Anna Grayson and The Dragon's Lair

The Gathering

ONE

The next morning, Anna found another note stuck to her door. This time it was from her brother, Eric.

Anna, Father is leaving for home this evening and he wants to meet with us before his departure. Please come to my apartment at five o’clock tonight. Trog will meet you at the drawbridge to escort you into the city. Love, Eric.

TWO

A pair of covered eyes peered up through tattered garments from a gloomy corner where the alley attached itself to the walk. He was watching the shadows moving across the draped window high above him across the street. He could see the gathering in the apartment on the topmost floor was going to be important. Judging by those he saw entering the building earlier, he knew there were valuable secrets being shared between those he called his keys to freedom.

“What are they doing up there, I wonder?” the cursed man whispered to himself. He looked around his hiding place wearily. He had learned long ago that to spy in secret, one must first insure they themselves were not being watched. “The young one will be here soon; I am sure of it,” he said eagerly, as he fell back into the shadows to wait.

THREE

“Anna will be here shortly, father, she’s bringing escorted by a Crimson Guard from of the castle.”

Mister Grayson was standing by one of the windows facing the city, looking furtively down at the streets below through a crack in the curtain. “Good. I wanted to speak to all of you before my daughter arrives.” He turned to see Sidney Heidelbach and Captain Hayman standing in the room next to Eric.

“Sidney… I appreciate you’re traveling back and forth to Spellsburg, but I’m afraid for you here. The business we have outstanding with the bank’s clientele is no longer important enough to put you at risk. Anything outstanding should be left to the rest of my wizarding staff.”

Sidney looked surprised. “Yes, Director. If you believe that is best, I can turn over anything unsettled to Greechins immediately. There are only those items pertinent to Mayor Prowler’s investments anyway.”

“I agree with you, father. I believe Mr. Heidelbach should leave the city first thing in the morning. If you like, I can close your business with Ulric myself.” He looked at Sidney. “I don’t think it’s safe for you to be here anymore.”

Captain Hayman stepped forward. “Why? What is this new information you said you’ve acquired, Director?”

“Please, John, call me Boris. Now that you’re with us we shouldn’t be standing on any formalities.”

“Thank you… sir. I’m honored you feel that way.”

Mister Grayson nodded. “Now then, to answer your question as directly as I can, my source here in the city has told me that your Lieutenant Dunning is being very noisy about Sidney’s comings and goings and those he’s seen while visiting in the city. I’m afraid Dunning might be inadvertently drawing too much attention to Sidney while he’s here.”

Eric seemed to bristle as he turned to the captain. “Can’t you do something about Dunning, John? He’s continually making himself a nuisance in our family business. He shouldn’t be bothering Sidney or anybody else in the city. He should still in the castle where he belongs. What’s he playing at?”

Captain Hayman shook his head. “I know the Graysons and Gregory Dunning have had their problems in the past when he was Captain of the Guard, but you’ll just have to trust me when I tell you, deep down, he really is a good man. While it’s true we’ve had our disagreements, his largest fault has always been the level of seriousness that he took to the matters regarding his post.” Hayman looked at Mister Grayson. He could see the veins in Boris Grayson’s neck were thick with controlled rage as he stepped forward to reply.

“John — I understand why you would feel reluctant to condemn the man. After all, you had no ambition to replace Dunning as Captain, and I’m impressed you would try so hard to find the good in him. I admire the strength of your loyalty. But at the risk of my own soul before God, I cannot forgive the man for what’s he’s done to my family. Too much has happened for that now.” Mister Grayson drew a calming breath. “Perhaps in time…”

“I’ll never forgive him for what he’s done,” Eric blistered. “Victoria Grayson didn’t deserve his lack of care in Drogo!”

Hayman still seemed reluctant to agree. “I… understand how you must feel…”

“Then get rid of him!” Eric demanded. “I’ll never understand why Thordarson was so adamant to keep him on anyway.”

“Enough about Dunning,” Mister Grayson said, motioning to the others to join him as he pulled a chair back at the table to sit. “We have more important matters to discuss before Anna gets here.”

They all sat and Mister Grayson seemed to be struggling with his emotions and Eric could tell something important was coming.

“What is it, father. What’s the matter?” Mister Grayson looked up at his son and then came forward to whisper the terrible truth.

“Anna is in very grave danger while she’s here at Castlewood.” He let his words settle on them for a few seconds before continuing. “Reliable sources have informed me that Voldemort… wants her.”

Eric was stunned. “Father… surely not! Who would say such a thing? Who would dare…?”

Mister Grayson held up a hand to stop his son. He thought about Igor Kakaroff’s cave and what it must have cost the ex-Death Eater to relay the truth about Voldemort’s ambitions against his youngest daughter.

“I can only tell you this information comes directly from someone who put his life on the line to deliver it to me. We must insure that Anna is never left unguarded, especially while she’s in the city.”

There was a long pause before Captain Hayman leaned forward. “I will do everything in my power, Boris. Even now, her escort is waiting to bring her to this meeting. She will be safe in his care, I can guarantee it. The ogre would give his life for this duty, but he would suffer the untold agonies of hell before he let somebody harm your daughter. He has a bond with Anna Grayson unlike anything I’ve ever seen in his kind. He… is more than affectionate of her in ways that simply defy explanation.”

“He’s right, father; Trog is extremely powerful and highly magical. He wouldn’t let anybody near Anna without a fight to the death.”

Mister Grayson’s worried concerned seemed to dissipate before their eyes. “An ogre?” He reached out to shake Hayman’s hand. “Thank you, John. I appreciate your personal attention in this matter. I know my daughter seems somewhat gifted in her own abilities, but she lacks experience and has a very serious character flaw that can sometimes make her a danger to herself.”

Hayman’s brow rose. “If, by example, you mean tramping off into the Shadowed Forest by herself to find Sidney here, you’re right.”

Heidelbach looked irritably at Hayman. “The girl was absolutely courageous, brave beyond her years. I owe her my life.”

“Yes — courageous possibly to a fault,” Mister Grayson returned. “She should never be allowed to go into the forest again.”

“Agreed,” Eric and Hayman said together.

Eric leaned in. “But why would You-Know-Who want her, father? I don’t understand.”

Mister Grayson shook his head. “I can only speculate, but it would seem he’s always had an ambition to gather power to himself by whatever means necessary. What’s happening here with the Guardians of Castlewood must be a concern to him. And now with Victoria’s escape…” He looked at Eric and his son could tell he was being careful not to say anything about Anna’s trip to Drogo in front of Hayman.

Eric nodded his understanding and then turned to the captain. “So… how goes the investigation of the Wendell murder?”

Hayman seemed taken aback by the abrupt turn in their conversation. He shook his head. “Not very well, I’m afraid.” The man looked at Anna’s father. “It would seem somebody went to a lot of trouble to make Anna look like the killer; any ideas why that might be?”

Mister Grayson looked worried. “That’s the question that’s been keeping me up at night. It really doesn’t seem like You-Know-Who’s style. If the Dark Lord or one of his followers were close enough to engineer something like this, why wouldn’t they just take her?” He paused to think. “No… this is something different; something completely diverse.” He looked at Hayman again. “Any chance it might be related to Anna giving you the hideout of these so-called smugglers?”

The Captain nodded. “That’s Lieutenant Mantos’s theory too. I’m still getting daily reports about his investigation into the murder and why it would seem Anna has been singled out for blame.”

“Is it possible this murder had nothing to do with Anna?” Eric breathed, hopefully. “Swooper’s stall is deepest within the stables. If somebody was going to hide a body, that might be the most logical place in the building to do it.”

Hayman looked unconvinced at the other three men around the table. “I believe… it would be a mistake to think all of this is unrelated. This murder and the news of You-Know-Who’s ambitions about Anna have to be connected. You will recall the stranger Anna said tried to warn her away from the stables? This same man also said Victoria Grayson was here, hiding somewhere in the Shadowed Forest. He said she has returned to thwart You-Know-Who’s attempts capture or harm Anna.” The man leaned back. “We must assume these plots are related and it’s up to me to understand how.”

There was another worried silence in the room before Mister Grayson spoke again. “John, I’m putting so much on you to protect my family here on the plateau. I can’t thank you enough for all you’re doing.”

Hayman nodded.

“My forced return to Los Angeles is troubling,” Mister Grayson continued. “It would seem the Minister of Magic is doing all she can to keep me away from Castlewood.”

“But why, father? Why would Minister Barkelnap do such a thing?”

Mister Grayson shook his head. “Because she doesn’t want her Directors anywhere near Thordarson right now.” He leaned forward in his chair again. “She’s drafted a new edict scheduled for release tomorrow that takes away the Chancellor’s ability to hire and fire any teachers from the school without her direct approval. She got the idea from the Minister in England, who did the same thing a few months ago at Hogwarts.”

“Thordarson and Dumbledore can’t hire anybody?” Hayman said in astonishment.

“That’s right, but I don’t think Thordarson was surprised by the Minister’s move. Dumbledore must have warned him something like this could happen. He knows Cornelius Fudge and Helawena Barkelnap are very close, going back to her days when she was our ambassador to England.” He fell back again. “And there have been more firings at the Ministry in Washington again this week. A couple of Aurors were sacked because of their open and verbal support for Dumbledore.”

“This is ridiculous, Father,” Eric complained. “When is the Ministry going to come to its senses on this? Everybody seems to have their heads in the sand about Voldemort’s return. Even the Mayor is trying to warn me off about working as a teacher at the school. He even offered me a job in his office to get me away from Thordarson.”

Mister Grayson looked surprised. “A… job? What kind of job?”

“I don’t know; some stupid thing to help him prepare for his reelection campaign next year. When I turned him down, he warned it might be best for me to go back to California rather than to continue my studies under Thordarson.”

“He offered me a job too,” Sidney piped in quickly. Everybody turned to stare disbelievingly at him. He then smiled and then shrugged to say, “But I think that had more to do with what he believed to be my talents in growing his investments more than what he’s been accustomed to in the past.”

Eric looked exasperated. “The Mayor is in the Minister’s pocket. He’ll do anything to keep her support, especially with next year’s city election coming up. And he’s completely against anything having to do with the Guardians now. He keeps reassuring me that it wasn’t my fault I became a Guardian last year, that everybody understands I was just doing what I could to support Anna.”

“Ulric is harmless,” Mister Grayson said. “He’s a politician, and he’s simply doing what politicians generally do.”

“Looking out for his own-personal best interests,” Hayman mumbled disapprovingly.

There was another pause before Sidney spoke. “There was one other thing I need to report to you, Director.”

“Yes?”

“The Auror Shacklebolt wanted me to inform you that the trail to Wormtail… has grown cold, sir, and there have been no further attempts to contact me by this man on You-Know-Who’s behalf. He said the Aurors raided the house by the lake and found it empty except…” Sidney paused.

“Yes? What did they find, Sidney?” Mister Grayson said, coming forward quickly at their table.

Sidney took a deep and reluctant breath. “Shacklebolt said they found… several long, red hairs stuck between the wooden floorboards in a back room and… he said there was some blood.”

Anna was waiting on the castle side of the drawbridge at four-thirty when Trog arrived and they immediately fell onto the street together. The evening was cold and windy and giving way to the darkness, which had come noticeably early that evening. Once again the ogre’s presence by her side cut a wide swath through the busy cobblestone streets, but when a sudden panic moved the crowd hurriedly to one side, Anna knew it wasn’t because of her escort’s imposing stature. She looked up to see a large Vipertooth circling one of the castle’s turrets in the early moonlight. It let out a bellowing screech before turning to head back into the forest.

“The flying ones are enraged again this evening, they are,” Trog said knowingly, as he squinted to look up into the darkening sky. Anna knew Trog was right. Even from a distance, she could feel the dragon’s enduring rage.

“Yes… they are very angry,” she said, looking up at him. “Do you know why the dragons are so upset, Trog? Why are they here?”

The giant looked down at her through the slits of his silken mask. She could see he was smiling. “You can feel their storm, can you?”

Anna nodded. “Yes.”

The ogre looked up again and watched the Vipertooth disappear over the shadowed forest. “They seek those who steal their eggs.”

Anna’s mouth dropped. “Of course,” she whispered in final understanding. “I knew there was something more to their attack than the excuse given by the newspapers. They’re protecting their nests from the poachers.”

Trog dropped his head remorsefully. “Yes… Captain Hayman calls them smug-glers. Very dangerous wizards, they are.”

Anna looked at her escort with renewed wonder. “Do know who they are, Trog? Do you know where they’re going to steal the eggs?”

Trog suddenly looked hesitant. Finally, he said, “Yes… Trog knows where the nests are, he does. It is two mountains away, left of the sun’s morning rise,” he replied, pointing to the north. The gentle giant smiled mischievously. “Trog hides smug-glers path to the cliffs many times, he has, so the bad wizards always get lost. But they find their way back… eventually, they do.”

Anna was almost trampled as she quickly moved in Trog’s path. “We have to stop them, Trog. They can’t be allowed to continue stealing the eggs!”

Trog looked down at the girl standing before him. Unlike most of the humans walking around them in that moment, the creature knew a lot about the one they called Anna Grayson. Being a highly magical creature himself, he could read the signs all around him, but especially when he was at home in the forest and alone in his cave. This child was very important to the whispering ones, but also to the voices he sometimes devoted himself to listening during the clearest nights — when the centaurs looked to the heavens and gazed upon the stars. The voices spoke of the Sithmaith, their protector of the terrible things to come. Being in the girl’s presence more than most creatures, he could feel her strength and her understanding and her unknowing embrace of the whispering ones. The ogre’s eyes narrowed as he looked down at her. The girl was so small, too frail to act so uncaringly about herself. She was much too important to allow anything to happen to her. Her greatest battles still lie ahead.

“We?” Trog finally said in a challenging tone. “Who is this we you speak of, little one, who?”

“You and… and… me.” Ann replied, quickly realizing how silly her words must have sounded to the giant before her. “And… well… anyone else on this mountain who care about the dragons.”

The ogre lowered an accusing finger at her. “Is not your place to care about such things right now, no. These smug-glers are dangerous, they are.”

Anna stared at him. “What about Captain Hayman? Surely he should know about what these men are really doing.”

Trog frowned again. “Trog has told the captain all he knows, he has. But I do not know when the bad men will come into the forest again, and it is too dangerous for the Crimson Guard to remain in the woods overnight.” Trog turned and they continued to walk down the city street.

“Perhaps you and I could…”

“No!” Trog bellowed, stopping again to glare down at her. “Is too dangerous, it is.”

“But I went into the forest to help Sidney a few months ago…”

“No!”

Anna glared at him. There was a long pause before Anna spoke again. “I’m not afraid.”

The giant leaned down to point an enormous sausage-like finger at her. “You should be, little one. It is no wise to be uncaring about such things. You do not understand; it’s most unwise indeed, it is.” He straightened. “The Crimson Guard will stop these men, they will.”

Unconvinced, Anna followed Troy as he continued on.

“But how are they going to stop them if they won’t go into the forest? If the smugglers are brave enough to go in for profit, then I should think the Crimson Guard would do so for justice.”

“Over the centuries, many of those who have entered the forest for profit and justice are dead now, they are.” Anna slowed as Trog looked down at her. “Most were eaten, they were, and sometimes… their fate… was very slow.”

They entered an old sandstone building seated in the middle of a dark alleyway.

“Here is where you brother lives. He is on the top floor, he is. Come.”

Anna followed Trog up the winding staircases and the wood groaned bitterly under the ogre’s heavy boots. They finally arrived at the top and found Eric waiting for them at an open door.

“Over here, Anna. Thank you for bringing her, Trog,” her brother said, shaking the ogre’s huge hand.

“No trouble, there was not,” Trog replied as he ducked low under the door’s header to enter Eric’s flat.

“I wouldn’t expect there would be with you on the job, Trog,” Captain Hayman added with a smile.

“Hello pumpkin,” came a familiar voice, as Anna entered the small apartment behind her escort. She smiled at her father coming toward her.

“Eric says you’re leaving tonight, daddy. Do you have to go so soon?”

Her father hugged her. “I’m afraid so. It would seem the Minister is working to make sure I’m kept busy in Los Angeles these days.” Anna saw her father look at Eric covertly before turning once more to Trog. “I’d like to personally thank you, sir, for keeping my daughter safe,” Mister Grayson said, reaching up to shake the giant’s hand.

“Trog can be most useful, he can,” the ogre replied shyly.

“More than useful, Trog. You’ve been invaluable to my family.”

Anna could see Trog was smiling under his mask.

“Trog will guard the door outside, he will, and then escort the little one back to the castle when she is ready.”

Mister Grayson and Captain Hayman thanked him as Eric showed the creature to the door again. Anna turned to find Sidney Heidelbach smiling at her.

“Hello Mr. Heidelbach…” he immediately scowled back at her, “oh… I mean… Sidney.”

He smiled again as he came around to kiss her hand.

“My dear, young lady; the pleasure in meeting you again is all mine.” Anna blushed.

After Eric returned to the group, he found his sister looking about his apartment.

“So where is he?” Anna asked him expectantly.

Eric signed and then slowly turned to scout around before noticing something moving like a mole beneath the carpet near the fireplace. Grumbling under his breath, he walked over to the edge of the rug and pulled its corner back. The baby vipertooth snapped up to look at him. Wagging its tail happily, the tiny dragon threw his head back to let out a raspy little screech.

“Yes-yes, I found you,” Eric said gruffly, “now get out of there.”

Anna smiled as the small bat-like creature bounded with surprising skill and half flapped onto a curtain. Jumping from one hanging to the next, it finally landed with a crash on the mantel of the fireplace.

“Get off of there, you little menace!” Eric demanded, waving angrily at the dragon now sniffing at a small bowl of candy on the mantel’s wooden corner. It jerked back with a disapproving snort at the bowl’s contents and then sneezed a yellow glop of slime into its bottom. The sneeze crackled and popped, and then sparked into a frothing, green frame. Sniffing again with displeasure at the bowl’s burning contents, the dragon knocked it over uncaringly to the floor with one of his hooked thumbs.

“Hey… stop that!” Eric fumed. The baby dragon squawked loudly again, and then snapped at Eric’s back as he stooped to collect the toppled bowl. Anna’s brother looked up again and pointed a threatening finger. “If you don’t behave yourself — you’re out of here.”

“I thought I told you to get rid of that thing,” Hayman reminded him.

“Oh… he’s not hurting anything,” Anna cut in reasonably, walking over to the mantel.

“Not hurting anything? Are you kidding me?” Eric snarled back. “He’s eating me out of my own apartment. If not for the fact that Hobbs keeps a steady stream of rats and squirrels coming in here day and night, I think he’d eat me too. Not to mention the fact that’s he’s a thief! He keeps a hollow for himself in the back room inside one of the walls. He uses it to stash all the shiny stuff in the apartment. I’ve given up trying to keep my watch out of his reach.”

Mister Grayson laughed. “It’s a good thing you don’t have any jewelry around. If he finds it you’ll have a real fight getting it back. The legends of their hoarding valuable gems to protect their soft underbellies aren’t far from the truth.”

“Yeah… well…” Eric looked at Hayman again, “I want him out of here more than anybody. He’s about as easy to live with as a herd of hippogriff… and the smell… did you know their droppings are highly combustible? I’m afraid to leave him alone anymore.”

Anna huffed as she walked over and reached out to the dragon, which was now crawling up the stone of the fireplace toward the ceiling. His hooked claws and thumbs were surprisingly nimble as he looked down to squawk at her.

“Come her, Taurus,” she cooed, reaching out to him.

“Be careful, Anna,” Eric warned her. “Those teeth are sharp.”

“Oh — he wouldn’t hurt me. Come here, boy. You’re getting big.” Anna reached up and gently pulled the little creature away from the wall and then cuddled him close to her chest. To everybody’s astonishment, the dragon started to mimic Anna’s coo as he dipped his head into her robes and then crawled inside.”

“Taurus?” Mister Grayson said with a frown.

“That’s what I named him. TJ said he reminded her of their pet bull back in Texas.”

“Well — if those horns get any bigger — he’ll be as ugly as he is destructive,” Hayman commented appraisingly.

“Anna,” her father said, motioning her toward the table, “have a seat, sweetheart. We have important things we need to discuss.”

Anna could tell by the serious tone of his voice that she should obey without question. She sat down and then put a hand into her robes to sooth the squawking dragon still clinging to her chest. The rest of the group circled the table to sit. Her father was the last to seat himself; he seemed to be contemplating on how to approach the subject that had brought his daughter to their meeting.

“Anna, I need to ask you a favor. And before you immediately say yes,” he said motioning to her to stop, “let me explain what I need and tell you up front you have every option to say no.”

Anna stared at her father, and then turned to look at Eric and the others sitting around her. “It has something to do with the Order of the Phoenix, doesn’t it?” She looked at her father again. “It’s Dumbledore; he wants something, doesn’t he?”

Mister Grayson smiled coyly. Once again, he was taken by how much his daughter reminded him of Victoria. Magical or not, Anna’s insight was as shrewd as it was quick.

“Yes, it does. I know your birthday is just a few days away, and I apologize for not being able to share the day with you…”

Anna frowned. “That’s okay, daddy. Your gifts were wonderful. I just hope I’ll get to use Swooper’s new saddle blanket before we leave for the summer holiday. And you must tell Gabby I love the new slippers she made for me.”

Mister Grayson continued. “Sweetheart, I need to know: What are your intentions this year regarding… your kaleidoscope?”

Anna frowned again. As quick as her brain had been working in the background to figure out what was coming, she hadn’t expected this. She quickly glanced around the table again. “Do they all know about…?”

“About the magical power of the scope?” Her father replied quickly. “Yes, they do. Eric was there with you, of course, when you first discovered the kaleidoscope’s ability, and the subject of what could be done with such a treasure came up during our last meeting with the Order. Captain Hayman was at that meeting as well.”

Anna stared at the captain across from her. “You? You’re now a member of the Order of the Phoenix?” she asked in amazement.

Captain Hayman’s face remained impassive as he nodded.

“What were you planning to ask the scope on your birthday, Anna?” her father continued.

Anna thought and then, quite suddenly, she knew what her father was going to ask of her. At first she was surprised and then distrustfully suspicious. She leaned back and crossed her arms in her stereotypical pose of rebellion and the dragon could be heard squawking under her robes again.

“I hadn’t decided.” Anna lied.

Her father looked at her almost knowingly. “Honey, we all want to know if your mother is safe, and having that information might also lead to us understanding more about what happened to the man who was murdered in the stadium.” He paused cautiously. “But… I believe we must set aside our personal needs for the sake of others.”

Anna scowled. It was obvious her father believed she would ask the Verosapt about her mother’s whereabouts. Why was he asking her to do this? She knew exactly what was coming, but she also knew her father had a deeper concern she didn’t understand.

“Anna, we can’t afford to guess at anything at this point. People are dying by Voldemort’s hand and command. We must know where he is, exactly where he’s hiding. Nothing is more important to the Order of the Phoenix and to the Wizarding community as a whole than this information. If we knew where he was then perhaps we could also find your mother. Everything else we’re trying to do hinge on locating and capturing him unaware.” Her father paused. “Dumbledore wants to know… will you help us?”

Suddenly, Anna knew exactly what was concerning her father more deeply than the question itself. It was Dumbledore. This was something Dumbledore wanted. Immediately, a burning anger began to rise deep within Anna’s chest, and she slowly stood to show her rebellion. She glared down at Eric and could see it in his posture; he wouldn’t even look at her.

“How could you?” Anna growled down at her brother. “Eric… look at me. Did you agree to this meeting — knowing they would ask this of me? Did you know about this?”

Eric finally looked up at his sister and the pain in his face told her all she wanted to know.

“You did!” Anna shouted. “You… the first Guardian at the school after me? You?” Without thinking, Anna turned and headed for the door.

“Anna — please — stop,” her father pleaded, standing at the table. His daughter turned to face him. “Please… sit down… just hear us out. Please… I beg you.”

For a moment, Anna didn’t move. Her anger was still rising.

“I don’t understand,” Hayman finally said, also rising from his seat at the table to look at both Mister Grayson and Anna. “If Anna has a magical device that can tell us where You-Know-Who is, then we should use it to find him.” He looked at Mister Grayson who was still beckoning his daughter to rejoin the table. “What’s the problem?”

“The problem is…” Eric lamented, still looking down at the table, “Dumbledore is asking Anna and the rest of the Guardians to take sides in the conflict. He’s asking Anna to use a magical device to favor his position against Voldemort.”

“So? What of it? We’re all against this maniac, right? We all want him stopped,” Hayman replied.

Eric looked at him in bewilderment. “You don’t understand, John.”

“Understand what?” Hayman barked, his voice climbing higher. “Listen, I didn’t joint the Order under any misconceptions. I knew what I was really doing was putting both myself and my family at risk. A Death Eater could kill any of us at any moment if they knew what I was doing. I assumed everybody who knew what I did in joining this group felt the same way. Are you saying now I was wrong?”

“Eric and Anna are not members of the Order, John,” Mister Grayson said. “In Erc’s case, I won’t allow it and…”

“And because some of us should know better than to take sides,” Anna snapped, still staring down at her brother. “How could you?”

“Anna, I never said I agreed to come to you about using the scope.” Eric said, finally looked up at his sister. “You have to believe me — this wasn’t my idea.”

“But you knew what they wanted. You knew what they were going to ask me. You could have said no before they called me in here!”

“It was my idea, Anna,” her father interrupted. “I told Dumbledore I would make this request of you myself. Eric had nothing to do with it.”

“You want me to give them the information, don’t you?” Anna said, scowling down at her brother. “You think I should give them what they want.” She lowered her gaze and shook her head. “Of all the people – Dumbledore! He was the one who just two months ago said I should remain to the side in all of this and now he wants us to betray what we are!”

Eric finally stood. “Anna, I can’t tell you what you should do, but yes, I am at odds with our not taking sides here. For a short period of time, Victoria was my mother too, and the thought of what Voldemort did to her sickens me. I also know our father’s life is in danger, and so is Tencha, Dowla, Damon and everybody else in this room. So what do you want me to say? I know better than anybody what it means to be a Guardian, but can you honestly say if our father were about to be killed by Voldemort you wouldn’t try and stop him?”

“Of course I would,” Anna yelled back. “I would never allow anything to happen to daddy, but that doesn’t mean these magical objects should be abused in this fight.”

“Not abused, Anna — used.”

“Abused! I won’t help Dumbledore and he should have known better than to ask; I won’t ask the Verosapt to spy on Voldemort. That’s not their purpose.”

“Are you saying this because you truly believe the scope would be harmed, or because you would prefer to use whatever device this is to find your mother?” Hayman asked her.

Anna scowled back at him.

Her father broken in again, “Anna. I didn’t mean to upset you. As I said before — you can say no. I would never force you to go against your convictions on this, even if it meant saving lives. There are still a few more days before your birthday. All I ask… is that you think about it.”

Anna looked at him skeptically.

“Please… just tell me you’ll consider what’s at stake.”

Anna looked down at the floor and gritted her teeth. Knowing she would always say no to such a request, she agreed only to end the conversation. “Okay… I’ll… think about it.” Her father came around the table and finally put his arms around his daughter to hug her.

“I know to you this feels wrong, but sometimes right and wrong are not black and white. I hope you understand why I’m asking this of you. I couldn’t live with myself knowing I refused to try and I believe Dumbledore feels the same way. But I promise… I will respect whatever decision you make, and if you say no… we won’t speak of it again.”

Anna finally lifted her arms to hug her father back and the dragon between them squawked again.

A few minutes later, Anna was walking back to Castlewood beside Trog. Having said goodbye to her father before his trip back to California, she wasn’t sure she was unhappy to see him go. How could her father ask this of her, to choose between saving lives at the risk of her loyalty to magic? But how could she not help them? She remembered Merlin’s prayer. And there I, their repentant leader stood, praying mercy’s pardon for our inaction in the greatest times of need.

But there was something else worrying Anna. It was very concerning to know that her father and Dumbledore wanted her to use the Verosapt to find Voldemort, but they also were assuming they knew the question she wanted to ask. They thought she naturally wanted to ask about her mother, but that was wrong. It wasn’t her mother or Voldemort that Anna wanted to find; it was her Ally.

Leola Grayson was suffering, held a prisoner in some unknown location for trying to keep Anna and her family safe from Voldemort and his Death Eaters. Anna knew above everything else, she had to find her Ally. She didn’t understand why this was so important to her, but she knew beyond anything else that Leola Grayson was vastly more important than what she, Anna, currently understood. How could she tell her father this truth? No… she could never do that. For it also meant telling him Victoria had murdered Leola Grayson. She wondered if Leola, even in her current state, would want her to tell her father this awful secret, even if it meant ending her suffering.

Trog could see Anna was troubled and thought to offer whatever comfort his could to her when somebody from behind them called out.

“Miss Anna?”

Anna turned and the ogre immediately stepped between the Guardian and the approaching man. Anna leaned over to see Sidney coming quickly up the sidewalk.

“Could I have a word, please?” he asked, trotting forward with his umbrella in his hand.

“It’s okay, Trog, Anna told the ogre reassuringly. Sidney is a friend.” The ogre looked at the approaching man again and reluctantly nodded.

“I thought my father said you were leaving the city, Sidney”

The Muggle caught up to them and nodded. “I am. My boat leaves tomorrow morning. If you wouldn’t mind, could we walk together? My hotel is in your direction.” Sidney looked up at the masked guard beside them. “Given what your father told me tonight, I think being in the company of your friend here would ah… put my mind a little more at ease.”

Anna frowned, and then quickly tried to smile at the man. “Of course,” Anna answered reassuringly, and the three continued up the cobbled sidewalk together, Sidney walking leisurely by Anna’s side, while Trog followed a few paces behind.

“I also wanted to ask you a something, Anna.” The man paused and then looked around warily. A strange mumbled sound was coming from a cracked window in the row-home next to the walk; somebody was uttering a spell in the adjoining kitchen. Sidney’s pace quickened.

“I recently learned that you grew up as… well… as a… ah… a regular person. I mean… a non-magical person.”

“A Muggle?” Anna answered quickly, trying to help the man with the appropriate term.

“Yes — yes, exactly. A Muggle,” Sidney nodded. He looked at Anna. “Since you say the word so openly, I would assume then it is not a profanity to repeat in public?”

Anna was somewhat surprised. “Uh… no. The word is used everywhere in the Wizarding world to describe non-magical people.”

“Fine… very good, then.” Sidney thought for a moment and then, “If you please… I’d like to know… how did you feel about growing up within the circumstances given you? I mean… being around so many magical people… without…”

Alohomora!” said a man, pointing his wand at a locked gate in front of them. Sidney watched the lock spring open and the man step inside. He looked at Sidney as they walked and Anna could see the surprised expression on the wizard’s face.

Sidney nodded pleasantly to the man and, when he was confident they couldn’t be heard again, turned once more to Anna. “Being around so many magical people, without the ability to do magic yourself had to be difficult.”

Anna suddenly realized where Sidney was going with his questions, and she immediately found herself feeling sorry for the man.

“Yes — it was difficult. Sometimes… unbearable,” Anna admitted truthfully.

Her answer seemed to confirm something within the man’s thoughts. They continued to walk up the hill toward the castle now coming into full view before them.

“I find myself very ill at ease within the magical world.” He looked down at Anna again. “And ah… well… if the truth were told… I’ve always been somewhat afraid ever since I first found out about wizards.”

Anna tried to smile. “I understand, Sidney. I wouldn’t say I was afraid when I was growing up with my family, but if I had to come to a place like this without the ability to do magic… I can certainly understand how that would make you feel uncomfortable.”

A couple in dark cloaks walking arm-and-arm was approaching them. They were giggling as they held each other close, but immediately stopped laughing when they saw Sidney and Anna coming toward them. The couple stared in quiet astonishment at Sidney as they passed. Anna even caught them whispering to one another as they looked back.

“Do magical people have the ability to read a person’s mind?” Sidney asked fearfully, as he turned to look back at the couple behind them. He could see they were still watching them.

Anna frowned. “No… not that I’ve ever heard; I know I can’t.”

Sidney looked at her again. “But they somehow know… that I’m not… you know… a wizard?”

Anna smiled. “Well… yes… that is rather obvious.”

Sidney stopped suddenly. “How? How is it obvious?”

Anna looked at him appraisingly. “There’s nothing magical about it, Sidney. Most of the time it’s in the manner it which you wear your clothes.”

Sidney looked down at his garments in disbelief, and Anna could tell of all the ways the man thought wizards might have detected the fact that he was non-magical, his attire had never entered his mind.

“My clothes?” he said in startled surprise. “What’s the matter with my clothes?”

Anna laughed as she stepped up to brush some of the soot off of Sidney’s shoulders and then smoothed his finely tailored lapels. She looked down at his expensive, mirrored shoes, and perfectly waxed laces in signature bows. “Nothing is wrong with your clothes, Sidney. You look absolutely dashing… for a Muggle.”

“They can tell I’m a Muggle… by what I wear?” he answered back, looking around them again in astonishment.

“Yes, they can. Haven’t you noticed how different you look than everybody else here in the city?” Anna said with a giggle.

“Well… they all do seem to wear clothing that’s… well… I don’t know…”

“Dated?”

He evaluated the expression and then smiled. “Yes… exactly.” Then he seemed to catch himself. “But not all the wizards I’ve met are that way. Your father, for example, is exactly what the fashion conscious might call sheik in his manner of dress.”

“Well that’s because he’s worked very, very hard at it. After all, he can’t stand out as being something of a weirdo when he’s interacting with the Muggles in public.”

Sidney finally smiled and then turned to continue their walk. “But it’s not just what they wear that seems dated to me; it’s their entire way of life,” Sidney persisted. “For example, look at these street lamps.” He pointed at the flames glowing softly within a glass globe atop the pole. “These fixtures must be at least a hundred years old. Why wouldn’t they electrify them?”

“Because magic and electricity don’t exist all that well together. According to daddy, Wizards and Muggles once lived their lives roughly the same way right up until the beginning of the industrial age. Once the Muggles had created and learned to control electricity, however, they were able to improve their lives in so many ways that wizards could not. Since most wizards cannot use electricity, they’ve kind of been stuck in time… unable to take advantage of human evolution in the way Muggles have, especially in the ways that would be incompatible with magic.”

“I supposed that’s why your father is continuously battling with those working on his elevator?” Sidney observed.

“Exactly! But it’s more than just getting an elevator to work properly. Father has electrified several parts of our house where he can, and he has continually tried to find ways to allow electricity and magic to co-exist. By doing so, he believes he can bring the wizarding world back in line with human evolution. But as the non-magical population advances to use science in those areas were they couldn’t use magic, the wizards of the world find themselves farther and farther behind. It’s like they’re stuck in a time long passed.

“Daddy says that as more time goes by, the more wizarding kind will become isolated, cast farther and farther behind; he believes wizards and witches are dying a slow death.”

Sidney stared at Anna in surprise. “Yes, I see that now. Thank you, Anna. This has been most enlightening.” They walked together a bit farther, before Sidney said, “The more I learn about your father, the more I find myself admiring him.”

Anna smiled and then noticed a storefront familiar to her. The Wompum Emporium, makers of fine robes and clothing.

“That’s what you need, Sidney,” Anna said, pointing to a set of fine robes draped over the shoulders of a dressmaker's mannequin. Here…” Anna moved Sidney in front of the window so that his reflection cast the robes over his image in the glass. “You’d look good in robes.” She could see him straining to see and then his eyes widen.

“Yes…” he mumbled. “Of course… brilliant!” He looked back at Anna and then up at the sign above the shop door. “I’ll visit this place again in the morning before my departure,” he said excitedly.

“A set of black robes would set your dark hair off very well, I should think, and nobody would be able to tell you from the most powerful wizard in the city.” Anna smiled. “Oh… and you might want to lose the umbrella,” she said with a giggle. “That’s what hoods are for.”

Sidney looked down at his Brigg and then smiled. “Excellent. Well then… this is where I must leave you. My hotel is one block over,” he said, pointing down a deserted street to the right.” He turned to Anna again and stretched out his hand. “I appreciate you taking the time to speak with me this evening, Miss Anna. You have been most helpful.”

Anna shook his hand. “No problem, Sidney. Happy I could help. I hope you have a good trip home. When will we see you again?”

“I’m not exactly sure. Your father has transferred the last of my business here in the city to another so… until I hear from him directly again, it could be quite a while. Good luck in school and… farewell.”

“Goodbye, Sidney.”

The man turned and headed down the darkening street, the point of his umbrella tapping the ground merrily as he walked. Trog resumed his position by Anna’s side.

“A good man, he is,” the ogre said, appraisingly of the Muggle moving away from them.

“He is, indeed, a very good man,” Anna replied as they turned and headed for the drawbridge.

FOUR

As Sidney Heidelbach moved alone through the darkest parts of the city, he was suddenly aware of his lasting vulnerability. He stayed close to the lights, their small flame flickering down upon the cobblestone under his feet, as he searched nervously for a way to feel more comfortable within his surroundings. Despite the uplifting discussion he had shared with Anna Grayson, he realized again he must have been the weakest creature traveling those quiet and spooky streets.

In the shadows of an adjoining alleyway, the spy peered through its ragged hood to watch the man moving up the sidewalk. The eyes followed longingly, almost hungrily, at the man walking alone at an anxious pace. The spy was whispering to himself

“I smell a Muggle, old friend. Oh my… how this city has fallen to allow such as this to walk on its streets without care. We would never have approved this in our day. Shall I kill him now? I wonder. Would doing so finally gather your attention and help to take your oldest friend away from this dangerous place? Will it finally allow my escape out of Spellsburg?

“The cursed Crimson Guards are everywhere. I cannot hunt here like in the days. Oh… those were good times we had, eh Tom? Good times, indeed. Why haven’t you come for me yet? Why hasn’t your servant returned to protect the young one? All my work to put a murder at her feet has come to nothing thus far. The public uproar I had planned is still muted against Anna Grayson. How can this be? Where have my plans gone wrong?

“Well… no matter. The killing was fun anyway… much like the old days, Tom, but it’s obvious to me now that I must make the young one suffer more if I am to bring her mother back here again. A few more bodies left hiding in her closet should bring Victoria back soon enough. And when she does return, you will then know of my ascension from the pit you left me in to rot. I wonder if you would recognize me after our years apart. I doubt it. But how could you have forgotten me after all the fun we shared together and all the suffering we delivered hand in hand. Now they fear you. They fear you so much they won’t even speak your chosen name. But I can say your name, Tom, or shall I call you by your new name. I can say it very well: Voldemort. I can’t wait to see you again, old friend. How can I gather your attention? I’ve been collecting the eggs since my escape, thinking that too might spawn some interest out of your Death Eaters… but to no avail.”

He sneered. “Oh well, without a new design to guide me, I must stick with what I do best. Another dead body under Anna Grayson’s bed should bring your servant to me. And then… we will celebrate as we did in the old days. We shall kill Muggles together once again.”

The man hiding in the darkness moved carefully, but strangely equal to any predator in the forest from which he came. He stopped to look around him once again; a killer can’t be too cautious. There were snares and traps set everywhere in this old place. He grinned wickedly as he watched the Muggle moving away and then darted out to follow Sidney Heidelbach up the street.


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