Guardian Good to Go
The day that followed had given birth to a very high level of anticipated excitement as Anna went from class to class, searching the corridors and hallways for anybody who might be wearing new Guardian robes. Anna had double Transfiguration in the morning with Professors Nevork and then double Magical Incantations with Professor Titan, which made it extremely difficult to find the newest member of her Union. By mid-day, Anna was disappointed she still had not discovered the new Guardian’s identity.
“It might be an older student,” said Sarah, as they left Titan’s class together. “A lot of the sixth and seventh-years spend most of their time on the other side of the castle in the West tower,” she added, encouragingly.
Anna looked over and grinned. “Actually –– for a short while there, Sarah, I thought it might have been you,” Anna said, smiling at her roommate and pointing down at the blue server stripe embroidered on her sleeve. Sarah looked surprised.
“Me? Oh dear… I don’t think the mirror would allow me to be a Guardian,” she answered resignedly.
“What do you mean? Why not?”
“Well,” she said, in a timid voice, “you and your brother are… so… very brave.”
“What are you talking about?”
Sarah paused to consider her thoughts. “You and Eric know how to stand up for yourselves. The way you fought with Captain Dunning and the way you were willing to go flying off on those winged creatures. I couldn’t do those things. And Eric is such a strong leader. He’s been a Knight for two years, and he’s so sure of himself. That’s really… so very different than who I am,” she finished, and Anna could tell Sarah had been giving the subject a lot of thought.
“Well I don’t think you give yourself enough credit,” Anna replied. “I think you’ve already proven how brave you are. You came here all by yourself, didn’t you? And you seem to be getting along all right. It took a lot of guts for you to leave home, after everything that had happened to you, and then come to Castlewood.” Sarah smiled gratefully. “By the way, have you heard from your father yet?” Anna asked, and she watched as Sarah’s smile suddenly fell.
“No… I haven’t. I did get a letter from mother though, but she didn’t say anything about daddy at all. I think he must still be mad at me,” Sarah said, sadly. Anna could see how talking about her father was upsetting her friend. She tried to sound upbeat.
“Well, I wouldn’t worry about it too much. I’m betting he’ll come around soon. I’m sure he loves you very much.” Sarah beamed appreciatively at her.
The two girls shared lunch together in the Rotunda and were soon joined by Gwen, who couldn’t report seeing any new Guardians anywhere in the castle. Anna looked around for Eric. She felt certain that, being a Guardian Knight, he would surely have been notified about a new student joining their Union, but her brother was nowhere in sight. Anna looked up at the Guardian counter above their table. Forty-seven more Guardians to go… would they make it?
After Anna and Sarah had finished their sandwiches, it was off to the North Tower and The Study of the Dark Arts. Anna could tell something odd was going on the moment she entered the room. Several students were gathered in a group near where Anna and Sarah usually sat and, as Anna approached, a hush fell over the circle.
“What’s up?” Anna said, smiling at the crowd. Everybody looked to their center and then parted to reveal a girl sitting on a desk grinning broadly.
“Howdy, Grayson! How’s it hangin?”
Anna smiled. “Hey, TJ. Listen… did you get that homework assignment Professor Van Doorn…” Anna stopped suddenly as TJ swung her arm around to reveal a single purple stripe embroidered on the sleeve of her robes.
“TJ! YOU? You’re the new Guardian?” Anna blurted out.
TJ smiled back at her. “Yep… and I know what you’re thinkin’. Neighborhood’s goin’ straight to the dogs, ain’t it?” Anna couldn’t help herself. She dropped her bag and grabbed TJ gleefully where she sat.
“This is wonderful,” Anna howled, laughing excitedly. As they swayed in a tight embrace, Anna realized she had been so concerned about finding the new Guardian that it never occurred to her it might be somebody she already knew. “This is fantastic!” she said, wiping the tears from her eyes.
“Now don’t get all soggy on me —” said TJ, who was dabbing her own eyes. “You have no idea what happens when a girl from Texas gets on to cryin’,” she sniffed. “Once we get a-goin’, there’s no stoppin’ it.”
“What made you do it? What made you walk through the mirror again?” Anna asked her.
“Well, you know, it looked like you were having sooooo much fun out there by yerself…” Anna smirked at her amusingly. “Then I saw that brother of yours in his Guardian garb and I thought –– whew doggie, put a pair of chaps on that boy and I’m good to go!” Anna rolled her eyes as the rest of the students around them started to laugh.
“But honestly…?” TJ said, turning more serious. “It was that talk we had on the first day of class. What you said made a lot of sense to me, especially the part about protectin’ the magical places from a bunch of polecats lookin’ to grabem’ up for their own selfish purposes. My Pa had some trouble a while back with a group of Muggle Yanks trying to take our land. He got into a lot of trouble with the Ministry for usin’ magic to keep what he spent his whole life workin’ for,” TJ explained, sounding frustrated. “So… I gave myself some cycles to think on it, and then I said, hey –– ‘I got no ties to the Defenders’… no offence,” she said, glancing over at a girl from the Defenders’ Union standing next to her. “I didn’t see the harm in knowin’ what the mirror might say. So I told Professors Nevork I wanted to do it and they made the arrangements. Next thing ya know, your brother was on my doorstep having my trunk shipped off to the Server Hall. They put me in the room across from you.”
“They’ve already moved you?” Anna asked in surprise. “I don’t know why they bothered. I mean… it’s not like we have a Guardian Hall yet. What difference does it make where you sleep?”
TJ shrugged. “No biggie. Professors Nevork told me they wanted all the new Guardians together. Since you and Eric were already there… it was just easier to move me.”
“So ––” Anna said, smiling at the other students standing around them, “all we need is forty-seven more volunteers to step through the mirror and we’ll be…uh… how did you put it TJ? Good to go!”
“I already tried,” said a blonde girl in the next row. “It said I still belonged in the Laborers’ Union.”
“Me too,” said a brown haired boy in Defender colors, standing behind them.
TJ looked surprised. “Well I’ll be. I guess gettin’ fifty Guardians might be a little harder than we thought.”
“Maybe so ––” said Anna happily, looking back at TJ again, “but at least now Eric and I won’t be alone trying to find them.”
Over the next month, things settled down quite a bit for Anna. So much had happened in the few days before and after her arrival at Castlewood that the weeks that followed seemed rather dull and uninteresting in comparison, but Anna was happy for it. As the days of September faded into October, the balmy nights turned cooler, and the trees surrounding the plateau slowly began to change from their deep emerald green to the dazzling colors of fall. Anna had never seen anything so spectacular in nature, as the Northeast proved its reputation for a color-drenched autumn had not been exaggerated. The mountains surrounding Spellsburg looked as if they were ablaze with fire, and the continuous rain of drying leaves added to Anna’s appreciation of the season.
As Halloween quickly approached, several events in October stood out in Anna’s mind. The first was the Vollucross tryouts, which she had awaited with eager anticipation. It was the first time Anna and Eric had seen each other riding winged horses, and they were both impressed with what they saw. Eric’s skill in the saddle was unmatched as he and a number of fellow seventh-years took to the air to solidify their dominance over the skies of Spellsburg. But Anna’s admiration of her brother’s talent was nothing compared to the pride Eric felt in seeing Anna on Swooper. Admittedly biased in his evaluation of her ability, Eric could clearly see Anna had easily taken to the sport, and when his sister had returned to the stadium after her ride through the tree-lined alleyways surrounding the city, Anna’s place on the flying roster was a foregone conclusion.
But as another month passed, there remained only the three Guardians at the school. Eric and Anna had spent several evenings in the Server library together, trying to find and understand everything they could about the Guardians of old. Their father was a tremendous help as well. He had assigned an entire staff of Goblins the job of researching the Ministry Archives and, as information was located, he promptly sent it by owl to his children. Eric was now confident enough to begin a series of scheduled meetings with the student population at the school, and thus, taking a much more aggressive role in trying to get others to re-enter the Mirror of Enlightenment. Eric was especially worried that the longer they let the new first-years get settled in the less likely they would be to switch Unions as they became more comfortable within their current Dynasties.
The second happy thing that occurred in October was the personal letter Anna had received from her father, which came a few weeks after Eric had sent his owl off to report on Anna’s growing abilities. Although her father did not respond immediately, his letter was genuinely supportive of Anna in every way she could have hoped.
My Dearest Anna,
I received your brother’s owl some weeks ago concerning the startling news about your newfound abilities. I am sorry I did not write to you sooner, but your brother’s letter has launched a series of meetings between myself and a number of trusted family friends and advisors here at the mansion. I felt it important to take the time to understand what was happening to you, and why these changes have taken place so suddenly. My study of the situation continues, but I thought it important to finally write to you with my never-ending love and support, and a father’s counsel.
First, I agree with your brother. The tasks ahead of you must include doing everything you can to sustain the new Guardian Union. Nearly all of our family’s advisors have concluded that what is happening at Castlewood has far-reaching implications for the Wizarding world well beyond what you see in Spellsburg. I shall say no more here, but I look forward to discussing these matters in greater detail with you over the holidays. I cannot stress enough how important it is that you and Eric succeed in your efforts there at Castlewood.
Your brother has also informed me about your becoming an Animagus. I can only imagine how confusing this must be for you, especially after what occurred here at the mansion before your departure. I am desperate in the hope that you will forgive my lack of understanding for what must have been a truly frightening experience for you. Once again, Professor Thordarson has been extremely helpful to me in grasping what has happened to you. Although none can explain the implications of this, the Chancellor will be working with me to bring in some extra support to help you understand and control this extraordinary skill. Again, you will learn more about this when you return home for Christmas.
In closing, I cannot possibly put into words how much I truly miss you by my side. Your leaving for Castlewood was too abrupt and unexpected for me to fully comprehend just what your departure would mean to me. I miss you terribly, my dearest sweet Anna, and I count the days until you and the rest of my children return home to me. I know these are confusing times for you. There are so many questions yet to be answered for all of us. But always know this – I love you, and I am so very proud of you.
With undying love always, I will forever be your devoted Father.
Tears fell from Anna’s eyes and splattered the pages of her father’s letter. She raised it up and clutched it tight to her chest. “I love you too, Daddy,” she sobbed, and it was then that she realized just how much she desperately missed her father. She reread the letter several times before noticing the tiny message scrolled on the bottom of the page.
Anna smiled and then ran to her trunk. Flipping open the lid, she began to tear through Gabby’s carefully folded work until she came upon a small wooden box at the bottom. She grabbed up the box and ran back to the kitchen table. Setting it down, she pressed a small button in the center of its lid, which popped open and several layers of wood began to lift and whirl in several directions to reveal a very old chessboard within.
“Well –– it’s about time!” yawned one of the chess pieces sitting in the bottom of the box. “I was beginning to think you had forgotten us.” The pieces scampered out of their drawers of blue satin and took their proper places upon the board.
“With whom is the fair maiden battling this evening?” asked a Knight in gallant voice, rearing back on his matching horse.
“My father,” Anna replied merrily.
“Oh… a true battle of wits, then,” said the white Queen. “These are always the best campaigns,” she said, and the rest of the pieces nodded and agreed excitedly.
“I’m afraid there might only be one move tonight. Daddy isn’t here with us this evening,” Anna explained, and there was an accumulated groan of disappointment from the various pieces.
“Still –– it’s nice to be out of the box,” said the Queen optimistically.
“So… who is to make the first thrust, my dear?” said the white King who had just strode onto the board to take his queen’s hand.
“My daddy,” Anna replied. “e4 — Pawn to King-four.”
“That’s me!” squeaked a white pawn standing in front of his king, who then stepped forward two squares on the board. “Grrrr…” growled the little pawn, menacingly. “Let’s get it on!” he said, jabbing his spear forward at the row of black pawns standing at attention in front of him.
“Typical strategy for Mister Grayson,” quipped Anna’s black Queen, “working to immediately control the center.”
Anna giggled and then nodded. “Yep… that’s Daddy, all right. He’s such a control freak,” she added jokingly, leaning over the board to survey her options.
“So, what will it be, my dear?” asked the black King, looking back at her. “Are we playing a quiet game again, Giuoco Piano perhaps?”
Anna thought. She didn’t feel like playing defensively right now. Her mind thought about the many difficult tasks ahead of her in sustaining the Guardian Union; she needed to be bold.
“No… Nc6. The Queen’s Knight,” Anna said, determinedly.
“Oh… we’re taking risks this time,” said one of Anna’s Bishops, “Glory be to the father, this is going to be good!” The black Knight hopped over the pawn in front of him and then strode to the middle. Anna sat there quietly waiting… and watched.
Nearly three thousand miles away, Mister Grayson was at his desk preparing the final wording on a negotiation between two of the leading wizard banks in Eastern Europe. He was exhausted. The agreement was due to the principle parties first thing in the morning, but he knew he wouldn’t have the energy to work much longer. He rubbed his eyes, dipped his quill again, and was about to finish the next sentence when he heard a scraping-sliding sound coming from across his office. He looked up and, realizing what it was immediately, he smiled. Tossing his quill down, he got to his feet and walked over to a small table near the entrance to his conference room. A chess set, exactly like the one Anna was watching at Castlewood, was sitting on a small table under a flickering lamp. The black Knight had just finished Anna’s move.
“She’s there!” Mister Grayson said, smiling. He glanced up at the repaired portrait of Victoria behind his desk. “It’s Anna!” he said, excitedly. He pulled up a chair to sit and, looking down at the board, he frowned. “She’s in a rather aggressive mood, tonight,” he observed, looking at his daughter’s opening gambit. “That’s my girl. You’ll need to be aggressive for what you have to do this year.”
“I believe we’re playing the Queen of Spain tonight, sir,” hinted the white King, looking back at him. Mister Grayson tapped his chin as he thought.
“Hmm… yes… possibly a Spanish opening. All right then, let’s prepare for Ruy Lopez and the inevitable d5. Knight to f3!” he bellowed, pointing at the board again. Many of the white pieces began to applaud, apparently pleased with Mister Grayson’s response to Anna’s aggression.
Anna was resting her chin on her arms at her table, boringly flicking at the ball of dust by her board. Everything was quiet and still. “I wonder if Daddy is home tonight?” she said, in a restless tone. Suddenly a white Knight straightened and moved forward.
“He’s there!” Anna shouted. “It’s Daddy!” and all of the pieces began to clap happily.
“The game is afoot!” bellowed Anna’s King.
The two Graysons played well into the night until Anna lost spectacularly against a forking Queen. Anna moved quickly to set the pieces up to start again, but her father’s King stepped off the board to return to his drawer.
“No… wait… let’s play one more,” Anna pleaded with the King, who was motioning to his Queen to follow him.
“Your father says –– it is late and you should be in bed,” the King replied kindly. The other pieces on the board moaned disparagingly.
Anna stretched and then smiled. She pulled open the King and Queen’s drawer again. “Can you give him a message for me?”
Mister Grayson was back at his desk working joyously, bolstered by the unexpected contact with his daughter.
“The young Miss Grayson wishes me to relay her enduring love, sir,” came a small voice from the opposite corner again, “and a very pleasant and restful evening.”
Mister Grayson smiled as he looked up. “Sweet dreams, pumpkin.” He dipped his quill and continued working through the night.
The next afternoon, Anna and Gwen were sharing an early dinner before the start of Anna’s first-ever dueling class. “I don’t understand why I’m in this club,” Anna said, nervously. “I haven’t learned any spells I can use in there. Why do you think Professor Thordarson would throw me to the wolves like this?”
“A fair question, but I don’t think you have anything to worry about,” Gwen said, stuffing the last of her dinner roll into her mouth. Professor Bots is the nicest teacher at the school. I’m sure he’ll let you sit things out a while until you’re ready. Just stick close to me while we’re in there and you’ll be fine.”
A thin stack of parchment was dropped over Anna’s head next to her plate. Anna looked up to see Dowla’s scowling down at her.
“Very funny, Anna. Yuk-yuk, ho-ho-ho, oh you’re a real hoot, aren’t you?” she said bitterly.
Anna looked uncaringly at the stack of paper next to her. “I’m sure you’re going to tell me what you’re talking about soon enough, right?” she said, glaring back up at her sister.
“Oh… like you don’t know. Well your little joke backfired, didn’t it? No doubt you thought hopscotch wouldn’t be accepted as a sport for Tencha and me either, did you? Well, the joke’s on you little sister, because the Student President did accept hopscotch despite you sending me off on some wild goose chase looking for this black castle of yours.”
Anna’s eyes widened. “The black… castle? Are you saying you found something about it?” she said, looking again at the stack of parchment next to her plate.
“Yes I did. Ha-ha, very funny. What –– was the fact that it’s a mental hospital supposed to be some reference to me? Oh — you’re such a riot.”
“A mental hospital?” Gwen said, in surprise.
“That’s right. Well… you’ve had your fun. But next time, try to make your practical jokes a little more worthy of the legacy Tencha and I are trying to leave you here at the school, all right? This one was poor,” she said rolling her eyes before turning to storm off.
Anna flipped over the pile of parchment and saw, to her astonishment, a black and white lithograph of the castle she had seen while riding on Swooper.
“That’s it!” Anna yelped, excitedly. “That’s the exact castle I saw in the shadowed forest.” Anna turned the page and started to read aloud.
Saint Drogo’s Hospital for Incurable Lost Causes
One of the oldest guarded prison hospitals in the entire Wizarding world, Saint Drogo is home to some of the most violent criminal deviates ever to hold a wand. Kept in an unknown and heavily guarded secret location, this Wizarding hospital and prison has within its walls those of incurable mental disorders with a single common trait among its population. That is, extreme violence of a nature so brutal that its residents cannot be kept with any other humans, be it Wizard or Muggle. Perhaps the most notorious occupant now living within the walls of this prison is non-other than the infamous Arief Sugianto. The exploits of this Wizard are the substance of nightmares, even though he’s been incarcerated for more than forty years. It was reported that Mister Sugianto slaughtered and then ate his entire family, including his wife, mother, six children, and then at least 3 officers of the Ministry Authority who were sent to arrest him.
“Eeeeoww!” Gwen squealed in disgust. Anna screwed up her face at Gwen and then continued to read.
“Mister Sugianto was reported to have also killed nearly one hundred Muggles in a remote town in Brazil. At the time of his arrest, Sugianto was caught in the act of drinking the mixed blood of many of his Muggle victims. But Sugianto is just one example of the horrors kept locked away behind the enchanted walls of Drogo castle. Although the motto of the hospital is: To Cure and Protect, nobody sent to Drogo has ever been cured or released. The process by which prisoners make their way to Drogo is only known by a small handful of wizards within the International Confederation of Ministries, whose members oversee the prison’s needs. The array of spells, enchantments, and guards that protect the Wizarding world from the prisoners of Drogo is a highly guarded secret, and has reached a skeptical level of legendary status in rational circles. This is most likely because no prisoner has ever escaped from the black walls of Drogo. But the very sick, and some would say evil, individuals living within the castle’s walls are terrifyingly real. The castle is reported to be unplotable and hidden from public view by the Fidelius Charm, whose secret keeper is unknown to all but the Confederation of Ministries. One can only hope that while the population of Drogo is getting the help it needs from the Wizarding World’s best healers, the prisoners there never see the light of day outside this historically ominous and hidden place.
Anna looked up. “Wow, can you believe this? No wonder nobody talks about it. Nobody is supposed to know its here!”
“Yeah… and I can understand why,” Gwen said, with a shudder. “It’s going to be difficult to sleep tonight, knowing a place like that is just over the mountain. If our parents knew this place was so close to Spellsburg they would freak out. Muggle murderers, people who eat their children? That is so sick.”
Anna nodded. “It’s no wonder the Crimson Guard is stationed there. They’re watching over all of those prisoners. Captain Dunning is probably in charge of the place.”
“Oh… that’s got to be pleasant duty,” Gwen said, her eyes bulging. “I’ll bet some of the guards are loony themselves, working inside a place like that. No wonder Dunning is half a nut.” Gwen paused. “Anna, what’s the matter?” Anna’s face had gone suddenly rigid. She looked at Gwen as if just awaken from a trance and then leaned in.
“Remember… the point of my looking for information about this place was because Sarah said the evil one, the one who altered me at birth, was somewhere near by. If the thing she was talking about is in Drogo’s castle, then that would mean it’s probably the worst kind of witch or wizard we can imagine,” Anna explained, looking somewhat fearful. “I wonder… who it is.”
Gwen looked hesitant. “Girl… its time you dropped this, because I get the feeling… you don’t want to know.” Gwen leaned back and folded her arms. “There’s just one thing I don’t understand,” she added, frowning up at Anna.
Gwen gave Anna an incredulous look and then leaned front to whisper, “It says here that the castle is protected by the Fidelius Charm.”
“Yeah, I was going to ask you about that. What is that?”
“Professor Titan told us about it last year. It’s a really complicated spell that allows somebody to hide a secret inside the soul of another. This person is called the Fidelius Secret Keeper. Once the information is given to the secret keeper, the location of a particular building for example, nobody would be able to find the place unless the secret keeper decided to tell them where it was.”
“So… nobody would be able to find this place unless they accidentally ran into it like I did?” Anna asked her.
“No-no, you don’t understand. If you’re not the secret keeper, or if you weren’t given the castle’s location by the secret keeper, then you wouldn’t be able to see the place even if you were standing right next to it,” Gwen explained.
Anna frowned. “But… I did see it.”
“I know — and that’s my point. If the Fidelius Charm was in place, you should not have been able to see it at all.”
Anna thought. “You know… when I was in Dunning’s office, he seemed rather shocked when I told him I had seen the black castle in the forest.” Anna smiled satisfactory and then smirked. “I guess his secret keeper charms aren’t up to scratch, the idiot.”
Gwen still looked hesitant. “I don’t think that explains this, Anna,” she said, staring at her friend.
“How did the castle look to you when you saw it? I mean did it look normal, exactly as you described it to me, or was there anything else about it that you might now consider strange?”
Anna looked away and tried to think back. “I remember first seeing the castle at a glance and then asking Swooper to go back so I could take a second look.” Anna squinted, as if forcing her memory to see more clearly. In her mind’s eye, she could see the towers coming into view and the fires in its windows flickering in the distance. And then, “Oh… wait a minute,” she said, realizing something for the first time, “I do remember the building had this weird hazy glow. Kind of like… a bluish vapor surrounding it.” She looked back at Gwen who was nodding.
“Interesting… it’s almost like you could see the castle even though it was supposed to be protected from view. Another thing,” Gwen continued, “you sent Hobbs to deliver those letters to the castle. You told him where to find it —” she said, frowning.
“Well Hobbs should never have been able to see it –– let alone go there. It’s almost as if…” Gwen looked suddenly startled by her own logic. She looked at Anna. “It’s almost as if… you were the castle’s secret keeper.”
“Me? But… that’s ridiculous. How could I be its secret keeper?”
“I don’t know… but it’s the only thing that makes sense.” Gwen leaned back and then grinned. “Remind me to never try keeping a secret from you!”