Anna Grayson and The Dragon's Lair

Sarah’s Curse

ONE

As Anna and Gwen entered the hospital floor, they could see two seventh-year Defenders talking to a group of Crimson Guards.

“It was weird. It looked like the girl was fighting with herself not to cross over the drawbridge.”

“Yeah,” added the other boy. They were both wet and wrapped in hospital blankets. “She was holding onto one of the chain rails on the bridge, as if fighting against some overwhelming power forcing her to cross over.”

“And then she seemed to decide it was better to jump into the moat than to go into the city,” the first boy added.

“And that’s when the two of you jumped in after her?” asked one of the guards.

That’s right — and it was a good thing we did too, because the grindylows already had a hold of her and were trying to drag her underwater.”

The guard looked at them and whispered, “Do you think the girl was… attempting suicide?”

The two boys looked at each other and shrugged. “That’s what it looked like to us.”

Gwen grabbed Anna’s arm. “Suicide? That’s crazy,” she whispered disbelievingly.

“Ah… Anna… and Miss Reese. Come in, please,” said a very concerned looking Professor Thordarson, emerging from behind a paneled curtain. The old wizard was still dressed in a floor-length nightgown with a draped hat and his customary dark glasses. He was leaning on his wizard’s staff as he motioned the girls forward.

“Professor — how is Sarah?” Anna asked him worriedly. “Can we see her?”

“Yes you may, but just for a moment. Doctor Pearl is still healing her injuries.” He directed them behind the curtain where they found a wet Sarah Bell unconscious in the bed and looking very pale.

“Sarah…” Anna moaned, moving toward her friend.

“Not another step closer, if you please,” Doctor Pearl said, warningly.

“How is she, Doctor?” Gwen asked.

“Sleeping for the moment, but still very weak. Anna… can you tell me when was the last time Sarah had a full night’s sleep?”

Anna hesitated. She was going to say the previous night, but then it occurred to her that Sarah wasn’t in her bed when Anna went to sleep and her roommate was already gone the next morning.

“I’m … not really sure. She’s been having difficulty sleeping lately. She’s been going to bed late and getting up very early.”

Doctor Pearl looked at the Chancellor and the concern on her expression was obvious.

“Anna, Gwen… I need ask you something very important,” the Chancellor said, seriously, “and I must have as accurate an answer as possible. Do you understand?”

Anna looked at Gwen and then back to Thordarson. “Of course, Professor; I’ll do anything if it’ll help Sarah.”

“Good, good. Now then: have either of the two of you witnessed any kind of strange behavior out of Miss Bell recently?

Anna and Gwen glanced at each other again.

“I take it from your reaction… you have seen something. Forgive me… perhaps a better way to ask would be… have her actions seemed… for a better description… out of characterlately?”

“I’ll say,” Gwen replied. “She’s been pretty hot-tempered recently. She even landed herself in detention last week.”

“Indeed?” The Chancellor looked at Sarah lying in the bed. “Knowing what I do about Miss Bell, even I would call that highly unusual.”

“And she’s been missing a lot of classes lately,” Gwen continued.

“Oh? An illness, perhaps? Trouble at home?”

Gwen looked at Anna. “Nothing she’s shared with us.”

“I see, and… you?” Thordarson asked Anna.

Anna took a deep breath. “She just hasn’t been herself at all, Professor. She never seems to sleep normal hours anymore and she’s always walking around in the city by herself. Sometimes she disappears for hours and…” Anna hesitated, “she always seems to be talking to herself.”

“Hmmm…” Thordarson moaned, rubbing his chin as if in deep thought. “Anything… else?”

Anna frowned up at him. “Professor… I know what the guards are thinking — that Sarah was the one that damaged my scope, but she would never do something like that and she would never try to commit suicide.”

Thordarson peered over his glasses at her and there was a strange redness in his gaze that Anna had never seen before. “You are obviously devoted to your roommate… but I believe you sell your friend short to think she might not harm herself in this case.” Anna’s mouth dropped and Thordarson smiled at her appreciatively. “The evidence against her, you must admit, is rather overwhelming. Is it true that the stones we found in her possession tonight were a part of that marvelous kaleidoscope of yours?”

Anna looked dejected. “Well… yes they were, but that doesn’t mean…”

Thordarson held up a hand to halt her. “And do you not find it rather suspicious that your scope was damaged beyond your ability to use it just hours before the day of your entry?”

Anna’s eyes widened. “You… know about my scope? I mean… you know what it can do?”

Thordarson grinned again. “Indeed… I do. You forget… I knew your mother when she was a student here as well, and there are very few magical devices that escape my attention when they come through the school’s front doors, especially one of the quality and power of the Scope of Verosapt.” Anna was having difficulty believing what she hearing as Thordarson leaned in.

“I would have found out anyway, of course, because you see… the request you received from the Headmaster of Hogwarts to use the scope to help the Order of the Phoenix went to your father… through me.”

The Chancellor could see the fire immediately ignite in Anna’s eyes. He smiled coyly. “You might be happy to know that I agreed to pass this request to your father only after refusing to approach you on the matter directly, and… I made a personal appeal to your father to drop the matter entirely. I know it was a very difficult decision for him to make, and I hope you’re still not angry with his reasons for asking this of you.”

Anna shook her head. “Of course not.”

“Good. You are wise beyond your years, but getting back to the matter at hand; I find it impossible to think it coincidental that you are now lacking the given ability to ask your question of the Verosapt tonight. And I believe this fact best explains Miss Bell’s actions this evening.”

“But why would she do it, Professor?” Gwen said, looking down at Sarah in the bed.

The Chancellor turned to sit down next to Anna’s roommate. He took a deep, reluctant breath and then said, “I’m afraid Miss Bell has not been acting of her own will as of late. She has been put under a very powerful curse, which has placed her actions under the control of another.”

“What?” Gwen and Anna yelped together.

The Chancellor leaned down to feel Sarah’s forehead. “I’m afraid it’s true.” He smiled down at Sarah and whispered, “The fiftieth Guardian.” He looked up at the two girls again. “I must admit that when I first heard Miss Bell was chosen to be the final Guardian at the end of the last term, I was very surprised.” He looked down again at the tiny girl lying in the bed and smiled once more. “But now I clearly see the wisdom in her selection. She is, indeed, immensely stronger than any of us could have known. She will make a formidable Guardian in time; she has proven that fully tonight.”

“I don’t understand, Professor. Who would curse Sarah?” Anna asked him, sounding very concerned.

“I do not know… but you might be happy to learn that, with Sarah’s help tonight, I was able to break the Imperious curse used against her.”

Gwen let out a gasp of shocked surprise.

Anna was confused. “The curse of… what?”

“Unforgivable…” Gwen whispered.

“It is indeed, Miss Reese.” The Chancellor looked at Anna. “I am afraid your study of the Dark Arts has not progressed enough to include an explanation of the three unforgivable curses outlawed years ago by the Wizarding gamot. The Imperious Curse is one of a named few that can immediately sentence the one casting it to a life sentence in Azkaban prison. It is a most grievous piece of dark magic that steals the will of another and makes them the slave to the one hexing them.”

Anna looked at Sarah and tears immediately began to well in her eyes. “Who would do such a thing to Sarah… of all people, why?”

“I believe she was made to act as somebody’s spy… and to gather information about you.” Thordarson replied heavily.

Anna was startled. “Me? But… who would want to spy on me?”

“There are many possibilities, including finding ways to remove you from these well-protected grounds under my care and guard. You will recall there is still the outstanding matter of Michael Wendell’s murder.”

Once again, Anna was surprised.

“But I believe Sarah’s actions were meant to stop you from asking your scope the question closest to your heart tonight.”

“But nobody knew what Anna was going to ask the scope.” Gwen asked him.

“But don’t you see? It wouldn’t matter what Anna intentions might have been,” Thordarson replied simply. “What mattered was what she could have asked.” He looked at Anna. “For example, you could have asked who the murderer was that killed Mr. Wendell, or you might have asked for the hiding place of He-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Named, or perhaps… something about your mother,” he explained caringly.

Anna immediately understood. “But — I wasn’t going to ask for any of those things?” she replied.

This statement seemed to surprise Thordarson and he gazed at her wonderingly.

Anna’s head dipped. “It doesn’t matter anyway. Now that the Ruby of YU is down with the grindylows… the scope is useless now.”

Thordarson was studying her. “I can assure you, my dear, the ruby used to summon the hoard is not down in the Castlewood moat.”

Anna was startled. “It’s not? How do you know? Do you know where it is?”

Thordarson shook his head. “As I said… very few magical objects escape my attention when they come into Castlewood. While I cannot tell you where it is, I can say the ruby is not in the moat or anywhere on the Academy grounds.”

“But then… how could Sarah have taken it? If she never left the grounds then how is it that the ruby is missing?” Gwen replied, thinking quickly. “I don’t understand.”

“There are several possibilities, of course,” the Chancellor surmised, “all of which lead me to believe it wasn’t your roommate who took it.”

Thordarson seemed to fall into his own thoughts for a moment and then “Well… no matter. What is important is that Miss Bell fought against the curse acting to enslave her.” Looking down at Sarah again, the Chancellors appeared immensely proud. “And what was being asked of her tonight… must have been so appalling to her conscious, so horrific in her mind, that it forced her, despite the pain of it, to fight back.” Once again, the old wizard lovingly stroked Sarah Bell’s forehead. “Very impressive in one so young… and without training.” He looked up at them once more.

“No doubt you overheard the testimony of the two young men who jumped into the moat to save her tonight?” Anna and Gwen nodded. “Then you will recall they said Sarah seemed to be fighting with herself not to cross over the bridge into the city?”

“Yes.”

“In that terrible moment of desperation, it would seem Miss Bell decided to throw herself to the absent mercies of the grindylows rather than to betray you by what was demanded of her this night.”

“What?” Anna gasped again and her stomach wrenched. She tried to move to Sarah’s bedside, but Thordarson stood to stop her.

“Now-now, there will be plenty of time for that, and I’m afraid the power I employed to break this dreadful curse will keep her in the hospital for at least another week.”

Anna’s eyes were flooded with tears. “But Professor… it’s because of me that Sarah’s been hurt. I should be the one caring for her.”

Thordarson smiled. “You are a very good friend, and you will get your chance, but tomorrow would be better than tonight.”

Anna tried to push forward, but Thordarson wouldn’t allow it. “There now… Sarah needs her rest and…” the Chancellor looked around worriedly for the absent Doctor Pearl, “and I’m afraid our resident healer would find your nursing skills short of what is needed in this case.

“Like the rest of us, Doctor Pearl is understandably upset by the thought that somebody would attack one of our residents in this way. In her mind, there is no greater sin than to purposefully hurt a child. It’s best you stay clear of her practiced ambitions to care for Miss Bell tonight.”

Anna tried to move forward again. “Sarah…”

“Tomorrow, Anna,” Thordarson said caringly, stopping her again. “She will be much better tomorrow. You’ll see.

“I suggest you return to your halls and try to get some sleep. The window in your room has already been repaired, and all of the hall’s casements have been reinforced with unbreakable charms. You may return after your lessons tomorrow.

“And I would ask you both not to reveal to anybody that Miss Bell was cursed. This information is to be held is strict confidence between the three of us, Doctor Pearl, and the Captain of the Guard. Do you understand? It is vital we keep this quiet if we hope to capture the person responsible for this dreadful act. Are we agreed?”

“Yes, sir,” Gwen said, but they had to wait for Anna to finally nod her agreement before she suddenly remembered something important.

“Oh my God… what about Sarah’s parents? They’ll need to know what happened.”

The Chancellor raised his hand to stop her worries again. “They have already been informed and are in route to Spellsburg as we speak. I’m afraid it will take some doing to keep them from whisking their daughter away from Castlewood… but I mean to help them understand that the safest place for Miss Bell right now is in the care and watchful eye of Margaret Pearl.”

Anna was still crying as she looked at Sarah lying so still in the bed. Gwen put a hand on her friend’s elbow and Anna sniffed, but finally relented. She turned to leave through a pair of Crimson Guards standing watch at the door; their wands were drawn and in plain sight. She was almost at the latch when she heard Thordarson again.

“Oh… and… Miss Grayson?”

Anna turned to look back.

“I know the circumstances of the night were not what you expected, but still… happy birthday, my dear.”

Anna jerked a quick smile, nodded, and then left the hospital floor with Gwen.

TWO

The next day Anna and Gwen were shocked by the speed at which the news of the robbery and Sarah’s hospitalization had traveled through Castlewood. Then they were highly affronted that so many students believed Sarah was the thief responsible for all the damage done to their room.

“What did you expect?” said the fifth-year Guardian Isabel Lang. “If Lieutenant Dunning is heading up the investigation, you should have expected his sister would be spreading lies about what really happened.”

Given Thordarson’s instructions not to tell anybody about Sarah being a victim of an unforgivable curse, Anna and Gwen were left to explain what had happened by saying somebody unknown had done the robbery and that Sarah’s injuries were sustained after she accidentally fell into the moat. Unfortunately, these details did not sideline the rumors in the way Anna had hoped, especially since there were two senior Defenders who were eyewitnesses to Sarah’s strange behavior on the drawbridge.

The whole affair quickly came to a head as Anna and Gwen set off to visit Sarah on the hospital floor the next day.

“Hey Grayson. Is it true your roommate tried to kill herself last night after being caught stealing from the dormitory?” It was Debbie Dunning. She was laughing derisively with her gaggle of Defender friends.

“Ignore her,” Gwen whispered to Anna as they headed up the staircase.

“I supposed that’s what happens when you grow up a Muggle, ay? What really happened, Grayson? Was she trying to sneak pieces of your wardrobe off to her Muggle brothers and sisters?”

“Shut up, Dunning,” Anna snapped back. “You don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“Oh… don’t I? Well… it just so happens that my brother is leading up the investigation, and he’s of the opinion that your little friend will be kicked out of Castlewood just as soon as she steps off the hospital floor.”

“You think so?” Anna fired back. “Well I’m of the opinion that your brother couldn’t find the truth if it was written out for him on his forehead.”

Dunning smiled. “We’ll see, Grayson, we’ll see. By the way, is it true you like to show off your family’s wealth by keeping diamonds and rubies in plain sight on your dresser? It’s no wonder the little Guardian thief had trouble setting aside the temptation to pinch for profit.”

Anna finally turned to face Dunning fully. “You know, it’s amazing just how ignorant you can be sometimes. You must be taking extra stupid classes somewhere around here? Why don’t you try a little harder to mind your own business, or go talk to Professor Thordarson if you really want the truth.”

Dunning looked at her friends and laughed. “Methinks she doth protest too much.” She looked at Anna again.

“By the way,” she added, glaring back at Anna, “calling Thordarson for help isn’t going to work much longer, Grayson. I’ve heard he’ll soon get the sack by the Minister of Magic for spreading lies about You-Know-Who’s return. And if you ask me… that can’t happen soon enough. What are you going to do when the Chancellor is kicked out of Castlewood? My brother says…”

“Nobody asked you!” Anna fired back, “And if your brother gets any smarter, we might see him demoted to guard duty by Christmas break!”

There was an accumulated mixture of groans from several of those listening in the corridor and Debbie turned red in the face.

“You can expect a notice of detention on your door by the end of the day, Grayson,” Debbie sneered, flipping open her pad and whipping out a quill from its top spring.

“I don’t think so,” said a voice behind her, and the still laughing Defenders turned to find a very tall girl in Searcher robes staring down at them. “In fact, I believe you owe Grayson an apology.” It was none other than the new Castlewood Student President, Valentia Olivo.

Debbie looked surprised and then furious as she glared back up at the girl.

“An apology? You’ve got to be kidding me. She insulted my brother!”

“And your threats to the Chancellor’s position in this school were out of bounds and extremely rude.”

Debbie looked back at Olivo stubbornly. “Anybody who can read a newspaper can see he won’t be here much longer. Spreading lies and stories about You-Know-Who’s return is gonna get him the sack. You mark my words.”

“Yes… and I must remember to have a discussion with your brother about the sharing of confidential, investigative information to unauthorized members of the school’s population,” Olivo continued undaunted, looking over at the immense Crimson Guard standing next to her.

Dunning seemed to shrink. Looking unexpectedly worried, she turned to face Anna again and then slapped her notebook closed.

“No matter,” she said, trying to look indifferent. “I’ll be seeing you again, Grayson. I believe we have dueling practice again on Thursday, don’t we?” She smiled evilly, and then motioned to her gang to follow as she walked away. The student president smoothly strode forward as Dunning fell out of sight.

“Thanks for that,” Anna said, smiling.

Olivo looked down at her. The Latino girl was stunningly beautiful and looked completely out of place among the children surrounding her.

“And how is Miss Bell today?” she girl asked her, sounding hopeful.

“I… ah… I don’t know yet. We were just now going up for a visit.”

“Well then… please give her our best wishes for a quick and strengthened recovery.”

“I will. Thank you.”

The girl nodded to the guard accompanying her and they were on their way.

“She’s impressive,” Gwen said appraisingly of the new president.

“Very,” Anna agreed. “Come on. I want to see if Sarah’s awake yet.”

THREE

When Anna and Gwen entered the hospital floor, they immediately struck at how empty the room looked compared to the previous night. The curtain surrounding Sarah’s bed had been moved to the side, but Sarah Bell looked the same as she did the night before, pale and laying rather stiffly on her back with the blankets tucked tightly all around her. She still looked wet from her swim in the moat, but as Anna came closer she could see her roommate was sweating profusely.

“Don’t worry too much about the way she looks right now,” said a waddling Doctor Pearl, who had just entered the hospital floor carrying a small tray of beakers. “She is coming along nicely, considering what the poor dear has been through.”

“Has she awakened yet, Doctor?” Gwen asked her, coming as close to Sarah’s bedside as she dared without permission.

“Oh — yes; off and on throughout the day.”

The healer set the tray on the end table and then poured two small cups of blue liquid into a larger beaker containing a grayish powder. The combination sputtered and popped, fizzed, and then ignited a blue flame.

“Goodness!” Anna exclaimed. “She doesn’t have to drink that, does she?”

The doctor smiled. “Of course not. It’s for her fever.” She wafted out the flames with a waving hand, dipped a cloth into the beaker, and then carefully applied it to Sarah’s head. The girl immediately moaned.

“Have her parents arrived yet?” Anna asked.

“Yes. Mr. and Mrs. Bell arrived on the morning ship and were escorted up to the castle by the guard. They had a nice visit with their daughter to make sure she was recovering and then were escorted upstairs to the Chancellor’s office. I’m afraid Professor Thordarson will have a heck of a time convincing Sarah’s father to allow her to stay at Castlewood, but I’m sure the Chancellor will inspire reason in them.” The healer leaned down to Sarah in the bed.

“Sarah — dear, you have some friends here to see you. Wake up, Sarah. It’s Anna and Gwendolyn.”

Sarah’s eyes immediately flew open and Anna could see them moving rapidly about the ceiling before finding Anna smiling down at her; the girl’s eyes widened in horror as she tried to speak.

“Anna… danger… don’t go,” she mumbled, arching her back as if straining with great difficulty to speak. It seemed almost painful to Anna and Gwen. “Don’t go…” she repeated, “outside…”

“Sarah, dear… look at me, sweetheart. Look at me now.” Sarah’s eyes moved back to Pearl. “Anna is fine. She’s right here. Remember… we already talked about this. Your roommate is not in any danger whatsoever. You were very, very brave to try and warn her last night. Look… here’s Anna right now,” and Pearl motioned Anna to come closer.

“Hey you…” Anna said softly, sitting on the bed next to her roommate.

Sarah’s eyes widened again at the sight of her. She tried to speak. “Are… you… okay?” she managed, in barely a mumbled whisper. She tried to pull her hand out of the blankets. Anna helped her and then held it close to her chest.

“Yeah… I’m fine. How are you?” Anna could see the tears forming in the girl’s eyes.

“I tried… to… to… to tell you…” Sarah wheezed out. “I wanted to… to warn… but I couldn’t…” Sarah clutched Anna’s hand even tighter.

“I know, Sarah. Professor Thordarson told me what happened. It must have been terrible for you.” Anna looked at Pearl. “Can I ask her who did this to her?”

Pearl nodded. “You can ask her anything you wish, but… I’m afraid you’ll find she doesn’t remember much.”

Gwen came around the other side of the bed to sit. “Hi, girl, remember me?”

Sarah reluctantly pulled her gaze away from Anna and then to Gwen on her other side. She smiled broadly, and then to Gwen and Anna’s astonishment she said, “Hi, Gwen… thanks for coming to see me.” Her voice was clear and sounded completely unhampered.

Gwen was startled. “No problem. How are you? I heard you had a fever.”

“Just a small one. No big thing. I wish Doctor Pearl would let me out of here.” Again, Sarah’s words were clear and full of the familiar happiness they had all come to love about her.

“Now — now, we’ve already discussed this,” Pearl answered back. “We still have a way to go before you’ll be allowed out.” The doctor seemed unsurprised by Sarah’s complete change of demeanor.

“Do you know who did this to you, Sarah?” Anna asked her.

Once again, Sarah’s ability to speak seemed woefully restricted. She stared at Anna and seemed to wretch and twist as she spoke. “I… don’t… remember…” she struggled out. “I’m very… very… I wanted to… warn… you… to stay away… from…” Sarah coughed and began to choke, “away… from me…” she finished.

“Careful — easy now. Take your time,” Pearl coached her, dabbing the girl’s forehead again.

Anna was confused. “Why can’t she speak to me? I don’t understand why she can speak so clearly to Gwen but not to me?”

Pearl gave a reluctant heave. “Well… apparently her attacker was very specific in their instructions not to say anything to you about what they were asked of her. Although the Chancellor was very successful in breaking her spell of enslavement, I’m afraid there will be some lasting effects for some time to come.”

Anna was horrified. “You mean she won’t be able to speak normally to me? For how long?”

“There’s really no way to tell right now. It could be a few days or maybe a few months. We shouldn’t force this recovery. As you can see, it causes her a great deal of pain to communicate with you, but I have no doubt she will make a full recovery… eventually. We’re just going to have to give her some time.”

“In the meantime, you can talk to me,” Gwen said happily, patting Sarah in the arm and the girl smiled. “So what do you remember?” Gwen asked her.

“Well…” Sarah turned to Anna. “I remember… walking… in the… city… and,” she gripped Anna’s hand tight again; the pain she was enduring to speak was bad.

“Don’t talk to me, Sarah,” Anna said quickly. “Tell Gwen.”

Sarah turned to Gwen again and then swallowed hard. The pain immediately lessened. “I only remember walking in the city toward the book store on Defender’s Street. I was looking for a new cover for my Magical Incantation’s book. And then… I remember somebody talking to me in a dark ally. I remember being very scared. He wanted me… to… tell him…” the pain was increasing again, even as she tried to tell Gwen the story, “tell him… about… Ann… Ann… Anna.” She coughed and choked again.

“That’s enough now,” Pearl interrupted, pushing Sarah back down flat. “We can’t go too far all at once. If you try to say too much too soon, it will surely set you back. Try and relax, dear. We’ll do more tomorrow. What’s important for you to know now is that Anna is safe, you have been freed of the curse, and the Crimson Guards are looking for the person responsible for attacking you. There is nothing more to be done at the moment, okay?”

Sarah leaned back, looking longingly at Anna. She nodded.

Anna tried to change the subject. “I brought you something.” She reached into her bag and handed Sarah the teddy bear from her roommate’s bed.

Sarah smiled gratefully as she hugged the doll tight.

“There you go,” Gwen added brightly. “A nice, comfy bed and a favorite stuffy too. What could be better?”

“Thanks,” Sarah said gratefully. She looked at Anna and then turned to Gwen. “Can you tell Anna to bring me my books and homework assignments?”

Gwen smile faltered. “Sure… no problem, but if we do that you should know your classmates are going to hate you.”

Sarah frowned. “Why… would they hate me?”

“Because… if all you’re going to do is lay in bed all day long and study, you’re going to push the curve over the top.”

Sarah laughed and the sound of it made Anna smile for the first time in nearly two days. She reached down to tuck Sarah again.

“I’ll come back after dinner tonight, all right?”

Sarah looked concerned again, but she tried to force a smile. “O… o… okay.”

FOUR

Anna left the hospital floor in tears. “Oh God… this is my fault. Who would attack Sarah just to spy on me? I don’t understand any of this.”

Gwen hugged her friend. “I don’t know, Anna. Maybe Professor Thordarson will eventually find out.”

“Hello… you must be Anna Grayson.”

Anna and Gwen turned to find a man and a woman standing behind them. The woman was looking at Anna enquiringly.

“Uhm… yes, ma’am,” Anna replied, nodding.

“We are Mr. and Mrs. Bell, Anna. We’re Sarah’s parents.”

Anna’s eyes widened. “Oh my God. Yes, ma’am. It’s so good to finally meet you!” Anna shook the woman’s hand. “And you, sir,” she said to the man behind his wife. The man looked stern as he came forward to face Anna and the Guardian was suddenly concerned he might be angry, but to her relief the man finally smiled.

“You’re Sarah’s roommate?”

Anna nodded. “Yes, sir.”

“And Chancellor Thordarson tells me your family is highly respected in the wizarding community.”

Anna was surprised. “Well… I’m honored the Chancellor would think so.”

“I think your modesty validates his opinion.” The man seemed to be evaluating her. “My wife and I wanted to thank you for looking out for our daughter. It hasn’t been an easy transition for her or her family to have her away from home for most of the year. It was very kind of you to want to be her friend.”

Anna smiled knowingly. “Mr. Bell… I feel that I’m the one who’s been blessed to have Sarah as a friend. I love her like a sister.”

“We all do,” Gwen chimed in. “Sarah is really wonderful.”

Mrs. Bell gripped her husband’s arm, her reddened face showing her emotion.

Anna smiled. “This is Gwendolyn Reese. She’s Sarah’s friend too”

Mr. Bell smiled down at his wife as he patted her hand lovingly and then turned to them again.

“Anna… may I call you Anna?”

“Oh yes, sir. Please… by all means.”

He nodded. “Anna… I wanted to ask you a very important question and my wife and I pray you’ll be honest with us.”

Anna frowned. “Oh course, sir.”

The man took a deep breath and then, “Anna… Chancellor Thordarson told us that our daughter was attacked. Did you know that?”

Anna’s face fell. “Yes, sir, I do.”

“The Chancellor also said she was attacked in a most horrible way and with a curse outlawed by the wizarding community for nearly three hundred years.”

“Since 1717,” Gwen grumbled angrily.

Mrs. Bell whimpered and her husband tried to sooth her again.

“Anna… we have to know. Do you believe this attack on our daughter has anything at all to do with her being a Guardian?”

Anna was surprised and then looked over at Gwen who was plainly staggered by the question as well. The guilt Anna had felt earlier suddenly began to roll over her like an avalanche. Sarah had been cursed into spying on her. Nobody knew who had done it or why, but Thordarson believed it was done to keep Anna from using the Verosapt and from asking the one question allowed her every year. It could have been anybody… the smugglers perhaps, but Anna thought she knew better. Whoever had tried to frame her for the murder of Michael Wendell had also attacked Sarah Bell; Anna was certain of it. For whatever reason she didn’t understand, this person was working to incriminate her for Wendell’s murder and they tried to use Sarah to get to her again. That’s when they probably found out about the power of the Verosapt and why they had Sarah destroy it. Anna looked up at Sarah’s parents again and was about to respond when Gwen broke in again.

“No, Sir. I don’t think this had anything to do with Sarah being a Guardian,” she said emphatically. She looked at Anna again and nodded at her to agree.

Anna looked at Mr. and Mrs. Bell again and shook her head. “No… I really don’t think so. Did Professor Thordarson tell you anything?” Anna was hopeful that the Chancellor didn’t relay his real suspicions.

“No… only that the Crimson Guard was putting forth a very strong investigation as to the reason it was done and they would keep us informed,” Mrs. Bell answered.

Mr. Bell stepped forward. “You’re sure this had nothing to do with the Guardians?”

Anna took a deep breath and answered honestly. “No, sir. I don’t think so.”

He stared at her for a time that seemed unending and then looked relieved as he nodded. “Thank you, Anna.” He took his wife’s hand and then turned toward the doorway of the hospital floor, but before he entered Gwen stepped forward.

“Mr. and Mrs. Bell?”

They turned again to look back at her.

“I don’t know if you were ever told, but each one of the original fifty Guardians that came into this union do so by choice. While it was the Mirror of Enlightenment that made us Guardians, all but one volunteered to reenter the mirror after already being sorted into another Hall.”

Mr. Bell and his wife frowned as Gwen explained.

“I myself started here at the school three years ago and was originally in the Artisans’ Union.” Gwen looked down at the floor between them. “I love my music and playing the piano was the most important thing in my life… right up to the time I decided to reenter the mirror again.” She suddenly looked somber, “I disobeyed my parents who forbid me from trying to join the Guardians… but you see… I just felt a calling, something deep down that told me I was meant to do more with my life than what I had planned. I still love my music and my studies of it have never stopped, but when I reentered the mirror it was clear I was making the right choice.”

Sarah’s mother stepped forward. “Have you ever regretted your decision? I mean… to reenter the mirror?”

Gwen looked at her and smiled. “No, ma’am. And, to be honest, I don’t really know what will happen to the Guardians after we leave this school, or what we’ll be doing to support ourselves, but I do know this: If I hadn’t reentered the Mirror of Enlightenment when I did… I would have regretted it my entire life, and I am sure Sarah feels the same way. She’s very strong and carries herself in this school with so much dignity and poise… you would be so proud of her if you saw her the way we do.”

Sarah’s mother stared at her and her lips quivered. “Thank you, Gwen. You really don’t know what it means for us to hear this. We’ve been so worried about Sarah — about her leaving home and being away for so long, about studying magic, and then when we heard she had joined the Guardians…” she looked up at her husband again, “we were very concerned. The Chancellor has tried to explain the Guardian’s role in the wizarding world… but it just seemed to us that her involvement could only lead her into trouble.”

Mr. Bell stepped forward. “The Chancellor sent us a book about the history of the Guardians and as we began to read through it, it became clear they always ended up creating so many enemies and their past is plagued with terrible battles and war. This isn’t what we wanted for Sarah; she could never be a part any kind of a war.”

Gwen nodded. “We all know about the history of the Guardians… and it’s true that our role seems to put us at odds with just about everybody at some time or another, but we’re not here to make friends. We’re here to protect and conserve what would otherwise be destroyed.”

Anna smiled. She found Gwen’s passion suddenly inspiring.

“So… you’re a conservation group?” Mrs. Bell answered. “I… don’t understand.”

“In a way… yes. Our role in the wizarding world is to make sure everything that is magical… the miraculous creatures, the enchanted objects and places of magical importance, anything we know as being magical significance… all of it would fall under our protection.” Gwen stepped forward again.

“Mrs. Bell… weren’t you arrested last summer?” The woman suddenly looked surprised. “Sarah told me a couple of month ago. Is it true?”

“Yes… but I’m surprised Sarah would tell you.” She hesitated. “It’s not something I care to… I mean… it’s not something I’m proud of.”

“But you do know, of course… that Sarah is proud of you.”

The woman frowned again. “She is?”

“Yes, ma’am. You risked your life to keep what Sarah called the loggers from cutting down the trees on your mountain.” Gwen looked over at Anna. “We thought what you did was very brave and noble.”

“And so do I,” Mr. Bell added, putting an arm around his wife’s shoulder. He looked down at her. “I keep telling her she shouldn’t be ashamed about what happened.”

Mrs. Bell stared at Gwen and then smiled. “Are you saying that what Sarah is doing with the Guardians is much like what I did to conserve our forests.”

“Yes, ma’am. The Guardians seek to conserve what is magical.” Gwen suddenly looked apprehensive. “However, as you know from your own experience… that doesn’t mean we will be able to avoid trouble, but it’s something each and every one of us has thought about and accepted.”

Mrs. Bell stared at her and then came forward to hug the Guardian. “Your parents must be very proud of you, Gwen.” She squeezed her tight in her arms and then whispered, “Do you really believe that when the time comes… our Sarah can be brave?”

Gwen looked at the woman and sniffed. “Mrs. Bell… I believe Sarah is lying in that hospital bed right now because she was forced to prove that she was the bravest of us all.”

The woman looked over Gwen’s shoulder to Anna who nodded in agreement.

“Thank you,” the woman said, stepping back. She looked at Anna, “To the both of you.”

Mr. Bell turned his wife again toward the hospital floor, but then looked back. “You said all but one of the Guardians volunteered to reenter the Mirror of Enlightenment. Who was it then… that never had a choice?”

“It was me, ma’am,” Anna answered softly.

“You?” Mrs. Bells’ eyes widened. “You were the first Guardian of Castlewood?”

“Yes, ma’am. Sarah never told you?”

The woman stared at Anna for a very long and uncomfortable amount of time before quietly turning away again. “No… she didn’t.”


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