Anna Grayson and The Dragon's Lair

The Scrub Witch

ONE

“Happy Birthday, Eric!” bellowed Mister Grayson in a private room within the fashionable Spellsburg restaurant called The Wand’s Light.

“Happy Birthday, Eric!” all the Graysons sang out together, raising their dinner glasses to their elder brother.

Eric was smiling. “Thank you very much. And thank you, father, for this wonderful meal. What a feast!”

Mister Grayson walked around the table to shake his son’s hand. “Nothing but the best for my boy.”

“But you still haven’t opened my present yet, Eric,” Anna pointed, smiling broadly. A box in silk bows sat unwrapped next to his plate.

“Ah — ha… and what do we have here, I wonder,” Eric replied, as he eagerly began tearing at the paper. “What’s this? Healing Techniques for the World’s Dragons, by Sir Arthur Stallion.” He looked at Anna. “And how would you have known I was on the hunt for such a book?” he asked, with an inquiring wink.

Anna smiled. “It also comes with a monthly subscription to Fangs and Horns.”

Her brother hugged her. “Thank you, Anna.”

“I went in on it with her, Eric,” Gwen interjected quickly, standing next to Anna with hopeful anticipation.

“Well then… a hug for you too,” Eric cooed, as he fell into Gwen’s waiting arms.

After a few seconds: “Okay-okay, you can let go of my brother now,” Anna snorted amusedly.

Gwen scowled over Eric’s shoulder at her and then rolled her eyes as she pulled Eric still closer.

Anna was smiling and shaking her head when she noticed her father looking toward a gapped door adjoining their room. A single hand could be seen beckoning Mister Grayson away from the table. With a look of sudden concern, Mister Grayson excused himself and then headed for the door.

Anna leaned over to Gwen. “I’m going to the bathroom. I’ll be right back.” Gwen was too engrossed in Eric’s discussion of his new teaching techniques to even acknowledge her.

Exiting by another door, Anna made her way through the dining room and then entered another hallway to the women’s lavatory. Anna could hear her father’s whispered voice around the next corner and she slowed to listen. She peaked around the corner to see Mister Grayson talking to a hooded figure standing next to him.

“Are you sure about this?” her father was asking the man. “You’re absolutely positive about what he said?”

“I heard him say it with my own ears, Director. He has assigned several subordinates to watch your man while he’s here in the city. You should warn him that the Ministry is aware of his presence again on the plateau.”

Anna frowned. The voice of the cloaked stranger was familiar to her. Who was it?

“Thank you for coming here tonight and giving me this information. I will inform our man that he’s being monitored once more.”

“Very well.” The hooded man looked around and Anna ducked back. “I must leave now. I shouldn’t be seen with you.”

Mister Grayson nodded. “Very well. Go through the kitchen and out the back door, and thank you again for your help.” Mister Grayson shook the stranger’s hand and then turned to rejoin his family in the next room. The stranger stood alone for a moment, adjusted his hood to insure his face was properly covered, and then turned Anna’s way.

Anna quickly retreated down the hallway to the bathroom and hurriedly fell through the door. She listened guardedly as the stranger’s thumping steps passed and then slowly peered out again in time to see the hem of the man’s robes disappear into the noise filled kitchen.

Anna opened the door and dashed down the hallway in the opposite direction. She entered the main dinning hall, passed the smiling maitre d’, and then stepped through the heavy front doors and onto the sidewalk outside. She cautiously stopped to look left and right and then raced across the street and into the adjoining alleyway. There, she hid herself in the shadows to wait. A few seconds later, the hooded figure emerged from one of alleys next to the restaurant. The man turned left to join a small crowd moving down the sidewalk together and Anna quickly stepped out to follow them.

After a few blocks, the man turned to cross the street in Anna’s direction and she immediately ducked into a windowed shop to avoid being seen. She watched as the man stopped outside the door of the shop, looked around carefully, and then lowered his hood. The man turned and allowed himself to be swept away into another passing crowd as Anna gaped. She emerged from the shop in utter disbelief. It was Professor Qwaad.

TWO

Letter to the Editor:

I, for one, do not believe Miss Grayson had anything to do with this Michael Wendell’s death, and I thought your editorial yesterday accusing her of this dreadful crime was absolutely shameful. Since when do we convict a person in this City before they’ve been arrested or even accused of a crime? It would seem the authorities agree with me, and I say anybody brave enough to face down two dragons is in no way capable of such a terrible crime. The only thing we know for sure is that she found the poor man’s body, and you should be ashamed of yourself for taking a horrific event in this young girl’s life and turning it into something far worse with your unfounded accusations. You, sir, are despicable.

Signed - A Caring Citizen.

Dear Citizen:

I stand by my original assessment of the situation. Let’s look at the facts, shall we? This young girl was found next to the body of Michael Wendell inside her threstral’s stall with blood on her hands. If it was Mr. Wendell who attacked Miss Grayson’s mount, that would be motive enough to question her side of the story. Additionally, there has now been further testimony stating the girl was seen arguing with Mr. Wendell just days before the man was found dead. Also, we have learned these two had a history of violence toward one another witnessed by several spectators last year while flying for their Vollucross teams. These facts, at the very least, should have lead to the girl’s detention until the authorities finished their investigation more thoroughly. I believe the only reason Miss Grayson has not been arrested is because the girl comes from a very prestigious Wizarding family whose father works directly for the Minister of Magic. In this editor’s opinion, this is the only irrational justification one can find as to why our new Captain of the Crimson Guard continues to allow this girl to freely walk the streets of Spellsburg.

“History of violence?” Anna yelped in disgust. “I was never violent toward Michael Wendell! He was the one who sent me falling into the Shadowed Forest, remember?”

Gwen lowered the Spellsburg Seer she had been reading to a group of Guardians seated at the breakfast table in the Rotunda. “Yeah… kind of went off on you, didn’t he?” she agreed.

“And how can that editor get away with saying I had Wendell’s blood on my hands. That was Swooper’s blood. The Crimson Guard has already confirmed that.”

“Try not to worry about it, Anna,” added the Knight Gabriel. “It’s only one writer’s opinion. He can cry and carry on all he wants, but it’s just one person’s view of things, and it sounds like a lot of people in the city didn’t like what he said about you in his editorial yesterday.”

Anna fell back angrily, looking at Gwen. “And what’s all that stuff about my prestigious family keeping me out of jail?” she added angrily. “Who is this guy anyway?”

Gwen looked down at the paper again. “It says here his name is Chace Scroggs.” She shrugged. “He’s nobody, Anna; just some guy trying to stir up trouble. That’s what sells newspapers. What’s important is that Captain Hayman believes you didn’t do it.” She turned the paper over. “Did you see this?” Gwen showed Anna the leading story on the front page.

Vollucross Season Cancelled

Anna took the paper and read the article aloud.

It was announced yesterday the rest of this year’s Vollucross season has been officially cancelled. Healer and Castlewood Vollucross Steward, Doctor Margaret Pearl, declared today her plans to call off all future flying activities over the Shadowed Forest. This was in direct response to the dragon attack witnessed this week by thousands of spectators in the Stadium. In that attack, a Vollucross flyer from the Laborer Union was nearly killed when two rogue dragons, a species commonly referred to as Vipertooth, attacked and then killed her mount.

‘Miss Cobstone was very fortunate to escape that attack,’ commented Healer Pearl, ‘and our Chancellor agrees with me our first consideration must be the safety of our students here at the school. Until the Crimson Guard can insure me of our rider’s protection from any future incidents, our fliers will be unable to take to the skies again.’

Seeing this decision as an attack on their personal income, many of the odds-makers living in the city have lodged formal complaints to the Mayor of Spellsburg about the decision to abandon the rest of the Vollucross season so early in the year. For now, the Mayor’s office has refused to comment publicly on the matter, choosing instead to concentrate on the safety within the city, as more and more dragons are seen flying in and out of the Shadowed Forest.

For its part, the Mayor’s office was unable to explain this recent expansion of the Vipertooth’s territory, which seems to include most or all of the Shadowed Forest north of Spellsburg. Several dragon experts have been seen entering the city, seeking to understand what’s happened to cause these creatures to travel this far outside their normal territory and hunting grounds. According to one unnamed expert, the dragons are most likely coming from one of several mountain valleys set deep within the Shadowed Forest, including perhaps the steep cliffs of Knowtor itself. Knowtor, also known as The Dragon’s Lair, is a near mythical and legendary place unseen or plotted in nearly five hundred years.

The city’s residents are cautioned against traveling alone after dark and especially near the rim of the Shadowed Forest. The population is also warned to travel in groups greater than three during the day outside the city walls and to avoid any unnecessary attention from the air.

“Wow… they’re really paranoid, aren’t they?” Anna wondered aloud. There was no response. She looked up to see everybody at the table had stopped eating their breakfast to stare at her, including Gwen.

“What?”

“Well… yeah… I would think the city should be concerned about being attacked by dragons. Aren’t you worried too?” Gabriel asked her.

Anna thought about her experience with the dragons during their attack on Lannete Cobstone.

“I believe there’s a very good reason these creatures have left their nesting grounds. I don’t know what it is yet, but I’m sure there’s a logical explanation for what they’re doing and it doesn’t have anything to do with hunting the townspeople.”

“So why did they attack Cobstone?”

Anna thought again. “I believe they were protecting what they believe is their territory. So long as we stay clear of the Shadowed Forest, I think they’ll leave us alone.

THREE

The following Saturday, Anna found a note stuck to her door informing her that her detention for fighting with the Yolland girl would begin that night in Professor Qwaad’s office. Anna was surprised. She was so accustom to having detention in the stables, it had become something of an expectation. She smirked as she wadded up the parchment. Apparently, her love of flying and caring for the horses was so obvious now that her days of going down to the stables as a form of punishment were over.

As Anna made her way to Qwaad’s office that evening, the November winds howled through the castle corridors with such ferocity she found it hard to believe there were any windows closed to the approaching winter. She found the girl calling herself Nox leaning against the wall opposite Qwaad’s door. She was wrapped tight and shivering in her robes. She looked up and smirked.

“Cold, ain’t it?”

“Yeah, always is this time of year. You see Qwaad yet?” Anna asked her, looking over at the door.

“I knocked — no answer.”

Anna took up a position on the wall next to the girl. They stood side-by-side, unable to dismiss the irony of quietness between them. Considering the fight that had put them in detention, Anna was surprised at the girl’s rather serene demeanor. She avoided looking down at the first-year; she could tell the girl was uncomfortable sharing even this small piece of the wall next to her.

“Can I ask you something?” Nox inquired, not bothering to look up at her.

Anna paused, looking up almost longingly for Qwaad to open his door. “I suppose.”

“What’s all this Guardian stuff really about anyway?” The girl looked up at Anna and frowned. “Why are there so few of us? We seem to be the butt of every joke in this castle. Why is that?”

Anna frowned. “Well — most of the jokes are thanks to Professor Qwaad. Being consigned to janitor status isn’t exactly buying us a lot of respect from the rest of the students.”

“Qwaad is an idiot. Do you believe his reasons for giving us all of this cleaning work?”

“No.”

“Me neither. What’s his problem, then?”

Anna turned to face the girl. “One might ask you the same question. The way you act around here, it seems you have some kind of…”

“Shut up!”

Anna was stunned at the girl’s sudden gush of hostility. She stared at her, trying to find the appropriate words in reply, knowing full well unless she was careful Qwaad might very well find them rolling around on the floor once more. Before she could respond, however, Anna was suddenly aware of the whispers reaching out from the wall and into her mind.

Patience… Sithmaith.

Anna glared at the stones mortared into the wall behind her. It was as if someone had rudely stopped what she wanted to say. She took a deep breath and then turned again to lean back against the wall. She could feel the other girl’s stare almost daring her to reply.

“You’re an idiot.” Anna murmured uncaringly; and then, to her great surprise, the girl started to laugh.

“And you’re a nosey, busy-body,” she replied at the end.

“What exactly is your problem?” Anna replied, finally turning to face the girl fully.

“The problem is… I don’t want to be here?”

Anna was stunned again, but decidedly cold. “So… leave. If you don’t like Castlewood…”

“I didn’t say I didn’t like it. It’s just useless for me to be here, that’s all.”

Anna was irritated. “What’s that supposed to mean?”

It was clear the girl was about to say something rude again, scarcely concealing her abhorrence at having to talk about anything she considered personal. She turned away from Anna and angrily rewrapped her chilled body with in her cloak.

“Never mind; it doesn’t matter.”

Just then Professor Qwaad came around the corner. “Ah… and here are my two little scoundrels. Follow me, please.” He unlocked his office door with his wand and entered to motion them through. Once inside, the teacher stood before them with his hand outstretched. “I’ll have your wands, if you don’t mind.”

Anna and the other girl looked puzzled at each other and then did as they were told. Taking their wands, Qwaad then walked to the front of his desk before turning to face them again. He smiled and then opened his bag to remove a small, metal tin, whose contents rattled in his hand. He opened the box, pinched a small bean from within and then flipped it at the Yolland girl. The bean bounced off of her robes and fell to the floor. The girl glared back at their teacher in surprise.

“You missed. Let’s try that again, shall we?” Qwaad pinched another bean and threw it this time at Anna who snatched it out of the air before letting it hit her in the forehead.

“Quick reflexes — but you missed; the use of your hands is not allowed. Try again.” He threw another bean at Anna once more, which hit her in the shoulder before falling to the floor and bouncing under the desk. “Missed again; I’ll take one point from the Guardian Union.”

“What?” Anna barked. “What was I supposed to do?”

“Stop it from hitting you, of course,” Qwaad retorted, playfully. He threw another bean, harder this time, at Nox who immediately tried to duck to keep it from hitting her.

“Oops, missed again. Another point from the Guardians,” Qwaad jibed.

Anna was fuming. “What do we have to do, Professor? How do we stop… missing it?”

Qwaad’s smile abruptly fell and a look of serious skepticism betraying his careful manner. “With your mind, of course,” he answered back in a suddenly haughty voice.

“With…” Anna stammered, “…with my mind? But you’ve taken our wands. What are we supposed to do without…?” Two more beans peppered her forehead.

“Two more points!” Qwaad chimed.

“Please… Professor, this isn’t funny,” Anna complained, as two more beans struck the other girl in the chest.

“There go two more points,” Qwaad quipped. “Why were the two of you fighting?” Another bean hit Anna in the middle. She gritted her teeth in anger.

“I was trying to break up a fight,” Anna fumed back.

“Really? Then… are you saying I should have a third Guardian standing in my office now?” Qwaad asked as he reached into his tin for more beans.

Anna didn’t reply. She was seething in rage as she swatted away another bean with the back of her hand.

“You are very quick, aren’t you? However… you’re another point down.” Qwaad glared at her. “You’re not very good at this, are you?” He threw two more beans, hard this time, which hit the Nox in the cheek.

“Ouch!”

“Stop that!” Anna snarled back at him.

“No… I rather think you should stop it, Guardian. I know you have it in you to do it. Let’s see you try,” Qwaad answered calmly, as he reached into his tin once more. He reared back and Anna could see he was about to heave it forward with all of his strength.

“Don’t!” Anna warned, raising the palm of her hand flat before him. Qwaad hesitated and then let them fly. Anna didn’t move, but closed her eyes as several beans pelted her. The little pellets stung as they scattered across her face and body.

“I SAID STOP THAT!” Anna hollered, angrily. A low rumble was intermingled with her words from the lowest depths of her soul. Nox looked over at Anna in surprise at the sound of her voice now snarling its warning at the teacher. She could see Anna’s entire body was trembling with rage as she thrust the palm of her hand forward again to stop the assault.

“That must have been at least 10 points that time. You’re not working hard enough, Guardian. Use your mind to stop me. Why are you allowing me to hurt you and your friend like this?” He reared back again and threw a number of beans at Nox, who cowered to the side to keep from being struck in the face.

“I said… STOP IT!” Anna snarled back. Her mind was turning inward as the rage of what the man was doing began to overwhelm her senses. She could see him hesitate slightly as he reared back once more.

Qwaad’s eye widened. He could see Anna’s teeth were bared, suddenly fanged, and her eyes liquid black as she thrust her palms forward at him again. Astonished at the sight of her, he paused momentarily at the apex of his throw. The corners of his lips seemed to curl into a satisfied grin as he let the little beans fly.

“NO!” Anna screamed, and at once there was a flash of light from the palm of her broadened hand. Each of the beans flying toward her were instantly turned into ash in a glint of purple fire, which was followed by a wave of distorted pressure that blasted Qwaad back over the top of his desk to the wall on the other side and then down to the floor with a crash. Anna dropped her hand in shock, staring disbelievingly at Qwaad’s cleared desk. She could see a trembling hand slowly reaching up from behind the toppled chair.

“Professor Qwaad!” Anna screamed. She ran to the other side in time to find Qwaad lifting himself to stand. “Professor! I’m sorry! I didn’t mean to... I only meant to…”

“Enough!” Qwaad bellowed. He was grimacing as he righted his chair to sit. “Very… good, Guardian,” he heaved with a wince of pain. He looked up at her. “Very good, indeed.”

Anna was stunned, fully expecting to be expelled at any moment. She quickly came forward. “Are you all right, Professor? Are you hurt?”

Professor Qwaad looked down to inspect his robes. “Singed around the edges a bit, but… all-in-all… not too bad. He looked up at her again. “Now that… was very impressive.”

Anna frowned. “You… - what?”

The man smiled, glancing over at Nox and then back to Anna. “Fifty points will be awarded to the Guardian Union.” He grinned again as he reached down to pick up his satchel from the floor. “I’ve been asked by the Minister of Magic to register all of the Guardians both here at Castlewood and those who have already left the school. You will fill out these forms now and that will conclude your detention tonight.” He pulled out two small rolls of parchment and handed them to each of them.

Anna took the scroll without argument. Relieved to know she wouldn’t be packing her trunk for an early trip home, she sat to fill out the forms. What was this man doing? Was he testing me? And what just happened? Clearly, she had done some form of magic without the use of her wand. But… how was that possible?

Fifteen minutes later Anna was leaving Qwaad’s office, wondering silently to herself who this man really was and what his true intensions were for the Guardians. “First, he puts all of the Guardians through the ringer with all this cleaning nonsense while playing friendly with Lieutenant Dunning, and then he’s giving daddy important information. Now he’s letting us off of detention and giving me fifty points after forcing some strange test of my abilities, but before he lets us go… he forces us to register for the Minister of Magic. What’s this guy playing at?”

“Hey Grayson!” Anna turned to find Nox running to join her. Anna could see by the look on the girl’s face she had a lot of questions.

“You headin’ downstairs?”

Anna turned to continue walking. “I guess so.”

There was a long moment of silence as the two girls headed down the corridor together. Finally, Nox asked her first question. “How did you do that?”

Anna kept walking. “Do what?”

“You know what; how did you blow Qwaad over the top of his desk without your wand? Did you have another wand in your pocket?”

“Of course not.”

“Then how…?”

“Listen,” Anna barked, quickly turning to face the girl, “why does it matter to you? You don’t even want to be here, remember?” Anna turned to continue walking, but suddenly stopped to face her again. “And I would appreciate you not blabbing your big-fat mouth about what just happened in there.”

“Why not? It was impressive. A spell without a wand; I’ve never heard of anybody doing that before. How did you do it?”

“I don’t know how I did it, okay? So just… keep your mouth shut, Yolland. I don’t want everybody thinking I’m some kind of freak.” She continued down the corridor. “I get enough of that at home.”

The girl continued walking by her side. “I know how that feels… to be thought of as some kind of oddity at home, I mean.”

“I don’t doubt that,” Anna huffed.

“Listen, I’m sorry about the way I acted…” Nox started to say, but Anna, feeling frustrated at what had just happened in Qwaad’s office, cut her short.

“I don’t care, okay? I really don’t. You have problems? Well… join the club. We’re all just a couple of weirdoes in a castle full of nuts,” Anna screeched, waving madly into the air around her. “Teachers throwing things in my face, Dunning changing me into a rat, people putting dead bodies in my path, Voldemort killing people again, my friends being attacked; it’s all just peachy out there isn’t it? You think you’ve got problems? Gimme a break! What problems would you have that can even compare to what I’ve seen over the last year? But who cares? We’re just prisoners to the circumstances surrounding us, right?”

Anna turned again and stormed off. She almost made it to the end of the hallway when she heard the Nox declare, “I’m a prisoner too.” Anna halted again, irritated. She turned to face the girl down the long hallway between them and could see the girl actually looked very upset.

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

Nox covered her face and even through the distance between them Anna could see the girl was crying. She heaved a long, reluctant breath and then came forward again.

“What’s the matter now?” Anna said heatedly. The first-year continued to sob and Anna immediately felt consoling. “Listen, I didn’t mean to yell at you. It’s just… you make it hard not to; you know?” Anna cautiously patted the girl on the shoulder. “I’m sorry… okay?”

Nox looked up at her. “You’re such a sap, Grayson,” she said coyly, smiling through her fake tears. Anna was shocked.

“Why you little…”

“Had you going, didn’t I?” the girl said, laughing.

“You’re an idiot, you know that?”

“Yep! But I like you, Grayson. You’ve got spunk.”

“Well I’m happy I amuse you. Are we done now?”

“Hey… I said I was sorry,” the girl replied defiantly.

“Yeah… and I can tell you really mean it too. I’m starting to believe you don’t mean anything you say.”

“Now you’re catching on, Grayson. Now you’re starting to see nothing around here really matters. It doesn’t matter what we do now or after we leave this place. It’s all been planned out for us in the end anyway.”

“What’s that supposed to mean? Nobody is planning out my life.”

“Oh really? Then you must be one of the lucky ones, because people like me have all their choices made for them beginning from the day we’re born. Nothing I do is ever going to matter.”

“What — are you talking about?” Anna yelled back. The girl looked just as angry as Anna, but still seemed reluctant to speak freely.

“Listen, I don’t know what’s happening in your life, but you should know everybody in the Guardian Union cares about each other. There’s too few of us not to watch out for each other, especially with people like Qwaad running around acting the nut. If you have something to say, then let’s hear it. I more than anybody understand what it’s like to feel alone. I grew up a squib, for God sake!”

Nox stared at her, an array of different emotions suddenly flooding onto her face.

“WELL?” Anna yelled.

“It’s… complicated,” the girl answered back.

“Whose life isn’t complicated? Tell me!”

The girl turned to slowly walk down the hallway, looking around to insure nobody would hear them as she motioned Anna to follow her. “You said you were born a squib?” she asked Anna. “How is that possible? You’re not a squib now.”

“It’s complicated,” Anna shot back, also looking to insure they wouldn’t be overheard.

Nox took a deep breath. “Well… I come from a whole town of squibs. Have you ever heard of a scrub village?”

“No… what’s that?”

“It’s a place where squibs live together. They still know about magic’s existence and choose to live together because they’re too proud to live their lives as the Muggles do.”

“What?” Anna wondered in amazement. “I’ve never heard of it.”

“Why would you? Nobody in the wizarding world cares; all they want to do is to get rid of us.”

“What do you mean?”

“I mean the Ministry of Magic is always working to wipe away everybody’s memory of magic in a squib town, but by wizarding law they can’t so long at one person in the town is a wizard and chooses to continue to live there.”

Anna was stunned. “What? But that’s… that’s terrible. How can they do that to all of those people?”

Nox looked up at Anna and smirked. “They do it because they can. Who’s going to stop them, a handful of powerless squibs?”

“But they haven’t done this to your town yet, have they? You must have some wizards still living there; otherwise, from what you just said, they would have already wiped away their knowledge of magic.”

The girl stopped and turned to look at Anna. “Yeah… there’s one witch left.”

Anna caught on immediately. “Oh my God… it’s you… isn’t it? You’re the last one?”

“Yeah… lucky me, right?” She turned again and the two girls continued down the hall.

“Everybody living there just expects me to remain in that stupid one-horse town… so they won’t have their memories wiped by the Ministry. I can’t leave and live my own life and…” the girl hesitated, “I really hate that place.”

“You hate your home town… but why? How can anybody hate a whole town?” Anna continued after her.

“Regardless of how nice a place it might be, wouldn’t you hate the place where you were held a prisoner? How would you feel if you were forced to live within the boundaries of a single place? God… I hate them for doing this to me, for just… expecting I’ll choose to stay.”

“But… what about your parents? Surely they wouldn’t have their memories wiped, would they? I mean — you’re their daughter.”

“No — mom and dad are safe. All the parents whose kids are in the book of births are told of magic’s existence even if they’re Muggles, but the rest would be wiped if I ever left town to live somewhere else after school.”

“Oh my gosh… it’s not fair… putting all of that on you. What if you wanted to get married and live somewhere else together? What if you wanted to live in his hometown? What if you were to…?”

“I can’t’! Don’t you get it? If I go — then I would be responsible for what happens to everybody. The people there have asked my mom and dad to try to convince me to remain there — and I hate that place! I don’t want to be stuck for the rest of my life in some back hills hick of a town. I want to live my own life.”

“Have your parents told you that you have to stay?”

“No… they wouldn’t do that. They’re leaving it up to me. But what choice do I really have? I can’t go. I wouldn’t be able to live with myself if I took off and the Ministry swooped in to wipe their memories, took away their heritage, and stole everything they knew of magic and their past. Some of their parents and grandparents were wizards and witches. Should they be forced to just forget about them?”

“But there has to be a way to stop this. Can’t you complain to somebody? Can’t the town do something to avoid this?”

“Yeah — they could all move out of town, disband and live with the Muggles and as far away from each other as possible. If they did that, then… yeah… the Ministry might leave them alone. But then the town would die. Everybody but my parents would be forced to leave.”

Anna was astonished and bewildered. How could the Ministry do such a thing?

“I heard some of the other Guardians talking. They said you were related to the Minister of Magic. Is that true?” the girl asked her.

Anna looked at her and frowned. “No… Helawena Barkelnap is not a part of my family,” she lied, scornfully.

“But… they said she was your aunt.”

Anna turned angry. “Look — yes — the Minister is my aunt, okay? But we’ve had what you might call a serious falling out recently. The Minister has proven by her appointment of Qwaad to his post that she’s no longer a member of my family or a friend to the Guardians. The last time I was in her office she all but threatened to lock me up.”

“You were threatened by the Minister of Magic?” the girl asked her in surprise.

“That’s right! So — as you can plainly see — my going to Barkelnap, looking to rescue some small town in the middle of nowhere might not be the best idea you’ve had.”

As they continued down the hallway, the two girls grumbled through their troubled thoughts. Finally, Nox smiled and then whispered, “Threatened by the Minister herself, huh? I knew there was a reason I liked you, Grayson.”

They turned the corner together and disappeared and the hallway behind them darkened. The bracketed torches, sensing little movement in the passageway, sputtered and dimmed, but suddenly brightened to full again. A small figure stepped out from behind one of the curtains covering the window at the corridor’s end. Sarah Bell quickly moved down the hallway and stopped at Qwaad’s door to quietly listen against its planks. She sneered disapprovingly and then turned to secretly follow Anna back to the Guardian Hall.


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