. “All right,” she said, hesitantly, “if you really think that’s what’s best…”
“I do,” he said, confidently.
Her brother took Anna by the hand as he headed for the door. “Anna, getting back to this thing with Dunning, I’m going to be honest with you –– it’s gonna have to be straightened out. I believe he’s gone too far already, and this problem will only get worse until we take action. But… out of respect for what’s already happened to you today, I’ll… leave it alone for now.” He then pulled out his wand and pointed it at the floor. “Reparo!” Little shards of porcelain spun into a circle and, with a slight crackling sound, formed themselves back into a teacup. “Accio!” The cup flew into his hand. He looked back at Anna and handed her the cup. “But sooner or later you’ll see… problems like this just don’t go away, they have to be stomped out.” He bent down to look directly into his sister’s eyes. “You do understand what I’m saying, right?” Anna nodded, and after a quick hug, her brother left her.
Twenty minutes later, Anna was lying in her four-poster bed, trying to force her mind to think of happier times, but she couldn’t stop Dunning’s face from invading her thoughts again and again. She finally rolled over and tried to relive her ride on Swooper. As Anna drifted off, the images of winged horses flying through the tree-lined alleyways surrounding Spellsburg made her smile, but it wasn’t long before Anna’s dreams took her back to Dunning’s office once again. She was standing over the Captain’s body, hitting him again and again with a wooden club. The floor and her arms were covered in blood as Anna raged on.
SMACK… SMACK… SMACK.
She looked up in shock at her father standing over her; his face, like her own, was spattered in Dunning’s blood. He looked heartbroken as he reached out to her. “Madness… beware the abyss.” His voice slowly faded off, “…the abyss… the abyss.”
Anna suddenly jerked up in her bed with a start. She was wet with sweat, and she looked desperately at her arms for the blood covering them in her dream. Looking over at Sarah, she could see her roommate curled up, barely breathing in quiet slumber across the room.
“I’m sorry daddy… I’m so sorry,” Anna whispered, looking out her window. She slid back down into her blankets and quietly began to cry.
The next morning was a whirlwind of blinding activity. Both Anna and Sarah had slept late, and it was only due to Gabby bouncing violently on their chests that they woke up at all.
“You’s must get up!” the elf screamed. “It’s late. You is going to miss yer breakfast,” she yelped frantically. The two girls crashed into one another several times as they dashed about, rushing to get out the door. Throwing their bags over their shoulders, they tried to step out into the busy hallway.
The corridor was full of energetic girls, bustling up and down the hall, talking and checking their bags to make sure they had what they needed, and thinking eagerly about the breakfast waiting for them downstairs. Anna noticed some of the girls staring at her Guardian robes again and whispering to one another as she passed.
As Anna and Sarah were buffeted along, they heard what sounded like the single dong of a bell ring out. Everybody stopped and turned to see where the sound had come from, and then noticed something odd hanging above Anna’s door.
Frowning at each other, Anna and Sarah made their way back through the crowd who had stopped pushing to let them pass. They stopped to look at the object, which resembled a very old clock, but it wasn’t a clock at all. They could clearly see there were too many numbers on its round face. At its top was the number fifty, and smaller numbers were printed at what were normally the three, six, and nine o’clock positions around its edge, and where the numbers twelve, twenty-five and thirty seven were plainly visible. There was only one hand on the device, which was moving in a quick circle around its painted face. The clock let out another loud dong as the hand clicked to a stop on what would have been the number one. For a moment, it shuddered there, and then slowly moved to the right, stopping at the number two. It let out an odd sounding ka-chunk-ching and then was still. Letters in purple flame began to form on the clock’s face. Anna lifted high on her toes and squinted to make out the message becoming clearer on the object’s front.
[Guardians needed to sustain the Union:]
“Don’t worry,” said a voice behind them. They turned to find Karen Scott standing there. “Only forty-eight more Guardians to go and you have a whole year to find them. I’m sure you’ll get there,” she said, brightly.
“What… what’s this supposed to be?” Anna asked, pointing at the strange device above their door.
“Professor Van Doorn gave it to me to put there. There’s another one just like it in the Rotunda over the Guardian’s table. It’s a running count of all the new Guardians here at the school. It’s supposed to be a tool to help you keep track of how close you are to sustaining the Guardian Union.”
“How close I am?” Anna said in surprise. “But I can’t tell people to walk through the Mirror of Enlightenment,” she said, frustrated. Once again, she felt accused of being some kind of leader. “That’s not my job to do that,” she insisted.
Karen frowned, looked at Sarah, and then back to Anna. “Ah… yeah, I think it is. I mean, everybody here at the castle is willing to help you in anyway we can, but it really falls to you to make it happen, doesn’t it? At least that’s what’s being said in all the meetings of the Knights. The Student President told us the teachers are behind you one hundred percent, and we’re all hoping you succeed.”
Anna was staggered. “Are you saying it’s entirely up to me to find fifty people to walk through the mirror again?”
“Of course! Well, actually, I would expect it’d be a lot more than fifty.”
“What do you mean?”
“You have to remember, you need fifty Guardians at the end of the year to sustain the Union. But not everybody that agrees to walk through the mirror will become a Guardian. I figure you’ll probably need a couple hundred people to agree to walk through.”
“A couple,” Anna gulped, “of hundred?”
“At least! Maybe more.”
“But… how? How am I going to get them to do that?”
Karen smiled and leaned in. “Well that’s the challenge — isn’t it? You have to find a way, make it happen!”
“But… how…” Anna sputtered, nervously.
“Now you understand why the counter was put above your door. I know we have a whole year ahead, but what you have to do is going to take planning and persuasion. You really didn’t think the glory of what you’re doing was going to come without a lot of hard work, did you?”
Anna didn’t know what to say. “I, ah… no… not me!” she insisted, her face reddening.
Karen frowned. She looked like a person reevaluating everything she knew about Anna. Then, without warning, she reached out and grabbed Anna by the arm. “Excuse us a minute, Sarah,” she said, turning Anna around and opening the door to their room in front of her. “Get in there,” she said curtly, giving Anna a shove through the doorway. The Knight closed the door behind them and then turned to face Anna. “What the hell is wrong with you, Grayson?” she said, angrily.
Anna was surprised. “What are you talking about?”
Karen folded her arms and stared at her disbelievingly. “Anna, you’ve been given an enormous opportunity this year, but I get the feeling you’re not taking it very seriously.” Anna dropped her bag defiantly to the floor as Karen continued. “I don’t believe you understand what’s going on here. You’re the first Guardian at Castlewood, and the first in the Wizarding world in over fifteen hundred years. Haven’t you been reading the newspapers? Wizards all over the world are talking about what’s going on here.”
“What? They’re talking about me?”
“Well –– not you… specifically. I believe your father and the Chancellor have been working to keep your name out of the papers. I think they’re trying to steer the story away from you and more toward the Guardians in general. But you have to understand how important this is for the school.”
“Now you’re starting to sound like Eric,” Anna scoffed, in frustration.
“Good!” Karen replied, smugly. “Now I know I’m telling you something you should already know.” She stepped forward and scowled. “I should think what Eric’s done, what he’s sacrificed for you, would wake you up.”
Anna looked surprised again. “What’s that supposed to mean?”
“Isn’t it obvious? Your job this year is to work on your lessons, and finish what you’ve started with the Guardians.”
“But I didn’t start this! I didn’t go out there and ask to be some…” Karen waved a halting stop so she could continue.
“I know you didn’t ask for this to happen, but it has. It’s on you to sustain this Union. I’m sorry if you didn’t understand this from the beginning. This means you’re going to have to learn everything you can about what it means to be a Guardian, and then move out into the school like an evangelist to explain why they’re here. You’ll have to persuade, enlighten, and show them by example why they should listen to you. And, by the way, it certainly doesn’t help your cause when people find out you were put in detention on your first day.”
Anna looked scandalized. “Wait a minute…” she said, ready to argue her side of what happened, but Karen cut her off again.
“And it doesn’t do any good for the other students see you marched into Captain Dunning’s office under Crimson escort.
“That’s not fair, Karen. You don’t understand what happened…”
“I don’t care what happened! I’m just telling you how it looks! And it looks really bad.”
Anna dropped her head in disgust. She remembered the stares she saw in the hallway the morning she was arrested, and then realized what that must have looked like to the rest of the students. Anna stood staring at the floor between them.
“Listen,” Karen said, in a much softer tone. “I’ve known Eric for more than five years, and I’ve never seen him to do anything important without thought. But his leaving the Server Dynasty to follow you to the Guardians has stunned this entire Hall. If you haven’t noticed, everyone’s walking around in a state of shock around here. You have to understand, we expected Eric to be the next Student President and, not only did that not happen, but we lost him to another Union altogether. Fortunately, I know him well enough to understand why he did it. His love for you and his sense of family honor are coming together here, and he’ll do anything to make sure that what you’ve started succeeds in the end. He’s sacrificed a lot for you; don’t make what he’s done for the Guardians meaningless, and don’t let our losing him come to nothing important. There are a lot of us who care too much about Eric, and this school, to let you blow this thing off without a fight. You have to somehow show the rest of the students a reason to follow you.”
“But… how do I do that?” Anna protested.
“I can’t tell you that, Anna, but it’s up to you to find out. I personally think it has something to do with who and what you are inside. Most of the oldest families in the Wizarding world have set the Grayson name apart with distinction. You have a proud family history and an honorable heritage. Why is that? What makes the Graysons so special? Why is that name synonymous with honor and integrity?” Karen stepped forward and jabbed Anna in the chest. “If you look for the answers to these questions, I believe you’ll find a strong starting point for the things you have to do this year.” Finally, there was silence. For a long time, Anna stood there thinking about Karen’s words and advice.
“Well… I’ve said my piece, so I’ll leave you with an old Defender adage.” The Server Knight straightened. “You have a job to do, Grayson. So –– get on it!” She turned and opened the door to leave.
“Karen,” Anna called to her somberly. She looked up at the Knight, standing in the open doorway. “I don’t know what to do… or… what I can say, except… well… thanks.”
The girl smiled. “No problem, glad I could help. Listen, you’ve already missed breakfast, and we’ll both be late for class if we don’t get going,” she reminded her. Anna nodded, grabbed her bag, and strode across the room to follow her into the hallway.
As Anna closed the door, the counter above her head let out another loud dong. Anna looked up and watched in stunned silence as the arm swung down from the number two to the number three.
Anna gasped as she watched the purple message on the counter’s face brighten as it changed to read:
[Guardians needed to sustain the Union:]
“There you go…” Karen said, beaming with satisfaction. “You see what a little positive inspiration can do?”
“I don’t believe it!” Anna said, looking quickly back at Karen. “There’s another Guardian at Castlewood!”
“Apparently so; must have just happened.”
Anna couldn’t help smiling. “I wonder who it is,” she said in disbelief.
They trotted down the empty stairs into the Server Hall and then finally parted to go their separate ways.
“See you later!” Karen said gaily, waving back to Anna. Feeling somewhat emboldened by the thought of a new Guardian in the castle, Anna suddenly had a thought.
“Hey – Karen!” The Knight turned. “Anything I can say right now to get you to walk through the Mirror of Enlightenment again?”
Karen grinned. “Already did,” she replied, and then she pointed down at the embroidered stripes on her sleeve. “Still blue!” she said, proudly.
Anna smiled back. “Damn…”
“But I like your spunk, Grayson. Keep it up!” And with that, the Server Knight turned and walked away.