Anna Grayson and The Order of Merlin

The Return of Voldemort

Anna did not dream. Although her perception of time had been completely obliterated by an enchanted-induced sleep, she somehow knew when she finally opened her eyes that more than a single day had passed. Unwilling to move for fear of the impending pain, she lay in her bed quietly staring up at the ceiling, cataloging any twinge she could sense without stirring. To her surprise, she found it was her wrist that hurt more than anything. She squinted at the stabbing pain as she raised her injured limb in front of her face to have a look. She found thick bandages encircling her hand up to her elbow. Staring at the wraps around her wrist, she tried to move her fingers.

“Ouch…” she whispered with a wince, and then gingerly let her arm fall back to her chest. She felt an immediate urge to cry that had nothing to do with her injury.

From the side of her bed, a man’s face appeared to offer a friendly smile. His eyes were a beautiful blue, and peered down at her over half-moon spectacles seated atop a very crooked nose. He had a lengthy gray beard that matched his long hair, which flowed down around his shoulders and out of sight into her blankets. Although she had never met this man before, Anna knew immediately whom it was now sitting by her side.

“Good morning, my dear,” the man said, gently. “And how are you feeling this fine day?”

Anna didn’t know how to respond. Only one thought kept racing through her mind upon seeing this man. I must be in very serious trouble. Mustering her courage, Anna tried to speak.

“Hello Professor…” She swallowed hard. Her throat felt raw and sore. “Professor… Dumbledore…”

The old man’s eyes twinkled behind his spectacles. “Ahhh… for a moment, I thought I should have you at a disadvantage, but I see this is not the case.”

“Newspaper…” Anna croaked, “saw your picture in the newspaper,” she explained, thinking of the many articles she had read about the Triwizard Tournament.

“Oh… I see. I do hope they got my good side,” he said, flippantly. “Old men like me are rarely photogenic. Oh well… so be it. Albus Dumbledore… at your service,” he said in a formal British accent, which was followed by another inviting smile. “From what I’ve heard, you’ve had a very traumatic week, Anna Grayson.”

Anna was stunned. It was one thing to find the Headmaster of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry looking in at her bedside, but this was too much to believe.

Swallowing hard again, she asked, “How do you know my name, sir?”

“Oh, I feel as though I’ve known you for quite a while, my dear. A few of us in a very small circle have been keeping an eye on you for some time now.” His head teetered slightly to the side. “But, I will admit… I’ve had what you Americans so fondly like to call… the inside track on your progress this year. Our own transfiguration teacher at Hogwarts, Professor McGonagall, has been keeping me apprised of your…uh,” he peered over his glasses at her, “growing skills? She’s been extremely impressed with your new-found abilities.”

“For all the good they did me,” Anna replied warily. “I’m afraid Professor McGonagall is going to be very upset when she finds out what I’ve done.” She looked away, too embarrassed to look Dumbledore in the eye.

The old man looked sympathetic and spoke very softly. “You know… I’ve always been a man agreeable to giving people a second chance when I find they are truly repentant of their actions and of a gentle heart. Are you such a person, Anna?” Her shame kept her from replying. “I’m not sure what you’ve done, but you have the all the makings of a very forgiving family… and so many understanding friends. After all, your mother was not the first victim of Lord Voldemort.”

Anna looked at him in surprise. “You know? You know about my mother?” The man looked at her, his gentleness changing to that of understanding.

“Yes… I know,” he replied. “I know all about your mother, and… where’s she’s been these last thirteen years.” He looked sorrowful, but continued quickly. “In fact, that is why I’ve come to you… to warn you, and your father, and several other friends who I now feel are in very great danger.”

“Danger? But… do you know my father?”

“Oh — yes. He and a number of others living abroad were once part of an order, a secret society of individuals fighting against Voldemort’s growing power before you were born. You, of course, know the story of Voldemort’s fall?” Anna nodded and Dumbledore leaned in, his friendly expression changing to that of careful deliberation.

“It is my unfortunate duty to deliver the most regrettable news to you, my dear. I am sure you will hear several rumors in the days to come, but I felt it necessary to personally warn as many old friends as quickly as possible.” He stopped to take in a deep breath. “Lord Voldemort… has returned.”

Anna looked appalled, disbelief moving immediately across her face. Her first reaction was to question the man’s logic, but she could see it in the wizard’s eyes; he was somber, concerned, and very serious. Anna looked away and then remembered something important.

“She said… he had returned…” Anna whispered, thinking of her mother and what she had said while still in the prison’s dungeon.

“What was that?” Dumbledore said, sharply.

Anna looked at him again. “My mother told me… she was so sure… he had risen. How could she have possibly known?”

Dumbledore sighed again. “Our intelligence has informed us that Voldemort’s Death Eaters instantly knew of his rebirth the moment after it happened and have since returned to his side.”

“Death Eaters?”

“Yes… those branded with the Dark Mark were, at one time, called Death Eaters. They were Voldemort’s most trusted followers.” Anna remembered the horrible mark on her mother’s arm and how it turned black when she said the Dark Lord had risen.

“My mother wanted to go to him,” she moaned flatly, considering for the moment the unbelievable.

Dumbledore studied her. He could see Anna struggling with the reality of the truth just revealed to her. “If you don’t mind my asking you, how does the news of Voldemort’s return make you feel?”

Anna looked up, startled by the question. “How does it make me feel? He kidnapped and tortured my mother, and then he tried to use her to destroy my family. It was because of him that my mother was turned into…into…” her voice broke off.

Dumbledore was supportive. “Anna, your mother was a victim… whose only crime was unknowingly crossing Voldemort’s path. He destroyed what we knew of Victoria Jennings to suit his purposes, like so many others who fell against his dreadful ambitions.”

“Did you know my mother?”

He smiled. “Yes… I knew Victoria… both as a child and then as an adult. She was a beautiful woman with a very kind heart.”

“How did you know her?”

“We’ll leave that for another time. What matters now is the understanding that your life need not be ruined by the knowledge of these things. You now have a noble cause, far above those of us looking to choose sides in the battle to come.” Anna looked at him apprehensively. “Yes Anna… I know what you are to become, and I must say… I am grateful for it. The falcon will fly again, as in the days of old.”

Anna’s eyes widened. “How…?”

Dumbledore smiled once more; he then stood and walked over to look out the window behind her.

“This is a magnificent school of wizard learning, and very much like my own Hogwarts. Its Chancellor and I have been friends for many, many years.” He looked down his crooked nose at her once more. “Professor Thordarson sent me an owl telling me of your arrival soon after the joining ceremony last September. He understood what the coming of the Guardians meant as clear as I. Although there were several ominous signs before you came to this school, I knew then that Voldemort would soon return. The presence of another Sithmaith in the world… was surely the herald of Lord Voldemort’s rebirth.”

Anna looked away in disgust. “I hate him,” she said, angrily. “I hate what he’s done to my family.”

“But… you mustn’t.”

Anna looked at Dumbledore with shocked surprise. “What did you say?”

“My dear… as hard as it may seem to you now, you must try to remain to the side in all of this. My arrival today was meant only to bring you the truth of Voldemort’s return, and to put you and your family on guard. But you must not become entangled in this conflict. Your role, and that of your fellow Guardians, must follow the strictest code of neutrality.”

“How can you say that? You can’t expect me to stand by and just let Voldemort do it all over again; kill people, destroy families, take over the world.”

“You must not impose yourself in this struggle, Anna. You have a larger role in the things to come, and choosing sides on the morning of battle will only set you against what brought you into existence. You are the protector of the gifts we treasure most in this world, and must work to keep the rest of us from destroying the things some of us, with a clear mind, would cherish more than our own lives.”

“But I never asked for this, and I won’t stand by and wait for Voldemort to destroy my family again. I won’t let that happen!”

There was a pause, and when Dumbledore spoke again it was with deliberate gentleness. “Have you ever asked yourself… why you were chosen to be Sithmaith? Why you were called to be this… bringer of peace?”

Anna looked up at the man now looming by her bedside, his long white beard and hair reaching down below his waist. She nodded. “I’ve asked myself that question every day since my arrival, but I’m no closer to understanding the answer than when I first came to Castlewood. I really don’t understand why this had to fall to me.”

“I have… an idea,” Dumbledore replied, stepping closer. “The role of Sithmaith has always taken a tremendous personal toll on those who came before you, Anna. Even Merlin, one of the greatest living sorcerers our world has ever known, struggled with his duties to magic and those due his family and friends.”

Anna remembered the poem her father had read to them while at dinner with the rest of the Guardians. And there I, their repentant leader stood, praying mercy’s pardon for our inaction in the greatest times of need.

Dumbledore continued. “I believe… magic chose you because you, more than any other, had something that would give you the best chance to remain neutral in the conflict to come.”

Anna looked skeptical. “I… don’t understand. What is it?”

The great wizard paused, and then sat down next to her on the bed. He leaned in and whispered, “Infractus Viscus.” He then fell back, as if Anna should understand his meaning. She frowned as he came forward once again, “Your heart… is already broken, Guardian. Your father is on one side — and your mother is on the other. Knowing this… which side would you choose?” Anna was suddenly horrified by the sobering logic of his words.

“Well… Miss Grayson, I’m afraid I must leave you now. I have many others I need to visit and to whom I must deliver my warning. I pray you find the rest you need, and I hope you stay in touch with us through your correspondence with Professor McGonagall. She sees great things in you… many great things indeed.” He leaned in again. “And I’ve been told Professor McGonagall is a bit fussy with whom she delivers her praise.” He smiled, then rose and turned to leave.

Dumbledore was halfway across the ward before Anna spoke again. “I’m not saying I won’t fight him,” she suddenly blurted out, and Dumbledore turned again to face her. “Voldemort, I mean. Someday, he’s going to pay for what he’s done.”

The old man studied her and then smiled. “You know… you remind me of somebody at my own school. He too has suffered much at the hands of Voldemort. I see his fire and strength in you.”

“You’re speaking of the Potter boy,” Anna replied knowingly, and Dumbledore grinned.

“Perhaps the two of you will some day meet.” He chuckled and then turned away. “Now that would be something to see.”

The door to the hospital floor suddenly opened and Chancellor Thordarson entered the room.

“Albus! You should have told me of your arrival.” The Chancellor walked quickly to the Headmaster and they embraced. “It is good to see you… so very good to see you again.”

“Elimar… my dear, old friend… it is good to see you too, after all of these years.” They pulled apart, smiled, and then embraced again. When they finally separated, Thordarson spoke first.

“Albus… are the rumors true? Tell me… what have you heard?”

Dumbledore looked somber. “I’m afraid… it is true, my friend. He has indeed… returned.”

“Are you sure, after all these years?”

“Quite sure: We have an eye witness to his rising again. Harry Potter was there.”

“Harry Potter?” Thordarson looked stunned. “Of all the wizards to see him return, it could not have been a coincidence. You must tell me everything, Albus. I will notify our allies immediately. You, of course, will recall the order?”

“We are making contact with our friends as we speak.”

“Good! And Fudge? How is he taking the news?”

“In the manner we had expected, I’m afraid,” said Dumbledore, with a sigh. The Chancellor shook his head.

“I’m afraid Helen will fall in line with Fudge when the time comes. We won’t find a lot of support in the things we do moving forward.”

Dumbledore put a hand on Thordarson’s shoulder and gripped his friend tight. “But we shall do our best with what we have, as always.”

The Chancellor nodded. He smiled at Anna and then turned to guide Dumbledore to the door.

“Albus, could I ask you to wait for me in my office while I have a word with our patient. I won’t be long; I promise.” Dumbledore looked back at Anna and grinned.

“Of course. She is a remarkable young lady,” he said, giving Anna a little wink before turning to leave. The Headmaster quietly opened the door and without looking back he said, “I’ll have the tea and checkerboard waiting, Elimar.”

TWO

Thordarson seemed to approach Anna cautiously before sitting down next to her on her bed. His dark, square spectacles were hiding his eyes, but Anna knew what was coming next; she didn’t bother examining his intent.

“I guess you’re here to kick me out, right?” she said, gloomily.

“Now why, my dear, would we do that?” Thordarson replied, amusedly.

“But… you know what I’ve done?”

“Well… it would seem… that you went to see your mother.”

Anna lowered her head. “I… I had to see her. I know you won’t understand, but…”

“Oh, but I do. Indeed… I do understand all too well.” Anna stared at the Chancellor, astonished by his sympathetic attitude to her crime. She found him shaking his head. “I’ve been telling your father for years you should have been told the truth.”

“You…knew? I mean… you’ve known… about my mother all these years?”

“Indeed… I did.”

“And… you knew about Drogo prison being on this mountain? You mean to say… you knew everything?”

Thordarson smiled. “Ahh… youth. It never does cease to amuse me… when our students are surprised that we old fogies do have some knowledge of things. Yes… of course, I know about Drogo. I am, after all, its Secret Keeper.”

“You? But I thought Captain Dunning… I thought he…”

“The Captain? Oh… well I suppose that does make sense. But perhaps… a little dangerous considering our Crimson Guards must have their memories modified upon their end of duty there.” He chuckled. “One would have to make sure things are done in the proper order when we switch the Captain’s post, otherwise the prison might be placed out of hiding.”

“But why you? The Chancellor of Castlewood Academy is Saint Drogo’s Secret Keeper? I don’t understand the connection. Why would you…?” Anna suddenly stopped. She remembered the letter she had received from Thordarson before her arrival at the school. He had signed it:

Yours in Highest Regards, Elimar Thordarson

Professor of Wizard Law, History, and Psychological Studies

Chancellor of Castlewood Academy for the Magical Arts

“Psychological Studies?”

The Chancellor nodded. “I’ve been Victoria Grayson’s healer for thirteen years.”

Anna was stunned. “So you were the one my father said he trusted to help her. It was you who kept her in that place?”

“Yes… I’m afraid that is true.”

“But… how could you do that?”

The old man looked at her sympathetically. “Because I was her physician, and because I understand the healing difference between giving my patients what they want… and providing them what they need.”

“Are you saying she needed to be in that place?”

“Yes.”

“My mother didn’t deserve to be in Drogo!”

Professor Thordarson paused briefly and then shook his head. “Nobody ever said Victoria Grayson deserved to be in a prison. But… it was, however unfortunate, necessary to keep her from being continually abused by those who were still looking to Voldemort’s return. That… and freeing a vampire knowingly with murderous intentions would be a crime on our part. Although it pained me greatly to keep her isolated and out of harm’s way, Voldemort’s curse left us with very few options.”

“I can’t believe my father let you do that.”

“Your father came to understand what had to be done, but it wasn’t easy for him to come to that conclusion. He truly loved your mother.”

Anna looked away, seething. “I wish you wouldn’t do that.”

“What do you mean, my dear?”

She glared at him, trying to remain calm. “I wish you wouldn’t talk… like my mother no longer existed. There’s been too much of that in my life already.”

The old wizard thought for a moment and then nodded introspectively. “Forgive me. You are right, of course. Your mother deserves better than our inane assumptions of her passing. Her condition is much more complicated than that.”

At these words, Anna felt a brief moment of understanding on the Chancellor’s part. Although Victoria was sick, and would probably be considered a murderer by most, she was also a victim, somebody who deserved some form of respect for the person she once was, before the time of Voldemort’s intervention in her life. She studied Thordarson’s pained expression and could see the sympathy was real, his apology genuine. Setting aside her anger for the sake of her curiosity, Anna straightened.

“I have to ask you something about the way my mother was acting.”

Thordarson looked surprised. “Of course. In fact, your interpretation of Victoria’s behavior would be of great interest to me. For your mother’s sake… please… I ask you to share your observations.”

Anna took a moment to think. “Well, first… it was the way she described some of her feelings; her dreams of hunting in the woods, her hunger and cravings. Sometimes it felt like… I almost understood her too well. It was like… it all seemed too…” she hesitated.

“Familiar?” Thordarson suggested, and Anna looked up in surprise.

“Exactly. Yes… that’s exactly right.”

The lines in Thordarson’s forehead seemed to deepen, as though his mind had retreated to a more private place in which to think. He then nodded. “Vampires are very powerful magical creatures, whose nature is that of a hunter. They consume blood, not entirely to exist, mind you, but they do need it in some limited form to survive. There are many vampires that live normal, productive lives in wizard society, because they have learned to control the nature of their bloodlust. With time and self control, they can become very skilled at taking advantage of the limited magic available to help them control these cravings.”

“But I still don’t understand: Why would my mother affect me the way she did?”

Thordarson leaned in. “I believe it begins with your being what the Mirror of Enlightenment called, the Sithmaith. Although very little is known about this entity, we do know it has a strong and unusual connection with magic. This connection also exists with many animals, but especially with magical creatures. When you come into contact with these creatures, you create something of a bond with them. They want to be near you and you to them. You have knowledge of the things that make them unique; you share their feelings and even some of their thoughts. In time, you may even join in something of a symbioticrelationship with them.”

Anna thought for a moment. “I think I do share a connection with some things,” and she told Thordarson the stories Eric had shared with her, of her playing with the wild animals around the Grayson estate when she was a child, and of her own experiences with the fish and the birds long before receiving her letter from Castlewood.

“Yes…” Thordarson said, agreeably. “I am convinced you have come into contact with many creatures you have unknowingly adopted in your heart. You have a strong understanding of their nature, which allows you touch them in a very special way and in some cases… even take on their physical form.”

Anna stared at him. “You’re talking about the Lethifold… aren’t you?”

“Indeed… I am. I believe you have a strong link with this creature because you came into contact with it at a very young age… and because it is highly magical.”

“The Lethifold didn’t try to kill me when I was a child because…” she stopped to think.

“Because it recognized you for who and what you were even as a child. Even at a very young age… you were Sithmaith. You… were its protector.”

“And that’s why you think I can change into this creature, because I’m supposed to be this Guardian?”

“I believe so… but I also believe there’s much more to it than that. You see… the more you understand the nature of a creature, grasp the essence of its spirit, its feelings and the things that drive it… the more you’re able to emote its inner characteristics and then project them outward. It would seem this is especially true when your emotions align subconsciously with the creature at any given moment. In the case of the Lethifold… I suppose this would include a high degree of anger, which drives you to take on its physical form.”

“No… it’s not anger…” Anna replied, correcting him, “its coldness.” Thordarson looked enthralled by this statement, so Anna continued. “The Lethifold doesn’t really think,” she said, gazing down into her blankets, “it’s much more basic than that. It moves on pure instinct, a stalker of living things… and its insides are horribly cold.” She stopped to check her thoughts, and she could feel a spark of icy blackness in her chest as she spoke of it. “I think… when my anger reaches the point… when I’m looking for revenge… that’s the kind of deep coldness that brings it on.”

Thordarson looked at her with absorbed wonder. “Amazing,” he whispered. “I think we have just learned more about the Lethifold’s nature in the last few seconds than in all the centuries we’ve known of its existence.” He chuckled lightly. “It gives a whole new meaning to having one’s blood run cold, don’t you think?”

Anna looked uneasy, but nodded. “It isn’t that way anymore, though,” she added quickly, trying to sound upbeat. “I don’t have to feel enraged to change now; I can pretty much transform into the Lethifold whenever I wish.” She settled back to think.

“But, there’s something I don’t understand, Professor. You told me once that I was the first witch or wizard ever known to have changed into a magical creature. If Merlin was the last Sithmaith, why couldn’t he do it? And why haven’t I changed into other creatures that I’ve come into contract with?”

“Are you sure you haven’t?”

Anna gaped at him. “Of course I’m sure. I think I would have known if I’d changed into something else.”

Professor Thordarson surveyed her. He then tilted his head back as if to bring forth into his mind a distant memory. “I seem to recall your first day in the dueling pit, when our good captain put you against his sister.”

“You saw that?” Anna said, looking surprised.

“Yes… I was there.” He smiled coyly, and then again looked apologetic. “I must confess, I’m not in the habit of announcing my arrival at every event in which I participate.” He sighed heavily. “I don’t like them making a fuss over me all the time. It gets to be all so… formal.” He leaned forward and grinned. “Not to mention… a little bit embarrassing.” He gave her a wink, and Anna smiled. He tipped back and continued.

“Yes… that was quite a day for you, wasn’t it? I was especially impressed with your movements over the sand, and your almost super-human ability to evade several incoming spells at near pointblank range. If I may, you almost seemed… cat-like to me.”

Anna stared at him as her mind raced back to that day in the pit. She remembered how slow Debbie Dunning seemed to her at the time, the excitement at seeing Debbie’s blood in the sand, and the thrill of raising the killing blow. She remembered her dream of attacking Damon with massive, clawed paws when he was torturing Widwick, and raising the same lethal weapons against the Muggle whom she had found in the Shadowed Forest. She recalled seeing the horrible black claws embedded in her own hand that night, and tried to image what her face must have looked like when Thordarson interrupted her.

“Do you still believe there are no other creatures with whom you share a strong connection?” he said, peering over his glasses at her.

Anna looked up and shrugged. “Perhaps… but that still doesn’t explain why I felt the way I did when I was with my mother.”

“Isn’t it obvious?” Thordarson replied, seemingly surprised at Anna’s inability to make the connection. “You were in contact with a vampire once before… and at a very early age.”

His statement astounded Anna. “What? When? Are… are you sure?”

“Quite sure. In fact, I believe it was this contact that… what was it you said the Mirror of Enlightenment told you? Oh yes… it was that contact that altered you from what was intended at your birth.”

“I don’t understand. How could I have come in contact with another vampire?”

“Actually… I believe you came into contact with two vampires before you were born. The first was the vampire that attacked your mother while you were still in her womb, and the second… was your own mother just before you were born.”

Anna was stunned, too stunned to immediately reply. After a long moment, she could only mutter, “I don’t understand…”

Thordarson reached out and touched her hand. “I know your father already told you that you were saved from prenatal death in the minutes following your mother’s passing. I believe it was then you came into contact with the second vampire. It happened during your mother’s own rebirth as the creature she would become.” Anna looked horrified as Thordarson leaned back.

“Two occurrences of direct contact with vampires before you took your first breath. How that changed you from what magic had intended will only be answered in the years to come, when you begin to take more seriously your duties as the leader of the new Guardians.”

Anna had a terrifying thought. “Hold on. The mirror told me the evil one had somehow altered my birth from what was expected. But I now know the evil one and my mother… are the same person. So was it the vampire that altered me or Voldemort’s curse on my mother?”

Once again Thordarson looked sympathetic. “Your mother’s dissociative identity and vampirism are not unconnected or incompatible, and they certainly were not separate when you were born. They are coexistent parts of the same person. As such, your question is indeed a valid one. I can only offer you my opinion that it was your physical contact with the vampire that altered you, and made you something different from what we saw in Merlin and the other Sithmaiths that came before him.

“Your familiarity with the vampire Victoria inside Drogo prison came from your past contact with her. The process magic uses to create the Sithmaith might have been tainted slightly by the terrible events of your birth, but it also made you quite unique in wizard history, giving you the ability to do things, before now, we would never have believed possible.”

Anna thought. “She kept calling me, my kind,” she said somberly, looking up at him.

Thordarson nodded. “Victoria undoubtedly must have sensed you were another vampire when you entered her room. I’m afraid the power of these creatures is not as well documented as many of us would like, but it’s probably what kept her from immediately attacking you when you first entered her cell.”

The great wizard finally fell back satisfied he had given his views to the best of his ability. “I’m afraid we are headed for very difficult times now that Lord Voldemort has returned. You and the rest of the Guardians will have your work cut out for you.”

“I suppose…” Anna replied numbly. “If, that is, we can sustain the Union at all.”

The Chancellor smiled at her. “Faith,” he said, patting her hand. “We still have two more days. You never know what a new day will bring. He peeked down at her again over his dark glasses. “I should think you would be more concerned about your relationship with your father.”

Anna frowned, and Thordarson smiled again. “Boris told me about your unscheduled trip back home. Apparition for one so young is quite an accomplishment, but to Apparate from the dungeons of Drogo and then travel three thousand miles through all the barriers your father uses to protect the Grayson estate… is utterly astounding.” He paused to think. “Although I doubt I could stop you from Apparating on the plateau entirely, I would ask that you not do it again in public. We do so enjoy the facade of security here.” He grinned at her again.

“I have explained what happened when you arrived outside the stadium with you injuries by saying I myself found you in the forest and then sent you back to the plateau.” His head teetered side to side. “The story won’t satisfy everybody who saw you suddenly appear, but… if you’ll agree to keep silent about what you remember… I believe my embroidery of the facts should do nicely.”

“Ah… okay. I mean… yes, sir,” Anna agreed, remembering her father’s reaction at seeing her at the Grayson house.

“Your father was quite distressed when I informed him of your return to Castlewood, and about the seriousness of your injuries. He’s been by your side day and night since his arrival.”

Anna smirked. “I still can’t believe he didn’t tell me the truth,” she said, folding her arms angrily.

Thordarson nodded. “Your father wanted to shield you from the painful details concerning your mother’s condition. I should think any father would do the same.”

“But you told him to be honest with me.”

“Yes… I did. But I’ve never had the privilege of a wife or the blessings of children. What does a simple old man like me truly know of such things?”

“I don’t know either,” Anna replied furiously. “I thought I did, but now… I don’t know…” She lay back down in her bed, her emotions a knot of anger and doubt.

“I will say this,” Thordarson continued, “I have lived a very long time, and in all my years I have rarely witnessed a truer love than that of your parents. You should never doubt this, Anna. Through all the trials and the things of evil working against them, their love was indeed a wonderful thing to witness.

Anna started to sob and then covered her face with her injured hand. “I don’t know,” she moaned, and Thordarson smiled.

“In time,” he said softly, “I believe… you will.” He looked quickly to the side as if hearing something behind him. He then turned to face Anna again.

“In the meantime… I must ask you what you know… of Leola Grayson’s death.”

Once again, Anna was taken completely by surprise. “Leola?” The Chancellor stared at her with a strange, prying gaze, and Anna could see the truth in the old wizard’s eyes. “You… you know what happened to her, don’t you?”

The old wizard settled back. “It is important that we understand each other implicitly before I ramble on and break my oath of healer-patient privilege.”

Anna understood. She too felt an obligation not to say anything about the death of her father’s first wife. She promised the ally she wouldn’t tell anyone. She decided to take a chance.

“Some have suggested…” Anna whispered, smoothing the bandages mindlessly on her arm, “that Leola’s death wasn’t an accident.” Her eyes immediately met his, looking for a response. The Chancellor dipped his head.

“Your mother told you, then,” he said, mournfully. He looked up at her again. “Anna… I can only offer you my medical opinion that it would serve no good purpose to reveal what your mother did while under Voldemort’s curse… especially to your father. He already blames himself far too much for many things not of his doing. Boris doesn’t know Victoria was the cause of Leola’s death and the details of that crime would only add to his pain. If ever she’s given the opportunity, Victoria should explain her actions to Boris herself.”

Anna was struck by an uneasy twinge of irony. She was now keeping a secret from her father in much the same way he had done when it came to the truth about her mother. Thinking only of her promise to the ally, Anna agreed.

“Good,” Thordarson said, smiling. “Very good: It is not our place to reveal such things without permission, or the proper means for healing.” He suddenly glanced again at the door behind him.

“Right now… our time together is running short, and we need to discuss what we’re going to tell Captain Dunning.”

“Dunning?” Anna said, jerking up.

“Yes… the captain is on his way presently, and he intends to question you about an escape at Drogo prison last night.” Anna scrunched down into her blankets looking terrified.

“I’m dead,” she mumbled through her covers.

“Yes… I’m afraid our Captain is quite convinced of your culpability,” Thordarson said, raising his eyebrows.

“He’s been trying to kick me out of Castlewood since the day I arrived. I guess he’ll have his way this time.”

Thordarson grinned knowingly and then straightened. “Now that we know about Voldemort’s return, it is most important the Guardians be given the chance to finish what they started here last September, and I doubt that can happen without you.” He stared at Anna looking for her agreement.

“But… what should I do? The captain will surely expel me when he…” Thordarson held up a hand to stop her.

“Your father and I think it best that you disavow any knowledge of what might have happened at Drogo two nights ago.”

Anna stared at the man, disbelieving what she was hearing. Was the Chancellor of Castlewood asking her to lie to his own Captain of the Guard?

“Don’t be so surprised, my dear. It would not be in the Guardians’ best interest if you, their leader, were arrested.”

“But my mother escaped; she’ll return to Voldemort, and…”

“If I had released her to your father’s care, she would have returned to Voldemort anyway.”

“But she’s a murderer, it’s my fault she’s free.”

“Did you know this before you went to Drogo?” Anna fell silent. “Did you understand her condition before you flew that marvelous steed over the mountains to find her? No, Anna, you did not. Your only crime was in wanting to see your mother. If there was a crime here, it is shared by your father and myself. We should have known you would eventually learn the truth once you arrived at Castlewood. With those extraordinary abilities of yours… it was only a matter of time. We should have taken extra precautions to insure you would never find Drogo.”

“I think you’re making excuses for me, Professor, and I can’t let you take responsibility for what I’ve done.”

“My dear, you have your whole life to make up for an understandable mistake. I say again… the fault must be shared by us all.” Anna tried to argue.

“It… is… settled, Anna.” She fell silent as the man looked behind him again.

“There is little time, the captain is almost here. So, as accomplices to these misdeeds, we must… as the criminal element commonly like to say… get-our-stories-straight. You will admit to nothing. You were attacked while preparing your mount for the last Vollucross race by a creature unknown and dragged into the forest. You awoke later on the plateau — you remember nothing more.”

“But…”

“Nothing… more!” Anna pulled her covers over her nose… and then nodded.

“Good. Your father and I are working on a plan to recapture Victoria Grayson. You will leave her to us.” He stood, looked at the door to the hospital floor again, and then turned sharply to her once more.

“Oh… and one more thing. You should know there was a death at the prison the night you were there; one of the prisoners was murdered.” Anna bolted up straight.

“What? Oh — no. Did my mother…”

Thordarson raised a hand again to stop her. “No — no. This was not Victoria’s doing. She was already gone when it happened. We are not exactly sure what happened yet, but in the confusion and panic of things at the prison, one of the prisoners was murdered by a second who then later also escaped. We are certain the escapee will be apprehended in the forests surrounding Drogo shortly. I just didn’t want you surprised by this news if the captain were to mention it.”

Suddenly, the door to the hospital floor flew open and Captain Dunning swept into the room, his pace slowing somewhat at seeing the Chancellor standing next to Anna’s bed.

“Professor Thordarson… I didn’t realize you were here, sir. I saw the Headmaster of Hogwarts entering your office and he told me the prisoner was awake.” Anna cringed at Dunning’s words. Thankfully, they did not go unnoticed by the Chancellor.

“The prisoner, Captain? Surely, we should at least give our student a chance to explain herself before we put her in chains.”

The captain looked bemused, but recovered quickly. “Yes… of course, sir. I didn’t mean to suggest…”

“You will find our patient ready to answer all of your questions now, Captain.”

Dunning was surprised. “I… hope that doesn’t mean you’ve already been questioning her, sir. Protocol demands the presence of a Crimson Guard whenever a prisoner… I mean… a witness to a crime makes any statement to the facts.”

“Are my inquiries as to the health of one of my students also forbidden?”

Dunning hesitated. “Of course not, sir. My apologies… forgive me.”

“Oh please, Captain. No offense was taken. I will leave Miss Grayson in your gentle care. Ah, Doctor… good… I’m glad you’re here.”

Doctor Pearl entered the floor, bustling forward with a tray of food at her waist. She sat the tray on the table next to Anna’s bed and then looked down at her.

“There she is…” Pearl sang happily. “I see our little patient is finally awake. How do you feel, my dear,” she said grandmotherly, and Anna could see Captain Dunning rolling his eyes behind her.

“I think… I’m okay,” Anna said, weakly.

“Doctor,” the captain interrupted, and Anna could see the muscles in Pearl’s jaw tighten as she raised a hand to feel her forehead, “I need to question this student on a very important security matter.”

“In good time, Captain,” Pearl replied with a sneer, not bothering to look back.

Thordarson stepped forward. “I’m afraid this cannot wait, Margaret,” he said directly, and to the captain’s immense satisfaction. “But would you stay with Anna after the captain has finished asking his questions and until her father returns to her bedside?”

“Of course.” Pearl replied. She looked at Dunning. “You will call me when you’ve finished, then?” The captain nodded as he turned to draw himself nearer to Anna’s bed. “Oh… and Captain Dunning,” said Pearl, calling his attention back again. “I would ask that you not upset my patient. There are still some risks to her condition that concern me.”

“I’ll do what I can… given her… uhh… delicate state,” Dunning replied, not bothering to hide his cynical tone.

“Very good,” said Thordarson. “Well… I have a guest waiting for me in my office, so I will take my leave of you all. Miss Grayson, I will notify your family that you have awakened. Doctor, I would like a report on her status at the end of the day.”

“Of course, sir.”

“And Captain… I would like to see your report on the matters we discussed by tomorrow morning.”

“You will have it, Chancellor,” Dunning said, turning to face Anna. “And I assure you… it will be a full report of the facts.”

“Excellent. Then I won’t keep Albus waiting any longer. Good day to you all.” The Chancellor then turned and left the hospital floor.

Doctor Pearl gave Anna another potion that stank of rotting earth and garlic. It turned the veins under her skin black before fading. She then raised the head of Anna’s bed and shoved the tray of food under her chin with a single order to its purpose.

“Eat!” she barked threateningly, before turning to face Dunning. “Call me when you’ve finished, Captain.”

After gathering his nod, Doctor Pearl left the ward, leaving Anna swirling her soup and the captain staring out the window behind her.

The tension in the air was heavy as Dunning listened for the doctor’s door to close. Anna wanted to scream out to her, Don’t leave me with him; there’s no telling what he’ll do if you… the doctor’s office door opened and then closed, rattling the pane of glass in its center.

THREE

There was a moment of stillness, and then, “So… what are we to do with you now?” Dunning said, gazing out the window behind her. Anna didn’t reply. The captain turned. “Nothing to say for yourself?” She remained silent as Dunning walked to the foot of her bed. “Look at me,” he growled, and Anna slowly raised her eyes to meet his.

“You… are out of here; out of this bed, out of this school… and off this mountain. The only thing left to decide is whether or not you will be arrested for your crimes.” Anna returned to her soup as Dunning began to pace back and forth across the foot of her bed, his hands gripped tightly behind his back.

“You only have one chance to avoid being arrested when I leave his ward.” He suddenly turned, grabbed the foot posts on the metal bed, and yanked her attention straight. “Are you listening to me?” The soup slopped over its rim and spilled out onto the tray.

“I hear you…” Anna replied. Still, unwilling to look at him.

“I want to know how you did it. How did you get into the dungeons of Drogo? How did you break into my prison?”

Anna picked up the napkin next to her plate and began mopping the spilled soup. “I wasn’t there,” she replied calmly.

“DON’T YOU DARE… LIE TO ME!” he yelled, and Anna flinched. “Tell me how you did it. Tell me now… or your arrest will come before your expulsion!”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Anna said, her own voice rising.

“You… were seen!”

At this, Anna couldn’t contain her surprise. Was it possible someone had seen her, perhaps a guard? Her stomach began to twist. Was he lying, trying to get her to admit the truth? She tried to hide her emotions, keeping her face as void of tension as possible.

“We have the testimony from one of the prisoners, a woman who said a young girl with red hair stopped to talk with her in the sanatorium ward,” the captain sneered. “That evidence has been corroborated by the testimony of another prisoner who saw you walking by his cell three floors down — later the same night. So don’t continue to lie and say you were not there. That would only put you in very serious…”

“I wasn’t there,” Anna growled.

It occurred to Anna that if Dunning had any real proof she had been to Drogo, he wouldn’t be talking to her now; he would have already arrested her. The testimony of two prisoners, especially one in a sanatorium and one that believed himself to be a dragon, would be worth nothing. Anna looked straight into Dunning eyes; she could feel his intentions oozing out of his soul like an infection from an open wound. He was trying to bait her into admitting the truth.

“You’re not going to force me to admit I broke into your prison,” she said, determinedly.

“You mean you won’t tell me the truth! I’ll give you one more chance to tell me how you did it, and you have my word you won’t be arrested. You’ll be sent home with your family, and ordered not to return.”

“Then I guess you’ll have to arrest me, Captain, because you’ll never hear me say I was at Drogo. I was attacked while preparing my mount outside Vollucross stadium. Whatever attacked me dragged me into the forest. That’s all I can tell you… because that’s all I remember.” With that, Anna went back to sipping her soup.

Captain Dunning moved quickly. Taking the tray from her lap, he slammed it onto the bedside table. “You will tell me what I want to know or I swear I’ll have you in irons. No student, least of all a Grayson, is going to make a fool out of me. How did you do it?”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“HOW?”

“I wasn’t there!”

“Liar! There were two prisoners held in separate rooms near your mother; one of them was a man named Reginald Carter. The spell that took the door off Victoria Grayson’s cell also started the fires that lead to the murder of a second prisoner by Carter, who later escaped.”

Anna was stunned. Although Professor Thordarson had warned her of the prisoner’s death, Dunning was making it sound like she had ultimately caused it to happen. What if he was right? She tried to remain calm.

“I wasn’t there,” she lied, remembering what must have been the murdered prisoner’s gentle voice speaking to the other man in the cell next to him; the murderer he called Reggie.

Dunning straightened. “So… this is what you call honor, lying about the loss of another man’s life? Taking no responsibility for your actions? You were there, and your actions were responsible for a man’s death and two escapes. Who knows how many other lives will now be lost due to your interference?”

“Interference?” Anna seethed. “My mother shouldn’t have been locked in that place to begin with,”

Dunning smiled shrewdly. “I thought you said you weren’t there?” His face then turned cold. “She was exactly where creatures like that should be… locked in a cage.”

Anna fumed. “You’re disgusting! My mother is not a creature. She’s a living-breathing, human being!”

“Only somebody as naive as you would call a vampire… human. She’s a vicious,” he took a step toward her, “murdering,” he took another step and leaned down into her face, “blood-sucking… monster.” Anna glared angrily at him; it was taking all her strength to remain calm.

“And when my men locate her in the forest surrounding Drogo, I hope she puts up a fight, because that will the last moment of her miserable life.”

“You won’t find her in these mountains… so your threats are pointless,” Anna snarled back at him.

Dunning’s eyebrows raised. “And how would you know that? For somebody who doesn’t know what I’m talking about, you certainly seem confident in your opinion that your mother is no longer around here. Perhaps I should send an owl to the Ministry and get the Gamot to give me permission to search the Grayson estate? Maybe I’ll catch your father harboring an escaped fugitive when I arrive.”

Anna glowered at him, shaking her head derisively. “Do you really believe my father would allow that to happen?” She stared at Dunning and purposely tried to sound smug, knowing what would entice his anger further. “Even if it was true, and my father did decide to keep by mother hidden, you would never get the Ministry’s permission to search our house.” Anna glowered evilly at him. “As important as you think you are, you don’t have that kind of power, Dunning.”

At these words, Captain Dunning had reached the limit of his control. He swept quickly around the foot of the bed and approached Anna from the side. He grabbed her by the shoulders and lifted her straight up, knocking the tray of food to the floor with a clatter.

“Tell me how you entered Drogo!” he yelled, shaking her. Anna’s head snapped back, and suddenly the terrible pain in her neck was back. Painted colors exploded in her brain as a bleached fog almost pushed her into unconsciousness.

“Tell me you were there, or I swear you will regret it!”

Anna’s neck snapped back again and another series of pops and sparks exploded behind her closed eyelids. And then, from a deepest part of Anna’s core, an incredible anger suddenly rushed forth. Her body went rigid and her head shot forward at her attacker, the outer shell that once was Anna Grayson reshaping itself into blazing rage. Anna roared into Dunning’s face, and the heat of her madness flew into him like a blow to the skull.

The captain was now holding her away in shocked surprise. He could see the snarling teeth, the eyes glaring at him changing from green to deadly amber, her pupils stretching and elongating vertically like that of a deadly cat.

“What the hell… are you?” he stammered, his arms stretching out like a man anticipating something dreadful about to explode in his hands. She didn’t answer him, but he could feel the rumble of her growls reverberating through every bone of his body.

“Put her down!”

Dunning and Anna looked to the entrance of the hospital floor and saw Mister Grayson filling the open doorway; the rest of the Grayson family was looking over his shoulder behind him. Tencha was covering her mouth in apparent shock at what they were seeing. Mister Grayson stepped into the room.

“Get your filthy hands off of my daughter!”

Dunning was immediately taken aback at being caught so easily. He recovered quickly, however, and turned to look at Anna again. Her eyes had returned to normal.

“NOW!” screamed Mister Grayson, who stepped forward again and pulled out his wand. Eric and Damon immediately moved to their father’s side and drew their wands as well.

Dunning smirked, and then slowly lowered Anna onto the bed where she quickly pulled her blankets over her shoulders and rolled away from him.

“Get out of here, Dunning!” Mister Grayson demanded, now taking aim with his wand as the captain turned to face him.

“You are not the master of this castle, Grayson. I have the ultimate authority here.”

“And does that authority extend itself to grabbing and physically abusing the children of this school?”

Dunning glared at him. “In fact — it does. For the crimes your daughter has committed, I could put her in dungeon chains.”

“What are you talking about?” Dowla blistered. “Anna’s done nothing wrong.”

Mister Grayson and Eric looked at each other and then lowered their wands together.

“Eric — take the children outside. I wish to speak to the captain in private.”

“Yes, sir,” Eric replied quickly, motioning the other children toward the door.

“Father… we should stay here with you,” Damon said, still pointing his wand at Dunning. “You can’t trust him.”

Mister Grayson reached out and pushed Damon’s wand down. “Go with your brother, son. I’ll handle this.” Damon and the girls reluctantly headed out the door before their father grabbed Eric by the arm.

“Make sure they’re far enough away so they can’t hear us,” he whispered, nodding toward his brother and sisters.

“I understand, father,” Eric replied knowingly, and Mister Grayson watched them walk down the corridor before turning to close the door. He then walked to Anna’s bed.

“Dunning… if there was ever a man more derelict in his duty than you, I swear I’ve never met him,” Mister Grayson said, staring at his daughter lying in the bed. She wasn’t looking at him.

“You, sir, have a lot of gall accusing me of…” Dunning started to say, but Mister Grayson cut him off.

“You have a lot of failings, Captain. Most of which could be set aside by the discovery of compassion on your part. I like to think of myself as a fair and compassionate man as well, but if you ever put your hands on a member of my family again… you won’t live long enough to regret it. Do you understand?” Mister Grayson was still staring at Anna’s back.

Dunning turned on him, seething with rage. “I don’t believe you have the…”

“Do YOU… UNDERSTAND ME?” Mister Grayson yelled, now turning to face Dunning fully. Anna recoiled under her blankets before curling tighter into a ball away from them.

Dunning fell silent as the two stared at each other, each sizing up the man within the other. It was Dunning who first broke their locked gaze with a coy smile.

“Anytime you feel you have the ambition and skill to duel with me, Grayson, I welcome your challenge. In fact, you can’t imagine how many times I’ve longed for a chance to knock you down a few pegs. You have no idea what you’re dealing with in me, sir.”

“Oh… that’s where you would be wrong, Captain Dunning. I know exactly what you are and how you came to be. Your career has been most impressive, but it has come at the expense of several others who made the mistake of getting in ambition’s way.

“In a lot of ways, you and I are very similar. You have some talent; some skill and intelligence that many believe make you formidable. But what you lack is an understanding of the things moving covertly around you. You see… I know why you hate my family, Dunning. You believe that with riches comes a level of uncontrollable power. You see that power manipulated to the personal needs of many of the well-known wizarding families whose children come into this school. I’ve seen your kind many times before, Captain. Your insipid resentment and jealousies are without cause… and offensive to me. You are unrestricted in your actions and unreserved. You have no moral code rooted to any defined path. In short: you, sir, have no honor.”

The veins in Dunning’s neck were thick with rage. “How dare you presume to lecture me of a man’s honor? You, of all people, would define for me a man’s deepest principles? I question this honor you clam as your own, Grayson: You who would try to hide your wife in a prison.”

“You know only what you saw of my wife in that dungeon you kept her in, and nothing more. Had I known you had taken it upon yourself to work out your envious hate on my family… by placing Victoria in the dungeon hall without my permission, I would have had you removed from Drogo long before now.”

“Victoria Grayson is a dangerous lunatic… a soulless animal. She… is a vampire,” Dunning spat.

“My wife… was a victim,” Mister Grayson growled back under his breath. “She did not choose to be what she has become. But you, and so many like you, would punish her just because life’s cruelest shadows darkened her door. Victoria was sent to Drogo for help, not to be abused by the likes of somebody like you.”

“She will be captured again and returned to the dungeon where she and those like her belong,” Dunning snarled back, derisively.

“That’s… where you would be wrong, Captain. My wife will never again fall under your absent care. You have proven your ineptitude to keep her safe, and you have lost sight as to the reason she was put in your control. You have failed at your post, sir; and if I have my way… you are soon to be relieved.”

“It was your daughter that set her free!”

Mister Grayson stared at him. He then turned to walk to the foot of Anna’s bed, thinking as he went. He finally looked up. “And how did she accomplish this wondrous feat? I didn’t realize visiting hours extended themselves into the evenings at Drogo… or to the dungeons.”

“They don’t!” Dunning spat.

“Then how could Anna have been there? Tell me, Captain… how could a thirteen-year-old student break into Saint Drogo’s prison under your watchful guard, make her way down to the lowest levels unseen, enter a locked and enchanted door, and then release my wife? How did she get out without being seen while you were searching for two escaped prisoners?”

Dunning’s face changed to an ugly shade of puce. He struggled to remain composed as he gritted his reply through tightly clinched teeth. “I don’t know how she did it. I only know she was there. You’ve seen the injuries to her neck. We both know what caused those wounds.”

“That has yet to be determined,” Mister Grayson said, coolly.

“She helped that creature to escape! And she’s going to pay for her crimes,” Dunning shouted, angrily.

“Do not think you can blame your failures on my daughter,” Mister Grayson fired back. “You have no proof Anna was there, no explanation as to how she might have gotten inside the prison, or how she would have helped my wife to escape. How would she have gotten away from Drogo and back to the plateau with injuries such as these? You have only yourself to blame for your failings, Dunning, and I’m going to see to it that you pay dearly for your cruelty and ineptitude.”

Dunning angrily stepped forward. “I don’t know how she did these things, but she did; make no mistake, I know that she did. She’s a freak, an abomination that should be locked in a cage with her mother! I only hope that I’m the one who can someday show the world what she is, what all you Graysons really are!” Mister Grayson moved so quickly it took Dunning completely by surprise.

WHAM!

The fisted blow laid into Dunning’s jaw sent him sprawling to the floor. Anna bolted upright in her bed in time to see Dunning reaching into his robes.

“On your feet, Dunning. I’m not finished with you!” Mister Grayson growled down at him.

Dunning was rubbing his jaw with one hand and pointing his wand with the other. “You’re under arrest, Grayson.”

“I said get up!”

“Turn around!” said the captain threateningly, pushing himself up to stand again.

“Get out of here, Dunning. And if I ever hear you mock my family again, or see you put another hand on one of my children, it’ll be the last thing you ever do.”

“I said you’re under arrest. Now turn around!”

“Go to hell…”

“Stop it!” Anna screamed. “Both of you… please… just go! Leave me alone…”

Anna could see Captain Dunning’s fury blooming on his face like a boil ready to explode, but she didn’t care. She fell back into her bed and turned away from them again.

Her father stepped forward. “I’ll make you a deal, Dunning. You will resign your post, effective immediately. If you do this, I promise not to seek personal reparations for your failings and brutality on my wife at that prison of yours,” he said, furiously.

Captain Dunning sneered at him. “Seeking your unwarranted vengeance on me would only bring to light the truth about your wife. I doubt you would do that,” he said, still pointing his wand.

Mister Grayson thought. For too long a time he had been keeping the secret about his wife to himself, trying to hide something terrible about his family from the rest of the Wizarding world. He stared at Dunning with disgust in his eyes. He knew the captain was right about one thing; keeping this kind of secret does put a man’s honor into question.

“So be it,” Mister Grayson seethed. “Mind you… I still believe I was working to keep my family safe while giving my wife the best chance at a full recovery. If it means telling my story in public to see you properly punished… I can live with that.”

For the first time since he had entered the hospital floor, Dunning looked uncertain of his position, and he suddenly realized he had misjudged the man standing before him. He knew Boris Grayson was a very powerful individual; as much as Dunning tried ignoring this fact, there was no denying it. Anna’s father had many powerful friends inside the Ministry, all over the world. If such a man as he were to throw his privacy and honor on the coals of public ridicule just to have his revenge, Dunning knew he would have no place to go. He would be ruined.

The captain slowly lowered his wand. He had no proof of Anna’s involvement in the escapes at the prison under his care. In fact, Dunning always knew he would never be allowed to speak of it in public anyway, even if he could prove Anna was there and responsible for the escape of her mother. Doing so would reveal Drogo’s location to the world and the Ministry would never allow that to happen. He stared at Boris Grayson with a sinister loathing that carried with it several unspoken curses.

“So… I resign my post and you keep all your little secrets intact. That hardly seems equitable,” Dunning complained.

Mister Grayson glared at the man. “My wife is a very sick person, Captain. I know you can’t understand that, because you only know what you saw in that cell you kept her in. You were never told Victoria’s story, of the attack on her person, the torture she had to endure, and then the madness that finally sent her to prison. Those facts were kept from you and revealed only to her healer.” He stepped closer to Dunning, his anger rising higher. “You have no idea of the danger you’ve now put my family in. You talk of equity? Trust me… giving me your neck under a sword wouldn’t be equitable to me now.”

Dunning looked skeptical at Mister Grayson’s words, but decided. “I will inform the Chancellor of my decision regarding my station before you leave Spellsburg,” he said, coldly. He then glared down at Anna lying in the bed facing away from him and then turned and headed for the door. He grabbed the latch and yanked the door open before looking back.

“Either way, sir… my honor remains intact. Can you honestly say the same?” He left, slamming the door behind him with a bang.

Mister Grayson stood gazing at the closed door across the ward, realizing with some trepidation that the captain was probably right. He turned to look at his daughter hiding under her blankets.

“Anna?” he said, tenderly. She wouldn’t look at him, she didn’t move. “Please, Anna, we need to talk about this.”

FOUR

Of all the people Anna had seen this day, it was her father she was dreading the most. Her unexpected trip home had exposed the huge gap - open like an infected sore between them. Her father was now here to face her, to explain his part in the lie that was her mother’s death.

“Go… away,” she said, still hiding herself. “I don’t want to see you,” she hollered through her bedding.

“Anna… you don’t understand. You can’t imagine what it was like to watch the one you love die and then come back as that creature.”

“Go away! I don’t want to talk about it.”

“We have to talk about it, Anna. We can’t ignore this.”

“Why not? You’ve been ignoring it for years. You lied to me!” Anna replied, still hiding under her blankets.

“I didn’t lie to you.”

She suddenly threw the blankets back to glare up at him. “You did! You told me my mother died. She’s not dead.”

“But she did die, Anna. Or at least that’s how the Wizarding world describes what happened to her. Becoming a vampire is a highly magical process that wizards and witches go through when fed upon by another vampire to the point of death. It’s not a death in the traditional sense, no, but the change is so drastic that many wizards who go through it are barely recognizable after they cross over. And the bloodlust can be overwhelming for them, to the point where most can’t even function as the person they once were.”

“Why didn’t you tell me?” Anna hollered. “Was it because the family squib was too fragile to handle the truth? Was that it?”

“No…”

“Then… why?”

Mister Grayson looked away, and for the first time in Anna’s life she thought she saw doubt forming in her father’s eyes. After a time he appeared to be gathering himself; he looked humble, and seemed on the verge of sharing something he had been practicing his entire life to deliver.

“Your mother and I loved each other so much, Anna. It was the kind of love that was truly rare in this world. It starts out as a perfect friendship where children grow up together, play together; her parents were like my own. We worked together, studied together — shared our personal relationships with each other, but through it all we were the best kind of friends; those that stay side by side through thick and thin, sharing our deepest feelings and passions with one another.

“And then, one day, I came to realize that Victoria meant more to me than my own life.” He turned to look at Anna. “And when that happens, the love realized is heaven sent.” He walked over and sat down next to her on the bed and she cringed at his wanting to be close.

“I was a fool not to have seen my love for Victoria earlier in my life. I wish I had, especially after your mother told me she had loved me for so long.” He smiled. “I was shocked by that. There I was, trying to find a way to tell her the way I felt, that something in our relationship had changed… that I loved her, and she responded so lovingly… so understandingly. How could I have been so blind to her feelings for me? I held her in my arms so many times before that day … but never as close as the night she told me how she really felt.

“I didn’t know at that time what Voldemort had done to her, and I’ll always hate him for what he did to your mother and our family. He took Victoria, tortured her — shattered her mind, and then set her against those she loved most in the world. What kind of evil is capable of such atrocities?” He reached out to take Anna’s hand, but she pulled away.

“How could I tell you these things, Anna? How does a father tell his daughter of the greatest evil once brought to their door?”

He stood again. “After your mother was placed in Drogo, I asked Professor Thordarson to do what he could to help her, but what was left of Victoria was so fragile and her mind too badly damaged to recover from Voldemort’s limitless cruelty. After her transformation into the vampire, her guilt and bloodlust were too much to allow for any kind of a healing process to occur. We tried everything, but her psyche was badly shattered, and the spells Voldemort placed on her afterward to reinforce her condition made that damage permanent.

“For years Professor Thordarson worked with your mother and never gave up his hope Victoria could some day be returned to us. That’s why I never looked for another relationship in my life after you were born. Victoria’s mind was gone… but she was still here, forever in my heart.”

Finally, he was quiet, and Mister Grayson stood at the window looking outside at the grounds and the students communing in the courtyard below. He looked at Anna still sitting in her bed.

“We have to let her go, Anna. Victoria… my wife, your mother, really did die… thirteen years ago.”

Anna glared at him. “You’re wrong.”

“Anna, please… you must understand…”

“You’re wrong!” Anna screamed at him. “I saw her. I touched her. She’s alive!”

Her father turned and walked back to her bed. “What you saw was not your mother.”

“You’re lying! She’s not dead, she’s not!”

“Please, Anna.” He reached down and took her hands in his, but she wrenched them away.

“Stay away from me! You should have told me the truth!” He reached for her again, but Anna leapt out of the bed to the other side, the grief she had been holding in for years overwhelming the pain in her body.

“You don’t know what it was like not to have a mother,” she screamed. “All those years living in that house as a squib, believing I was weak and helpless, wondering why I was so different.” She thrust an angry finger at him. “I wanted somebody who understood me. I wanted someone who could tell me why I was born this way. But my mother wasn’t there… because you kept her from me.”

“Anna, I never loved you any less than my other children. You know that.”

“Oh sure… you cared for me, but I could see it in your eyes, the disappointment I wasn’t what you expected me to be.”

“I never…”

“You did! You and Eric both; you tried so hard to make up for my weaknesses. But I didn’t want your pity. All I wanted was an explanation. Why? Why did this happen to me? Could you explain it? No! And now I find you took away the only person in my life that might have helped me… who would have loved me for who I was.”

“Anna, you have to stop this.”

“Why? It’s the truth, isn’t it? At least Damon treated me honestly. He never tried to hide his feelings about having a squib in the family. It disgusted him, just like it disgusted me! I was nothing! I was worthless!”

At these words, Mister Grayson’s anger erupted forth. “You will never again say something like that in my presence. Do you understand me? NEVER! You are not worthless. You are my daughter; you — are a Grayson! You will always be a member of this family. It didn’t matter to me that you were a squib. What mattered was helping you find your place in the world, where you could find happiness.”

He raised his arms toward her. “Anna… your mother could not have explained any of this anymore than I. Nobody knows why these things happen… but look at you now. You always had a future, but now that future is unlike anything we could have imagined. You’re a Guardian now. You have a purpose more important in the Wizarding world than many of us have yet to completely understand. Your life might have started out other than expected, but you had the necessary beginnings to what you’ve now become.” He stepped around the bed to approach her, but she fell back again.

“Anna… please… your family needs you. I need you. You have to understand… I loved your mother with all my heart. I still do. But it’s a love based on a memory… not of the thing you saw in Drogo.”

“She’s not a thing!” Anna screamed. “You may have convinced yourself that she’s not your wife anymore, but I’ll never stop believing she’s still my mother.”

“Anna, it isn’t going to help to believe you can ignore what’s happened to her. What you saw, the creature that attacked you, was not Victoria Grayson. Your mother, the woman I loved, would never do something like that to somebody she hated, never mind a member of her family, to her own daughter! Victoria died in that Albanian forest, just like I said she did. You can still love her… but you have to accept you love the memory of your mother… and not what you saw in that dreadful place. Everything we knew of Victoria is lost.”

“YOU’RE WRONG!” Anna fumed. “And if you would have taken the time to truly understand her, you would have seen the truth.”

Her father frowned. “What do you mean?”

“I touched her; I made a connection with her… I know with everything I am that a part of my mother is still alive.”

“I… I don’t understand,” Mister Grayson said sharply. “What are you saying?”

“I’m telling you she’s not dead.” Mister Grayson sighed, and Anna could see he didn’t believe what she was saying.

“There’s a part of her that’s still there,” Anna said, sobbing. “I saw it in her eyes. She could have killed me in the end, but she’s still fighting the evil one within her. Victoria is not dead — and she’s stronger than you think. You should have never left her in that place… how could you do that to her?” Her father tried to reach out to her again, but Anna wasn’t finished. “You never loved her. You could never have loved my mother… and then put her in that place.”

“Anna…”

“I’ll never forgive you for that. You lied about her death, about her life, you lied about everything. You even lied when you told me you loved her.”

Anna looked at her father with an expression that made the man’s heart sink. After all she had said to put reason to her feelings, his daughter had finally brought forth the words that explained everything. In all her questions of lies and deceit, after the truth of everything was finally revealed, Anna hit on the one thing Mister Grayson had asked himself every day following the loss of his beloved Victoria. How could a man who truly loved his wife ever give up the hope she would someday be returned to him? How could his love be so limited that he would finally lose faith? He looked at his daughter and could see the rage burning there through her tears.

“How could you?” she whispered.

There was a bang at the door at the end of the hallway, and Doctor Pearl was bustling up the aisle.

“Anna Grayson! What are you doing out of your bed?”

Anna glanced over at the doctor and then at her father again. She then jerked the blankets back and crawled into bed. Doctor Pearl noticed the tray of food lying upside down on the floor.

“What’s this?” She looked up at Mister Grayson and then at Anna lying on her side facing away from him.

“Mister Grayson… I would have thought you would have insisted she stay in her bed. Anna is still in a very delicate…”

“It’s all right, doctor,” he told her, still looking at Anna.

“It most certainly is not…”

“Anna, we need to finish this,” Mister Grayson said forcefully, and Pearl froze to look at the two of them in surprise.

“Go away!” she bellowed, covering her head. “I never want to see you again!”

“Anna!” Pearl blurted out in surprise. “You shouldn’t speak to your father…” but Mister Grayson raised a hand to stop her. He sat on the bed behind his daughter and put a loving hand on her shoulder. He could feel her struggling to pull away from him.

“Anna… I did love your mother… and I love her memory still. What happened to her in death will never change the way I feel about her. I did what I could to give her the best chance to recover; but it didn’t work.

“But I also had a responsibility to keep you and the rest of the children safe from harm. After seeing what’s happened to you now… I know my decision was correct.” He leaned back. “We won’t talk about this again until you’re ready. I can only pray someday you will understand.”

He stood and looked at Doctor Pearl. “Please… take care of her, Margaret. If you need me, you’ll find me in the Rotunda with my family.”

“Of course. Will you be looking in on her tonight?”

Mister Grayson looked down at his daughter. Her shuddering sobs told him it was going to take more than a few hours to rebuild what was lost between them.

“No…” he sighed, “let her sleep. I’ll see her again tomorrow.”

Mister Grayson left Anna alone with her weighted thoughts. Although she had been awake for less than an hour, she was already exhausted. Anna fell asleep quickly, and immediately found her mind moving through a dark dungeon corridor and wondering with terrible apprehension what her mother might now be doing in the night.


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